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Forums - Gaming Discussion - Alternate History: Sega doesn't drop the ball in the 4th to 5th gen transition

Dreamcast would have lasted longer but they would have run out of steam when Wii/360/PS3 hit



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Sega could not really do much, if you go back to magazines from that time you will see the sega saturn got some love and some of its games got great reviews from having the best fighters like virtua fighter (Tekken/MKIII time exlusive/Star gladiator weren't that great compared to VF) to better racing games like daytona (while PS one at that time only had Need for speed and Ridge racer and those were overall weak games) and most important RPG's, Ps one had barely RPG's and was losing exclusive games like Wipeout....  

Sega could just not invest the amount of money Sony did in deals/exclusives...






curl-6 said:

In this timeline, the Sega CD and 32X don't happen, the Saturn is easy to develop for and priced on par with Playstation, and they don't alienate retailers with a surprise release.

What difference do you think this would have made to how things play out?

Many would argue Sega CD was actually a good add-on. It actually had notable titles and unique content you wouldn't find on SNES or Genesis. It would have been best if 32X didn't exist, but instead the few notable 32X games were made for Sega Genesis and/or Sega CD. Games like Kolibri, Knuckles Chaotix and Tempo could have been classics on the Genesis. While some other 32X content could have been good Sega CD ports, like Mortal Kombat 2, Wrestlemania the Arcade Game, Space Harrier, After Burner 2, perhaps even Doom. If you look through the Sega CD library you'd see it gave a nice boost in power so developers could have pushed more impressive content as well. Sega could have leaned into tech like the Super FX chip if they really wanted better 3D content on Genesis and Sega CD.

Last, its evident Sega CD content was cheaper to produce because CDs are cheaper than carts. So it got significantly more content than the 32X ever did.

I wish they pushed the Sega CDX and made it more affordable.

Like I said already, the 32X should not have existed. It had some okay content, but it wasn't worth the impact it had on the brand and some of that content would have bolstered Genesis and Sega CD. Maybe even Saturn.

Sony's impact on the industry was so significant that its hard to imagine Sega could have done anything to stop it. At best they could have boosted their sales with less mistakes.



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Other people have pointed out reasons why Sega would still be in trouble. What interests me is whether Sega would still feel the need to launch the Dreamcast in 1998.

If Sega could delay the Dreamcast by a year, let's say with a late 1999 release in Japan and a 2000 release elsewhere, it'd have less time to build up strength prior to the PS2's launch, but it's also likely be a different piece of hardware. Maybe it'd be closer to the NAOMI in terms of processing power, maybe it'd feature a second analog stick on its controller, etc.

One thing that the early Dreamcast would have going for it in this case is an amazing early library, perhaps even more than IRL, with a healthy backlog of NAOMI games that could easily be ported to this more powerful version of the Dreamcast. On the other hand, there'd be very little time before the PS2. And although Sega would be able to count on support from Namco and Capcom, they'd likely still have less third party support than PlayStation and PS2.

Maybe the Dreamcast would live a bit longer overall, but I doubt Sega would be up for releasing another console come 2005 or so.

Of course, even the implications of delaying Sega's entry to being a 3rd party publisher would be interesting. For example, we obviously wouldn't have all those Sonic ports on the GameCube and PS2 if Dreamcast stuck around, so maybe interest in the Sonic series would be lower afterwards as a result. Maybe keeping the 2K series seperated from EA Sports would prevent the price wars that led to Madden NFL getting exclusive rights. Maybe some Namco and Capcom games would also be on the Dreamcast, such as Devil May Cry, Resident Evil, Tekken, etc

Sorry to ramble, but this tpic brings up so many ideas!



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PAOerfulone said:
The_Liquid_Laser said:

I don't think the Saturn's fortunes change too much in this scenario.  The main problem the system had was a lack of good games, especially first party games.  The Saturn actually had a killer app in Japan early on which was Virtua Fighter.  Consequently, the Saturn did fairly well in Japan.  It didn't do well in the rest of the world, because they didn't have a game that other regions considered a killer app.  What they really needed was a great Sonic game.  A more interesting alternate reality would be if Sonic Mania was released on the Saturn back in the day.  In that scenario, I think the Saturn has a fighting chance.

