What can you say about Sega? How can you sum up their importance in a few thousand words, it's a tricky one for sure and I have to be careful as one of the other site admins is a massive Sega fan and he may just set me on fire if I get this wrong so here I go, Olly....This is for you!
Put bluntly Sega's 2 biggest impacts are that they are responsible for the Golden era of gaming and that they still have the same following in the gaming community more than 10 years after they left the hardware behind and became a publisher, whilst that may not sound impressive at first glance let me break this down to you so nobody can be confused as to why Sega are just that damn important.
During the Mid-late 80's Sega were mostly known for their Arcade games, remember arcade's people? If like me your getting on in life you will fondly remember spending most of your youth standing in dark, loud rooms pumping coins into machines trying to get a high score. It was addictive. It was so much fun. It was a right of passage.
As Nintnedo were pretty much single handedly controlling the home market Sega looked on with all their arcade titles and thought.......Hold on, We want some of this! And boy did they go get some!
In Japan Sega's home territory they did have a small home presence in the form of the early Master System (called the Mark I, Mark II) but as Nintendo showed America was were the money was so Sega set out to make their games reach a bigger audience. The Master system was introduced into North America and Europe during the latter part of the 80's however in the USA it never really got off the ground, in Europe however it was massive, outselling the Nintendo NES in almost every single country by a huge margain, mainly down to Europe being in love with arcade experiences and Sega having almost every memorable title. Nintendo at the time didnt even bother advertising the NES in Europe and Sega wisely joined forces with Mastertronic and Virgin who knew the local markets and promply made everyone want one, overnight success as they say.
The war had begun!
Ask most retro lovers about the best time for games and you will nearly always get the same response, the Golden Era of gaming. This is reference to the period in which Sega and Nintendo were not only in their prime but also set new rules and benchmarks in how you promote and sell games and the hardware that played them, even the mighty Sony with the PS1 launch will never compete historically with what went on during the late 80's through the early 1990's, we simply will never see these days again. If you were a teenager during this time you will completely understand where i'm coming from on this, everyone else just trust me.
Nintendo for quite a few years had experienced near total domination of the home games market, in the US they had the Nes and as the decade ended they dropped the Gameboy onto the world and even though Sega had Europe in their pocket things needed to change, it was right near the end of the 80's that Sega pulled out the big gun, in Japan and Europe it was called Megadrive in North America is was known as Genesis.
In one simple swift motion Sega took all of their arcade hits and produced near perfect versions of them directly into your home, Golden Axe on its own walked Megadrive's into homes across europe overnight, Sega had also spent a few years getting to know other publishers, something Nintendo had done so well with with their NES console however instead of sticking with jap houses like Nintendo had done with Capcom, Konami etc Sega decided to get into bed with a then small-ish company called Electronic arts, cue Fifa Soccer and more importantly in North America John Madden Football, it worked a treat.
Although behind the scenes Sega of Japan and Sega America never got on at all the American division took total charge and over the course of a few years helped shape the greatest era of videogames through some of the most amazing exclusives and especially the most incredible PR stunts the industry has ever seen, some of which are legend. eg. Blast Processing.
Now although EA made games for Nintendo every retro fan out there will tell you Road Rash, Fifa, Desert Strike etc all play a million times better on Megadrive/Genesis however thats not the main reason Sega took a huge chunk out of Nintendo and cemented themselves in history, oh no, for that you can thank a certain Blue Hedgehog.
I can count the times something has blown my mind in gaming on one hand, Sonic on the megadrive is one of them, Sonic the hedgehog made Sega a real player, gave them a level playing field with Nintendo as far as mascot's and defining gaming moments are concerned and along with the sports range and arcade conversions made Sega both relevant and cool with gamers worldwide.
Without Sega doing everything right for that period Nintendo would never have been the company they were, the SNES would never have had such an important responsibility placed upon it, one company pushed the other to greater and greater things so as I said Sega gave us all the golden age. Even though it took two companies to have the war, one company pulled the trigger first.
