The Dreamcast Legacy | Hackaday


The Dreamcast is a bit of a strange beast. Coming on the heels of the unpopular Sega Saturn, the Dreamcast was meant to be a simple console built with standard parts. The PlayStation 2 was already fierce competition, and eventually the Dreamcast fell out of the public eye as the Nintendo 64 came out with incredible fanfare. In a sense, it’s a footnote in console history.

But while it didn’t achieve the success Sega hoped for, the Dreamcast has formed a cult little band, because as we know nothing builds a cult following like an untimely demise. Since its release, it has gained a reputation for being ahead of its time. It was the first console to include a modem for network gaming and a simple storage solution to transfer game data between consoles through VMUs anchored in the controllers. He had innovative and classic games such as Crazy Taxi, Radio Jet Set, Fantastic Star Online, and Shenmue. Microsoft even released a version of Windows CE with DirectX allowing developers to quickly port PC games to the console.

We see our fair share of console hacks here on Hackaday, but what’s the ultimate Dreamcast legacy? How did it happen? What happened to it and why have so many Sega hopes rested on it?

Opportunity in the 1983 video game crash

The Dreamcast was Sega’s last real console, marking the end of an eighteen-year run of Sega home consoles. But why was it the last console? Why do so many Sega hopes rest on this material alone? To understand this, we have to go back to console wars. A great resource for this is Blake Harris’s Console Wars book, which tells the story (with some artistic liberties) of former Mattel VP Tom Kalinske and his journey as CEO of Sega of America during Saturn. and the Genesis. The 1983 video game crash in America wiped out American companies like Atari, leaving the door open for Japanese companies like Nintendo and Sega.

Prior to 1979, games were largely made by companies exclusively for their console. That all changed with Activision, a company formed by former Atari employees who were upset that their names didn’t appear in a game’s credits. Third-party developers exploded out of nowhere, and by 1983 everyone was trying to participate in the gold rush.

The market became confused and saturated to the point that people stopped buying games and retailers stopped offering them. Even the biggest third-party game developers often had the same game for different platforms with huge differences in quality and graphics. The infamous ET game certainly didn’t help Atari’s public image. American video games were a mess.

Enter Nintendo. Nintendo was determined not to make the same mistake and sought to attract third-party developers. They established firm contracts that prevented developers from moving their games to other platforms and ensured that every game released on the console met their quality standards. NES games only ran on the NES, which led to huge success, quickly locking most console developers into tight contracts and controlling almost the entire US console market by 1986.

So when Sega tried to market its Genesis system in the United States, most of the developers had exclusive contracts with Nintendo. Tom Kalinske of Sega USA has decided to create a new title to relaunch the Genesis, called “Sonic the Hedgehog”. Combined with clever marketing, looking for new developers who didn’t make console games before, and a reduction in the price of the console, Sega continued to sell more than the NES, breaking Nintendo’s complete dominance in the home video game console market in the United States at the time. Even when the SNES made its debut in the international market, the Sega Genesis sold it two-for-one in 1991. By January 1992, Sega controlled 62% of the home console market – the first time Nintendo was not. the dominant leader since 1985.

So the early 1990s Sega was at this incredible level, a literal market leader, and with a bright future. However, cracks were starting to appear. Sega of Japan wanted to switch to the new Saturn console in the summer of 1995, despite complaints from Sega of America that the current Genesis was still selling very well. Ultimately, the machine’s underwhelming performance, a small game library, and a tough launch schedule led to Saturn’s breakout streak with Sega.

One last hope: a Dreamcast

Just four years after the release of the Saturn, they released the Dreamcast in 1998. Market leaders just three years ago, they were now the third largest company. Additionally, a price war with Sony’s PlayStation had caused Sega to drop the price of the Saturn to match it, although the Saturn had much more expensive custom components.

This emptied Sega’s coffers, which meant the Dreamcast would have to be designed around standard hardware. The decision to include a modem (for an additional cost estimated at $ 15 for the nomenclature) becomes all the more interesting from this perspective.

Despite a disappointing launch in Japan, the extra time leading up to the North American launch allowed Sega of America to develop more games for the Dreamcast. Sega smoothed out relationships with retailers and retailers began stocking more inventory in hopes of a successful launch. The Dreamcast sold over 225,000 units in less than 24 hours and over 500,000 in the following weeks. Europe posted similar sales figures. By Christmas 1999, Sega had achieved a 31% North American market share. It looked like bright days were ahead for Sega. The dark shadow of Saturn had passed and they would regain their status. But the console market has evolved faster.

Sony has announced the PlayStation 2, Nintendo has started promoting its fantastic next-gen console, and Microsoft has announced plans to join the console war. Electronic Arts, a longtime Sega partner, has announced that it will not be developing games for the Dreamcast. Sega had to cut its R&D budgets and shut down some of the online servers that fueled Dreamcast’s online experience. On January 31, 2001, Sega declared itself to be a software-only store and reduced the price of the Dreamcast to sell any remaining inventory. Game releases continued until 2002, and they continued to repair consoles until 2007. Innovative dial-up access SegaNet, an Internet provider focused on Dreamcast systems, closed in 2003 .


So where does that leave the Dreamcast? A buried relic of the past, held aloft by promises of what it might have been. Powerful hardware and an online gaming experience that has never found the widespread adoption that consoles enjoy today. In the end, it just couldn’t compete with the next generation of consoles: Xbox, PS2, and Gamecube.

While most of the love of hacking goes to the more popular consoles, we still see some interesting and unique hacks on the Dreamcast here at Hackaday. The RAM has been increased to 32MB and people have brought the experience back online with a Raspberry Pi. There are still a few Dreamcast fans out there and they will continue to hack.


Comments are closed.