Believe it or not. there was a time when Sega was just as big and prolific in the video game industry as Nintendo. It’s true. Before Sony and Microsoft got into the picture, Sega was a real powerhouse in video gaming world.
Kids would debate which system was better: Nintendo or Genesis? Battles were waged across school yards all over the land to settle this debate of which system was better. It was a rivalry that was great for gaming. Good competition always brings out the best in people and companies alike. However, eventually one had to fade into history as the loser. There’s a reason Nintendo is still a major player in the video game industry, and Sega, while still around in the capacity of a video game developer, is more or less dust in the wind these days. Here’s a brief overview of Sega’s fall from grace.
Sega’s flagship series was, and still is, Sonic the Hedgehog. This little blue dude was the answer to Mario, Nintendo’s poster plumber. Mario and Sonic would constantly be compared over the years. Which was the better mascot? Both are unlikely heroes. Both games had large impacts on gaming. The problem is, while Nintendo still heavily crutches on Mario, they have come up with many many innovative games that are still coming out to this day. The Legend of Zelda series, the Metroid series, even that obnoxious pink powder-puff Kirby are iconic games/characters under the Nintendo banner. When you think of Sega, besides Sonic, what other games do you really think of?
Besides perhaps the Phantasy Star series, not very much, and Toejam and Earl doesn’t count… Clearly Nintendo was much more proactive in making new characters to represent their banner, as well as continuing with whoring out Mario more and more. Maybe Sega should have figured they would need more than a blue hedgehog to stay in the game with Nintendo in the long run.
Honestly, Sega’s biggest blunders came with their many failed game systems that followed the Sega Genesis. The Sega CD and the Sega 32X systems are the first two that began the downward spiral of doom for Sega. These both weren’t even stand-alone systems, but rather add-ons to the Sega Genesis. They literally latched onto the Genesis, and each required its own power supply. And if you recall, the plugs for the old systems were those giant cubic plugs that take up half of a power strip. Good luck plugging 3 into one of those. The end result of this was the poor Genesis hosting these parasitic abominations. Those that did buy these systems weren’t rewarded for their loyalty. Nothing impressive ever came out for these systems. To make matters worse, Sony was about to soon enter the video game world with a next generation system.
So Sega, not only losing ground to Nintendo, now had Sony to worry about. Clearly their only recourse was to come out with a stand alone system that could compete with the Playstation and the Super Nintendo (the N64 would come later to join in the Sega beat down). Enter the Sega Saturn! This system was highly anticipated, and was actually made available earlier than the Playstation, in hopes of gaining an advantage. While this sounds nice, it really ended up backfiring on poor Sega. Sony first responded by announcing a lower price for their system at E3, a 100 dollar difference. People would wait the extra few months, and they were most certainly rewarded for their patience.
Also, Sega didn’t include some important retailers in their early launch campaign. I mean, who shops at Wal-Mart anyway? Just to make it even more pathetic, many games that were originally scheduled to be completed around the original launch time couldn’t be completed for the early launch anyway! So, higher price, poor availability, and no major titles to speak of… Hmmm… Let’s all see if we can figure out how well the Saturn did against the Playstation, even with their brilliant “early release” strategy. Well if you like numbers, the Saturn lost Sega around 268 million dollars (US), and nearly 1/3 of Sega’s work force got laid off as a result… Bravo, Sega.
Around the end of the 1990s, Sega released one last system, the Dreamcast, but it was really too little, too late. While not an abysmal failure like the Saturn, it just couldn’t compete with the coming of the Playstation 2, the Ninendo Gamecube, and eventually Microsoft’s X-Box. Sega thankfully bowed out of the console making industry soon after, and switched its focus to software development. A wise decision, but the damage had already been done. When I think of Sega these days, I think of WCW. Remember them? That wrestling federation that was on the cusp of greatness, but only to fail miserably in the end? Yup, Sega is certainly the WCW of the video game world. Bravo, Sega. Bravo.