Right now, the big news making the rounds revolves around the power house that is the PS4. That's all well and good, but for long time gamers, today is an important day for a completely different reason. Today marks seventeen whole years since the Sega Dreamcast was released in the US back September 9, 1999. It was the console that they hoped would drag them out of the muck that they fell in with the Sega Saturn.
Sega wanted the Dreamcast to be a game changer and, in a lot of ways, it was. The dream didn't last long, though, as the system quickly lost steam leaving us with a lot of lost potential for the games it could have had. Despite it's rise and sudden fall, a lot of people look at the system fondly. This includes the people who worked on it such as Peter Moore, former COO of Sega of America, who tweeted a commemoration to his gone-to-soon baby.
The cool part is that Peter is far from alone when it comes to loving on the Dreamcast. As his Tweet made the rounds, the internet reacted in its typical, nostalgia driven fashion.
But it also made people face their own mortality and the unfeeling passage of time.
So what happened to the little system that we fell in love with? With its fun games and shiny graphics, what caused it to ultimately fade away from the market (but not from our hearts)?
It Had The Right Ideas At the Wrong Time
What made this particular system so special was the thinking that went behind it. Even before we had the ultra fast connectivity we have now, the team behind the Dreamcast had their eyes set to the future and in it they saw online console gaming as the logical next step. So they made sure that the system had built in connectivity, albeit through a 56k modem.
If you don't know what the hell a 56k modem is, then consider yourself lucky. I'm guessing the phrase "GET OFF THE PHONE I'M TRYING TO USE THE INTERNET" has never been uttered in your house. Treasure that. But I digress.
Moore expanded on his thoughts on the Dreamcast during its 15th birthday two years back and they still ring true today.
I don't think it is an overstatement to say that the Dreamcast and it's online network laid the ground for what we all take for granted today — online game play, linking innumerable gamers from around the world to play, compete and collaborate, as well as enabling new content to be delivered in addition to that which was delivered on the disc.
The idea answered a question that was a little ahead of its time: What if playing together didn't just mean gathering in one room and plugging in four controllers? What if we could all play together regardless of where we are in the world? The internet could help bridge the gap. At least, that was the intent.
Unfortunately, the innovation was a little early. For those who remember, that time was a transitional period between dial-up and broadband. Broadband was being touted as this new way of accessing the web, but it hadn't quite reached the level of ubiquity that the Dreamcast needed to make its signature feature appealing. It was the right idea at the wrong time. Cut to today and online connectivity is a feature we take as a given.
It Jumped Into A Sea of Sharks
A lot of the Dreamcast's woes stem from its unfortunate timing. When it launched in 1999 it only had so much time to get a foothold in the markets before announcements from Sony and Microsoft hit the gaming world. The Dreamcast had great features, but it wasn't given enough time to "cook" in the marketplace to really nab enough of a market share to stay standing. It had great games and good graphics, but then so did the PlayStation 2.
The PlayStation 2 also had the mythical ability to play DVDs, and that was absolute madness at the time. My family didn't have a DVD player because they were pretty expensive back then (wild, I know). But having a console that can play both games and DVDs? Now that was something I could convince my parents to buy because it was something the entire family could use.
What if it launched a year or two sooner? Then, maybe, it would have had enough time to sell units and build a fan base before it was ultimately overshadowed by the likes of the PlayStation and Xbox. Or maybe even if it did that, the technology of the PS2 and Xbox would have mopped the floor with it completely. Who knows, but what we can say retrospectively is that the timing of the release was definitely off.
Financial And Software Struggles
Lacking the tech angle, Sega had to do something to boost sales. They were dragging in Japan and needed the North American market in order to rebound. So what did they do? The system started dropping in price. I'll admit that this was the point that I jumped on the Dreamcast.
It dropped to only $99, which was a manageable price. I'm guessing that a handful of people also jumped on the system when it dipped that low. The problem was, they were selling at a large loss each time. It didn't matter to me back in '99 because I was ready to rock with my peripherals and my bootleg copy of Capcom vs. SNK. Now, that last statement reveals one thing I am willing to admit, I was part of the problem when it came to Sega's financial struggles. Not me entirely, but I was part of the greater whole of people who chose a $12 bootleg over the original game.
The thing about the Dreamcast games was that they were surprisingly easy to pirate and that meant there were shops in my neighborhood selling pirated copies that worked as well as the original at a fraction of the cost. How could I say no to that? Of course, the drawback is that people like me inevitably added to the landslide of Sega's (and the developers that worked with them) finances. When you drop the price of the console so low, that means you need to rely on game sales to generate revenue. The lack of DRM shot Sega's revenue model in the foot as bootlegging became rampant.
Eventually, Sega was taking such a loss that they pulled out of the market completely and ceased production. They haven't made a console since.
It Still Left A Mark
Despite what happened, the Dreamcast laid down a lot of good ideas that eventually made its way to later generations. It might not have been there for the long haul, but it definitely left a mark while it stuck around. Once again, Peter Moore said it best:
So as we all enjoy everything the next generation of hardware has to offer, give a tip of that hat (or glass)...to the Little Console That Could. The Sega Dreamcast...
Cheers, Sega Dreamcast. Thanks for the memories.
[ Source: Peter Moore on Twitter ]