The Rise And Fall Of The Dreamcast
September 9, 2009 Page 6 of 7
The Beginning of the End
Buoyed by its North American launch success, Sega, along with its publishing partners, published dozens of games that ran the gamut of genres and styles between September 1999 and March 2001.
Titles ranged from Visual Concepts' award-winning sports games, to experimental titles such as the quirky Seaman and the artsy Rez, to breakthrough arcade titles, such as Crazy Taxi. Sega dug into its console catalogue and revived Genesis franchises such as Ecco The Dolphin.
The company also innovated with games such as the slick Jet Set Radio, cult maracas-based music title Samba de Amigo, and Shenmue, Yu Suzuki's enormously expensive and ambitious adventure game. During the first year, companies like Acclaim, SNK, Ubisoft, Midway, Activision, Infogrames, and Capcom thrived on Sega's system, cranking out originals and ports from PlayStation, PC, and arcades.
"I would say to you to that companies like Ubisoft, in my perception at the time, were created on Dreamcast," said Bellfield. "Companies like Acclaim survived a lot longer because of Dreamcast; Activision as well. Capcom was hugely successful on the platform. The first year we were widely and successfully supported."
Fulfilling its promises to provide online gaming, in September 2000, Sega launched the online network SegaNet. The first online Dreamcast games included Sonic Team's ChuChu Rocket! and NBA 2K, and were shortly followed by Ethernet-supported games such as Bomberman Online, Phantasy Star Online, Quake III Arena, all of Visual Concepts' 2K2 slate, and Unreal Tournament.
"In September 2000, we had NFL 2K up and running and playing between players in San Francisco and New York," recalled Bellfield. "That, on a console, through a telephone connection, was unheard of at the time."
Before the end of 2000, however, Sega's Dreamcast found itself in trouble. Sony's original PlayStation grabbed a majority of console market share, and the PS2 was building substantial press for its October 26, 2000 North American launch. Even though the PS2 launched in spring in Japan with only six titles -- all of which were unimpressive -- Sony capitalized again and again on Sega's perceived weaknesses.
From trumpeting the PS2's Emotion Engine processor and partnering with Steven Spielberg in trade shows, to getting EA's support, to corralling 29 games for launch day, Sony, most importantly of all, outspent Sega in marketing dollars.
In September of 2000, one year after the North America launch, Sega's American executives came to a realization. Despite initial great sales in North America, Sega lacked the marketing dollars to compete with Sony and Nintendo, and it was witnessing Sony's arrival even before it had arrived, with decreased sales going into the fall season. Additionally, Sega heard rumors that Microsoft, which had partnered with Sega to make its Windows CE platform work on Dreamcast, planned on entering the business.
Although Sega's arcade business was still thriving, the company, as a whole, was strapped for cash. "I wasn't privy to the numbers at the time, but Sega announced it would spend $100 million in marketing from day one, and I don't think it was half of that," speculated Bellfield.
As a result of its financial issues, Sega bought fewer advertisements in magazines and on TV, let innovative games come and go with little marketing support, and couldn't spend money to get publishers to make exclusive levels for games or to put their games exclusively on Dreamcast.
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