The only problem with that is at the time every franchise was making the jump to 3D. After Super Mario 64 marked Mario's 3D debut, and basically revolutionized the industry and helped set the standard for 3D gaming, everyone was naturally expecting Sonic to make the jump. Because the Sonic vs. Mario rivalry was still very much in full effect at this time (Sega does what Nintendon't). And that's where Sega floundered and struggled because it took them longer than they could afford to make the proper transition. By the time Sonic Adventure finally dropped on the Dreamcast, they were already past the point of no return. All it ultimately did was provide more life support for their already dying console business. If they had developed a proper 3D Sonic game for the Saturn instead and got it right, I think that would have benefited them MUCH more than if Sonic Mania was on the Saturn. If they had done that latter, Mania still would've been the great game that it is now, but it wouldn't have been received with nearly the amount of praise and acclaim. In fact, it might have been viewed as a disappointment because Sega opted to play it safe and make another 2D game instead of shooting back with their own "Sonic 64" like game.

Obviously, Sega's attempt at 3D Sonic was a big mistake, because that is what actually did happen.  One reason I think they should have made a 2D Sonic game is that they clearly had the skill at the time to make a really good 2D Sonic game, and they did not have the skill to make a really good 3D Sonic game.  I.e. I was picturing an alternate reality where their management made better decisions but not necessarily also gaining game making know-how that they never seemed to have.

But let's ignore that and assume they could have made a 3D Sonic game that was about as well received as Mario 64.  Would this be a better move than making a really good 2D Sonic game?  Even then, I believe making a really good 2D Sonic is still a better move.  The fact that all 3 consoles of Generation 5 were heading toward 3D means that a large segment of the gaming population was left out.  I say this from personal experience.  I bought a PS1 in Generation 5, because I saw RPGs getting better but action games getting worse.  Mario 64 did not feel like a "real" Mario game.  I don't think I am alone in this either.  Most people agree that all of the Mario games on the Wii were well made, both 3D and 2D.  But 2D Mario totally blows away 3D Mario in sales.  We can expect Sonic would have been in the same situation.  Even if Sega had "gotten it right" with 3D Sonic, 2D Sonic would have been more popular.  Add in the fact that Saturn would have been considered the only 2D console at at time when 2D was still fresh in everyone's minds, and I think the Saturn would have been very successful.  It might not have been #1, but it probably would have beaten the N64 just by sticking with 2D, especially with Sonic.

You'll never get ahead by following everyone else.  Sega's biggest mistake was trying to follow the trends and be marginally better than their competitors.  Sega's biggest asset back in the day was in not edgy marketing but in making really great arcade games or home games with arcade controls like Sonic.  Most of these games were 2D.  Once they went 3D, they left most of their strengths behind, and then they failed pretty hard.  On top of that all the consoles left behind a bunch of gamers that still wanted 2D action games.  It was probably smart for Sony to do this, but Sega and Nintendo missed a big opportunity.



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Ka-pi96 said:

Don't you actually need to be holding a ball before you can drop it?

Not sure what you mean. Are you trying to argue that Genesis/Mega Drive was not a success in the west? If so, you're dead wrong. Mega Drive beat SNES in Europe, and in the US Genesis was actually selling more than SNES for much of the generation, largely thanks to the efforts of Tom Kalinske.

Allow me to give you a little history lesson about Sega of America and the man named Tom Kalinske, it'll be a long read but I promise it's worth it, the story is one of the most interesting in Gaming history imo:

Tom Kalinske worked for Mattel toys from 1972 to 1987, during which time he successfully revived the fallen sales of both Barbie and Hot Wheels, turning around the company's fortunes, and they promoted him to CEO from 1985-1987. He then was recruited to be head of Matchbox, the chief rival of Mattel's Hot Wheels; though he was only CEO of Matchbox for 3 years, he successfully turned around a company which was nearly bankrupt when he stepped in, and allowed them to turn a profit for the first time in years.

Meanwhile, while this was happening, Nintendo had a total stranglehold on the US video game market. By the end of 1986, NES had reportedly sold 1.1m units in North America, compared to 250k for Master System and 100k for Atari 7800, despite Sega spending a similar amount on marketing compared to Nintendo, with Master System falling short of Sega's sales expectation of 400-750k units for the year. Things only got worse throughout the generation. The following year, Sega decided to sell the North American distribution rights to US toy company Tonka, but they had no clue how to sell a game console either, and by the end of 1988, Nintendo had 83% of the North American marketshare, and the Sega vs Nintendo marketshare was 6% to 94% by the end of 1989. 

So in 1990, Sega's CEO, Hayao Nakayama, decided to hire Tom Kalinske to run Sega of America, after seeing how he turned around the fortunes of both Mattel and Matchbox. Hayao himself flew to Hawaii where Tom was on vacation with his family, and personally asked Tom Kalinske to run Sega of America. Tom flew from Hawaii to Japan with Hayao and was shown Sega Mega Drive and how much better it looked than the 8 bit NES, and was convinced that Sega had a winning product.