Pick up any magazine or watch any TV commercial from the early 90's period and you will be in for a treat, Sega introduced a whole new way of promoting games and gaming systems. In North America they went for the throat of Nintendo playing on how faster the genesis processor was, how many more games they had, how much better sports games were where as Europe was bombarded by ad campaigns that simply made Sega a cooler thing to play, if you remember the 90's well then you will remember how important being cool was.
Tv shows such as Games Master, Bad influence etc in the UK especially helped fuel this whole period playing off the whole Sega V Nintendo war, shops chose sides, magazines and even daily newspapers did the same, in playgrounds all over the world kids were divided using exclusives and facts as ammunition, like i said nothing before was this intense nothing since has matched the whole atmosphere, it was incredible. Sega started it all, they went after Nintendo and not by accident, they did everything deliberately and with the intent to wrestle dominance away, it worked very well for a few years until Nintendo Hit it's stride with the SNES and Sega began losing their way.
The decline of Sega can be traced back to the far too long lifespan of the Megadrive era through Add-ons like the Mega-CD which developers could not really get to grips with and was far too much money for the then market of teenage boys and the even worse 32X, by the time the Sega Saturn arrived Sega had damaged their core audience with badly supported and expensive distractions not to mention the introduction of a new enemy, a company that had spent several years watching everything then decided to smack everyone down inside 12 months, Sony.
The Sega saturn as a console was great in many ways it did however make several key mistakes that meant it was doomed to fail and therefore dented Sega as a company both in reputation and also financially. The Megadrive had played master system games through an adaptor add-on, the Saturn did not play Megadrive games at all, all those customers with all those games were instantly told their loyalty was not respected, it was a terrible decision and even though the saturn had a cartridge port it was not to be used for backwards compatability.
The biggest failing however was not keeping up with what people wanted, the Sega saturn was not a 3D powerhouse like it's main rival's the Playstation and eventually the N64. Sega produced over the saturn's lifespan some stunning exclusives and overall the software library is great however they could never out do Sony's marketing. The Playstation was Cool and Sega were suddenly not, inside 12 months Sega's biggest weapon had been stollen from under their noses, their ability to make you need sega consoles and games. Although heavily respected retro wise especially the JAP consoles and games which run faster and in larger screen sizes (pal borders, yuck) the Saturn commercially was a disaster and along with the Mega-CD and 32X was a failure. Well a failure from a sales point of view that is.
Before the end of the century Sega had one final stab at making it all work again like it had done during the Megadrive era and lauched the Dreamcast, so bad was Sega's reputation by then that they didnt want to use their own company brand instead wanting it to sell on its own Dreamcast branding. The dreamcast was everything great about Sega, perfect Arcade quality gaming and utter coolness, it screamed quality. The Dreamcast introduced things we all take for granted today like internet gaming and 4 standard control ports and got the lauch price spot on, on paper it never should have failed, it did....Life is just not fair!
Terrible marketing especially in Europe, a lack of thrid party titles and EA refusing to make its global sports games available killed this machine inside 2 years, most people don't even realise EA shunned Sega so harshly even to this day, hate them for that not DLC people. When the Dreamcast project was scrapped Sega instead of going under did what they always had done, they evolved and fought back. They bought up some fantastic studio's and became a multi-format developer and publisher, they even produced Sonic games for Nintendo consoles so don't for one second even think things can't happen in the games industry, if Sega can make Nintendo games ANYTHING is possible.
To this day however their enduring legacy is that of their mascot SONIC and his impact on Nintendo's then market dominance, combined with the cool factor of their exclusives like Streets oF Rage etc, arcade division, amazing PR department and the hard core retro lovers refusing to accept Dreamcast failing whilst still believing one day Sega will return to the hardware market means they remain as important now as they ever were, different for sure but still the same.
At RetroGameGeeks we cannot stress how important it is that you play Sega games, so many iconic characters and titles are on offer on so many great consoles, as the American commercials will tell you until the end of time, Genesis does what Ninten-Don't and as the UK tv ad's point out, Theres over 100 megadrive games, they get faster, they get harder. what are you going to do to keep up