Sega deserved to fail (and here’s why)

Sega deserved to fail.

If you want to listen instead of read, here you go:

I’m cataloguing my Sega Saturn games, thinking of selling them. It got me thinking about how Sega mucked up big style.

When it came to their 90’s console strategy, one question springs to mind:

What were Sega thinking?

Sega

Before you think I’m hating for no reason, understand I say this as someone who was a Sega fanboy.

Growing up in the 90’s Sega Saturn owners on the island of Ireland were a minority. I was one of them. Nobody wanted Sega to succeed more than me, and the Sega Saturn is the first thing I ever worked towards. Sold off my Mega Drive games. Did odd jobs for people around the neighbourhood. For context, I was around 8 years old at the time.

But despite my best efforts. Despite my devotion, Sega did not succeed.

By the turn of the millennium, they were a joke.

When I say, Sega was a failure what I mean is their exit as console makers. They went from owners to renters if that makes sense.

Looking back, the only people Sega have to blame for their failures are themselves.

I’m always curious about this period in gaming history. Mainly because it is tied into a sense of nostalgia and it’s the first time I was really burned by something I was into as a kid. Also, Sega’s fall from grace felt so sudden.

How come I’m writing this post?

Some context first.

It’s in 2020. Streets of Rage 4 has been released. It’s fantastic. It feels like a Streets of Rage game, there’s love for the series in the programming. At the same time while you’re playing a question keeps scratching the back of your skull; “Why did this take 26 years?”

The more you think about it, the more you realise Sega deserved to fail.

What were they thinking?

Still not with me?

Let me explain.

Here’s why Sega deserved to fail.

Peripheral vision

The Sega Mega Drive/Genesis was a success. A 16-bit console that took some of Nintendo’s market share. Sega successfully branded themselves as the edgy alternative to Nintendo’s family-friendly system.

For a brief shining moment, Sega found themselves on top.

Here’s the thing, looking back they didn’t know what they were doing.

They had to do something though right?

So what did they do?

Everything at once.

They flung it all at the wall. Now when you throw things at the wall, it is customary to see what sticks. Not Sega, no they just kept firing more and more at the wall. Whatever did stick was immediately dislodged by the next thing thrown.

What do I mean?

Sega released the Sega CD an add-on for the Mega Drive. After that, they released a separate add on, the 32x.

That, in turn, was followed up by Sega’s next-generation console, the Sega Saturn.

Now, if you don’t have an interest in video games, let me explain. When you release hardware, it’s best to give your add on some breathing room to find an audience.

Sega did not do this.

These devices were all released within a year of each other. Sega CD in 1993, 32x 1994 and the Saturn 1995.

These things weren’t cheap, either. For example, Sega CD launched at $299 (Adjusted for inflation that is $525 in 2020)

What was the result?

It led to analysis paralysis with customers. Do you buy a Sega CD? But the 32x is coming out in a few months. You save for the 32x only to find out the Saturn is just around the corner.

I remember as a kid really wanting a Sega CD for the driving sections of Batman Returns. But that was it, the only game. Everything else looked naff. Interactive movie games like Night Trap? No thanks. Now that was my opinion as a kid who didn’t know any better. What do you think more discerning gamers were thinking?

There was another downside with the small time frame between new add ons and consoles. It meant that there was no point developing games for the Sega CD or 32x when the big release is the Saturn.

Just to continue Sega’s boneheaded decision making. The gap between Saturn and Dreamcast was 3 years. Slightly longer but in console terms way too short a time frame. By comparison 6 years elapsed between the release of the Playstation and Playstation 2.

Here’s the kicker, the Sega Dreamcast launched towards the end of 1999. By March 2001 it was dead. Not even two full years. It was dead on arrival.

Researching this post, I still can’t believe their releasing schedule. It gives you the impression Sega were flailing.

It took until 2001 for Sega to withdraw from the console market. However, the beginning of the end feels like it was 1995. The 32x and Saturn releasing within months of each other hurt the trust they had with the audience.

What were they thinking?

Sega was behind the times

Sega could not see the road ahead. In the early 90s, the arcade was king.

The Sega Mega Drive essentially was an excellent arcade porting machine.

It felt like you had the arcade in your living room.

By the mid-90s however, the arcade was already on its way out.

Gamers wanted a more substantial experience from a game. No longer was it acceptable to charge top dollar for a game you could complete in an hour and forget about the next.

New kid in town

Final Fantasy 7 on the PlayStation kicked off the era of RPGs as big releases.

This was the killer app. It heralded the change for, if not more complex games at least more substantial ones.

Arcade games were cotton candy, but people wanted more. They wanted t-bone. Final Fantasy 7 was a prime cut.

Sega did not see this coming. They thought the sun would never set on the halcyon days of the arcade.

Much of the Sega Saturn library is comprised of arcade ports. At least in Europe and North America.

Here are a few; Sega Rally, Daytona, Virtua Fighter, Fighting Vipers Virtual On, Manx TT Superbike, Virtua Cop, House of the Dead.

Even non-arcade games like Nights are essentially arcade-styled score attack games.