So Tom immediately set about creating a strategy for selling Sega Genesis in the US. His battle plan: 1. Sell the console at a loss so you can sell more consoles to people who will be buying games and accessories throughout the generation, allowing you to make more money in the long run. 2. Defeat Mario. 3. Get sports games on Genesis. 4. Market Genesis to teenagers instead of kids. 5. Make fun of Nintendo. He then had a meeting to present that battle plan to the Japanese Board of Directors, and the Japanese board didn't like it at all and it turned into an angry argument between Hayao Nakayama and the other members of the board that ended when Nakayama abruptly stood up, knocking over his chair in the process, and went to the door to leave, and Tom thought he was finished with Sega before he really even started. Then Nakayama turned to him and told him that he hired Tom to run Sega of America and he was going to let him run it his way in spite of objections from the rest of the board of directors. 

Tom set about implementing his plan. He slashed the price of Genesis from $189 to 149 (the equivalent of about a $100 price cut in today's money I believe). Tom worked with Yuji Naka, Hirokazu Yasuhara, and Naoto Ohshima to design Sonic with the western market in mind, who would be the new mascot of Sega to help take down Mario. Tom partnered with EA to get John Madden Football, Joe Montana Football, and other EA Sports franchises on Genesis. Tom marketed Genesis to teens from 13 to 17 and young adults, compared to Nintendo marketing NES and SNES to kids, with the thinking that little brothers wanted to emulate their big brothers, so if you won over the big brothers with Genesis marketing, little brothers would then see their older brother playing Genesis and want to play it too. To that end, they organized demonstrations in malls that let teens try NES/SNES and Genesis side by side; made early use of influencers by sending a free Genesis console and free games to at least one student on most college campuses in the US, so that he could hype up Genesis to others on campus; they organized a big game tournament on MTV which tons of teens watched; they partnered with Michael Jackson who teens loved and watched on MTV. The ads were also focused on teens by making fun of Nintendo, with the infamous "Genesis Does What Nintendon't". 

How successful was Tom's battle plan? Well, when Tom was brought in in 1990, Genesis had apparently only sold about 500,000 units in North America in 1989, half of Sega's goal of selling 1m units in 1989. Tom's plan increased sales to 1m in 1990. Genesis then outsold SNES nearly 2 to 1 Holiday 1991. Genesis outsold SNES 4 consecutive Holiday seasons in the US from 1991-1994, thanks to it's lower price, better marketing, and larger game library. It wasn't until late generation that SNES managed to pull ahead in the US.

Do you want to know what brought Sega down in the end? Jealousy of the success of Genesis/Mega Drive in the US and Europe by the same Japanese Board of Directors who disapproved of Tom's battle plan for Sega of America, they were jealous that Sega America under Tom Kalinske and Sega Europe under Nick Anderson were beating SNES in their markets, while Sega Japan had sold just 3.5m Mega Drives to Nintendo's 17m SNES units in Japan. They made the foolish decision to design Saturn with the Japanese market in mind and and let Genesis/Mega Drive die early, resulting in Genesis falling behind SNES in sales the last couple of years of the generation in the US due to not having enough stock to meet demand, which is ultimately what allowed SNES to pass Genesis overall in the US.

Tom argued against Sega of Japan and told them they were making a mistake with the design of the Saturn, told them that nobody could successfully market that console in the US and Europe. They didn't listen to his warning, and he resigned in 1996 as a result. His prediction turned out to be accurate, with Saturn selling just 1.8m units in the US and 1.1m in Europe, compared to 18m Genesis in the US and 8.8m Mega Drive in Europe. Sega Japan's pigheaded belief that focusing on the Japanese market over western markets was the right strategy for Sega moving forward ultimately brought them down, they lost so much money on Saturn in the west that they couldn't afford to sustain Dreamcast even though it was selling well from 1998-2001. 

