SEGA Dreamcast’s 15th Anniversary – the Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Classic Console

dc15
It’s hard to think that the Dreamcast turned 15 years old today. For many of the writers here at SEGAbits, the Dreamcast holds a special place in our hearts, and even though the console was active in retail for less than 2 years, it amounted itself an incredible amount of great games. Let’s look back at the history of the iconic console, its death, rebirth, and its future…

The launch of the SEGA Dreamcast in America

"Yes, I will take 1 Dreamcast please" - SEGA fans
“Yes, I will take 1 Dreamcast please” – SEGA fans

Despite a poor performance in the West, the SEGA Saturn was quite successful in Japan. However, SEGA wanted to capture the broader market and it didn’t seem it would be possible to achieve with the Saturn due to technical hurdles when it came to programming 3D games. SEGA started work on what would be the SEGA Dreamcast and it got its launch debut in Japan on November 27th, 1998. Sadly, the Japanese audience were left disappointed with the launch of the unit and they very well should have been. The system launched with only four games which included July, Pen Pen Trilcelon, Virtua Fighter 3tb, and Godzilla Generations. Meanwhile, SEGA continued to support the Saturn alongside the Dreamcast in Japan.

SEGA of America CEO Peter Moore talking to ZDTV about the Dreamcast launch
SEGA of America CEO Peter Moore talking to ZDTV about the Dreamcast launch

Over in America, lots of people where questioning if SEGA had it would took to stay in the console race. The SEGA Saturn was a huge failure in America partly due to SEGA of America refusing to bring Japanese titles over which resulted in it having a low amount of quality titles on store shelves. SEGA was happy to start from scratch with the new development friendly SEGA Dreamcast. SEGA had almost a whole year after the Japanese launch to get things right. SEGA secured a wide range of games for its day one launch including Sonic Adventure, Power Stone, Soulcalibur, The House of the Dead 2, Hydro Thunder, and NFL 2k. The US launch saw 19 games with plenty of genres to choose from, making the Japanese launch seem laughable by comparison. SEGA confirmed that it made $98.4 million dollars, 15 years ago on Dreamcast’s launch day. That was combined software and hardware sales, SEGA went on to compare it to Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace first day ticket sales of 28.5 million, showing that the Dreamcast was a success.

The Dreamcast success in America only grew, selling 500,000 units in just two weeks. Rumor has it that EA refused to develop games on the Dreamcast due to SEGA refusing to give them exclusive football game rights on the console, meaning SEGA would have to cancel their SEGA Sports titles. SEGA refused and later that year SEGA confirmed that NFL 2k1 outsold Madden NFL 2001 by 49k units. The Dreamcast shared more milestones like being the first console to have 1 million users online in January 7, 2000, mere months after its US launch. Games like Jet Set Radio, Quake III Arena and Phantasy Star Online really hyped up SEGA during E3 2000 and dropping the price to $149.95 in August really kept sales moving.

In September 7th, 2000, almost one full year after Dreamcast launched, SEGA began SEGANet with NFL 2k1, launching that console generation into online gaming. Even at this time, SEGA wasn’t hitting the software and hardware sales that they wanted, and they gave it one last big push with Shenmue on November 7th, 2000…. A few months later SEGA Japan announced it would withdraw from hardware and cease Dreamcast production.

The death of the Dreamcast
WhatsShenmue

Its easy to see where SEGA went wrong in the console race. Having a low price point causing them not to make a profit right away, no DRM causing users to easily pirate games, not having enough money in the bank to begin with, supporting two consoles at the same time in Japan, and of course the hype surrounding Playstation 2 having DVD support. It seems hard to believe that many people would buy a console because it played DVDs, considering physical formats aren’t used as regularly as they where back then. But DVD was a big deal, I remember a lot of people I knew sold their Dreamcast collections just to ‘upgrade to a Playstation 2’.

What CEO at the time Peter Moore had to say about discontinuing the Dreamcast to The Guardian:

“We had a tremendous 18 months. Dreamcast was on fire – we really thought that we could do it. But then we had a target from Japan that said – and I can’t remember the exact figures – but we had to make N hundreds of millions of dollars by the holiday season and shift N millions of units of hardware, otherwise we just couldn’t sustain the business.

So on January 31 2001 we said Sega is leaving hardware – somehow I got to make that call, not the Japanese. I had to fire a lot of people, it was not a pleasant day.

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. So we licked our wounds, ate some humble pie and went to Sony and Nintendo to ask for dev kits.”

"One of the many iconic games SEGA showed at E3 2000 to battle Sony's PS2 hype"
“One of the many iconic games SEGA showed at E3 2000 to battle Sony’s PS2 hype”

SEGA announced it was going to be a third-party developer shortly after leaving the console race and announced games for other consoles. This was shocking news and many people couldn’t even imagine playing Sonic the Hedgehog on Nintendo hardware. SEGA dropped the price of the remaining Dreamcast to $99.95 and continued to release software for the console, this price drop was short lived since by the winter of 2001 the Dreamcast dropped as low as $49.95, the price of a single game!

