Today marks 15 years since the US launch of Sega’s final home console. Under the marketing slogan “It’s Thinking”, the Sega Dreamcast was launched in the west for the first time on September 9th, 1999, with European and Australian launches following shortly after. Between its 1998 release in Japan and the system’s discontinuation in 2001, over 10 million Dreamcasts were sold.
At the time of its release, Sega could boast the most powerful games system on the market, with much more power available than either the Nintendo 64 or Sony PlayStation could offer. Indeed, its release was the most successful there had been up until that point. However the Dreamcast’s time was limited by the impending release of the PlayStation 2, which set about demolishing every achievement Sega had made.
Other problems plagued the Dreamcast. Its GD-ROMs, a 1GB optical disc designed to avoid piracy, manifestly failed. Not only did they not deter piracy – in fact a simple CD-ROM could be used to play most pirated Dreamcast games without difficulty as the system used no copy protection – they also lacked the capacity or licenses to play DVD movies. This gave a significant advantage to the DVD-enabled PS2.
However, there were major advances made by the console. Shenmue, the adventure game on an epic scale by Yu Suzuki, was both the progenitor of quick-time events as we know them, and at the time the most expensive video game ever made. While a great headline, this was a serious double-edged sword. The game cost so much to develop ($70 million) that it would have needed to sell two copies for every existing Dreamcast in order to break even.
Not only that, but the Dreamcast also took console-based online multiplayer into the mainstream. Coming with a built-in modem and capable of using a broadband adapter as well, the SegaNet, Dreamarena and Gamespy networks played host to possibly the first console-based MMORPG, Phantasy Star Online, as well as Quake III Arena.
The Wii U GamePad was foreshadowed somewhat with the VMU, a controller-mounted unit primarily built for use as a memory card but with a built-in screen which displayed information during the game and could be used for simple games of its own while not connected.
Although a financial disaster – Sega ceased production in March 2001 and has never again released a console – the Dreamcast is held in high regard as a well-made console which outperformed its sales figures in terms of quality of games. A similar accolade would be bestowed upon the Nintendo GameCube, so it seems quite apt that during that console generation Sega would work quite a lot with their old arch-nemeses.