Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Sega The Pioneer

By: Patrick "TheLaw" Morris

Innovators are almost never the market leaders and often times are unable to capitalize on their own innovations at all. This happens in every industry, ideas and concepts are introduced by one party then iterated on by almost everyone else until naturally one or two market leaders rise. It's a natural occurrence in a capitalist market and a direct result of competition but very rarely does lightning strike twice. Sega was a titan when it came to innovation in the hardware space, foreseeing the forthcoming of the connected video game experience and the lucrative subscription service model; but just like most other innovators Sega was to much to soon and despite their ingenuity were forced out of the hardware market entirely.

Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. Don’t forget to check out everything we do including both of our podcasts all in one spot over at This week we'll be discussing two separate times that Sega introduced something that can easily be called a game changer to the video game industry before it was ready. Lets talk about Sega Channel and Seganet.

For almost two decades internet connectivity has been an integral part of almost every single video game to come to market. Whether those be multiplayer games in which players use the internet to connect to other players and play together or single player games where developers can patch out bugs and deliver new content an internet connection has become an absolute must for owning a console in 2019. PC players were connected to the internet and using these features long before console players but that was in a time when the two markets were so separated that people still widely referred to console games as video games and PC games as computer games. Sega saw the two markets converging and becoming much more competitive platforms before most people did and as a result with the introduction of the Dreamcast in 1999 they sought to bring the connected nature of a PC to the console market.

Seganet was Sega's online service that connected Dreamcast players to one another over the internet. Through an optional modem add on for the Dreamcast players had the capability to connect to Seganet and play games head to head or cooperatively online. Popular games like NFL 2K, Jet Set Radio, and Phantasy Star Online are fondly remembered as the pinnacle of Seganet. In the years since its demise and Sega's exiting the hardware space the Dreamcast has become somewhat of a cult classic console with many people still swearing by it as the best console of all time, even today. And in a sense those people are right. Despite being discontinued in March of 2001 the Dreamcast was extremely forward thinking and later that year Microsoft would enter the market with the original Xbox sporting a built in modem for internet connectivity.

A connected console is something that is so commonplace in today's market that the vast majority of the consumer base doesn’t even think of it as a feature its become something that's simply expected. When pressed to tell you who started the connected console movement that vast majority of consumers would probably respond with Microsoft for their Xbox live service that launched in 2002, or maybe they're one of the two dozen or so people that played Socom online and they would tell you the PS2 was the first connected console. While both Sony and Microsoft have gone on to refine the idea and benefits of a connected console it was Sega that paved the way for their success. Sega brought an internet service for console gaming to market in the mid 90's on the Saturn and made it much more widely accessible in 1999 with the Dreamcast but even then it was still just ahead of it's time and while Sega was preparing for and building the console of the future the consumers were more interested in the console of right now and both the Saturn and Dreamcast lacked games and major third party support when compared to Sony and Nintendo.

While the connected console is something Sega saw coming a couple years ahead of the rest of the market there was something else that we have all hailed as a monumental achievement in pushing the delivery of video games to new heights that Sega predicted not only years but decades before it would take the world by storm.

Sega Channel was a very strange concept that starting in 1994 allowed users to order the capability to download as many games as they wanted from the list of games included with the service and play those games for as long as they wanted. The service was delivered through cable TV providers who would send a tech to customers houses with a specialized Genesis cartridge that sported a coaxial input to connect to the cable provider. Sega Channel was operational from 1994 to 1998 for $13 per month and when adjusted for inflation that comes out to about $22 per month in 2019. A bit more than two times $9.99…

The potential of unlimited access to games from a set list for a flat monthly fee has been a holy grail of sorts that the industry has been chasing for decades now and it all started with Sega Channel. The idea has ben attempted by many others including third parties that aren't in the video game industry but the retail industry. The closest any company has ever gotten to realizing that vision prior to 2017 for me personally was actually Blockbuster. In 2003 Blockbuster, rest in peace, introduced in what is undoubtedly the worst bit of branding of all time the Unlimited Game Rental Freedom Pass for $14.99 per month or $20.87 per month in 2019 dollars. The freedom pass allowed subscribers to hold one game out for as long as they wanted and swap it out for any other game as many times as they liked, effectively making the only limiting factor be what blockbuster happened to have in stock at the time. In 2017 Microsoft announced their new program called Gamepass, at the start of the eighth generation of consoles Sony acquired Gaikai for their streaming technology and now offer PSnow, EA offers EA access, and Ubisoft just announced Uplay+. Starting in 2017 a whole 23 years after Sega Channel the idea of an all you can play subscription buffet is a wildly popular one, another part of the gaming industry pioneered by Sega.

When most people (myself included prior to writing this) look back on Sega's time as a hardware developer they picture the glory days of the Genesis and the tailspin that was the Saturn. But Sega is almost never remembered for the incredible innovations they brought to market before the market was ready for said innovations. In a very strange way without Sega we definitely would have gotten to the connected console world and the subscription service model we have today but it could have potentially taken much longer than it did. Sega opened the door on two of the biggest most revolutionary concepts in video game history and while they're still out there publishing software like Alien Isolation (great game) and Sonic Forces (a less than great game) I think we should all take a moment to pour one out for their hardware division.

What are some of the major game changers that you think changed the industry either for better or for worse? Let me know in the comments down below. And if you had any experience with either Seganet or Sega Channel please let me know about it while you're down there!

If you liked what you heard don’t forget to subscribe for new videos and two new podcasts every week. Just one more reminder that you can see everything we do all in one spot over at I will be back next week talking about Gears 3 so until then just go play some games.

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