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Alive 5
                            Sega's failure



      Why Sega finally decided to stay out of the hardware business

Sega has been around for quite a while. When Atari was hot, people already knew
Space Fury, Congo Bongo or the smash hit Zaxxon. When Atari's video  games were
fading  away  and  Atari's  computers were  hot, everyone  knew  Space Harrier,
Afterburner or Shinobi. And when Atari died, everyone knew Sonic, the hedgehog,
Monaco GP and Virtua Racer.

Now all of a sudden, Sega  decides  to pull  out of  the hardware  business and
produce games for the former arch enemies such as Sony, Nintendo and Micro$oft.
Surprised ? Not  really, over the  past 10  years Sega  had to recover from one
failed project over the other.

This little article is just to show that this final step by Sega is in no way
surprising, but their only last chance to survive.

1987 - Not really a flop, not really a hit - the Master System
Introduced in 1986 in Japan as Mark III, in 1987 in America and Europe as
Master System, Sega's first real console concept, available worldwide now,
established itself and re-introduced the video game market after its total
breakdown in 1984.

But Sega only lead the world charts shortly with this one. Good games like Alex
Kidd or Shinobi pushed the sales  for a short  time, but Sega never  managed to
establish one great mascot like Nintendo did with Mario. Technically spoken the
Master System could keep up with  the Nintendo Entertainment system, but Sega's
approach was different.

The Sega arcade machines were always technically stunning and did not look too
good on the Master System's 8-bit  hardware, while Nintendo  focussed on games
with intelligent and terrific  gameplay that never relied on technical gadgets
too much. The Master  System succeeded in  establishing Sega in the video game
market worldwide, but it always was second place.

1988 - The only real winner by Sega - The MegaDrive
Finally, in 1988 in  Japan  and in  1989 in  Europe and  America  (where it was
called Genesis), Sega managed to introduce a system that was capable of beating
both the NEC PC Engine  and the  Nintendo NES  technically and  this time, Sega
managed to produce  visually stunning  games on it that  looked as good as they
played. And this time, third party  developers were  attracted by the simple to
program, yet very powerful hardware of this 16-bit system as well.

The MegaDrive also introduced Sonic, the Hedgehog, the only real and successful
mascot that Sega lacked for the whole  8-bit era. The MegaDrive/Genesis was the
only real successful Video  Game System Sega  had until then - and it will stay
Sega's only real hit.

1992 - Mass storage media at last - The MegaCD
In 1992 and 1993, the MegaCD (SegaCD in America) as  presented to the world,
giving the MegaDrive a 600 MB power-up for real full motion video, music and
more gameplay you ever wanted.

To keep up with the technical developments of  this time, the  MegaCD was  even
given additional customchips  along  with  an 68000  CPU. But the MegaCD  had 2
major  disadvantages : The  customchips  increased  the  price, yet  the  games
suffered from  the  low  data  transfer  rate  of the  drive so  that the  full
potential of this system was hardly visible. Yet Sega clinged to it for quite a
while, even though it was not  very well  supported by third  party developers.
Trying to redesign both  the MegaDrive and the MegaCD to decrease costs lead to
the MegaDrive 2 and the MegaCD 2. Still, this  system flopped  in comparison to
the sales of the MegaDrive in general.

1992 - Portable Problems - The Game Gear
Also in 1992, Sega  finally presented  their  answer  to  Nintendo's  extremely
successful Game  Boy, the Game  Gear. Resembling the  Lynx in  size, design and
weight  rather than the  Game Boy, the  Game Gear could  never  compete  in any
aspect with the  Lynx  hardware-wise. The  Game  Gear was  very similar  to the
Master System with the only exception being the revamped graphics chip, capable
of displaying 4096 colours and more sprites. Yet, the  Game Gear was too heavy,
consumed far too much power so  batteries  lasted  below one hour usually and a
rather washed up display, Sega soon  had to see that the games produced for the
Game Gear  also looked behind times - they were  usually just  improved  Master
System Versions.

Sega decided to give the Game  Gear a TV  adapter so  you could  watch TV using
your  Game  Gear - but  please, no  shows  that  are  longer  than  40 minutes,
otherwise batteries are bound  to fail. Then, as a  last step, they  introduced
the Master System Adapter that finally let you play Master System games on your
Game  Gear - but  instead  of  boasting Game  Gear  sales, it  slaughtered game
development on the Game Gear.

1993 - Piggy Back Powerup - The Sega 32X
The early nineties  were quite  shaky for  the whole video game industry. Atari
announced the return with a bang - The Atari  Jaguar, a 64-bit  system powerful
enough to  slaughter  anything  on  the market  currently, produced  by IBM for
minimum retail price and maximum quality. Sony and Panasonic announced the 3DO,
the first fully CD-based video game system - And Sega's most  succesful console
ever, the MegaDrive, was slowly, but surely, falling behind times. Sega decided
to approach this problem in 2 steps.

