Indeed, I think you can argue that the Dreamcast's failure and Sega's demise haunts the industry today. That idea that a company so fundamental to the business and culture of an industry can, with one infamous phone call, suddenly cease to be, end in such a messy and brutal way, hovers now like a grim spectre over all of gaming.
It's hard to translate today what a massive shock Sega's collapse was at the time. The closest, arguably, we can hypothetically come to it is if tomorrow Nintendo suddenly announced that the Wii U would be its last home console, that it was pulling out of the mainstream video game industry and was disbanding almost all of its in-house development teams. It's crude, and nowhere near a 1-for-1 scenario, however it does carry the the same weight of fallout.
So why did the Dreamcast fail? The answer is, with everything in life, complex and indefinite. Here are a list of just some of reasons that have since been postulated:
- The Dreamcast's name was vague and did not go down well in the West.
- Japan's economy entered recession when Sega was financially at its weakest point.
- Sega allowed spending on development for the Dreamcast - such as the $50 million dollar Shenmue - to spin out of control.
- Sony released the PS2 early on in the Dreamcast's lifespan.
- Sony turned a blind eye to piracy on the PS2, at least in the system's early years, to rapidly grow a hardware base.
- The PS2 sported a DVD player.
- The PS2 was a more powerful and reliable console.
|You can't warp the figures, Sega lost a lot of money developing and launching the Dreamcast.|
Looking back, I believe that Sega did almost everything right when developing and launching the Dreamcast. They delivered a clean and sleekly designed console that banished any lingering images of the ugly Saturn. They produced and licensed a wide variety of high-calibre peripherals. They innovated in both console connectivity with online gameplay and features, as well as with how they marketed the console and courted developers. They even managed to produce the first proper, stand-alone 3D Sonic game and do a fantastic job too (Sonic Adventure is arguably one of the best launch titles for any console ever released).
Yes, the official controller's design was a miss, and the first-year software library wasn't great, but both of those are hardly company-ending issues. Indeed, since the Dreamcast's release, console launch libraries have been frequently lack-lustre, with launch days spread cynically into 'launch windows' that can stretch from months to years. It is now par for the course for the first year in a console's lifespan to be devoid of killer, console-selling titles.
So, why did one of the founders of the video game industry and the creator of one of the most iconic video game characters of all time suddenly implode? I think it was just their time.
In the grand scheme of things, I think the real reason Sega went under was an unquantifiable number of decisions made, consciously or subconsciously, at a micro scale. The decisions made were probably, according to logic, the right ones, however the series of events that unfolded after them could not have been controlled or predicted. The law of chaos ruled and, just as if you throw stick after stick into a fast-flowing stream, eventually one will get snagged on a rock and held in place against the torrent, Sega did what they had always done, innovated, created and went to market, only this time the conditions had changed and they became stuck and struck out.
Could Sega have mitigated against this happening? Maybe, maybe not. What they definitely couldn't do though was control the chaos of reality. A reality where, unfortunately, their time was up.