Nikkei Dreams: Business On The Dreamcast

The Dreamcast is often described as a system that was ahead of it's time, and in many ways it was. You only have to look at all of the ingenious peripherals and add-ons; even the lowly memory card, the VMU, is a technical marvel when you think about it. The entire range of official and unofficial enhancements is as staggeringly large as it is diverse, but perhaps the most important of them all is the one many of us forget is even there these days - the little modem stuck to the rear of the system. While the modem and the internet services it allowed played something of a minor role in PAL territories, and online gaming was a huge success in the US, over in Japan the humble modem played a much more interesting part in the story of the Dreamcast.
While the Dreamcast is first and foremost an entertainment machine, the modem allowed Sega Japan to look beyond it's primary function and decide that the console should also be used for other, non-gaming purposes. For instance, the console was installed in Toyota car showrooms and a whole range of bespoke 'Doricatch Series' GDs were produced. These were little more than advertising demos for various Toyota vehicle models and are today some of the rarest examples of NTSC-J exclusive Dreamcast software on the planet.


As well as these Toyota Doricatch discs, other non-gaming entities also employed the Dreamcast as a tool to market their particular field of operation. For instance Kyotei, a Japanese powerboat racing league produced their own bespoke software to enable users to log on to an online service where (I would imagine) leader boards and racer/team information could be accessed. Of course, this could be totally inaccurate in the case of Kyotei as so little information actually exists online, but from the screens that do this seems to be a fairly accurate guess.

Another online service was Saibai Net, a brilliantly odd marketplace for the sale of fruit and vegetables via the Dreamcast. What better way to wind down after an intense round of Virtua Tennis than going online to buy some aubergines and a bag of bananas? As with the aforementioned Kyotei there is very, very little information available about either and most of the images in this article have come from a solitary source such is the scarcity of documentation.
Perhaps the most interesting of these non-games however, is something we briefly spoke about on episode 19 of the DreamPod - the Nomura Home Trade disc. Nomura is a gargantuan multinational firm specialising in financial markets and in the late 1990s entered into a partnership with Sega to bring stock market trading to the living room through the Dreamcast. The following is from an Irish Times story published on 1st October 1999:

"Japanese video-game addicts will soon be able to use their Dreamcast electronic consoles to trade stocks online as the result of a venture by Sega Enterprises and Nomura Securities. The move promises to intensify competition in the games industry and the securities industry, which is preparing for the next stage of "Big Bang," the rolling programme of deregulation.

Equity commissions will be fully liberalised in Japan today and the move by Nomura, Japan's biggest broker, will add momentum to the surge of activity in the online broking sector.
The joint service, to be launched this month, marks the first time an online trading service has been offered through a video games console.

Sega said there were 1.4 million Dreamcast video games console users in Japan, with 420,000 already able to access the Internet using the console.
These users will be able to access Nomura's "Home Trade" service by upgrading their browsers with giga disc read-only memories (GDROMs) supplied by the broker.

Other users are expected to upgrade their games consoles to be able to access the Internet.
Sega's shares rose sharply on the news earlier this week while Nomura shares also finished higher. Sony, the electronics group, and Softbank, the computer software company, have already set up online trading companies. Charles Schwab, the largest US discount broker, has tied up with Tokio Marine, the biggest property and casualty insurer, to create another online brokerage.

Sega, which has seen unexpectedly strong Dreamcast sales of more than 500,000 units in the US after its launch this month, expects to increase Dreamcast users in Japan through the online service.
The games maker has a deal with Toyota, which enables Toyota car dealers to sell Dreamcast consoles with special access to the carmaker's Internet page. Sega expects online services to generate the bulk of its revenues within five years."
The cover artist, Lou Myers was a famous cartoonist
Naturally, these Nomura Home Trade discs were not available for public consumption and facts and figures on total numbers produced are unavailable. I have emailed Nomura but the likelihood of anybody working there having the foggiest idea what I'm blathering about is slim to none. That said, even without any concrete information, the notion that Sega Japan was willing to push the Dreamcast not just as a games machine, but as a business tool is very interesting. Today, there is no doubt that the Home Trade functionality is as dead as the servers that it would have once connected to, but this article confirms -- to me at least - just how far ahead of the curve the Dreamcast was. 

For those fleeting years of the late 1990s and early 2000s, Sega Japan was on a mission to push the Dreamcast into pretty much every area of work and play that it possibly could, and had lady luck been smiling favourably (rather than scowling with a face like a slapped arse) who knows how different the gaming landscape of the present could be. 

An interesting footnote to the whole Nomura story is that the artwork featured on the front cover and throughout the software was drawn by prominent The New Yorker cartoonist Lou Myers. According to this article, Myers was commissioned by Nomura in an attempt to give the company a facelift and a friendlier image after some form of scandal in the late 1990s. Sadly, Lou Myers passed away in 2005 and so my initial idea to contact him for some information on this whole saga will not be possible.

There is one of these currently listed on eBay UK, but it's a little outside of my price range. Do you own a Nomura Home Trade disc or know anybody who used one back in the day? What about the Toyota or Saibai Net services? If so, get in touch via the comments section.

1 comment:

The GagaMan(n) said...

Brilliant article, I didn't even know about the fruit and veg selling disc, weird! I can imagine a DreamArena version of that where logging in you hear "Paund for five banana!" Segagaga Domain has some videos of the car show room videos I believe, really nice technical showcases.