Final Fantasy 7 kicked off the golden age of the RPG in the western hemisphere. This blindsided Sega. There were loads of RPGs on the Saturn, but Sega didn’t think there would be a market for the genre in the west. It took them so long to catch up. One of their flagships franchise RPG’s Shining Force 3 was the Saturn’s last official release in Europe. I remember going to the Game store in Belfast city centre. By this stage, the Saturn section was a no-man’s land between the Playstation and Nintendo 64 sections. It was disappointing. The Saturn went out with a whimper.

Thinking that RPGs were some kind of Japanese niche market.

What were Sega thinking?

They deserved to fail.

Another dimension

Another area where Sega was short-sighted was that they couldn’t see the 3D was the way forward.

The Saturn was hard to programme for when it came to 3D games.

Now, I don’t know anything about computer programming. Having done minimal research here’s my understanding.

The Sony PlayStation used triangular polygons whereas the Sega Saturn used square polygons.

It is easier to make two triangles a square than one square a triangle if that makes sense.

I have to be honest, I don’t even know if that’s right.

This led to the horrendous pop in on the Saturn. Pop in is when you are moving through a 3D area and objects appear out of nowhere.

Now when the Saturn embraced its limitations, it was beautiful. Shining Force 3 had 2D sprites on a 3D background, and it looked great and added to the charm. Guardian Heroes was another example of the developers embracing the consoles shortcomings.

Sega thought 2D arcade games were always going to be the fashion.

What were they thinking?

Sega did not have the games

Sega

This one isn’t the worst of their business decisions, but it was the one that left a bad taste in the mouth.

Ultimately what is a console without its titles.

It was the lack of games for the Sega Saturn that led to their demise.

In fact, it was Sega’s mishandling of their properties that put me off the company. Sega made me buy a Playstation.

How bad was Sega when it came to handling their intellectual properties?

Put it this way: There was no mainline Sonic game on the Sega Saturn. There was no Sonic 4.

There was Sonic R. A racing game. There was Sonic Jam, a compilation of the Mega Drive games.

Sega did not bring out a new Sonic game

There was no mainline 3D Sonic game or even a 2D/3D hybrid. I liked Sonic the Hedgehog as a kid, I collected the first hundred issues of Sonic the comic. I would have enjoyed an instalment on the Saturn. Pretty sure I’m not the only one.

I know now there were attempts at a title, but still, there was no Sonic game.

The fact that they did not treat their own mascot properly is part of the reason why they deserved to fail.

Sega’s mishandling of properties wasn’t just limited to the blue hedgehog.

Missed opportunities

As I mentioned at the start of the post, 26 years passed between Streets of Rage 3 and 4. There was no Saturn entry.

The Saturn didn’t have a Golden Axe, Wonder Boy, Kid Chameleon or Shinobi. That’s just a few examples of the top of my head. There was a Shinobi come to think of it, but it was a 2D side scroller. It should have been something more like Tenchu: Stealth Assassins.

They could have used the Saturn to develop their properties into genres.

For example, the first two Panzer Dragoon games were on-rails shooters. The third game in the franchise evolved into fully formed RPG. It also happens to be one of the best RPGs too.

Why couldn’t they have done do this with the likes of say Streets of Rage or Golden Axe?

What were they thinking?

Developers like Treasure could have taken a franchise off their hands. Treasure made Guardian Heroes for the Saturn. It was like Golden Axe but with RPG elements and more of a story.

In fact, even as I am editing this post, Die Hard Arcade came to mind. Die Hard Arcade was essentially a 3D Streets of Rage. For some reason, Sega decided to do a tie in with a film that came out eight years prior. So by the time the sequel came out, the movie rights had lapsed. Sega had to change the name of the sequel to Dynamite Cop creating an altogether new franchise.

My God, they were fucking incompetent.

What were they thinking?

I’m going to come right out and say it; Sega did not and still does not know how to treat their own properties.

The fact that Streets of Rage 4 (2020) and Sonic Mania (2017) are some of Sega’s best speaks volumes. The fact Sega handed the development to super fans speaks even louder.

Conclusion

Those are some of the reasons Sega deserved to fail.

If you have one take away from Sega’s failure, it’s that when you’re winning, you may think you can do no wrong. This is not true. You are one or two decisions away from disaster. Do not act with haste for the sake of action. Had Sega thought out their strategy things might have ended up differently.

Sega’s failure can teach you:

  • Focus your energy into one project
  • Give yourself room to breathe.
  • Build trust with your audience, you can only break it once

Here’s the thing, I’m kind of grateful that I felt burned by Sega as a kid. It made me realise that fanboying, blind loyalty can break your heart. It has made me more objective when it comes to judging things.

Final thoughts

Fanboying can feel like a fool’s errand. For example, I have a lot of friends who fanboy over the Manchester United soccer team. How happy does it make them support this team? Let me put it this way. The pandemic is probably the best result Man United have had in years. If you know, someone will remain devoted to you no matter what then why be the best version of yourself? Someone will tell me somehow soccer is different. I am sure they are right, and I am wrong.

Anyway, those are my thoughts.

Do you think I’m right, or am I being too harsh?

Let me know.

Sega didn’t know what they were doing.

Ultimately, it took them out of the console market.

As someone who was a fanboy, I don’t like having to say it was for the best.

What were they thinking?

****

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Thank you and have a great day,

Kieran


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