The WORST console launches in history, from the SEGA Saturn to the Xbox One

Here’s some console launches that didn’t quite get off to a good start.

by Daryl Baxter
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We are in the middle of a time that only happens once a decade in gaming; console launches.

Many are huge successes, from the unveiling to the launch, but there are some that had a Very shaky take-off.

There’s even some that got on a bad-foot before the console was Even available into the stores, such as a particular Xbox E3 conference.

With that, here’s three launches that were given a shaky start.

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SEGA Saturn

In the middle of the nineties, SEGA was in a full-blown panic. 1993 had begun with rumours from Sony about a gaming console under development, while Nintendo were in full-development-mode for their ‘Project Reality’, which would end up being the N64; SEGA needed a winner.

They released the SEGA Saturn in Japan first in December 1994 to a muted reception, with Virtua Fighter being their only release alongside a couple of third-party offerings. But it was E3 the year after that doomed the console from the start. 

SEGA suddenly announced that the console was available, with shipments arriving at stores, with a July release in Europe. Understandably retailers, customers and developers were annoyed, as they were all working towards a fall release, and now there was an unwelcome pressure for developers to release their games as soon as.

It also didn’t help that even before the console was released in Japan, SEGA decided to add another CPU chip into the console, further confusing developers how best to get performance out of the system.

This, coupled with Sony’s announcement of ‘$299’ at E3, undercutting the Saturn by $100, left a sour taste, and even though it marginally picked up in sales the following year, eyes were moving onto PlayStation.

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PlayStation 2

Even though the console is known as a huge success, with over 150 million consoles sold over its lifetime, the UK launch wasn’t exactly a smooth ride.

As this BBC News article cites, Sony had decided for customers to register for pre-orders, as stock would be very low for its launch on the 26th October 2000. This in-turn lead to a lot of frustrated customers being turned away at Electronics Boutique, Toys R Us and many other stores, while there were some reports of pre-orders even being delayed.

It was featured on BBC’s ‘Watchdog’ programme during this time, with questions about stock for Christmas and if all pre-orders were going to be met. The success of the console largely made this time a distant memory, but it only shows just how Sony almost ruined the expectations and reputation of a console that was eagerly awaited.

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Xbox One

Even seven years on, people still talk about Microsoft’s E3 2013 conference as one of the most tone-deaf and strange conferences that a console manufacturer ever hosted.

It was meant to be the showcase for the Xbox One, the successor to the Xbox 360, with all the details about the launch in the fall. But instead, most of it was focusing it as a glorified TV Guide, with games being shown as almost an afterthought.

Buying and borrowing games was also heavily criticized by explaining a method that was essentially how Steam works today, but unfortunately was communicated so badly, it just didn’t make any sense.

The head of Xbox at the time, Don Mattrick, was featured in this infamous interview where Geoff Keighley pushed back on one of Don’s answers and essentially said:

‘If you want to play games from retail and also your past purchases, buy an Xbox 360’.

This soured a lot of the fans’ expectations, and thought that Microsoft were just aiming the console as a glorified set-top box.

After a few weeks of outcry, and thanks to Sony completely getting one over them at their PS4 conference, most notably their ‘Step 1’ video, Microsoft backed down and changed how their launch was going to go.

It’s notable how it changed the launch of the console due to the poor messaging at E3. I remember watching it and being confused as to whether I was watching a Netflix conference; it was very odd.

But thankfully, due to managerial changes and a renewed focus, they picked it up and started focusing entirely on games, bringing incredible backwards-compatibility efforts and company acquisitions that have actually set it up well for the coming Xbox Series X launch.

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Daryl Baxter

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