First, release  a "power-up" for  the MegaDrive  to keep it up to date, second,
announce the Saturn, a full answer to both 3DO  and Jaguar. But the  32X failed
badly.  Reasons  for  this  are  numerous. For the  customer, the 32X  was only
attractive if you already  had a MegaDrive, otherwise, the  entry  price  for a
MegaDrive PLUS  a  32X  was  quite  high. For  the  developer, the  combination
MegaDrive and 32X - even  worse, MegaDrive, 32X and MegaCD -  was quite a bunch
of hardware to handle, a SuperH RISC CPU in the 32X, 2  68000 plus Z80, and all
that connected over a bus-system that needed to shuffle quite a lot of data per
second. Even Sega didn't  really  know what  games to produce  for the 32X. Top
titles such as Virtua Racing  Deluxe  and  Virtua Fighter  were the exepctions,
expensive, but not very hot  games  like the Star  Wars license games or Sega's
remixes of 80s games such as Space Harrier and Afterburner did not attract many
customers. Additionally, there was  basically no 3rd  party development  at all
for the 32X.

1993 - Portable Problems continued - The CDX
The MegaCD might have flopped, but the CD did succeed in ruling  this planet as
a storage device. Sega decided to  re-cycle the MegaCD once again and packed it
all together in a  very  slim  case  that  resembled the  size and  design of a
portable CD player but also included a fully fledged  Mega Drive. Yet again, it
did  not  work  out. First, the system  was  small, but a  bit fragile and very
expensive. MegaCD games were rare  and most  titles not  very hot and  for just
playing MegaDrive cartridge  games, this was  the most  expensive  solution you
could get. The CDX was also known as MegaCD portable, but it did not sell well.

1994 - Portable Problems final - The Nomad
So Nintendo took the whole  portable  market by  storm and neither Game Gear by
Sega nor the Atari Lynx could do anything against  that. But Sega  tried again,
with a portable MegaDrive. Pardon me, with a portable Genesis. The Nomad has an
internal LC Display, but can also be  hooked up to a TV set, it has an internal
joypad, but can also  connect 2  external  joypad -  hence  it's a full Genesis
that can also be used as a fully functional portable - and a highly  compatible
one, too, that plays really any Genesis game.

Funny enough, the Nomad  could  not establish  itself  either. Even  though the
power consumption was bearable this time, even though it offered  to be used as
a full Genesis, even though it  was compatible to any  Genesis game, it did not
make it. Fragility, lack of international support and advertisement, high price
and loss of interest by the public lead to the Nomad being a dead project, too.

1995 - Sony's entrance, Sega's leave - The Saturn
Sony just announced to  enter the  video game market  with a project called the
"Playstation", and 3DO threatened to release a successor to the 3DO, the Jaguar
was (kind of)  still there, too and  the 32X  was a failure - time to really do
something for Sega. So the Saturn was finished  and most probably finished in a

Though technically comparable to the Playstation the Saturn suffered from badly
organised hardware, lack of good developer kits, lack of support from Sega. The
first series of games for the Saturn could easily compete with the first series
of Playstation games but while all involved companies contracted to continuosly
support the Playstation, the  Saturn  never saw  the sequels of  Tomb Raider or
Command & Conquer.

Then again, Sega's own games on  the  Saturn  did not  really compete  with the
massive development of games that Sony pushed for the Playstation. As a reason,
in 1997, Sega cancelled the Saturn. It was the first time, a video game company
the size of Sega cancelled the support for its own console without either being
sold, dying or being bankrupt.

1999 - Sega's final chapter - The Dreamcast
In 1999, the Dreamcast, the next-next generation video game, was introduced and
according to inside sources, Sega did it all right this time. Well, almost. The
hardware is powerful enough to even compete with  the younger PS2  and GameCube
on a decent level. This  time, Sega even  put  great emphasis on  the developer
support by producing decent  developer kits  and supplying  reliable  developer
support. As an additional goody, Sega  even gave the  Dreamcast a modem, making
the Dreamcast either a WWW-settop box for your TV set or  your terminal station
for online gaming.

But Sega failed again and  most probably due  to their  advertisement campaign.
The Dreamcast was  either advertised as "6-billion player console" without even
mentioning the superior hardware of  the Dreamcast or not at all. The Dreamcast
sported a huge amount of top-notch games  such as Metropolis  Street Racer, Jet
Set Radio, Ecco the Dolphin, Quake III, Sonic Adventure or Crazy Taxi, just the
public was never told - at least not by Sega.

And thus ends the day of Sega's hardware development. You will have to agree
that, after  this list  of failed  projects, withdrawing  from  the hardware
business is Sega's only sensible  solution. Well, Sega  will live on in Sega
games - You will just have to buy different hardware to play Sega games now.

The Paranoid of Paranoia from the Lunatic Asylum

Alive 5