Sega. A company that’s a shadow of its former self (no pun intended). For three console generations, Sega was in a strong second place threatening to overtake the competition, be they Nintendo or Sony. In an effort to leapfrog ahead, the company made several moves to bolster their hardware. At the time, they ranged from near misses to complete flops, but that didn’t deter them from trying again and again. In hindsight, its easy to see that Sega was on the right path as the tech they introduced became prevalent, with most still widely used today. Ultimately, Sega was detrimentally ahead of their time.
First was the Sega CD in 1992. A disc based add-on that allowed designs to use the feature set CD-ROM’s provided. While there were plenty of garbage titles (Marky Mark and Funk Bunch: Make My Video, Night Trap, Sewer Shark), but there was a surprising amount of good games for the add-on too. Lunar, Vay, Sonic CD, and Shining Force CD were some of the best, helping justify the purchase of the $200 device. Seeing moderate success, Sega tried again with the 32X in 1994. Genesis was a 16-bit system. This monstrosity plugged into the top of the console, increasing the processor to 32-bits. It was meant to bridge the gap between generations, keeping the console afloat until the Saturn. It was pathetic. While Doom and Knuckles’ Chaotix were decent, they didn’t justify the purchase price, especially with less than 40 games in the library. Six months later, it was abandoned when the Saturn released.
Sega CD was a good idea, and the 32X was a better one, they were just both poorly executed. In their defense, Sega was pioneering the concept of selling hardware add-ons, something that’s well known today as not working. They were right though, CD based medium and 32-bit graphics were the next big thing.
The Genesis also had the brilliant Sega Channel, a subscription service that allowed you to play a variety of games on the Genesis. Upwards of 50 games were available at a time, with many titles constantly rotated out. Two things worked against this service though. First, it debuted in 1994, when the Genesis was already declining (having been on the market since 1989). Second, the infrastructure required to support wasn’t ubiquitous yet, meaning most of their potential market was cut off due to location. This exact service is what Sony is offering now between Playstation Plus and Playstation Now. Even Microsoft is following suit with Games for Gold.
Their next console, the Saturn, was nearly dead on arrival. The system was scheduled to launch in September, 1995. At E3 that year, they instead surprised everyone saying it was launching that day at select retailers (Electronics Boutique, Toys “R” Us). This move angered many. Third parties felt betrayed because none of their software was ready, leaving the door open for more Sega published games to be sold. Retailers not included didn’t carry the system at all, as this negated many of their planned events for the September release. Most notable was KB Toys, which refused to carry any Sega products. Some didn’t carry the next console the Dreamcast, as well. Surprise releases like this are more common today, but only a few companies can effectively pull them off, like Apple or Amazon.
The last console they made was the Dreamcast. I still remember the 9-9-99 release campaign. This console corrected many of the Saturn’s failings. The most notable inclusion in the hardware was an ethernet port, a first for home consoles. Many games included online play, like Phantasy Star Online. Sadly, the one thing it lacked was DVD support. When the Playstation 2 released with this feature two years later, the manufacturer called it quits. Only the Xbox had a built in port, while the PS2 and Gamecube required adapters. Now, every console has either wired or wireless support.
These are just a few examples of Sega was way ahead of its time. I didn’t even get to the Game Gear, with its color screen and TV adapter, or the Nomad. Sega was a smart company that had amazing ideas, but no subtlety or grace with the executions. No patience, too consumed with being in first place. Now the company is a game creator and publisher. Honestly, I can’t remember that last thing they produced (sans publishing) that I enjoyed. Long live the Genesis.
Were you a Sega kid? How many of these consoles did you play or own? Comment below!
Where’s my downloadable Saturn games?