Thoughts on the History of SEGA, Part 11


Welcome back, friends!  We’re still on our trip down memory lane as we look at the history of SEGA.  Last time, we got to Bernard Stolar’s coming on-board the good ship SEGA.  Today, we’re going to wrap our article series by taking a look at his career with the company and seeing what came after him.

We left off last time as Stolar was about to unleash his vision for the company’s savior onto the world.  That would-be savior was, of course, the Dreamcast.  Now, we’ve already taken a look at the Dreamcast, so this time around we’ll be a bit brief.

Shoichiro Irimajiri

Like pretty much every other SEGA console, the Dreamcast was rushed to shelves in Japan, and as such didn’t have much in the way of launch titles.  In North America, well—there really hasn’t been a console launch like it before or since.

Nakayama left the company in ‘Ninety-Eight, leaving his friend Shoichiro Irimajiri in charge of the company.  Ever since Irimajiri came to the company, he was pushing for SEGA to get out of the hardware business as a whole and stick to software.  This was likely the beginning of the end for the Dreamcast.

Even so, Stolar had nothing but good things to say about Irimajiri and Nakayama, though his vision of SEGA’s future often clashed with theirs—which often clashed with each other’s.  The man whom Stolar didn’t get along well with, however, was a man we haven’t seen since our second part in this article series—Isao Okawa.

When Irimajiri was named President of SEGA, Okawa was named Vice-President, and by all accounts he and Stolar never saw eye-to-eye.  One telling example was when Microsoft came to SEGA, offering to put Windows C.E. on the Dreamcast.  Stolar was all for it; he saw it as an obvious attempt to get Microsoft into the console business, perhaps even by buying the Dreamcast from SEGA.

Stolar was for that, too—he saw the handwriting on the wall.  This could have been the break the company needed to get out of the hardware side of the business cleanly, but the heads in Japan weren’t having it.

What might have been.

By the end of the Dreamcast’s life, it had been thoroughly beaten—by more than just the people in its own company.  The PlayStation 2 had come along, touting its D.V.D. play-back capabilities, and rumors of Nintendo’s next big thing were circulating.  Add to that Microsoft jumping into the video game market by debuting its X-Box at the end of ‘Ninety-Nine, and you can see how fierce the competition was really getting.

The Dreamcast’s price was slashed to just ninety-nine dollars, but it didn’t help.  By March of ‘Oh-One, SEGA officially ceased production of the console.  Games continued to trickle out through the first half of ‘Oh-Two, but the X-Box and the GameCube were both out by then, so even trying to continue putting out games didn’t help.  SEGA was just losing too much money, though it’s arguable that, if they’d listened to Stolar, they might have been able to salvage it.

The Dreamcast was the last time SEGA stepped foot into the hardware side of the business.  The company started focusing on software, and, initially, it looked like they just might redeem themselves.

Titles like Super Monkey Ball and Virtua Fighter 4 were incredibly well-received, in spite of the fact that Okawa, the biggest proponent of the company focusing on hardware, died in the month as production of the Dreamcast officially ended.

Remember C.S.K. Holdings, Okawa’s company?  They took over after Okawa’s death, and by all accounts they didn’t have much real interest in the software developer and for most of ‘Oh-Three, rumors were flying about mergers and buy-outs.  Namco, Bandai, even Microsoft were all looking at SEGA.

Talks never went anywhere because no one could agree on terms, who would have how much control over what, and so on.  The next year, Japanese gambling machine developer Sammy Corporation “solved” the whole problem by simply buying out C.S.K. Holdings’ shares and thus taking the company over.  They wanted to be a world-wide software giant, and as far as they were concerned, SEGA would be their ticket.  The only thing they’d have to change was—everything about the company.

Pachinko--still one of Japan's most popular form of gambling.

They consolidated SEGA’s studios into internal divisions without autonomy or and people who had been with the company for a long time were let go.  It really was the end of an era.  SEGA helped start the video game hobby, they helped make it popular, and now, well—now they’re a shell of the company that had once done the impossible and toppled Nintendo.

Since being taken over, game production has slowed incredibly, arcade productions severely reduced, and for every Yakuza you have another abysmal Sonic title.  These days, it’s hard to imagine that such a gaming giant as Nintendo would ever have even been mildly perturbed by SEGA, much less pushed right off of their perch as King of the Gaming Hill.  These days, you try and tell some younger gamers about everything SEGA had done for the hobby, and they’ll look at you mutely, wondering what you’re on about.

SEGA wasn’t the only company in the video game business, nor were they solely responsible for making it as popular as it’s become—but it’s incredibly difficult to believe that our hobby would be anything like it is now if it weren’t for that company.  We can look at the company as it is now, like an old crone barely capable of moving their rocking chair—but they once earned the top spot.  They earned it.  No matter what can be said in lament about the company now, no matter if the company even folds as a whole tomorrow—nothing, at all, can change the fact that they were one of, if not, the most powerful company our hobby had ever seen.

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