It's thinking . . .
Nervous yet? Sega certainly hopes so. The Japanese gaming company has been counting on dozens of similar ads all over your TV, particularly on MTV, to get you to notice its next-generation video game system, the Sega Dreamcast.
A few weeks after its 9-9-99 release, Sega has officially ended its intimidating pre-launch marketing blitz and begun the second phase of its ad campaign, titled "In the Box."
These more playful ads focus on the world of characters supposedly conversing and conspiring within a Dreamcast system. With Jamal Anderson of the Atlanta Falcons and Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers hanging out with the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog, the viewer can't help but be impressed with this system's capabilities. After all, these new ads actually feature in-game footage.
But will the ads convince people to actually buy the $199 Dreamcast?
Eager consumers answered with a resounding "yes," pre-ordering more than 300,000 units (three times the amount for the Sony PlayStation) and selling retailers out within hours. As parents wrap systems and games up for the coming holiday season, it would seem that Sega's $100 million effort has paid off.
Oh, if things were only that simple. Sure, right now Sega has the best system on the market, one that's 15 times faster than Sony PlayStation and 10 times that of Nintendo 64. And it shows -- the graphics whirl and spin with unparalleled realism, giving a 128-bit 3-D experience the other systems simply can't touch. The standard 56k modem promises to be a hoot for gamers, who can game with others across the nation and surf the Web, and the add-ons range from a realistic fishing rod controller to a VMU that not only stores files, but allows you to download and train characters on the go. It has spiffy games, too.
Yet in an industry where products fade into obscurity as quickly as they burst onto the scene, even Dreamcast will have to work hard to secure its role as "the big thing" this holiday season, particularly to support the first wave of games as they are produced. While the games look promising, their success will influence whether other companies will continue publishing for Sega or port their next project to a newer system.
Sega learned these lessons from its last system, the Sega Saturn, which lost heavy market share due to a lack of games at launch. This created a lack of confidence in customers and later, game publishers, who then made their games for Sony's PlayStation and Nintendo's N64.
As you might expect, Sega has gone to extraordinary efforts to ensure that Dreamcast does not suffer a similar fate. With more than 24 games being released from multiple companies at launch, only the most finicky gamers won't find a Dreamcast game to their liking.
But Sega must stay one step ahead of the competition. Sony and Nintendo are both promising bigger and faster machines for release in fall 2000. Sony's powerhouse PlayStation 2 will not only run the old PlayStation games, but music CDs and DVD movies as well. Nintendo's new machine, code-named "Dolphin," also looks promising, and is rumored to be offered as a cheaper alternative with the same speed, possibly retailing for $99 at launch. To make our crystal ball even cloudier, Microsoft is rumored to be working on a machine of its own, code-named "X-Box."
If people aren't satisfied with Dreamcast in the first year, expect gamers to long for something bigger and better, which these other companies will be right there to sell them. Without buyers, no more games will be made, and without new games the Dreamcast will quickly find its way into closets everywhere along with Sega's Saturn and 32-X systems -- fine systems, but losers in what is now being called the "console wars."
Solomon Bisker, a sophomore at Williamsville East High School, has been gaming since Genesis days.