Historical Perspective Edit
The Persona Edit
“Sega always seemed to go to a place that Nintendo didn’t and that opened the doors for video games that weren’t just targeted at kids but teenagers and even…adults. I don’t think games like Grand Theft Auto would even exist without Sega making games that went places Nintendo never would have gone” (Harris, 2014, p.62).
As the quote suggests, Sega opened doors for video gaming with a different demeanor than Nintendo and other gaming platforms. Nintendo represented the notion of control while Sega represented freedom (Harris, 2014, p. 80). To further clarify, Nintendo had many controls on the content they produced and the distribution of said content, while Sega relied upon a nonchalant type persona that was lenient on control over content or distribution. Also, with the control over the early video game market that Nintendo possessed in the 1990’s, Sega carried an underdog mentality throughout the console wars (Harris, 2014, p.130). In turn, the lack of expectations this position provided became a great advantage for the company moving forward. These fundamentals made up the persona that Sega lived by from the early consoles to the eventual Sega Dreamcast.
Theoretical Perspective Edit
The media archaeological perspective of Carolyn Marvin is a useful lens through which to consider the progression of internet-connected gaming consoles that culminated in the Dreamcast. Marvin wrote that “New media...are always introduced into a pattern of tension created by the coexistence of old and new” (Marvin 1988). Unlike the more extreme stances by either Kittler, who suggests a media-focused standpoint with his famous statement “Media determine our situation,” or Jonathan Sterne’s approach utilizing a perspective of a culture-driven progression of media technology, Marvin’s philosophy of media archaeology is that media “are constructed complexes of habits, beliefs, and procedures embedded in elaborate cultural codes of communication" (Marvin 1988). Thus, Marvin takes a middle of the road, balanced approach—implying a dynamic, ongoing feedback process between media content and the culture in which it is created, each informing and changing the other. This perspective is key to understanding the development of network-enabled console video games, which were advised and shaped by previous attempts at gaming over a distance and the cultural reception of such efforts. Earlier technology utilized networks in novel ways that were advised by existing patterns of media use in both gaming predecessors and non-gaming electronics, which were either accepted or rejected by console gamers. In turn, successful ideas, even marginal ones, were further integrated into console network infrastructures, thus becoming established elements of console gaming.
Early Network Gaming Efforts Edit
Gaming Over Distance EditWhile the Sega Dreamcast was the first medium to feature native connectivity to a network to allow individuals to participate in games while not being in the same geographic location via a home gaming console, Sega was not the first to attempt such a feat. Long before the emergence of personal computers, individuals took part in mail games (Loomis, 2011). Play-by-mail games began as one-on-one chess-type games where the two players would, in turn, infom the other of their moves by mail (Burgess, n.d). However, initial attempts were limited to simple two player games. In 1963, Dr. John Boardman organized and conducted the first game of Diplomacy by mail, with 5 players, after a call for organization of his game was distributed through a fanzine (Agar n.d.). Diplomacy is widely considered the first facilitated multiplayer play-by-mail game. It was the first time a group of individuals were playing games with one another while not being in the same geographical area. The hobby of play-by-mail continued to grow, and by the 1970s several other games in the style of Diplomacy followed. One of these games was called Nuclear Destruction, and utilized a moderator who would send different information to the players that were involved. The game became a multiplayer strategy game that was played through the postal service. Diplomacy and Nuclear Destruction and other play by mail games were pivotal to the eventual success of online playability (Burgess, n.d). It was the first time individuals were playing games with one another via a network from disparate geographical areas.
This analog system of networked gaming is reflected in later efforts to facilitate console gaming via a digital network. In 1994, Catapult Entertainment created XBand. Xband was a cartridge add-on for SNES and Genesis consoles that allowed online multiplayer, utilizing a dial-up modem that connected to a central server in California (Evan G 2012). For the notion of organization, it functioned similarly to the analog networks of Diplomacy and other play-by-mail games, the main difference being that both the media and the facilitator were digital, as computer data and network servers replaced paper and a human facilitator. It featured many elements that would later become standards of online console gaming, including subscriber fees, unique online names, mail system between players, and player rankings (Horowitz 2004). In addition, part of the system's appeal was that, in its early days, the network was more stable than gaming over the internet on PC, with lower latency (that is, communication time between players) than internet gaming options at the time. The XBand system was an overall success; however, it was phased out as new consoles were released and PC-based online gaming rose to prominence (Horowitz 2004).
Console-based Software Distribution Edit
An alternate utilization for network gaming with surprisingly early origins was providing downloadable video game content. In the early 1980s, both the Gameline and PlayCable were early adaptations of home console internet access. The Gameline was an attachment for the Atari’s VCS 2600 that could retrieve a variety of data, from the new video games to the latest stock quote (Schrage,1983). The PlayCable was similar to Gameline, but was created by Intellevision and was exclusively focused on the transportation of software (Dages, 1980).
