Monday, 24 October 2011

Will Sega Ever Bring Out A New System?

  It never occurred to me when I was younger, that Sega would one day leave the hardware market and just focus on making and publishing software for other systems. Saying such a thing in the early ninety’s would have either meant being subjected to a good mocking, and a prolonged period of sustained piss taking from your friends, or worse, a beating. Either way, you probably would have felt rather stupid for suggesting such blasphemy anyway, “Sega making games for a Nintendo machine?! Fuck off!” But that’s how things eventually turned out, admittedly through no fault of their own, but when they pulled the plug on the Dreamcast, and made the shocking announcement they were to leave the hardware market altogether, it was a very sad day. For diehard Sega fans it was hard news to swallow; the shock and disbelief ran deep. To write that off as an over statement is unfair, you could have kicked a Sega fan in the balls that day, and they wouldn’t have noticed, the only tear shed for Sega, and Sega alone. It wasn’t all bad though, they were still going to be around, just making great games, and considering their money troubles at the time, things could have turned out much worse.

  So how likely is it that Sega will ever return to the hardware market and produce another system? For fans, if they aren’t eagerly waiting on Shenmue 3, or a return to form for Sonic, or maybe even another Panzer Dragoon RPG, then it’s sure to be another console. Rumours do persist from time to time that Sega is working on another system, just like you hear about them making Shenmue 3, but it always turns out to be a load of rubbish, hearsay and conjecture, that’s all it is, and wishful thinking on the part of some. But seriously, how likely is it?

  The first thing that came to mind about this is just how much clout Sega has these days, financially and in terms of market and brand power. In terms of Sega’s muscle within popular culture these days, it’s unfortunately diminished somewhat. They still have their respective place in gaming and popular culture history for sure, and this does still resonate. However, their influence and stature within the world of gaming and on the wider world as a whole is now significantly lower than it was in former years. With the ability of those that did not grow up or live during the 90s to recognise Sega and understand who they are, let alone their history, becoming smaller in number over the years despite Sonic and various other titles aimed towards the younger generation. Sega’s blue and white logo might be instantly recognizable to the much older generation, with a perfect recognition of past glories, but to those significantly younger, sadly these days, few do.

  This is just what happens being a publisher and developer, especially when stepping down from being a major console manufacturer. As a manufacturer they did, and had to, spread their influence far and wide, not just within the gaming industry, and the gaming public, but to the wider world to say, “look, we are Sega and this is our console, these are the great games, buy it!” But now they don’t have to market themselves like that so much anymore, and they probably don’t have the money to do so either, they just need to focus on developing and publishing great games and advertising for them. In getting great games out on the market though, they can slowly build themselves back up to a position of dominance, creating more manoeuvrability and muscle behind them, strengthening their position, and putting their name back out there in the mind’s eye. Just look at other big company’s such as, EA, Activision, Capcom, Bethesda etc.

  This is one of the first things that struck me on this subject, that for Sega to go back into the console market for good, they must first build upon their strengths as a publisher and developer. They must consistently put out quality games time and again, more of a ratio to good than bad ones, and build upon this reputation first. This more so to quell the memories of all the mistakes they made in the past, but still within recent memory of the 90s generation, that inevitably sowed the seeds of discontent and mistrust towards them in later hardware years. Prove that they can consistently deliver, and then people will forgive, forget, and warm to a new system.

  Another obstacle that Sega would have to overcome, and an area that struck me, (in the middle of modding my Dreamcast controller no less,) is where the hell in today’s market would Sega fit into? Think about it, in today’s console marketplace, you have three big companies with their respective machines all vying for your attention, “The Big Three,” as they are known, and soon there will be a fourth, OnLive, who will be cornering their piece of today’s market. So where would Sega fit into this crowded marketplace? They would need to fit somewhere, they can’t just show up late to the party, uninvited, and expect to take a significant chunk of someone else’s cake; it just isn’t going to happen.

  Each one of the big three manufacturers are catering to a certain area of the market, and so Sega would too. They would ultimately need to have their own selling point or angle, a reason for a gamer to go and pick their console up, maybe when they have already got a rivals system. Nintendo already cater towards the cutesy, casual gamer, Mario in any game they can stick him in, younger audience. Microsoft and Sony have the more serious, hardcore gamer and mature audience rapped up between them, which they are constantly battling each other over. But soon OnLive will make a splash, and although it’s still early days for them yet, I suspect they will fit more towards the hardcore gamer, but try and position themselves somewhere between both ends of the spectrum, although only clawing out a small niche for themselves. But Sega, well, they would have to fit in there somewhere, and to me, it just seems a bit crowded. Without doing something different, or finding a certain niche or angle to attack from, it’s doubtful they would be able to set down any permanent roots.

  Back in the days of the Mega Drive/Genesis, Sega aimed its system towards the older more serious gamer, the opposite to who Nintendo had positioned their console towards, and this worked, they dominated the market and once occupied 65% of it. Then Sony came along, and the rest as they say is history: Sega were then always trying to regain what Sony had pulled from under them. Now that demographic has been carved up between Microsoft and Sony, who are constantly playing a tug of war for that specific market audience, and Microsoft doing to Sony what Sony had done to Sega. Would Sega be able to muscle its way into this demographic again? Either sitting shoulder to shoulder with Microsoft and Sony, ousting either one, or even both of them? I personally think they could get a foot in the door, that much is certainly plausible. But having any kind of staying power would depend on many different factors: money, willingness to fight it out with the other manufactures, staying power, willingness to stick around when things might not go according to plan, branding, feeling towards them, developer support, hardware etc. Being able to oust either one, or both Sony and Microsoft, is very doubtful, as both companies have staying power, have brand loyalty, vast empires of resources they can call upon, and of course, enough money to buy a few star systems, let alone a few planets, their respective pockets run very deep.

