Digitalia: ratings and ravings

Sega's mega-buck Dreamcast marketing blitz seems to be paying off. High sales figures indicate that the kid magnet factor is in good working order, attracting them to the brand with all the in-your-face bells and whistles....
December 1, 1999

Sega’s mega-buck Dreamcast marketing blitz seems to be paying off. High sales figures indicate that the kid magnet factor is in good working order, attracting them to the brand with all the in-your-face bells and whistles.

The Dreamcast system is here because Sega was quite literally getting blown out of the water. Sony PlayStation (Sega’s biggest competition) had disposed of Sega’s Dreamcast predecessor, the Saturn, whose sales tanked back in `95. But now Sega has taken Dreamcast straight to the top of the techno heap, creating a 128-bit Internet-ready wonder (128 bits allow adaptation to technological advances, like DVD) that offers activities like e-mail, browsing and chat. What exactly makes it so special to kidsumers, particularly vis à vis Sony’s sublimely entrenched PlayStation?

Dreamcast uses AI-that’s right-artificial intelligence, to learn its opponents’ tactics, recognize patterns in the way they play and then exploit their weaknesses. And with Sega games like NFL 2K being so real that you can see the players’ breath if they’re playing in cold cities like Buffalo, the gaming experience is more `real’ than ever!

Copious amounts of on-board memory mean that `epic games’ (games with both highly complex characters and story lines) are easily handled by the system. This is very important because it allows game developers to both build games that keep kids captivated for extremely long periods of time, and integrate challenges that would make the average adult weep.

A super-fast (200MHz) 3-D processor means that game imagery is phenomenal. The opening sequence to Sega’s Sonic Adventure game was a virtual plethora of Godzilla, Jurassic Park and Armageddon mixed to spellbinding result. With resolution at 200 million pixels per second, game details are rich and abundant.

Sega is doing everything it possibly can to keep kids involved with the product, even when they are not actually playing. Part of the Dreamcast system is a neat little contraption called a VMU (virtual memory unit, like a memory card), which saves the

remnants of games players haven’t finished. But trust Sega to push the envelope-VMUs also operate as stand-alone units, playing their own games and allowing kids to both transfer and trade game characters amongst themselves. VMUs are essentially the union of Tamagotchi, Pokémon and Game Boy, and we all know how successful each of those products are.

Speaking of brilliance, there will be at least 40 titles for Dreamcast on the shelves by Christmas, including Sega’s Toy Commander (think Toy Story gone wrong), as well as 2000 releases Batman Beyond (the hot new kids property burning things up) and Sega’s Shenmue (a blazing martial arts fighting game in huge demand). The number of games available is expected to more than double by the end of next year. Games range anywhere from US$39.99 to US$59.99, which, when added onto an already dear US$199 system, quickly necessitates extra chores.

Scads of licensed Dreamcast properties are available and keeping the brand top of mind-we’re already seeing knapsacks, shirts, toys and action figures being promoted, even though half of the games they support have yet to be released-and the new TV series Sonic Underground produced by Burbank, California-based DIC Entertainment (of Super Mario Brothers fame) is being broadcast on BKN.

But all is not perfect in Segaland. Browsing a few of the on-line discussion groups at press time revealed comments like ‘I’m pretty happy with Dreamcast except for no RPGs (role playing games) until December’ and ‘I’m happy with Dreamcast since I’ve got a whole load of their games, but Sega really should stop with the delays of great games like Shenmue.’ The huge demand by kids for new products hyped well in advance of release needs to be quickly satiated, or gamemakers face being met with frowns.

Sony’s upcoming new console PlayStation 2 is going to up the ante big time, providing even more of the amenities than those offered by Dreamcast. Sony anticipates sales of one million units in the first month of release (spring 2001), even with a fat price of US$368! The great thing for Sega is that it is already to market with the hottest machine around. Everywhere you look it’s Sega, Sega, Sega. Smart. Very smart.

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