Although the Gameline and Playcable found limited success, in 1988, Nintendo tested the waters with an attachable internet modem for their Famicom system (known as the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, in the United States) called the Famicom Modem. The Famicom Modem was designed primarily to provide stock information, though experimentation occurred in-house relating to online gaming content as well, such as online matches of the traditional game Go (Takano, 2008). While this device also failed to reach consumers on a large scale, it did provide important experience for Nintendo's development team in online gaming.
Now, fast forward to the following generation of hardware (known as the 16-bit era), where Nintendo and Sega are embroiled in a heated battle for game console dominance of the world. Nintendo released the Satellaview, which was a Japan-only add-on for the Super Famicom (SNES) that enabled users to download games, including upgraded remakes and exclusive new titles, as well as peruse news and game hints through their satellite TV service (Satellaview n.d.). A contemporary of the Satellaview, Sega released their own add-on called the Sega Channel. Released in 1994, the Sega Channel provided 50 titles a month on demand and had services such as Test Drive which allowed users to sample upcoming releases. It was delivered through a user's cable TV service for a monthly subscription fee of $15 after a $25 set-up fee. It was an overall success, reaching over 250,000 subscribers at its peak (Redsel, 2012) (Langshaw, 2011).
As technology progressed, console developers continued to improve networking features. During the mid-90’s, Sega released the Netlink modem for the Sega Saturn Console. This modem allowed users to surf the internet and take part in online gaming. Again, it was an add-on and not built into the console. This showcased success in Japan but did not catch on in the United States. From there, the Sega Dreamcast took the stage and featured a built-in modem for the first time (Langshaw, 2011).
The Sega Dreamcast EditThe Sega Dreamcast was the crowning achievement of Sega, and built on the existing framework on network gaming that had grown in the 90s. When released, it was the pinnacle of hardware performance in the gaming console industry. The Sega Dreamcast was released on September 9th,1999 and stopped production on March 31st, 2001.The Sega Dreamcast sold 10.6 million units during its time being supported by Sega (Matthews, 2015).The Sega Dreamcast had a short life cycle but still made a serious impact that is still remembered to this day. The Sega Dreamcast featured 128-bit graphics, interactive memory cards that also could be used as mini games, and most importantly, a built-in internet modem a first for any game console. Overall, the Sega Dreamcast's primary goal was fun, no matter where, whether one was playing mini games with the memory card or playing games online or offline. The Sega Dreamcast had a goal to create fun no matter where a person was (Harris, 2014).Furthermore,the built-in internet modem launched a new era of online gaming that had never been seen before. The built-in internet modem used the insights from its precursors but took them to another level by ensuring online capabilities for everyone. The precursors all had to rely on add-ons to enable internet access which in turn, divided the marketplace to a degree. The modem allowed for freedom outside of just the console to entice a feeling of euphoria. Furthermore,the online capabilities were free,unlike many of today's consoles online capabilites. The internet modem set the stage for the modern console gaming industry. Games like Phantasy Star Online, Skies of Arcadia, and Jet Grind Radio represented a great stride forward for console gaming (Langshaw, 2011).Some of these games were online exclusive meaning the only way to play them was online. This concept was unheard of before the Sega Dreamcast was around. Modern day games like Titanfall have the Sega Dreamcast to thank for the premise of games only played online through a console. Also, Sega created the SegaNet which was their network service that was a precursor to the XBOX Live, and PlayStation Network. Furthermore, the gap between “casual” gamer and “hardcore” gamer was nearly bridged by the adaptation of the Sega Dreamcast (Edery & Mollick, 2009). In turn, the Sega Dreamcast captured a larger audience that its predecessors failed to do.
The Demise of the Sega Dreamcast Edit
Sega Saturn Edit
The demise of the Sega Dreamcast started before the machine was even distributed to the market. The poor performance of the prior gaming console produced by Sega (Sega Saturn) hampered the name of Sega among gamers and other potential consumers. The Sega Saturn was a 32-bit compact disc system that only sold between 7-10 million worldwide and was initially released in 1994(Sega Retro, 2002). Overall, the Sega Saturn’s failure was pinpointed towards its complex hardware and inability to meet rapidly evolving consumer expectations and demands. More specifically, the Sega Saturn announced at E3 (the biggest gaming convention in the United States) on May 11th, 1995 that the Sega Saturn would be launching earlier than previously thought to create a market before Sony’s PlayStation hit shelves. This created a tension between Sega and the developers of third party titles. The developers were not prepared for the early release and due to the complexity of creating games for the Sega Saturn the developers were in no position to finish games in this timely manner. Moreover, Sony delivered a painful blow for Sega with the infamous “299” speech at E3 in 1995 (Harris, 2014). Furthermore, the release was a disaster with very few launch titles and not enough consoles created for the demand. In turn, this alienated the market because only a handful of major retailers were given them (Stuart, 2015). Moreover, the pack in game for the Sega Saturn was Virtua Fighter 3D which was not a big improvement over its predecessor. Also, fighting games only resonate with a certain audience, leaving something to be desired for the rest of the potential clientele (Classic Gaming Quarterly, 2015). After the dust had settled on the release of the Sega Saturn Sega found themselves only demanding 12 percent of the home console market (Gaming Historian, 2014).In summary, the Sega Saturn was a financial flop for Sega that left a rancid scent under the noses of consumers. One could say it was a grenade in Sega’s trench.