The final nail in the Dreamcast coffin in America came when SEGA shut down the servers for Phantasy Star Online in August of 2003, a sad day for many SEGA gamers that spent years playing that game online. Dreamcast was still being sold by SEGA Japan but only refurbished and they even published the last first-party game in February 2004, that title was Puyo Puyo Fever. The last refurbished consoles where sold in early 2006, effectively meaning SEGA cut all ties with the console after that.

The Rise of the Indies
Indie

Even though gamers still wanted new titles on their Dreamcast, they got lucky with big games that were never released which were leaked online, these games included Half-Life and Propeller Arena. While playing what might have been was cool, fans also wanted to develop their own games for the system. A big break came when fans reverse engineered the Dreamcast and found out how to play Mil-CDs without hardware modification. Independent development for the Dreamcast really took off when KallistiOS by Dan Potter was released and continued to be the most used development library for independent Dreamcast games.

Related articles: 

The first big indie game was the rhythm game Feet of Fury in 2003, which helped open up the market for game publishing independently on Dreamcast. There is a stereotype that almost all games released independently end up being shooters (or Shoot ’em ups) which isn’t accurate. The SEGA Dreamcast has showed some range from the top down racer Rush Rush Rally Racing, to the puzzle game Wind & Water: Puzzle Battles. It even got some excellent shooters like Last Hope: Pink Bullets and Fast Striker along the way.

Even this year the Dreamcast refused to die, with a slew of new games hitting Kickstarter and being worked on as we speak.

Even in the Future: “It’s still thinking…”
Dreamcastbag

We will be covering a few games that have been announced to come out in the not so distant future or have been in limbo, but recently been brought back to life.

Pier Solar HD

PierSolarHD

Back in November 2012 Watermelon Games announced a Kickstarter to remake its SEGA Genesis RPG Pier Solar on HD consoles. This would include Xbox 360, PC, Mac, Linux, Ouya, Wii U, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox One and even the SEGA Dreamcast.  The game has sadly been met with delays so far. The only version that has been confirmed to get a physical release is the Dreamcast version.

This will be considered a director’s cut from the SEGA Genesis version released back in 2010 which will expand the story and give the player more location and challenges. All the stuff that couldn’t fit on the powerful 64MEG cartridge.

Listen to:

Elysian Shadows

ElysianShadow

Elysian Shadows is another multiplatform 2D role-playing game that was funded via kickstarter. This one is also being published (at least on Dreamcast) by Watermelon games, which I would consider a huge honor for any independent developer to achieve. This self-proclaimed ‘next-gen 2D role-playing game’ is a unique hybrid of 2D/3D graphical style.

The developers even stated that they where going to release their toolkit used in the game for people to create their own games, add levels or just mess around with. Here is a video of Falco Girgis talking about whats possible with their toolkit.

Listen to:

Dynamite Dreams

DynimateDreams

It is a shame that Namco decided that Bomberman isn’t a viable video game franchise anymore and that it thought Bomberman Zero was a good idea. It seemed that we aren’t the only ones that missed that old style Bomberman action, since the indies behind Dynamite Dreams seem to be highly influenced by that classic Bomberman action.

The team tried to get the game ready for release in 2013 but was unable to meet the goal and continues to be worked on today. Last I heard they where really close to release after a long beta testing session. Who knows if it will finally be released this year. If you want to support the developer you can follow them on Twitter here.

 LEONA’s Tricky Adventure

leonastrickyadv

Here is a game that didn’t receive big fanfare on Kickstarter before the creator canceled the crowd funding. This game is aiming to be released on the Amiga and SEGA Dreamcast and was suppose to come out a over a year ago, which they obviously missed their goal.

LEONA’s Tricky Adventure will be a exploration puzzle game that will allow you to explore an over world much like an RPG with a story, but instead of combat you rebuild places through its puzzle system. Interesting concept and hopes of seeing the game in the near future for sure.

Just today a new shooter named SLaVE was announced, Ghost Blade is up for pre-order and the Dreamcast indie scene still have plenty of games that are, as of today unannounced. What with new toolkits hitting the scene in the not so distant future, maybe even you can be the next big SEGA Dreamcast developer.

Ad:

5 responses to “SEGA Dreamcast’s 15th Anniversary – the Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Classic Console

  1. cube_b3 says:

    No love for Ghost Blade?

    Very insightful article though. Really enjoyed it.

    Since you bring up supporting 2 consoles in Japan and the Saturn being a massive success in Japan, don’t you think not having backward compatability was a major F! Up?

    I can understand why the Saturn wasn’t backward compatible with Mega Drive but I think R&D should have spent some time either coding a saturn emulator on Windows CE/Kitana or developing a Saturn chip for Dreamcast.

    Nonetheless, let’s leave the past in the past and look towards the future.

  2. great article, congratulations!

  3. jimi Andreas says:

    it was’nt exclusivity…..it was the fact that EA had ties to the 3DFX chip and sega went with the Power VR2.that was the deal breaker for Madden.!

  4. Stephen Sisemore says:

    I really enjoyed the article but seemed rather disappointed at the editing and about how much material was skipped over. A shame too when there is so much Dreamcast material out there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *