The Dreamcast Mini: Hopes and Prospects

Since Nintendo launched their NES Classic to commercial and critical acclaim in 2016, most video game console manufacturers of the '80s and '90s have been stirred to try and reproduce that success, dusting off long neglected brands and intellectual properties in the hunt for financial gains. 

Technically speaking the NES Classic isn’t all that innovative – ‘plug and play’ systems that enable users to sample a selection of old games straight out of the box had already been kicking around the market for many years. Dozens of these types of units were produced during the nineties and noughties, typically on the cheap, including a spate of abominable Mega Drive clones churned out by third-party manufacturers under license from Sega. 

One of the more famous Dreamcast Mini images one can find with a bit of Googling.

Although the fundamental premise was the same, the NES Classic had characteristics that distinguished it from what came before and established a framework to be emulated moving forward (good pun, right?). Here was a first-party designed and produced system that stayed true to the original's aesthetics, with a carefully curated set of games, and a decent build quality that gave customers a much more realistic reproduction of the console’s experience.

In its first year on the market the NES Classic sold over 1.5 million units. Rather than languishing in the darker recesses of the Argos catalogue or piling up in the gloomy discount bins of retailers, these new-old consoles sold like hot cakes, and competitors quickly took note. Sony’s PlayStation Classic was released in late 2018, while Sega were relatively late to the party, with the Mega Drive Mini hitting stores in late 2019.

The Mega Drive Mini, released in 2019, did well enough to warrant the release of the Mega Drive Mini 2 in 2022.

Inevitably, the question many gamers and industry hacks have persistently raised since the revival of plug-and-play system via the ‘Classic’ model is: what's next? Could it be feasible that Sega are secretly working away on a Dreamcast Mini as we speak? For some outlets, the mere mention of the Dreamcast in a survey sent to Japanese buyers of the Mega Drive Mini was enough reason to run pieces with rather optimistic headlines earlier this year.

While the anticipation felt by some for the possible revival of a personal favourite is understandable, the harsh reality is that to date no verifiable proof has surfaced to suggest that a Dreamcast Mini is on the horizon. This article could probably end here, but as we’re occupying that strange limbo period between Christmas and New Year with little else productive to do, let’s allow some leeway to ponder the prospects of such a product appearing in the near future.

No matter how much you’d love to have a teeny tiny version of a design classic sitting next to your TV, the first and foremost factor Sega will be considering is the potential profitability of a Dreamcast Mini. After all, behind the sparkly mission statements and corporate social responsibility lingo, they are a business with shareholders that only love Sonic as long as he is bringing home stacks of hard currency alongside the chaos emeralds.
Maybe a Dreamcast this mini would be taking things a bit too far...
Is there really a large enough audience for a Dreamcast Mini? One key customer profile in this respect would be those who are motivated to open their wallets by nostalgia. Middle-aged folks who want a momentary escape from the drudgery of modern life but can’t be bothered with the hassle of picking up second-hand hardware, or the need to trawl through forum posts to figure out how to re-calibrate their rickety GD-Rom drive. 

On this point, the Dreamcast is at a severe disadvantage, as without some serious mental gymnastics it is hard to be nostalgic for something that you never experienced in the first place. 9 million units sold is nothing to be sniffed at, but it is a drop in the ocean when we consider the figures racked up by the behemoths of Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft.

 An altogether different user could be found amongst younger audiences who are curious about retro games but lack the disposable income to shell out on a system that has been ravaged by hyperinflation as of late. While there is some anecdotal evidence to show that newcomers are taking interest in the Dreamcast, internet search trends suggest that this is probably having a minimal impact when it comes to the bigger picture.

Search interest for the Dreamcast relative to some other consoles on Google over the last 12 months. One very rough indicator of popularity (but not quality!)

So, any realistic sales projections for a Dreamcast Mini would undoubtedly be dwarfed by the likes of the NES, SNES and PlayStation; but if costs could be kept low, then it may yet be an enticing enough prospect for Sega to pursue. 

Despite how morally dubious a practice it may be, Sony have already demonstrated one way to pare down the costs of researching and developing the required software – pilfering from open-source emulators that have been voluntarily produced. Dreamcast emulators have come a long way over the last decade, and amongst the most popular there is a mix of open and closed source builds. If this route was followed, then the initial steps towards creating a bare-bones prototype may not require a lot of investment. 

