|Among home consoles systems, battles have been raging for decades
over which system is the best. Was it Atari or Colecovision or Intellivision? Of course,
the NES and Sega Master System had a lot going for them. So did the Super Nintendo, Sega
Genesis, Panasonic 3DO, SNK's NeoGeo, and the ever-denigrated Sega Saturn. Yes, it seems
that while the "best" system will never be determined, there is no shortage of
people ready to condemn the old, the slow, the out-of-production, as being inferior units.
What I'm getting at here is this: A lot of people are wondering if Sega has the clout.
Sure, Sega has had some hard times in the past few years. The Saturn was not as big of a success as the PlayStation and the N64 have been. But Sega didn't sit out the 64-bit battle by any means. Some really great games were released for the Saturn, and some, like Lunar: Silver Star Story, have recently been released on the PlayStation to great fanfare. Industry analysts and bigwigs who spend a lot of time thinking about such things have offered up a slew of reasons and rationale for why Sega faltered on this old system. Many people, a lot of whom never even owned a Saturn, claim they have been made gunshy by the Saturn's quick demise. I say, C'mon. Is this any way to treat dear old Sega?
Let's not forget that while Sony was selling us Discmen that skipped like a Double Dutch finalist and had a battery lifespan shorter than a game of Silent Hill, Sega was selling us the Master System, which at least worked right. While Nintendo milked every last bit of life out of the NES, and then the Super Nintendo, Sega was putting out the Genesis, the Sega CD, and the Saturn. Sega has been on the cutting edge as long as they've been a company, and they aren't letting up now. The Dreamcast is another step in the evolution of consoles, and it's not surprising that Sega is once again leading the way.
And this time it looks like they're doing it right. Sega's presence was overwhelming at E3. Their area hosted dozens of play kiosks, and game developers proudly displayed their DC titles in development all over the expo. The interest in Sega's product was not spurred on by the desire to see the bloated carcass of an industry has-been. On the contrary, the DC screens were just plain impressive, and the oddly comfortable, spacecraft-shaped, controllers beckoned to the crowd. If nothing else, Sega has furthered the evolution of unit design, coming up with something that's a little PSX, a little N64, and deceptively unassuming.
The DC also has the muscle to pull off some mighty impressive feats. Bench marks and stats are difficult to rely on, but the clear-cut evidence that Sega put forth at E3 was indubitable. Never before have console graphics looked so good. In fact, it's only the very best PC games and systems that can stand with the DC. Add to the processing power a great big storage format like the DC's DVD-derivative, and we're in store for some revolutionary type stuff. We won't be alone in the dazzling brightness of 128-bit gaming, though, because the US DC includes a 56K modem. With a DC ISP and keyboard, scheduled to be available on 9/9/99, the date of the US launch, and several multiplatform games (so PC and DC users can play multiplayer over the internet together) in development, this is not your older brother's gaming system.
But regardless of how it looks or what's under the hood, it's ultimately all about getting the word out. Sega just re-launched their US website, www.sega.com, to hype the DC release. Over a month ago, Hollywood Videos across the country, even in Idaho, began renting DCs and games, and this weekend there were huge events at Hollywod Videos all over celebrating the launch of the website and rental programs. Without a doubt, such wideranged demonstrational offerings will help the release be huge. Another thing that will help is the massive pre-order campaigns being waged by etoys.com and K-B Toys. Reserve yours today and get a DC t-shirt and some coupons.
Of course, no one could forget about the importance of a good TV ad campaign. Sega released three commercials last Friday to air on MTV. They have also bought the major sponsorship of the MTV Video Music Awards, a major stab at some serious propoganda. The television spots reveal a new Sega that has been hinted at in their print advertising. Sega has been known for its innovation in ads. They were the first to portray the tweaky gamefreak attitude in commercials with their SEGA! campaign. Sony copied the feel in the "You Are Not Ready" campaign, and more directly in their "Play-Station" campaign. Nintendo got into the game with their "Get N or Get Out" slogan, and like the others they haven't changed much. Sega is banking on the image of the DC as a technological powerhouse. Early print ads showed the trademark DC swirl, imaged to look like a hurricane off the coast of California with the slogan, "It's coming." Indeed, as I noted above, Sega's presence in LA was overwhelming.
Needless to say, "overwhelming" is the nice way to put it. In many ways, Sega's advertising is downright ominous. The TV spots are composed of fractured visuals, extreme close-ups, and diagramatic collages of people. Words flicker into and out of existence on the screen, echoing a distant, distorted voice that utters vaguely frightening slogans: "Outsmarting it will only make it smarter;" "You know it's alive. Worse, it knows it's alive;" and "Don't think out loud. It might hear you." Each of these creepy little tidbits is followed by the main slogan, "It's thinking." Oooooooooooh, spooky. Yeah, the new slant is a break from the old SEGA! days.
Then again, there's something about the DC commercials that is a lot like the Gabbo commercials in that episode of The Simpsons. The commercial ends with the 9.9.99, which twists to form the DC swirl, with an alluring sega.com in small letters below it, then fades. Like Gabbo, Sega is betting on creating an insider's club early on. And, like Gabbo, the DC could still be a flash in the pan. You never know what kind of unpredictable consumer forces will grab a hold of the new system. There will probably be at least one post on a web page about how Sega's hooked up with the Illuminati and the antichrist because if you cover up one of those 9s and turn it upside down
What I know for sure is that the DC is a blast, and is going to be the first to offer services that Sony and Nintendo haven't even announced. While the 128-bit race is far from over, Sega is getting out to an early lead. With 20 titles ready for launch, many of which are going to be well-worth the $50-60 price range, and a core system that is going to start at $199 (although rumors persist of a last-minute price drop), Sega is hitting the current crop of consoles right in the breadbasket. There are lots of kids out there who already have a PlayStation, N64 or Saturn whose parents won't be upgrading them so soon. But the DC makes a real, honest grab for the adult market. Industry statistics indicate that more adults are playing video games than ever before, and while revisiting childhood classics like Sonic the Hedgehog will be a lure for many adult buyers, games like Shenmue, an RPG with a new kind of realism, will hook more discriminating audiences.
Sega is looking brighter and brighter all the time. I hear people who, six months ago, were adamantly in favor of waiting for the Playstation 2, now seriously considering the DC alternative. Their pre-release publicity has gone well, and "Dreamcast" is on the lips of every gaming fan who's visited a web page this summer. In the final weeks of Sega's preparation look for massive floods of advertising. Expect that devious little swirl wherever you go. Cross your fingers and hope it's good.