This isn't the mid '80s anymore, when a virtually unknown company in the U.S. could launch a new console and revive the home market. Remember when the NES debuted? How many people could identify the Nintendo brand at merely a glance? As the story goes, former NOA chairman Howard Lincoln couldn't get anyone to give the NES (then called the AVS, or Advanced Video System) a second look when it debuted at the January 1984 Consumer Electronics Show. No, today, everyone knows what a "Wii" is, and the terms "Xbox" and "Playstation" have been firmly entrenched in the public's mind. For Sega to even consider entering such hostile territory, it would take either the greatest software push and creativity ever seen in video gaming, and quite possibly the world's biggest death wish.
Which is why I find it odd that someone, a games journalist at that, would publish an article proposing that Sega do exactly that. C|Net's Don Reisinger wrote a lengthy piece last week entitled Why Sega Should Release a New Console. In it, Mr. Reisinger lays out what he thinks could be a winning formula for Sega to get back into the game and reverse its economic fortunes. Unfortunately, the article contradicts itself a few times and Reisinger comes off as not really knowing his history. Let's take a look at some of his major points:
- The company incurred a loss $501 million during its 2008 fiscal year and its video games division lost about $56.3 million.
Sega began to turn things around as early as 1992, not even two years after relieving itself of the albatross around its neck that was the Dreamcast. The House of Sonic is confident that things will turn around next year, thanks to its software side making up for Sammy's failings. With game sales picking up overseas and the success of titles like Yakuza 3 in Japan, it's obvious that the game maker isn't responsible for the problems the overall group is facing.
True, Sega is still being dragged downward by Sammy's Pachinko woes, and while I don't think it will be able to overcome those losses just by its game sales alone, I also think that the games division is on an upswing that has put it in a better position than it ever was as a hardware maker. Consider that Sega incurred $398 million in debt in 1998, the year before it released the Dreamcast. That's $342 million more than this year's loss. Yes, the company is losing money. But when you compare it to how it was bleeding cash for years while pushing failing hardware formats, the loss has been substantially reduced.
- Sega's Sonic franchise is floundering.
Just a year ago, Sega/Sammy reported losses for the third straight year but saw a 32% increase in software sales, prompted by the famous hedgehog. Sonic has two upcoming releases, Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, both of which are highly anticipated. Sonic has consistently been a big seller, regardless of diminishing quality, and this consistency goes back to his first third party outing, Sonic Adventure 2 Battle on the GameCube. We as gamers are lamenting the decline in quality of the franchise, but the sales numbers do not lie, and Sega's foremost concern is with sales. As long as the games sell well, no one will shake this hedgehog's tree, so to say that the franchise is "floundering" isn't just exaggerating; it's plain wrong.
- Depending on the study you read, the average gamer is anywhere between 30-35 years old. Because of that, it's safe to assume that the vast majority of gamers remember the days of Sega console gaming and there is still a huge group of Sega zealots in the wild that long for another Dreamcast.
If anything, this should be the target audience Sega should avoid. They most likely aren't the ones who bought Mario & Sonic or any of the other new releases, and we've seen just how far the support of older gamers goes with Sega with such massive flops as Panzer Dragoon Orta, both Otogi titles, as well as recent flops like Sega Superstars Tennis, which dropped to $20 about a month after its release. All of these are excellent games that should be in everyone's libraries but were largely ignored by the very audience Reisinger says Sega should pursue.
- There's no debating the fact that Sega has been a relative failure in the software space. Since its decision to drop out of the hardware game, the company has had a few minor hits, but nothing has been developed that we can classify as a blockbuster.
- In order for Sega to truly keep its game division afloat, it'll need to develop hardware that's both forward-thinking and inexorably tied to the online space. Beyond that, it'll need to repair the issues it may still have with retailers and some other developers and endeavor to build a console that can compete on the same level with the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3.
- Third-parties are having trouble selling games on the Wii and if they believe that they can turn an even greater profit by selling games on three consoles, the deals should start to build up.
- After forming the deals with developers, Sega will need to build the hype machine up as much as possible. Instead of following the faulty plan of years ago, it needs to show off a console that's both more powerful than anything available, offers a Blu-ray drive, and has the kind of online component we're only seeing in the Xbox 360. The company also needs to play by the rules: it shouldn't announce the console and release it on the same day and it should take as much time as it needs to ensure all of its ducks are in a row before it launches it.
Look, I agree that it would rock to have Sega back making consoles. As one of those older gamers Reisinger refers to, it still feels odd to me to not have a Sega system in the market after almost two decades of buying its hardware. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation does not favor such a move by the company, and it's likely that we'll never see another Sega console again. It's nice to dream, but if Reisinger is serious in his contention that Sega could and should return to making hardware, then he's not living in the same reality as Sega.