9.9.99 — The Day Everything Changed.
Sega’s Dreamcast launch was quite possibly one of the last great marketing campaigns for any console launch. Sure, we have the amazing specs slowly starting to sputter out from the upcoming console generation that leave us pretty much all in awe, but the Dreamcast had the whole “It’s Thinking” short-burst — essentially viral for its time — ads on television going for it. Not to mention, Sega’s awesome “9.9.99” marketing angle left more than a few of us thinking, “okay, this is it. When this baby hits 9.9.99, you’re gonna see some serious sh*t.”
For those of us that remember, the Dreamcast also had one of the strongest launch lineups ever with its impressive array of 18 titles to choose from, and many of those would end up becoming some of the greatest games on the system. To jog your memory, here they are:
- Airforce Delta
- Blue Stinger
- Flag to Flag
- House of the Dead 2
- Hydro Thunder
- Monaco Grand Prix
- Mortal Kombat Gold
- NFL 2K
- NFL Blitz 2000
- Pen Pen Trilcelon
- Power Stone
- Ready 2 Rumble Boxing
- Sonic Adventure
- Soul Calibur
- TNN Motorsports Hardcore Heat
- Tokyo Xtreme Racer
If you are just getting into the Dreamcast, my personal recommendations would be (looking solely at the launch games): House of the Dead 2, NFL 2K, Power Stone, Sonic Adventure, and Soul Calibur. Those were the five games that I played to death when the system came out in late 1999, and the incredible thing about them is that they still hold up well over 13 years later — not a lot of systems can say that about their games over a decade after their launch.
The Dreamcast was also one of the most successful system launches in general in North America, with record setting numbers for its time, with Peter Moore, the former Sega of America President, stating that it was the “biggest 24 hours in entertainment history.” The estimated totals for the Dreamcast’s launch are in the range of $40 million, which is a complete turn-around from the horrible surprise launch of the Sega Saturn — which launched quickly to the surprise of many retailers with Sega hoping that it would gain a large lead over Sony and their impending launch of the Playstation.
The 2K Juggernaut
EA did not support the Dreamcast, but what happened between EA and Sega that led to them going their separate ways after so many years of great partnership? A lot of it seems to stem from the decision by Sega to incorporate “unheard of” hardware components (according to the former VP of EA, Bing Gordon), and also the negotiation tactics of Bernie Stolar, the former Sega of America President. Bernie Stolar was in negotiations with then President of EA, Larry Probst, on allowing EA to become the exclusive sports publisher for the Dreamcast. The interesting thing about this negotiation was that Bernie Stolar actually purchased the developer, Visual Concepts, for $10 million, and Stolar insisted that EA would have to deal with both companies developing sports games for the Dreamcast.
The executives at EA did not go along with this hardball tactic from Stolar and Sega, and talks ended.
The Sega Dreamcast launched with the ground-breaking NFL game, NFL 2K, which helped to bring forth a competition between the 2K franchise and EA’s Madden franchise for years to come — eventually ending with EA dishing out the big bucks for exclusive rights to the NFL license in the mid 00’s.
Every single one of my closest friends would tell you that, at the time of the Dreamcast’s launch, the Madden franchise wasn’t as excellent as it was once… that EA was putting out Madden games on a yearly basis that did not contribute anything besides roster updates. We were all hungry in anticipation for NFL 2K, the first NFL game that came ever-so-close to the “realism” that we were all hoping for in our sports games.
* Next time in my two-part look at the Sega Dreamcast, I will talk about the online aspect of the system, SegaNet, and the overall impact that it had in the shaping of the online gaming landscape. Plus, I will take a closer look at the innovative VMU, the interesting memory unit that allowed us to do more than just save our game progress, and why the Dreamcast faded into obscurity less than two years after its launch.
See you all in two weeks!