Chances are if you have lived through the 90s, you had either played or owned one of Sega’s most popular consoles like the Genesis/Mega Drive and the Dreamcast. Both these consoles are a reminder of both Sega’s innovative peak and also its last hurrah.
When the Sega’s Master System didn’t measure up to the Nintendo Entertainment System, the company unleashed perhaps their best console ever. In 1989, the Mega Drive/Genesis was launched. With the help of a furry, blue hedgehog called Sonic and games like Revenge of Shinobi, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter II Champion Edition and Double Dragon, the 16-bit powerhouse soon conquered the market.
Sega’s Genesis went head-to-head against the Super Nintendo (SNES) in a closely fought battle. Even though Nintendo had the slightly better hardware, the Genesis had the games. Sega realized that they could capitalize on the success of Genesis and add peripherals like the Sega CD add-on. It would also release the portable Nomad that would play Genesis games on a built-in screen.
Taking on the PlayStation
Unfortunately, none of these add-ons really took off. By the mid-90s, Sony had entered the market with the 32-bit PlayStation that would eventually dominate the late-90s. Sega needed to move on from the 16-bit Genesis and move onto a better more advanced console. In came the ill-fated Sega Saturn.
Saturn was a 32-bit machine that would play games on Compact Discs like the PlayStation but it failed to build on the success of the Genesis. By moving the launch earlier than expected, retailers in North America were ill-prepared to handle orders last minute. Near the end of its life, NPD reports that the Sega Saturn had only two percent market share compared to its rivals.
Arrival of the Dreamcast
As the 20th century came to an end, Sega had one last chance to save itself from going under. After learning lessons from the Saturn debacle, the first ever 128-bit console, Dreamcast, launched in September 1999 (in North America).
Dreamcast had one of the best launches of its time. Game Makers claim that a record 300,000 units had been pre-ordered in the US. BBC reported that the Dreamcast sold a million units a lot faster than the PlayStation did at its launch. Games like Sonic Adventure, Soul Calibur, Shenmue, Crazy Taxi and Jet Set Radio proved to be massive hits.
Dreamcast was the first to have a built-in modem and internet support for online play. According to the BBC, the console failed to perform in their native Japan despite its impressive launch. Due to financial troubles gained from losses in Japan, Sega was in a tough situation. The PlayStation 2 arrived in late 2000 and its popularity further put Sega in deep water. Eventually, in March 2001, it was officially discontinued and Sega exited the console market altogether.
Will Sega make a comeback in a market they once dominated? It’s hard to say as they have now established themselves as a successful publisher of titles for their former rivals including Sony and Nintendo. One thing is for sure … Never say never!