Also, another factor that led to the demise of the Sega Dreamcast was the notion that it used regular CD-ROMs as their medium to store games on. With that being said, this allowed individuals to simply burn games on a regular CD-ROM and play them on the console without any modifications whatsoever (Classic Gaming Quarterly, 2015). Obviously, this notion made piracy of Sega Dreamcast games easier than locking a missile on a stationary target. Sega was trying to make their console easier to create games for. Unfortunately, Sega made it too easy.
Another factor that doomed the Sega Dreamcast was the fact that Electronic Arts refused to create games for the Sega Dreamcast (Warner,1997). At the time and even to this day Electronic Arts (called EA) is one of the biggest software developers for gaming in the world. Without the support of EA, a shock wave transmitted across the world showcasing a lack of confidence in Sega (Harris, 2014). The notion was, if EA did not believe this console would succeed, then why would other software developers and gamers alike believe in the longevity of this console? This mindset became a reality for many individuals. Consequently, Sega had a difficult time finding third party support for their prized console. With that in mind, Sega had to be the primary software developer, and eventually the lack of titles became a detriment for Sega against Sony and their many third party developers (Gaming Historian,2014). As the tale of console gaming states, software has always driven hardware; without software, your hardware will fail (G4, 2013).
The final factor that doomed the Sega Dreamcast was the competition, specifically, Sony and their powerful PS2 entertainment console. The PS2 was a much more powerful machine the Sega Dreamcast. Comparing the statistics of these two consoles, the PS2 was capable of generating 60 million polygons per second while the Dreamcast only 3 million polygons per second. Moreover, the medium the games were on could hold 4.7GB on a single layer and 8.5 on a double layer while the Dreamcast’s CD-ROM’s only could hold 1.2 GB. Furthermore, the PS2 had broadband internet support while the Dreamcast needed a separate device to achieve that height (Gaming Historian, 2014). History would argue though that just because a device is superior does not necessarily mean it will be more successful (Blu-Ray’s). What dropped the atomic bomb on Sega was the fact that the PS2 could play DVD’s and the Sega Dreamcast could not. That factor was immense, especially in Japan where the PS2 was one of the most affordable DVD players in the entire country (Stuart, 2015). The force that was presented with Sony was too great for Sega to stay in the hardware market. The force Sony used was similar to Blitzkrieg on Poland; the attack was fast and merciless and left nothing but ruins and broken dreams.
The Legacy of the Sega Dreamcast Edit
Although the Sega Dreamcast experienced a short life-span for a gaming console, it created a loyal fan base with its charming, quirky and heavyweight contender status. The fans thought the Sega Dreamcast was a serious gaming console after the debacles of the Sega Saturn. Also, the games that were created have a great shelf life and are still enjoyable to this day (Shenmue, Powerstone, Soul Caliber, Sonic Adventure, and Phantasy Star Online). Furthermore, independent developers still make games for the Sega Dreamcast. In the year 2015, there were 10 games created for the Sega Dreamcast (Matthews, 2015). With that being said, a small but devoted community still exists for this proud gaming console.
More importantly, the Sega Dreamcast took what other consoles attempted to do with internet access on a gaming console and brought it to the masses. The Sega Dreamcast’s built-in modem opened the doors for online gameplay on the home console. The authors of Smartbomb, Heather Chaplin and Aaron Ruby said it best, “video games are already an alternative place to live" (2005, p.26). The Sega Dreamcast further enhanced that notion with allowing individuals to live online within the comfort of their own living room. The home consoles are a place to live, but the Sega Dreamcast created another row of barracks. Moreover, video games are about having experiences that are not or do not feel earthbound (Chaplin & Ruby, 2005, p. 26). The Sega Dreamcast brought this statement to life with online capabilities never experienced before for the home console users. Not to sound too corny, but the Sega Dreamcast delivered a dream-like experience that other adaptations of home gaming consoles failed to do. Sega Dreamcast may have been cast into junkyards by many, but for the sole few who experienced the triumph of the Sega Dreamcast, they will never forget. It is important to consider how the Dreamcast's innovation of integrated online capability still shapes gaming today-all consoles currently on the market feature robust online networks featuring online multiplayer and downloadable games and content. "A console without online capabilities is now inconceivable. Love it or hate it, you have SEGA to thank (or blame) for this future" (Redsell 2012). The Dreamcast was a major milestone in the process of negotiation between new technologies in console video gaming and the gaming public, where online networks ceased to be an add-on or novelty, and became a new norm for consoles.
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