Reading The Rise and Fall of Sega at 2old2play I began to think about my own last decade or so with Sega consoles and games. For the most part I look upon them very fondly, having been swept away in mouth frothing fanboyism back in the day. I mean after all, Sega did have superior technology, riiiiight? Even if that were true, sadly, superior tech does not always win the fight. Just ask IBM about OS/2. Sega also had a stable of arcade hits to draw upon for console conversions. I got a Saturn mainly to play Virtua Cop and Sega Rally.
Looking back, I think one of the things that ultimately led to Sega’s demise as a console maker was their failure to go all the way and build something completely new each generation. I bought a Genesis in part because it used the same CPU that had been used in Macs around that time. My goal in buying a console was to get off of the never ending treadmill of upgrades needed to keep up with PC gaming. So I figured a console that had recognizable computer innards was probably going to be powerful enough to play the sort of games I would find interesting. This did not turn out to be the case, and yes I still game on the PC too. But from that point on I was in love with Sega. So when the CD add on came out, I jumped in. Afterall, CD games were the future, right? Sega was right on this point, but they didn’t go all the way and build a completely new box that could really take advantage of what the CD medium could bring to the table.
Sega may have had a chance of running away with it all, having caught up with Nintendo during the Genesis era, but they weren’t willing to push it all the way and make something completely new. They tended to favor using off the shelf components, which, in retrospect, can only take you so far. And they clearly wanted to keep building on what they had started with the Genesis, which led to missteps which cost them the time they needed to come with something good. Imagine if the Saturn had come out a couple of years earlier than Sony’s Playstation and without the last minute addition of the second CPU. But the time wasted on the CD addon and later the 32X, the CDX, the Nomad, and the Neptune project would prove fatal.
Sony, being new to the game, built a new box full of custom chips and made it easy for developers to work with. And since that time, every new generation of hardware has meant a new set of chips. Even within a generation, components are routinely redesigned to cut costs and take advantage of new techniques. Needless to say, this is very expensive, but that’s what it takes to stay in the game. In the end, Sega lost too much money, time, and goodwill with their mistakes to keep up. I think Sega’s last console, the Dreamcast, was a great console. But by that time, Sega simply didn’t have the resources to support it.
Sega’s days as a console maker may be over, but as a game developer/publisher they seem to be doing pretty well. And if there are more young people like my oldest son, a Sonic the Hedgehog fanatic who dreams of programming games for Sega someday (or having them as a sponsor if he becomes a NASCAR driver), their future may yet be bright. Se-gah!!