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Guest Article: Was The Dreamcast Released Too Early?

Daniel Major is a gamer who has been twiddling his thumbs since 1989. Not happy with the direction of the industry in the mid 90s, he decided to quit trying to pretend the Amiga hadn't died and moved to a woodland to sacrifice Atari STs by fire ritual. Also plays Super Famicom & Megadrive. Here in this guest article, Daniel takes some time out from hitting broken JAMMA boards with a stick in his local park and asks the question: was the Dreamcast simply released too early?
Let’s pretend that the Dreamcast didn’t actually exist. Imagine the sixth generation without the Dreamcast. Let’s all forget that the sixth generation started with Sega’s dream machine and begin to ponder how different the rest of the sixth generation could have panned out. If you can imagine this then can you imagine Sony or Microsoft actually bothering with some of the included specs of their consoles? Online play for example. If Sega hadn’t bothered introducing this to the Dreamcast, would Sony have been inclined to do this? Let’s face it, did we all play online when the PS2 hit? No not all of us. Maybe that changed slightly when Xbox hit, but even then it was a well-known fact that this wouldn’t be the sixth generation's most potent or show stopping feature.

So, my question is: did the Dreamcast lay down any specific guidelines, laws or requirements for Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony to follow? Did the Dreamcast publicly put forward internet, web browsing and online play before the other console giants realised what was going on? Did the Dreamcast actually fall victim to its own ode to futurism or was it all a desperate gimmick to save Sega and fill an almost two year void before Sony released the PlayStation 2?

To find the answer to this I must travel to Japan. Probably. But since I’m actually quite poor and really busy with things right now, I’m going to ask some people who look about my age on Twitter.
When setting out on an investigative piece like this the first place to start is the company you are writing for and ask for money. But Since Tom Charnock at The Dreamcast Junkyard is probably poor too (poorer than you can possibly imagine, as it happens - Tom),  I’ve got more chance of getting the top job at IGN. So my journey starts here, on my laptop. I can travel anywhere for free...well, almost free - I need to pay the internet provider. I was thinking of going into my local village and asking around but they are all usually drunk by twelve in the afternoon so I’ll stay here. My first stop was a guy called Martin. Martin has been playing games for decades now, written a couple of previous guest articles here at the Junkyard (here and here), and nobody is quite sure of his real age. But since he has a wealth of experience in the field of gaming, I sent him a DM asking if he felt the Dreamcast was innovative or a gimmick. 

I didn’t know what kind of reply to expect. He took more than thirty minutes to reply to the direct message. Maybe he wasn’t interested? Was he withholding sensitive information about the Dreamcast? Was he a spy for Kotaku? He finally answered with a one word response: "Desperation."  I knew I had hit gold with this reply. This didn’t just confirm my belief that Sega needed the money instantly, but this also confirmed Martin was indeed part of Gamergate.

Sega really hit the rocks after the failing misadventures of the Mega CD, 32X, Saturn, Nomad, Game Gear, The TV Tuner, Wonder Mega thingy, and the pink kids one and the portable music playing Mega Drive. So was Sega’s attempt at bringing online gaming to the console masses a quick and cheerful way of exploiting gamers? I needed to know. The reply from Martin got me thinking. What if I asked somebody else on twitter. What if I asked them 'did Sega release the Dreamcast too early to cash in before Sony ripped them a new hole?' In fact, what if I asked all of Twitter. What would be the reply? Am I popular enough to get a strong reception on the question? I decided to tweet a poll, because by this time I was actually proper bored. So I ran the poll.

The question was: 'So. Dreamcast. Released too early for it's own good?'

The results were outstanding: 

After only ten minutes the polls had the answer at 'Yes.' This confirmed to me that Sega did indeed cash in on the Dreamcast. At this rate I’m sure to be paid for writing gaming investigative pieces for Kotaku and Polygon within a week. With all the new information pouring out of the woodwork involving the Dreamcast and the conspiracy involving it being released early for quick cash in, this leads me to believe that the money made from this cash was to fund the Dreamcast 2. And there I shall leave it. Draw your own conclusions.