  Sega however, have always done what they have done best, and so it is easy to see that they would naturally gravitate to that area to which they would feel most comfortable. I doubt that if they were to bring out another console, they would pander to the casual crowd, or to a much younger demographic, that’s Nintendo’s area, and what they do best. Sega would again aim for a much more mature, hardcore gaming audience, as they had done in the past, this is a natural place for Sega to be and for them to sit more than comfortably in, and one where they have experience in too.

  They would first and foremost want to keep all their fans on board, because it will be firstly their fans that will immediately be onside and willing to pick up a new system, providing of course, that Sega do things right and head in the right direction. It’s their fans that will initially prop them up, help build momentum and excitement, and in supporting them help them get that all important foot back in the door. But just aiming for the demographic that their loyal fans fit into just won’t be enough, they need more to be able to set them apart and make them stand out. I’m sure that they will go for the hole arcade experience in the home angle, this is Sega’s trademark, and is a given really. What they could also do is come from a distinctly Japanese angle, maybe getting Japanese games from the past translated and emulated onto their system. How about the likes of Grandia, Shining Force 3 parts 2 & 3, Snatcher etc. Truth is this would be a real winner, as there are hundreds of great titles from the past that just never made it to the west, this could be a very strong selling point. Also how about courting developers to make predominately RPG games for the system to balance it out: a console strong on arcade perfect ports, a high number of RPG’s, a system that is distinctly more Japanese and proud of it, a system that boasts a huge variety of Japanese games translated for western gamers to enjoy, it’s just a thought.

  Lastly, this naturally brings me to the subject of killer apps, and every console needs killer apps and exclusives to boost the system and sell the platform. What Sega would need here to boost a new system and ramp up the launch is killer titles on launch day; this would be an absolute must! There are plenty of games that I can think of, that I would consider to be absolutely crucial: Sega Rally, Jet Set/Grind Radio, Ecco, Shining Force, Phantasy Star. There are also plenty of other great Sega titles that they could resurrect and release within the first few years from the release of a new system: Shenmue 3, another Panzer Dragoon RPG, Nights Into Dreams, a new Streets Of Rage, Headhunter, Crazy Taxi, HOTD, Vertua Fighter, Ristar etc. Sega has such an impressive library of games they can choose from, and consequentially this is wide open for debate, as each fan would have certain titles they would like to see.

  There is one title that everyone would specifically be looking for, and this would have to be a launch title, Sonic The Hedgehog! Sonic has undoubtedly suffered over the years, and the blue blur has been in so many forgettable titles, that to be honest, just shouldn’t have been made at all. So while Mario has gone from strength to strength, and translated really well into 3D, Sonic on the other hand has not, Sonic Adventure 1 & 2 being the last great Sonic titles. Truth is, Sonic can translate into 3D, it’s just that it hasn’t been done right at all since the Adventure titles, thus with every new title, Sonic seemed to get worse and worse. However, there is hope; recently released Sonic 4 and Sonic Colours have been a real step in the right direction for Sonic, and the best games in nearly a decade. Granted Sonic 4 has divided opinion, and maybe wasn’t the great game it was supposed to be, but going back to 2D roots and playing to Sonics strengths was a good decision for once, even if they still didn’t get it completely right. Sonic colours, on the other hand, was a great game and great success, hell, people who have played both games say Colours is the better title in truth.

  I think that taking Sonic back to his 2D roots is the best way forward, but maybe certain stages could be done in 3D, the special stages maybe? The game should also go back to the 16-bit old skool graphical look, as opposed to the modern clean graphics of Sonic 4, and should also be accompanied by a 16-bit soundtrack. I’d also like to see the Sonic Extreme game resurrected with its 3D fish-eye camera lens view, this was a great idea and the game looked fantastic, a sure fire winner in my eyes, shame it was dropped at the time. Oh, and one last thing, Sonic should not talk at all, he should be quiet and mute, if there is one other aspect to the Sonic games over the years that’s done more harm than good, it’s his cheesy whiny annoying voice, need I say any more on that?

  In conclusion, it’s hard to see Sega deciding to go back into the hardware market and bring out a new console, at least in the immediate future, there is just so many factors they would have to contend with, and so many that would be against them. Money is one, maybe even the biggest overall factor in truth, they would need quite a substantial amount of spare dough to launch a new system, and I just don’t think Sega has that kind of money to spare, it would certainly have to be money they were willing to take a gamble on. Also, with some of Sega’s other once popular and key franchises in a state of limbo, their unwillingness or indecision to produce some key titles fans are starving for because of concerns over whether they would be financially successful or not, just leaves you to wonder, if they can’t or won’t make these titles, (Shenmue 3, Panzer Dragoon, Phantasy Star, to name a few,) then what hope is there for a new console? Very little hope unfortunately.

  If Sega were to release another console tomorrow, I for one, would drop everything, and be camping outside my local games store with all the other fans and gamers so as to secure my machine on launch day. If I could have but one wish, to be used only to do specifically with gaming, it would be for Sega to release a new machine and dominate the console market once again. Ok so that’s two wishes, but you get my point, but I know that really, the longer Sega leaves it, the less likely it will ever be to materialise.

By Casey Suou Layne


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