Sega’s most underrated console, remembered.
If you’re like me and enjoy seeing daily reminders of how old you’ve become, you’re in luck because aside from a certain British sci-fi show enjoying its 50th anniversary this week, there’s another notable part of geek culture which this week will turn 15.
Released in Japan on 27th November 1998, the Sega Dreamcast was the first of the sixth generation of games consoles – its rivals were:
– Coming back for another round, Nintendo and their Gamecube
– The difficult second album from Sony, the Playstation 2
– The new kid on the block, Microsoft’s XBox.
It being the first one released allowed for a great headstart on the others – Dreamcast was the only console released before the turn of the millennium; and in fact had three full years on the XBox. Unfortunately, these three years turned out to be more than the Dreamcast’s entire lifespan for three key reasons:
The Saturn launch disaster
Sega had done some silly things with their release of the Saturn: its North American release happened three months earlier than was originally planned; leaving third-party developers angry at the snub and retailers furious at the shortfall of consoles which they had signed on to stock. Before releasing the Dreamcast, Sega had made sure to mend fences with these companies, assuring a solid 17 launch titles (including Soul Calibur and Sonic Adventure) were available, and that shops would give over extra promotional duties to push it in its first six months. The initial launch was impressive enough, as Sega would later claim one million sales in North America, only two months after launching there.
Playstation 2 released
What else do you need? Sony built on a very impressive debut console with what has only this past year been discontinued! The PS2 was a true game-changer; sure, it started off expensive but as time passed the number of hugely impressive games only grew, and the developers queued up to work with Sony, as opposed to those which went out of their way to announce they wouldn’t be developing for the Dreamcast. EA for example, offered to publish their sports games exclusively for Sega, but were rejected. The simple difference here was that Sega had struggled with previous consoles, while Sony were 100% perfect on brand name and target market. Though the Dreamcast’s online play had proved hugely popular, it wasn’t unique enough that other, faster, more accessible consoles couldn’t improve on the offering.
On the other hand, the Japanese launch was so good that Sega couldn’t keep up with the demand; money they should’ve made from other regions was going straight back into production for Japan, and it wasn’t enough to meet production or sales projections. As then-chief Peter Moore explained to the Guardian:
We were selling 50,000 units a day, then 60,000, then 100,000, but it was just not going to be enough to get the critical mass to take on the launch of PS2. It was a big stakes game. Sega had the option of pouring in more money and going bankrupt and they decided they wanted to live to fight another day.
Sega withdrew from console production following what amounted to a poor second half of the 1990s – but just think of the possibilities if they’d been able to keep up! Obviously the Sega Dreamcast was a console very ahead of its time – though my memory of it isn’t all that great given as I was still so attached to my SNES – but I do remember playing Virtual Striker and being exceedingly impressed by the graphics – less so by the scoreboard saying “G Goal” instead of “Golden Goal” during the extra time – and Shenmue; oh, what a thing of beauty that game was! In fact, probably worth an article of its own…
So on this momentous occasion, we salute Sega’s last beautiful contribution to the console world. So long Dreamcast, we hardly knew ye…