The Sega Dreamcast was released 20 years ago today on 9/9/99 (in North America) and was the most unique and powerful console out at the time. The Dreamcast was the first time that online console gaming truly became mainstream since it had a built-in modem, which we didn’t get to see again until years later with the Xbox.
The launch went lukewarm in Japan, but well in the United States. Unfortunately the hype of the upcoming Playstation 2 (arguably the greatest system of all time) was one of the reasons that sales continued to decline. The Dreamcast also marked the death of Sega in the console hardware market, which brought tears to most 90’s gamers.
Why It Was Great!
Jet Set Radio alone was worth the purchase of a Dreamcast. Not only was the gameplay and music amazing, but you could download fan created graffiti from the internet! This was never done in a game before. Fun fact – the BlerdUp logo is an homage to Jet Set Radio.
The Dreamcast also gave us classics such as Crazy Taxi, Phantasy Star Online (the first time we really got a console online RPG), Shenmue (with the final chapter finally getting released this year) Soulcalibur, Power Stone, Skies of Arcadia, Sonic Adventure, and yes for our fighting game blerds Marvel vs Capcom 2. Part of the reason that the Dreamcast games were so awesome is that Sega had a huge vested interest in arcade gaming and the ports actually turned out well.
If you told a kid today that there was a time that you couldn’t play games online and you physically had to go to your friends house to play games, they would look at you in shock. The Dreamcast changed all of that by shipping the game with a modem! This was probably the first time that a lot of nerds even had any access to the internet through the dreamcast web browser. The NBA 2K series, published by Sega Sports at the time, launched with the Dreamcast with Allen Iverson as the cover athlete. The 2K series was the first time that many sports gamers were able to compete against others online. Sonic Adventure was the first time most of us millennials got downloadable content and online leaderboards.
THE VMU (Visual Memory Unit
The Dreamcast VMU (visual memory unit) allowed you to not only secretly choose plays in NFL 2K (the Dreamcast didn’t have Madden) on its miniature screen, but also allowed you to download playable content from the internet. The most notable of this content were the Chao’s (basically Digimon / Giga Pets) that you could raise while not connected to the console and then insert back in the game at a later time. You could also easily scroll through the VMU to easily manage the data.
Why The Dreamcast Failed!
Branding + the PS2 Launch
The Dreamcast launched in November 1998 in Japan, and then in North America in September 1999, about a years difference. No modern technology company would even consider taking this approach today. Sega also destroyed it’s brand image launching crappy Sega addons and low quality games before the Dreamcast launch. The other problem was that Nintendo had the kid brand image locked down while the Playstation took more of the older teen/ adult market. With the Playstation 2 launching months later in the US market, most households waited until the launch of the new console. The PS2 became the greatest selling console of all time, leaving no market for the Dreamcast.
Burnable Games + No DVD Playback
This may sound ridiculous to our younger viewers, but at the time we were transitioning off of VHS tapes (that you had to rewind) to the DVD format. DVD players were crazy expensive at the time and the Playstation 2 launching as both a game system and DVD player was a HUGE deal (it was actually my first DVD player). What made the Dreamcast format issue even worse is that other blerds I knew were downloading the Dreamcast games illegally on mIRC chat and burning them to DVDs.
The YouTube channel Archipel has a documentary (see below) that looks back on the history of the system. They have some amazing developers talk about the system. If you had a Dreamcast (or even played one) let us know how you felt about the console in the comments.