In celebration of the 15th anniversary of Dreamcast's North American launch, we're featuring this classic Gamasutra article about Sega's gone-but-not-forgotten console.
[In this ten-year Dreamcast retrospective, Gamasutra looks back at Sega's last effort in the console market through interviews with former president of Sega of America Bernie Stolar, former Sega of America COO Peter Moore, former SOA Vice President of Communications Charles Bellfield, and former vice president of Electronic Arts, Bing Gordon.]
For a console that broke entertainment retail records, made the Guinness Book of World Records, and laid the blueprints for today's online-centric consoles, it's striking to think the Dreamcast's lifespan was shorter than nearly any console in video game history.
Ten years after 9/9/99, the memorable date of the launch of the Dreamcast in North America, Sega's machine has left a lasting legacy in online gaming, retail history, and the sports genre. But the brief, fiery life of the Dreamcast was fraught with conflict, questionable executive decisions, and ultimately, a shocking and abrupt ending.
A Change in Attitude
The video game world into which Sega launched the Dreamcast was vastly different than today's highly connected wireless experience. The arcade market was still successful, 80% of consumers connected to the internet used a modem, and the PC market was at its peak -- and, more importantly, was the sole domain for online games.
After a successful Japanese launch in late 1998, Sega looked toward the North American market to achieve a head-start over its biggest competitor, Sony Computer Entertainment America, by growing a strong install base and by rebuilding excitement for its products.
In 1995, Sonic the Hedgehog was better known than Disney's Mickey Mouse, but the Sega Saturn, from its disappointing launch to its inevitable cancellation, had soured many gamers on Sega products.
In 1997, Sega hired Bernie Stolar, fresh from his role as president of Sony Computer Entertainment America, as the new president of Sega of America. Stolar was a shrewd, successful businessman who knew the games business from his time working at Sony, the arcades, and at Atari.
In a phone call with Gamasutra, Stolar, currently running Getfugu, Inc, explained how it all started. "Saturn, as you know, was a failure. I was brought in to help restructure and rebuild Sega of America. When I started, there were over 300 people; I trimmed the company down to about 90 people."
Among others, Stolar brought in 17-year Reebok executive Peter Moore, former Sony third-party executive Gretchen Eichinger, head of sales Chris Gilbert, and Charles Bellfield, as well as several other important figures.
Stolar's task was to wage an uphill battle with gamers, many who had bought the short-lived 32X, Sega CD, and the Saturn, and retailers, who were still wincing from Saturn sales and an exclusive launch that cut many retail chains out of the picture.
"We had to change the attitude of retail to believe we were a serious player," said Stolar. "And because of the whole Saturn thing, retailers really hated Sega. It took me a lot of work to change their minds. I went to every retailer and told them this was going to be a great system, it was going to have a modem, it was going to have online play, this was the content it was going to have, and this was what it was going to look like. They all bought into that. They all trusted me. Plus, they really liked the team I put together. They felt this was the right team."
Before Stolar could change anyone's minds, however, Sega had to make up its own mind.