Next Wednesday will mark the Sega Dreamcast’s 10th birthday, having launched on September 9, 1999. Less than a year and a half later, Sega discontinued the console, facing competition from Sony’s Playstation 2, the looming threat of Microsoft’s Xbox and some friction within the company.
1UP editor Jeremy Parish is celebrating a little early with a retrospective. He does a good job of looking back on Sega the Console Maker, explaining why the Dreamcast was an important product — it had great games, mostly — and what led to its demise. But what really struck me while reading was how much the game console business has changed and solidified over the last 10 years.
Ever since Microsoft launched the Xbox in November 2001, we’ve been playing consoles from the same three manufacturers, with virtually no outside competition. That was unheard of in the 90s, which saw a handful of console makers come and go. The 3DO, Atari Jaguar, TurboGrafx-16 and Neo Geo all took a stab at the home console market, but either failed miserably or didn’t produce any progeny.
Sega was a different case because, as Parish points out, it had been around. Even before the Genesis fiercely competed with the Super Nintendo, there was the Sega Master System, and before the Dreamcast came the Sega Saturn. Sega’s exit from the console market was significant because it made room for Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo to dominate.
I don’t see any of those three manufacturers bowing out any time soon. If the Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and the Wii all stick to their goals of a 10-year life cycle, we’ll be looking at 15 years with the same three brands. The only competitors I see on the horizon are cloud gaming services such as OnLive and Gaikai.
That’s not a bad thing as long as everyone’s innovating. It just underscores how console gaming is no longer a wild and unpredictable industry. By dropping the Dreamcast, Sega made the transformation possible.