Sega’s Dreamcast is the first console officially released in the 6th generation of video games. It also stands as Sega’s last video game console after 18 years on the home console market. Initially showing to be a success, the console is seen as a failure due to many coinciding issues and happenings of the time. Though the console does not seem to show many negative reviews, it is considered before it’s time and overly powerful for the day. Notably the innovative side to this console should be considered, being the first system with an in-built modem for online gameplay.
Initially, the system was designed to be Sega’s saviour. The company had suffered many loses over the previous few years and seemingly unsuccessful consoles such as the Sega Saturn had built on this bad reputation and decline. Development of the console began with an internal rearrangement of the company. With all the issues and disagreements between Sega of America and Sega of Japan when producing the 32X and the Saturn this was seen as a necessary step.
The overwhelming view that was shown from new and older staff alike, was a huge lack of confidence with Sega’s internal hardware which led to senior members looking elsewhere. International Business Machines were tasked with creating the new system, allocating an 11 man team who were dubbed the ‘Black Belts’. This hardware was said to cost the company at least $150 to $200 million. With the software pricing coming to a whopping $300 million for worldwide production!
During the development of the Dreamcast it was codenamed twice. The first was ‘Dural’ after the character from Sega’s popular Virtua Fighter series and secondly being called the Katana, after the Japanese sword. Sega famously held a competition to name their new console and after considering over 5000 names Dreamcast was selected. Moreover, due to the tarnished reputation, Sega initially was to drop the brand name from the console and start a new line alike what Sony had done with the PlayStation. However, this idea was later scrapped.
Before launch, the system drew significant interest and pre-orders were through the roof. Unlike when Saturn was released, the systems Sonic game (Sonic Adventure) was developed in time for release and promoted accordingly.
Though Sega did hit some bumps in the road, as last minute development issues caused the company to freeze pre-orders, luckily this was not seen to hinder production overly as the entire stock of Dreamcast’s sold within a day of Japanese release. Decline can be seen to set in after this success of a launch though, as there were many accounts of consumers returning their Dreamcast for the PlayStation.
In the 10 months between the Japanese and American launch of the consoles, Sega set themselves to improve massively and increasing the marketing of the console and what was available upon release. A target was set for a minimum of 15 titles to be available at launch and to better deteriorating relations and trust with retailers Sega had pre-sold consoles to these. An example of this was how customers could rent the system from Hollywood video before general release. One hindrance of this was the fact that EA (largest sports game 3rd party producer) announced that they would not develop any games for the console as Sega could not use them as the only sports game provider for the console. With EA being one of the biggest 3rd party issuers of games in both Japan and America – this was seen as a huge fall-back for the future of the console.
The Dreamcast was launched on 09/09/1999 for $199 which was subsequently used within the advertising campaigns. Over-stepping their goal of 15, 18 launch titles were available at release. It was reported that over 225,135 units were sold within 24 hours.
To further improve their promotional activities, when releasing the system in Europe, the company sponsored four European Football teams. (Arsenal – UK, As Saint Etienne – France, U.C Sampdoria – Italy and Deportivo de la Coruna – Spain).
Sega faced major competition when it came to the Dreamcast. The main opponent being Sony’s PlayStation. The PS2 was rumoured to be the most powerful games system of the time which boasted better graphics, better hardware and a DVD format than anything seen before.
As well as this, Sega as a company were in their third consecutive year of financial loss. This was due to the internal struggle as well as the diminishing western arcades which were rapidly shutting down due to lack of popularity. Attempting to win back their customer base, Seganet was launched and each new purchase was promised a free year online subscription which was paid personally by the head of Sega at the time.
The PSone console had become the bestselling console in North America which pushed the sales of the Dreamcast back even further – leading to a drop in Dreamcast prices.
With worsening conditions for Sega, the company finally decided that they would be leaving the console market therefore discontinuing the Dreamcast in 2001. The remaining 930,000 units were sold off at reducing prices ($99, $79, $49.95). Despite this, 9.13 million units sold worldwide.
Estimated reasons for failure for the Dreamcast is varied from competing consoles, Sega itself and the overly-modern hardware in the console. The hype for the PlayStation 2 was huge, with rumours of the advanced hardware and software bring able to do the impossible such as hack into the Matrix and play revolutionary graphics seen in hits such as Disney Pixar’s Toy Story. This was said to deter consumers from buying the Dreamcast.
Lack of third party support was obvious to the system. With companies such as EA and Squaresoft refusing to develop for the console left the Dreamcast without popular games and series of games from two of the largest third party consumers in both North America and Japan.
The competitive nature between Sega of America and Sega of Japan, as well as lack of own-brand trust was rife at this point within Sega’s console life cycle. The rift in the company caused huge problems through development and production of the console. To add to this point, the previous damage to their high reputation was a particularly harming factor for the systems poor sales. With it being the legacy of consoles like the Saturn, it was doomed from the start.
Many have dubbed the system ‘too modern’ for its time with aspects such as online gaming, claiming that the consumers the console was targeted at were simply not ready for an online gaming experience.
Different models of the system include the epic Divers 2000 which was a Dreamcast built into a TV the shape of Sonics head. To appeal to a female audience, a limited edition Hello Kitty version was also created with only 2,000 created.
The controller is unpopular amongst many with the 3D aspect making it too bulky and uncomfortable for players to control the game accurately.
The library of games was impressive even with the lack of third party support. The most significant release is arguably Sonic Adventure – selling 2.5 million copies and becoming the best-selling game for the system. Some have dubbed the games produced for this system as experimental with games such as Seaman being produced. Seaman was an interactive game wherein the player brings up a fish-humanoid creature voiced by Leonard Nimoy.
Another influential game released was Shenmue. It was rumoured that over $50 million was spent on the development of this game, which depicted the Japanese city of Yokosuka accurately. This game was initially said to be an originally an 11 part saga, which was then reduced to three parts although only two games were released by the end of production.
The system has received mostly positive reviews which contradicts its sales figures. It is also said that the Dreamcast is notably ahead of its time and powerful.