[Cover image credit: Steve Napierski via Dueling Analogs]
By: Chris Hodges, editor-in-chief
Hard truth time: We didn’t love the Dreamcast nearly as much as we say we did. How can I say such a thing? Well, the system didn’t even last two whole years in the U.S. and Europe before Sega pulled the plug on it, and they didn’t do that because it was raking in billions of dollars. No, the reality is that while plenty of gamers did buy it and did support it, far more of us went running to the PlayStation 2 and left the Dreamcast behind. Sales figures don’t lie. Sure, some of Sega’s key figureheads at the time had long pushed for Sega to abandon the hardware business and just become a software company, but if the Dreamcast had been a smashing financial success, they would’ve happily stayed that course for as long as it was profitable. For a company to completely abandon a console that quickly is almost unheard of – even the Jaguar and the 3DO each weren’t officially euthanized until three years into their lifespans. So, again, we obviously didn’t show it the support that it deserved, especially given our supposed love for it. Sure, Nintendo and Microsoft didn’t put up especially higher numbers proportionately for the GameCube and Xbox, but Nintendo and Microsoft also had a much healthier bank account and could afford to weather such a storm far more than the then financially-shaky Sega. Following the Saturn, the Dreamcast needed to be an absolute blockbuster success in order to make it…and it wasn’t, so it didn’t. And that is nobody’s fault but ours.
In actuality, like many other creative figures that died far too young, the Dreamcast didn’t reach true worship status until sometime after it was laid to rest. As the PS2 and Xbox pushed to bring gaming into the critical-mass mainstream, us so-called “hardcore” gamers began to look at the Dreamcast as something of the end of an era, the era when video games were still video games, before they became a multi-billion-dollar Hollywood competitor. We eulogized the Dreamcast, professed our love for it – many of us began calling it the best system of all time – and talked about how sad it was that such a wonderful, amazing, ahead-of-its-time console could die such a quick death and also spell the unceremonious end to the Sega of our childhoods, the one that, at one time, was the only company with a library that came anywhere close to rivaling Nintendo’s. We began to fantasize about how amazing it would be if Sega took another shot at it, if they did what we all knew they were capable of doing, which was release another console and show everyone else how it’s done. Not surprisingly, we typically referred to this imagined system as the Dreamcast 2.
Petitions popped up every so often for Sega to make a Dreamcast 2, and they never really went anywhere (because most online petitions don’t). Most recently, there was this petition for Sega to release an HD Dreamcast that would play standard Dreamcast games but up-res them to full HD as well as have the ability to download games from an online store. But probably nothing since the original Dreamcast’s demise has stirred up talk of a Dreamcast successor more fervently than the announcement of a Kickstarter to finally develop and release Shenmue 3 for PC and PS4. When the game crushed its $2 million funding goal in no time flat and as of this writing sits at $3.2 million with a full 29 days left on the campaign, people’s minds began racing at the prospect of crowd funding the Dreamcast 2.
Well, I hate to break it to you, but it’s not going to happen. For starters, it would cost Sega more than just a couple million bucks to design, develop, manufacture and release a brand-new, fully-fledged console. But let’s say Sega is able to keep the costs to a reasonable level. Let’s say they can do it for even $10 million. Surely, if a single Sega game can cruise past 3 million without breaking a sweat, and is on pace to hit at least 10 by the time that campaign ends, a Dreamcast 2 would easily be able to bring in $10 million in backer funds. And I don’t doubt for a second that it would. The problem is, there is far more to consider than simply getting the cash to actually build and release the thing.
