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Bernie Stolar, exec who launched PlayStation and Dreamcast, dies at 75

Joined Sega of America in 1997, reprioritized Dreamcast over failing Saturn

Sega Dreamcast Hardware Shoot Photo by James Sheppard/Future via Getty Images

The former president of Sega of America who oversaw the 1999 launch of the Dreamcast has died. Bernie Stolar, 75, was also a founding executive of Sony Computer Entertainment America, which launched the PlayStation and several first-party games for it in 1995.

Stolar’s work for SCEA (today Sony Interactive Entertainment) helped establish many franchises that continue today, including Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot, and Ridge Racer. For Sega, Stolar acquired Visual Concepts and ushered in the 2K Sports label (both were later sold to Take-Two Interactive) with the NFL 2K and NBA 2K series.

Both were cornerstone launches for the Dreamcast in 1999, where Stolar is credited with orienting the company’s focus toward the new console and away from the flagging Sega Saturn, which had rapidly lost market share in the U.S. to the new PlayStation. Dreamcast, despite a solid performance in the U.S. and a fanbase that still reveres it, was quickly discontinued in 2001 after losing to the PlayStation 2 in every other international market.

Stolar joined Sega of America (SOA) in 1997 and later took over from Tom Kalinske, the SOA president who oversaw the rise of the Sega Genesis and the company’s head-to-head successes against Nintendo in the early 1990s. Stolar had been hired as a hardware consultant by Sega’s Hayao Nakayama, with whom Kalinske had frequently clashed before resigning. But when Nakayama was ousted by Sega’s board, Stolar was not far behind him.

“I took the Sega position based on conversations with Hayao Nakayama, who was then chairman of the company,” Stolar said, according to a tribute published Saturday by VentureBeat’s Dean Takahashi. “We’d institute and bring in a new hardware system that would do online multiplayer games. That became Dreamcast. I headed that up. Unfortunately Nakayama got pushed out of the company by [Isao] Okawa at the end of 1999, and when he got pushed out, I got into an argument with Japan as well.”

Stolar continued to work in a variety of entertainment software ventures for the next 17 years, including at Google, which had bought a company where he was an adviser and board member. To Takahashi, Stolar recalled trying to get Google into the games business by “taking games from publishers and streaming those through our online network.”

Google chief executive Eric Schmidt wouldn’t do it, Stolar said. “That’s when I knew I should leave the company.” Fourteen years later, Google launched Stadia, a cloud gaming service in which major publishers’ games are streamed to users over Google’s Chrome web browser.

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