Sega’s Best Moves Since the Dreamcast

Posted in Kulturecade by - January 07, 2017

The Dreamcast is quite naturally remembered as a massive failure for Sega. Despite its newfound popularity in the retro scene, it was the end of the Dreamcast’s short run (roughly three years) that also signaled the end of Sega’s run as a console maker, infamously bowing out and passing the torch to the new triumvirate of hardware makers. Longtime rival Nintendo, young upstart Microsoft, and sudden juggernaut Sony were set to take games and a familiar sense of competition into the new millennium. From a business standpoint, it marked a fifth consecutive year of losses for the Japanese company, marred by numerous bad decisions stemming back to the mid-’90s that showed a company seemed out of touch with an international audience and unable to successfully predict or adapt to the future of the industry. The Dreamcast wasn’t a failure due to its own shortcomings, it was merely too little, too late for Sega to come back from.

15 years later, the average gamer may be somewhat surprised, but Sega is basically killing it. While leaving the console game may have become a necessity for them at the time, Sega sits now as one of the most influential and successful publishers of the last three generations. Savvy business decisions, combined with quality games, successful partnerships, and a typically smart treatment of their existing legacy have put Sega on a continuous path upwards, without the constant and agonizing stress of the spotlight that comes with the console market. Given that there are few signs of the company slowing down as we continue to turn over to yet another generation of gaming, it seems like a good time to look at what Sega has been up to in the years since their infamous resignation that has done them so well.

2002-2004: Software Renaissance

While Sega’s first-party franchises had always delivered strong entries to bolster their software lineup – it’s tough to sell consoles without that important little caveat – the first thing Sega did as an exclusively third-party publisher/developer was to go on an absolute tear publishing new and existing franchises on various platforms – Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Game Boy Advance, plus an always strong arcade presence.

Just a few titles developed by in-house Sega studios by the end of 2002: Jet Set Radio Future, Sonic Advance, Gun Valkyrie, Shinobi, Virtua Fighter 4, Crazy Taxi 3: High Roller, Super Monkey Ball, Panzer Dragoon Orta, and more. This isn’t to mention other titles they published like From Software’s Otogi: Myth of Demons, or excellent ports of their strongest titles that had gone underappreciated with the Dreamcast’s slim player base, including Shenmue II, Sonic Adventure 2 – Battle, and Skies of Arcadia. Call it doing their job as a publisher, but in their first few years as a third-party company, Sega wasted no time in bringing out their best or spreading the love around amongst their former competitors.

2004: Merger with Sammy Corporation

This may not seem like the most exciting event in Sega’s history, but more often than not, it’s larger business deals and behind the scenes workings that hold the biggest changes for a company, rather than the products it puts on store shelves. Sammy Corp. may not have been the most exciting name in video games, with their biggest names being niche fighting games like Guilty Gear and the NES sleeper, Vice: Project Doom. Like many Japanese amusement companies, however, Sammy Corporation’s bread was buttered by pachinko and pachislot machines, which allowed them the bankroll to strengthen their video game division by buying out and merging with the still financially-weak Sega.

This merger created the Sega Sammy Holdings group which now acts, in many ways, as the current incarnation of the company we once knew as Sega. The financial backbone it has provided the company with has opened up numerous opportunities for Sega as a publisher and serves as the base for many of the business decisions made by the video game division of the company in the decade since the merger.

2008: Developers Crack the Spin-Off Formula

Does anybody remember Sonic Shuffle? How about Sonic R? If there’s one area where Sega legitimately struggled to compete directly with Nintendo during their rivalry, it was in how they handled spin-off games for Sonic or any of their other big characters. Mario had had successful outings on the racetrack, golf course, tennis court, and in board games while Sonic was still his bitter rival, and Nintendo’s whole roster had come together for Super Smash Bros. During that time, the closest Sega had come to something in that vein was the Japan-exclusive Segagaga.

Although their first few years after the Dreamcast were strong for Sega’s new and old franchises, games like Sonic Riders, unfortunately, continued the trend of lackluster spinoffs. Although it seemed that Sonic Team couldn’t do right by their titular character, that long-standing trend started to change with Sega Superstars Tennis in 2008. The second title in the Sega Superstars franchise (the first having been an unspectacular Eyetoy game for the PS2), it was developed by Sumo Digital, who had recently taken the helm on the Virtua Tennis series, and used it to make a quality title that, although it could no longer reach such a level of acclaim, was finally in Nintendo’s league. This trend would continue as Sega has repeatedly given these kinds of titles to the right studios, with Sumo Digital also creating a top-tier Mario Kart clone in Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing, and BioWare developing a well-received Sonic RPG with Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood.

2009: Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection

Admittedly, this is a pretty low-caliber decision, but it’s a compilation that I think is so fantastic that it needs to be acknowledged for how it represents the difference between Sega’s legacy and others. The first Sega Genesis Collection had already packed in plenty of classics two years earlier, but did it only on the PSP and PS2, failing to reach much of an audience at that point. Sonic’s was truly the ultimate collection in terms of presentation and library with an extra 16 games and plenty of extras. It launched for $30 and deservedly received best-seller status on both PS3 and Xbox 360.

The reason it’s so important, I think, is because you simply wouldn’t see the same thing from anybody else at the time, and still won’t see anything on the same level even today. At its release, you’d have to contrast it with Nintendo’s $8 a pop for rival games on the Virtual Console, but even the (recommended retail) $60 price tag for the NES Classic still isn’t rivaling the value you would get from Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection at its release. Even today, if you pay as much as $20 for a brand new copy of it, the value is astounding. Perhaps, one could argue, it’s simply about the market value that the games available on it carry with them — something that Nintendo games will always be number one for — but the care with which Sonic’s Ultimate was put together and the respect it still warrants for the games included represents a particularly good approach by Sega to their legacy that even their Dreamcast Collection for the 360 and 3D Classics Collection for the 3DS haven’t matched.

2010-2016: Acquisition of Atlus and Continued Expansion

Since the merger with Sammy Corporation, the previously struggling Sega name has gone on a tear of further expansion and growth at a corporate level, turning them into easily one of the most prolific publishers in the modern video game scene. Sega Sammy Holdings now owns numerous development studios and brands or at the very least the intellectual properties of various defunct studios. Most recently, they acquired the intellectual properties of the long-dead Technosoft company, which includes the licenses for the Thunder Force and Herzog franchises. This most recent purchase was the one that caught my eye and spurned me to write this particular article on their success, but by far their largest move has to be the acquisition of Atlus Corp. in 2010.

As a result of these moves, as well as the acquisition of studios like Creative Assembly, Relic Entertainment, and Demiurge Studios, numerous franchises such as Total War, Shin Megami Tensei, and Warhammer 40,000 either have Sega’s name or at least their fingerprints on them. Add these onto some truly brilliant collaborations with studios like Platinum Games (Bayonetta), Obsidian Entertainment (Alpha Protocol), and Monolith Productions (Condemned), all since their monumental merger in 2004, and you can put Sega, a company previously written off because of their struggles in the hardware game, as one of the top publishers in the industry with a still bright future ahead of them.

This post was written by

He is a video game staff writer and dreamed of being a video game as a young boy. Then somebody told him that you can’t really do that, so he compromised by doing a bunch of stuff related to that, playing video games, reading about video games, writing about video games, working at a video game store, and all those good nerdy things. Aside from video games, he’s also a dork of all trades, with an interest in heavy metal music, wrestling, sports, and Magic the Gathering.

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