SEGA’s much loved, but ultimately unsuccessful final home console turns 20 today. Happy birthday Dreamcast.
Originally launched in Japan on the 27th of November 1998, it was on the 9th of September 1999 (9/9/99) that the SEGA Dreamcast made its debut in the United States. A European release followed in early October with Australia shipping out in late November. Despite a troubled launch in Japan the US release went smoothly and the console was well received, racking up 300,000 pre-orders and topping 500,000 units shipped within two weeks.
The Dreamcast came as a desperate attempt from SEGA to regain the success they had enjoyed with the Genesis/Mega Drive. Ground was lost as Sony seized the home console market with their debut PlayStation and Nintendo’s more powerful N64 outperformed SEGA’s 32bit Saturn. The company set about developing their next console, even spending two years working with Microsoft on an operating system based on Windows CE.
With the Dreamcast on store shelves it was Sony again who initiated a rapid decline in sales for SEGA’s flagship machine with the announcement of the Playstation 2 which would hit the market in 2002. This was followed by Microsoft who debuted their first console, the Xbox, in the same year.
Without the resources necessary to compete with their peers and with the machine lacking in functionality promised by the new consoles (the inability to play DVDs proving key), SEGA conceded the fight and discontinued the Dreamcast in north America in March 2001. Europe followed in late 2002 whilst limited support in Japan continued as late as 2007.
In many respects the Dreamcast was way ahead of its time. Each console came boxed with a modem to access the internet allowing users to play games online, as well as introducing the ability to talk to others ‘in-game’ over the web. It could be said that the Dreamcast was the spiritual predecessor of the Xbox with many titles first available on the former receiving a sequel on the latter. Similarities can be seen between the Dreamcast controller and those released with the first Xbox.
It wheezed, it spluttered and it had a fan loud enough to rival a jumbo jet, but it will be fondly remembered as a key step in console history and a giant leap towards the current generation. Happy birthday Dreamcast.