Bernard Stolar, who as an executive at Sony and later Sega of America played a major role in the development and marketing of video game consoles of the 1990s, including the original PlayStation and Sega’s Dreamcast, died June 22 in The Angels. He was 75 years old.
Jordan Freeman, founder and CEO of Zoom Platform, a video game company Stolar served as CEO of, confirmed his death, which he said was due to a long illness.
The 1990s were a time of intense competition and rapid technological advancement in the video game industry. Mr. Stolar was at the heart of the ever-changing scene, making bold decisions that drew the admiration of some but broke the hearts of others, who were enamored with particular systems or game types.
He was Executive Vice President of Sony Computer Entertainment America from 1993 to 1996, when Sony was developing the original PlayStation, which was introduced in the United States in September 1995. Nintendo and Sega dominated the market at the time, but PlayStation changed the equation.
For one thing, at $299, the PlayStation edged out the competition’s Sega Saturn by $100. And Stolar shunned complex RPGs, which he thought appealed to a relatively small, nerdy customer pool, in favor of action titles like Deadly. Combat 3.
PlayStation was a success, but Stolar spent only a short time at Sony, moving to Sega in 1996 as president of Sega of America. He promptly eliminated the Sega Saturn, much to the dismay of fans of that system.
“I racked my brain thinking about how to save Saturn, but it was too far away and too expensive and difficult to develop,” Stolar told The Dreamcast Junkyard blog in 2018. “Sega was almost bankrupt, they needed a new console and they needed it. Quick. The only options were to go big or go home.”
His idea of going big was the Dreamcast console, which was supposed to offer 128-bit processing when the competition was still at 64.
“The Dreamcast is Sega’s bridge to global market leadership for the 21st century,” he told The Ottawa Citizen in 1998, a year before the Dreamcast was released in the United States.
But Mr. Stolar was not part of that future at Sega, which turned out not to be as predicted anyway. Shortly before the Dreamcast went on sale, he was fired in one of the perpetual shakeups that regularly rock the video game industry. The Dreamcast was, however, for at least one hot minute, an attention grabber.
“As a gaming machine, its power is unrivaled, except for high-end personal computers that cost more than 10 times as much,” Peter H. Lewis wrote in a review in The New York Times that month, “and it makes players Graphics on the current market leader, the Sony PlayStation, appear grainy and choppy. The Dreamcast is the closest thing to an arcade-quality gaming experience you can get at home.”
Dean Takahashi, lead writer for the GamesBeat website, interviewed Mr. Stolar several times over the years.
“Bernie Stolar’s personality and sharp wit made him uniquely refreshing in the increasingly corporate world of video games,” Takahashi said via email.
Stolar didn’t pull any punches when he tried to upset the status quo in gaming hardware, Takahashi said. “The result was often hilarious,” he added, “and made being a reporter a joy during that time.”
Stolar was born on October 9, 1946, according to a Forbes obituary. Information about his early life and his survivors was not immediately available.
He got his start in video games in 1980 when he helped Brian Semler start Pacific Novelty Manufacturing, which developed coin-operated arcade games. Among his biggest hits is a game called Shark Attack, in which the player is a shark trying to fend off divers trying to kill him.
After a few years Stolar and Semler sold the company to Atari.
“We thought we were geniuses because we sold the company for stock,” Stolar told GamesBeat in 2015. “Then Atari imploded and went out of business.”
In the early 1990s, after Atari was revived, Stolar spent several years as an executive there before. He joined Sony in 1993 and Sega in 1996.
The Sega Dreamcast sold well at first. But the introduction of the PlayStation 2 in 2000 reduced its appeal, and Sega’s hopes of returning to the top of the video game heap were dashed. Stolar left Sega in 1999 and joined Mattel in 2000. He ran its interactive division for nearly three years. He worked with several other startups over the next decade, joining Zoom Platform in 2014, which his Twitter account says sells “old games running on new systems.”
Freeman said Stolar was eager to support him.
“I met Bernie when he was 16, there was absolutely no reason for him to agree to meet me, but he took a chance,” Freeman said by email. “He gave everyone a chance. He was the paragon of a mentor to all who knew him.”