Erm. Thanks for that cracking piece of investigative journalism, Daniel. Seriously though - what do you think? Was the Dreamcast released too early? Continue the discussion over at our Facebook group or throw insults at Daniel on Twitter here.

The Science Bit:
As a footnote to Daniel's article, I'd like to conduct a little social experiment. I've started to notice that a lot of people comment on these article links on social media but don't actually read them. So if you've gotten all the way to this point and came here from Facebook or Twitter, and you wish to leave a comment on either of those social networks, simply write "sugar puffs" at the end of the comment (or just that!) and I'll be able to collate information on the number of people who took the time to read this before commenting...because what's the point otherwise, right? Cheers!


Unknown said...

Sugar puffs.

Tom Charnock said...

Haha! Cheers XD

Teddy Rogers said...

Porridge. On the flip side of this article, I think Sega caved in too early. They could have stuck it out a bit longer, released the DVD addon or even a revised Dreamcast...

flan said...

Puggar suffs.

flan said...

Puggar suffs.

Unknown said...

I honestly believe that if Sega just waited it out until Sony released the ps2 first before giving us the dreamcast, Sega would still be at the top of the console wars.

Sugar puffs

Tonal Bliss said...

Shoogarr puphths.

Tom Charnock said...

Hahaha! I'm going to regret this Sugar Puffs thing aren't I? XD

Tom Charnock said...

Teddy Rogers - see here: http://www.thedreamcastjunkyard.co.uk/2016/04/would-upgrades-have-prolonged-dreamcast.html

RJAY63 said...

I remember EDGE Magazine posing this question back in 2001. Here's a link to the article itself: http://dreamcast-talk.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=5039

Jorge said...

As I recall - and memory can be very deceiving - except for Sega hardcore fans no one cared much for maracas, fishing rods, expensive, slow dialed-up online gameplay and dvd-less white consoles. Gamers back then were mesmerized by a black&blue stylish monolith, ridind the horizon on an Emotion Engine - whatever this truly meaned - and greatly favored GT instead of MSR, FF instead of PSO and GTA instead of Shenmue. There was nothing that Sega could do, leaking money and lacking enough 3rd party support as it was - either delay DC's launch or give consoles away for free - that could have changed that, imho. It took several years and a whole new generation of gamers - one capable of appreciating all the brilliance and sheer innovation Sega brought, in it's last effort, to the gaming scene - to acknowlege what was on stake... sugar puffs!

Caspian said...

I think that SEGA's timing was right. SEGA was low on every resource possible, but by going in about two years earlier than its major rival (PS2) would provide her with a valuable and adequate advantage that is very expensive and sparse to get: time.

I still think that SEGA could have pulled it off, maybe not oversell PS2 but at least make the Dreamcast profitable. The chances were slim, but in the end it was SEGA's own faults that put the Dreamcast in its eventual position. This can be shown from the fact that Dreamcast sales lagged quite some time before PS2 hit the street. On retrospect, if SEGA could have worked out effectively its shipping, marketing, licensing, game-development, piracy, internet provision and other problems it encountered along the way, SEGA could have made the Dreamcast profitable. Given its precarious position, it is obvious that the room for errors was exremely limited.

In addtion, in order to propely answer the question, one thing that is worth investigating is what was the alternative for SEGA. Could have SEGA afforded to wait? Was the Saturn going to perform in a way that it could provide an extra cash flow? Or was it that commitment to the Saturn would have drained even more the already limited SEGA resources? I do not have the figures, but it is my impression that the Saturn didn't fair very well and ended up being a black hole instead of a profit-maker. So for SEGA, the decision to release the Dreamcast at the time she did could really be a one-way street, and "Desperation" might just be the right word to describe its position and its strategy in that respect.

Sugar puffs.