Friday, 13 May 2016

When The Dreamcast Died In The UK

I’m recently been reading Service Games: The Rise and Fall of Sega by the ever-enthusiastic Sam Pettus and it got me thinking about my experiences working in video games retail in the early 2000s, and the fate of the Dreamcast. I worked in two different video games stores between 2000-2002 and saw first-hand the dramatic change in the fortunes of Sega’s final console.

Back in 2000 at the Nottingham independent video games store I worked at for 18 months the Dreamcast was flying high, despite being a little dead in the water internationally by then. It was really eating into the original PlayStation’s market and had the prominent display position in our store. However being an indie store we also sold import games, and the ominous arrival of the Japanese PlayStation 2 was a sign that Sega’s time in the sun was about to end, all due to the PS2 hype. And that’s what it was at the time, mainly hype - a lot of people tend to forget how lacklustre the PlayStation 2’s original games line up was. I remember people paying £600 for a Japanese PS2 and £80 on something like the underwhelming Ridge Racer V or FantaVision and ending up sheepishly trying to return them a few days later. The Dreamcast was so going strong at this point, with so many great games and the internet enabled play of games like Chu Chu Rocket and Phantasy Star Online offered something completely new for console gamers.

When the PS2 was released in the UK people went mad for it, they went crazy for it… as it was a cheap DVD player. And that was what the Dreamcast was lacking, I saw so many people agonise over which system to buy and in the end the DVD factor always won out. Reading Pettus’ Service Games it is interesting to see the reason why Sega did not incorporate one in the Dreamcast and opted for GD-ROMS -  in short: money. They just could not afford to include one and thought it would not matter for a dedicated games machine, but I saw first-hand how many sales they ultimately lost to this gamble.

A year later I had switched towns, moving south and eventually getting a job at a nationwide games retailer. Inside just those 12 months the fortunes of the Dreamcast had changed greatly, in this new store the display section for the Sega Dreamcast was relegated to the back of the store. The new releases were drying up, limited releases like Cannon Spike and Evil Twin that failed to energise sales. The second-hand market was pretty buoyant for the console then, but that was because so many people were trading in their Dreamcast for either the PS2 or Xbox. The GameCube was also just around the corner too.

In this store we still had an official Dreamcast pod for people to play on, which was seldom used. To generate more interest I started to bring in some of my import Dreamcast games from home to play on the pod, stuff like Treasure’s incredible shmup Ikaruga. It proved really popular and shows the mistakes that publishers seem to make regarding which games to localise. It was the end of Sega as a real market force, and its shelf-space continued to evaporate. Most customers I saw opted for the Xbox when trading in their Dreamcasts, seemingly unable to side with either of the bitter enemies of new and old that Sony and Nintendo represented. It was the end of the Dreamcast for the UK retail market, I will never miss their terribly flimsy boxes though.

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