Last edited by shikamaru317 - on 16 February 2021

If Sega does everything perfect and makes the Saturn a compelling product to consumers, retailers, and 3rd parties in 1995 then I think things change dramatically. I think people really underestimate how much Sony benefitted from the mistakes both Sega and Nintendo made in the mid-90s, and if the Saturn got Final Fantasy 7 as well as many of the 3rd party games the PS1 got in the real world it would have gotten a huge boost. The Dreamcast would likely not have been released in the first place since Sega would be in much better shape. The PS1 does not come anywhere near 100 million units if it loses Final Fantasy. It may still finish first due to Sony's great marketing at the time, but in this scenario the Saturn would give it much more of a race than the N64 did and Sony would not become the dominant force it was in the PS2 generation. A lot of this would depend on how many exclusive PS1 games go Saturn-exclusive instead and how many go multi-plat. Square exclusively developing for Sega and not on Playstation I think would push Saturn to the number 1 spot. The N64 might be the system that suffers the most sales-wise, as having 2 strong competitors would exacerbate its problems. Mario 64, Goldeneye, and Ocarina of Time would still blow everyone away, but simply having another strong console eating into its marketshare would seriously hurt Nintendo, and losing Final Fantasy to Sega would hurt even more than losing it to Sony since the Sega rivalry had more history to it.  But again, this is assuming Sega doesn't screw anything up, and Sega would have been a completely different company to pull that off.  It's not quite like the N64 where Nintendo could have pulled through if they either went with CDs or didn't pull out of the SNES Playstation deal and it took both mistakes to sink the N64.  Fixing any one mistake would never be enough to save the Saturn.

Perhaps a more interesting question is what would have happened if Sega went with its original design for the Saturn in which it would have been a 2d-focused system while the PS1 and N64 were focused on 3d, in effect using the strategy Nintendo would start using with the Wii, Wii U, and Switch a couple of generations later and doing its own thing while not competing as directly with the other players.

Last edited by h2ohno - on 16 February 2021

We would have had the Sega Supreme by now, the fully-dedicated VR machine with Sonic VR that induces vomiting.



Mr Puggsly said:
curl-6 said:

In this timeline, the Sega CD and 32X don't happen, the Saturn is easy to develop for and priced on par with Playstation, and they don't alienate retailers with a surprise release.

What difference do you think this would have made to how things play out?

Many would argue Sega CD was actually a good add-on. It actually had notable titles and unique content you wouldn't find on SNES or Genesis. It would have been best if 32X didn't exist, but instead the few notable 32X games were made for Sega Genesis and/or Sega CD. Games like Kolibri, Knuckles Chaotix and Tempo could have been classics on the Genesis. While some other 32X content could have been good Sega CD ports, like Mortal Kombat 2, Wrestlemania the Arcade Game, Space Harrier, After Burner 2, perhaps even Doom. If you look through the Sega CD library you'd see it gave a nice boost in power so developers could have pushed more impressive content as well. Sega could have leaned into tech like the Super FX chip if they really wanted better 3D content on Genesis and Sega CD.

Last, its evident Sega CD content was cheaper to produce because CDs are cheaper than carts. So it got significantly more content than the 32X ever did.

I wish they pushed the Sega CDX and made it more affordable.

Like I said already, the 32X should not have existed. It had some okay content, but it wasn't worth the impact it had on the brand and some of that content would have bolstered Genesis and Sega CD. Maybe even Saturn.

Sony's impact on the industry was so significant that its hard to imagine Sega could have done anything to stop it. At best they could have boosted their sales with less mistakes.

The problem is that add ons just rarely work in gaming. By definition, they just cater to an already existing portion of the existing base. Even if your system is a major success and sells 100 million, you need to sell the add on to half of your base to get it to a decent market.

Meanwhile, you're narrowing your brand as a whole because big titles like Sonic CD are only accessible to a small base. Then you have market confusion, especially when you have the 32X as well. People don't necessarily want to buy a machine if they think they may have to keep upgrading it to play everything. They want to be set. 

I don't fault Sega, because it was a new industry. Sega had a lot of innovative ideas that would be refined successfully by others, but they were sometimes ahead of their time in the wrong way. If Sega had not done either add on, and refocused their efforts into making sure the Saturn had great content they'd have been better off. 

Add-ons just generally aren't a strong idea, unless you're fine with them being a niche product and they're not going to take up too many resources. The Wii-mote could have easily been an add on to the Gamecube (I think it was conceived as such) but Nintendo realized from previous products that it was best to sell it as a complete product. 



sales2099 said:

Dreamcast would have lasted longer but they would have run out of steam when Wii/360/PS3 hit

This. Even with Sega handling the end of the fourth generation and onward better, I don't think they have what it takes to make it past the Dreamcast. The Dreamcast probably sells more along what GameCube did in reality. I don't know if Dreamcast would leech away some sales from its three competitors or not.

The Saturn would've done better as well, reaching at least Wii U or even PS Vita levels. I still don't see it doing well outside of Japan, but it would do better.

Even with some improvements to Sega's direction, they just didn't have it long term to beat Sony or Nintendo. Shoot, I still think we would still get an Xbox 360 because they probably wouldn't even be able to make Xbox a big loser.



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