Another way that upfront costs could be restrained would be by keeping to a largely first-party offering in terms of the games included, thereby dodging heavy licensing fees. Given how many of the best loved Dreamcast games are first-party titles (8 out of the top 10 as voted for by DCJY readers) this cheapo route needn’t inhibit the selection all that drastically. Even if a deal could be worked out with Capcom alone, then that would open up the possibilities massively.

There are, however, some monumental barriers to producing a low-cost Dreamcast Mini, if the end product is to create an experience as close to the original as the preceding new-old consoles like the SNES Classic or Mega Drive Mini have achieved. Online gameplay, which was central to the pitch of the Dreamcast, would require a great deal of time and effort to replicate – at least with a service that could pass the muster with the general public. Likewise, it will be a dear exercise to replicate true-to-form Dreamcast controllers complete with VMUs; certainly more expensive than turning out the janky plastic rectangles that pass for ‘controllers’ on the NES (admit it, they are uncomfortable!). Other ‘Classic’ editions have yet to venture out into the world of accessories, most likely for good reason, and so the joys of madly spinning the clacking reel of a fishing rod controller would most likely remain unknown to Dreamcast Mini owners too.

That's actually a regular Dreamcast sat on a massive Mega Drive.

Others have daydreamed about the possibilities of what a Dreamcast Mini could be, which to be fair, can be a fun exercise - we even recorded an entire DreamPod episode on such frivolity. Wireless controllers, WiFi connections, online gameplay, enhanced VMUs – such features would be glorious and technologically speaking are all eminently feasible, but not at a price point which would allow for large quantities to be shifted and for profit to accumulate on balance sheets, à la the NES Classic. Indeed, one of the very few things that has been publicly uttered by Sega representatives about a potential Dreamcast Mini has been a comment about it being cost prohibitive at this time due to the ongoing chips shortage, which doesn’t bode well for the idea of a pimped-out Dreamcast 2-esque product being in the works.

Where does this leave things then? In recent years Sega seem to have shaken off their aversion to the Dreamcast, tentatively dipping their toes back into the brand with low-key merchandise drops and occasional social media posts fishing for traffic. Producing a Dreamcast Mini would be a much bigger and riskier step, but could perhaps be pulled off successfully if handled astutely. With the right games, and at a reasonable price, I could be tempted to part with some cash for one – especially so if it came with a replica box in the superior PAL-blue design. 

What do you reckon DCJY readers? Is the Dreamcast Mini something you pine for, or couldn’t you care less? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.


zgillet said...

This probably won't happen, and to be honest that's fine. I, like many Dreamcast fans, have one hooked up - with a binder of burned games (and a few legit ones - like PSO v2). I don't really have a need for something like this.

Tom Charnock said...

I agree with zgillet to be honest. Maybe we'll see a Dreamcast Mini in like 10 years time when technology has moved on even further and mass production of emulation devices is even more advanced and way cheaper. I don't know. Either way, a very good article Lozz, very thought provoking stuff.

Administrator said...

I prefer to get a dreamcast mister core or an fpga dremcast. Otherwise my dreamcast with a gd-emu and a Brook winan sd can be beaten. Us dreamcast fans we already own 2-3 dreamcasts anyway. Sega should do mini console running model2,3 and naomi 1 and 2 games tbh

Unknown said...

I'd only be interested if they added some random ports like Crazy Taxi 3: High Roller and other ports that would seriously challenge the Dreamcast hardware. If they created some sort of new exclusive SEGA games for it then that would be another selling point to me. Otherwise a successful franchise like Tomb Raider and having the original three games included or having something massive like Harry Potter (and porting the first 2 PS1 games) would get other fanbases from other areas interested to consider buying it.

I think there would have to be quite a few new ideas to make it worthwhile to buy as most of us have all the games with our modded Dreamcast consoles. It would have to be some sort of Dreamcast 1.5...Perhaps they could also make a few extra quid by selling physical add-ons such as different controllers and/or coloured shells if it was financially viable? Anyway before I get carried away, I'll end this short by agreeing with those who just don't think there's enough demand for Dreamcast Mini or a Dreamcast 1.5 to be made. I'll be surprised if SEGA go ahead with it, but happy if it does.