The Rise And Fall Of The Dreamcast
September 9, 2009 Page 3 of 7
Why Electronic Arts Shunned the Dreamcast
With games like Madden NFL, Road Rash, NHL, and a slew of other popular titles, Electronic Arts successfully teamed with Sega to compete against Nintendo in the 16-bit era. The Redwood City publisher supported all of Sega's short-lived systems after Genesis, from the 32X, Sega CD, Game Gear, to the Saturn.
"EA had a deep love affair with the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, because it was the platform that brought EA into the big time," said Gordon. "EA leaders shared loyalty and affinity with Sega and it over-invested to help Sega make Sega CD and 32X into winners."
But Electronic Arts didn't support Sega's Dreamcast. At EA, there were three groups that had a stake in voting on whether to support a console: developers, sales, and business. They would get together, collect information on any given console, and discuss its virtues and weaknesses.
"We would get together and say, 'Okay, are we going put 10 games together and be there at launch, and put our corporate will behind this, or not?'"
At the time, EA had invested stock in 3Dfx. Did EA's investment in 3Dfx influence its decision? Gordon says it didn't. "If Sega had picked the direct competitor to 3Dfx at the time, it would have been fine. But they picked someone we had never heard of. It was somebody's friend of somebody's friend at a Japanese country club. It was a head-scratcher, like, 'What are they doing?' That was mostly it."
According to Gordon, Sega had flip-flopped over whether to include a modem, but it also picked the wrong chipset. "I remember our CTO (chief technology officer) talking about the processor and going, 'Oh my God, I don't know anybody who has even heard of this chip. It's non-standard and there are no libraries for it.' It was kind of a slap in the face. But even then, at first blush, EA is thinking, 'It's Sega. We've got to support them.' You know, we went to war with them on Genesis and did great things. So the chipset alone was not enough to stop EA from working on it."
Ultimately, Sega's various hardware and business decisions lined up like a row of red flags for EA. According to Gordon, the indecision over the chipset was one thing, the flip-flopping over whether to include a modem was another, but the final straw was Sega's hardball tactics during negotiations over licensing.
"There was a push from Sega, which was having cash flow problems, and they couldn't afford to give us the same kind of license that EA has had over the last five years. So EA basically said, 'You can't succeed without us.' And Sega said, 'Sure we can. We're Sega.'
"And at that point during negotiations -- when someone is trying to call your bluff -- you have to question whether you want to knuckle under or not. And because of the way they had flip-flopped on the configuration, and because the Dreamcast became the system that EA developers least wanted to work on the in the history of systems at EA, that was pretty much it. In the end, it felt like Sega was not acting like a competent hardware company. I was the person who got quoted in the press as saying, 'Dreamcast can't succeed without EA.' The Dreamcast people hated me for that."
Contrary to Gordon's account, however, Stolar said there was a much simpler reason EA denied the Dreamcast. And licensing negotiations, chipsets, and modems, while somewhat relevant, didn't play a significant role.
"Sega didn't play hardball," Stolar countered. "I was the one who led the negotiations between EA and Sega. The royalty licensing deal was done between me and [EA's then-president] Larry Probst, and nobody else. And there was a real significant reason why it didn't happen. That reason was never really public. You ever hear of a company called Visual Concepts?"
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