The Rise And Fall Of The Dreamcast
September 9, 2009 Page 5 of 7
Marketing the North American Launch
In March 1999, Stolar hired Peter Moore, a vice president at the successful shoe company Reebok. Aside from fathering an 11-year old boy who owned a Genesis and a Saturn, Moore knew little about video games; but his enthusiasm, confidence, and vision while at Reebok was exactly what Stolar was looking for.
"I was a great fan of the Sega brand before I joined the company," said Moore. "I loved Sega's attitude. Do you remember the Sega scream? Sega was part and parcel of what video games were. In those days we talked about Sega and Nintendo and Sega was the pre-eminent brand. Going back to the movie Swingers, I always remember seeing Vince Vaughn playing NHL '94 and the social impact that games were having."
While Stolar was busy building support among retailers, Peter Moore, hired just six months before the Dreamcast launch, dove head-first into his first console launch.
"There was a lot of negativity with how the Saturn went down," said Moore. "But there was still an incredible love for what the Sega brand was, its irreverent attitude, and everything we stood for."
In his first week at Sega, Moore sat at his new desk and researched how to develop the console's ad campaign. By week's end he met with the advertising team, Foote, Cone, & Belding, and PR team Access Communications.
"We needed to create something that would really intrigue consumers, somewhat apologize for the past, but invoke all the things we loved about Sega, primarily from the Genesis days," Moore said. He landed on the ad campaign, "It's Thinking," which started with a series of 15-second TV ads.
"We tried to catapult gamers into thinking that this was going to be a new level of artificial intelligence, a new level of hardware power, and would generate games that were really different than what you were seeing on the PlayStation or the N64," said Moore. "It was mysterious. First of all, if you didn't know, maybe we didn't want to talk to you. And if you did know, you were absolutely intrigued to be inside the core group of people who knew what was coming."
Sega followed the "It's Thinking" ads with the innovative "In the Box" ads, which blended professional athletes (including NFL and NBA pros Gary Payton, Penny Hardaway, Brian Grant, Allen Iverson and Randy Moss) with models and assets from actual Dreamcast games. Moore and his teams won awards for the ad series.
9/9/99: Dreamcast Lands in North America
Leading up to the North American launch, Sega worked every angle. It teamed with retailers so consumers could pre-order the Dreamcast. Pre-ordering a console, like pre-ordering a game, ensured you could pick up a console the day it launched, an idea that has perpetuated itself.
North America retailers successfully pre-sold a record 300,000 hardware units. Some, such as Babbages, posted press releases before the launch, announcing their own pre-order records to hype the machine.
"We've passed the 100,000 mark in Dreamcast pre-orders," said Dan De Matteo, Babbage's Etc. president in a press release a week before launch. "We are expecting the biggest single day in our chain's history on September 9 and want to open early to accommodate the many gamers who can't sleep until they own a Dreamcast."
On September 9, 1999, Sega released a highly advanced console with graphics far beyond what the PlayStation could do, the potential for online gaming out of the box, and a lineup of 18 games. At the inexpensive MSRP of $199.99 ($100 less than the PlayStation launch price), gamers could buy Soul Calibur, NFL 2K, Sonic Adventure, Power Stone, Hydro Thunder, and Trickstyle, among others.
The system, the games, and the combined sales culminated in a remarkable moment in video game history. In 24 hours, Sega had sold more than 225,132 units (an industry record), raking in $98.4 million dollars.
Four days after launch, 372,000 hardware units had been sold, tallying $132 million. The remarkable 24-hour sales numbers put Sega in the Guinness Book of World Records at that time for most revenue generated in the entertainment industry in 24 hours, and thrilled its publishing and retailer partners.
Electronics Boutique stated in a September 14 press release the Dreamcast "resulted in the company's largest single day of sales in its 22 year history." EB President Joseph Firestone added, "Traditionally, our strongest day of the year coincides with the Christmas holiday. To have sales of this magnitude in September is truly an event."
Two weeks after launch, Sega announced at the Intelliquest Brand Tech Forum in San Francisco it had sold more a half million units in less than two weeks, totaling 514,000 units -- well ahead of Sony's original PlayStation, which took four months to the same mark.
Shortly after launch, Sega decided to put its numbers up against the first day releases in the movie and music industries. Comparing its first 24-hour sales with the best numbers Hollywood had put up, Sega compared its launch to George Lucas' Star Wars The Phantom Menace.
"The biggest sales day in movie history was Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. And we beat it," said Moore. "Video games prior to that had either not held themselves up in the same regard, or the numbers didn't warrant it. It was a shot across the bow, not to the industry, but to a broader spectrum. Our success was picked up by the New York Times and the Washington Post and all of the national dailies that this was the biggest 24 hours in entertainment retail history."
"We made this a monstrous entertainment and cultural phenomenon that extended way past just gamers. People were aware of the Dreamcast, and even if they had no intention of buying one, they knew it was coming on 9-9-99. Certainly, the next day we let everyone know about the numbers. And I think it was a wake-up call for the broader popular cultural press, if you will, that video games were big, they were here, and they were here to stay."
The North American Dreamcast launch, by any measure, was a huge success.
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