In order for the Dreamcast 2 to be an attractive purchase for most gamers, it would have to be able to deliver a library with a sizable number of true exclusives. Nobody is going to want a Dreamcast 2 to play ports of Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed, and to be honest, Sega would probably need to keep its tech rather modest in order to have any shot at affordability and profitability so the Dreamcast 2 almost certainly wouldn’t be as powerful as the PS4 or XB1. That being said, any ports of multiplatform games are going to be an obvious downgrade from their PS4, XB1 and PC counterparts, so obviously multiplatform titles aren’t going to be – nor should they be – something that the Dreamcast relies on very much, if at all. No, the Dreamcast 2 absolutely must be home to a number of 100% exclusive titles that make it so you can’t get those games anywhere else but the DC2. So now we aren’t just talking about $10 million to make a console…we also need at least a few million more to develop a couple of compelling launch games that have to be ready day-and-date with the DC2. And Sega couldn’t just get away with any old launch games if it wants to bring people in. We’re talking a new Phantasy Star, a new Virtua Fighter, a new Skies of Arcadia, a new Panzer Dragoon, a new Jet Set Radio, a new House of the Dead, a new Space Channel 5, a new Shenmue…oops. Well that one obviously isn’t going to happen. I’d say losing exclusivity to a game as huge as Shenmue 3 is already a major strike against the DC2’s potential library of exclusives. Sega also can’t just cheap out and launch with stuff like a new Crazy Taxi, Virtua Tennis and Chu Chu Rocket. They’d need to have at least one big gun, something on the level (and scope) of a Shenmue or a Panzer Dragoon Saga, that releases alongside the system – if not comes with the system, which again adds considerable cost to that start-up capital. Then, of course, they’d have to basically terminate their relationships with Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo completely, since it wouldn’t do them much good to keep making Sega games for other systems instead of funneling all future development to the DC2, and not only would that be an incredibly risky move financially but they risk alienating the other platform holders which isn’t something they want to do in case the DC2 fails and they have to go crawling back to them again. And what third-party companies are going to actually make true DC2 exclusives, especially in this day and age when a true 100% exclusive is very rare outside of first- and second-party developers anyway? So most of it is going to fall squarely on Sega’s shoulders, and they just don’t have the money and resources to stock an entire system’s library by themselves. No company does anymore.
The other major issue here is talent. A lot of the key people behind Sega’s great franchises – when they were still great – are no longer with the company. Yuji Naka is gone, and he was never completely team Sega anyway so I doubt anything is going to entice him to come back (although he gets entirely too much credit for the Sonic games anyway). Tetsuya Miziguchi is gone, and he was not only a key figure behind Sega Rally but he was the driving force behind Space Channel 5 and Rez, both of which would be essential franchises for a new Dreamcast. The list goes on and on. You’d be hard-pressed to name too many people who have directed or were the key figures behind Sega’s greatest games – and more relevantly, Sega’s greatest Dreamcast games – who haven’t since departed the company. Sure, it isn’t impossible to make these games without them, but would it really feel the same? Look at any major video game franchise throughout history that lost its founder or a key creative head and the series went on with the same quality and spirit afterward. It rarely, if ever, happens, or it takes years to happen, and Sega doesn’t have that luxury. These follow-ups need to be spot-on right off the bat, or gamers will cry foul.
“Wait a minute,” you cry out, “what about Yu Suziki??” Yes, Yu Suzuki is probably Sega’s Shigeru Miyamoto, and he’s obviously back in the Sega fold so that is reason for optimism, right? Nope. Shenmue 3 is actually being developed without any involvement from Sega. They are neither the developer nor the publisher. So Suzuki is definitely not “back with Sega” by any stretch. That is a small but crucial bit of information people keep overlooking about the return of Shenmue and its relation to a possible Dreamcast 2. In fact, what is perhaps more likely than a DC2 is Yu Suzuki being convinced to revive more of the franchises he has worked on, provided he is able to wrestle the rights to more of them away from Sega, something I wouldn’t hold my breath for. He could certainly head up and seek crowdfunding for spiritual successors to games like Virtua Fighter, Virtua Cop, After Burner, Space Harrier, and so on, but if those aren’t even going to be Sega games anyway, why would Sega make a new Dreamcast to put them on – and why would Suzuki want to limit his potential audience by only putting them on a boutique system rather than PS4, XB1 and/or PC?
Most of us want Sega to be Sega again. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with hoping for that. It’s not an entirely impossible dream to have Sega dig back into some of its classic franchises, and even hire back some of its former golden boys and girls to make those new games and make them great. But even that is already a pretty far-fetched dream. To also want that and want it to happen on a so-called Dreamcast 2 is never going to be anything but wishful thinking. Sorry to have to be the one to break that to you.