Sega makes play for Dreamcast support

After Saturn supernova, Sega chief tries to regain developer support for coming console.

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- How is Sega going to re-enter the game console market after crashing-and-burning with the Saturn?

With a massive push to retailers and developers, said Bernie Stolar, president and chief operating officer of Sega America Ltd. Inc., in a keynote address here at the Game Developers Conference Wedneday.

"Sega is going to take back market share," Stolar promised. During his keynote, he showed off about a dozen games that will be available in the U.S. this fall. He also took several jabs at Sony's PlayStation 2 announcement. "Our competitors are so frightened that they are rushing their product to market," he said.

The thrust of his push, however, was increased support for developers. "We will provide 360-degree support for your Dreamcast titles," Stolar told the crowd of software creators.

No fun and games here
Sega has a lot to make up for with software creators.

Sega's 32-bit Saturn system is considered a prime example of what not to do in the market. Saturn only sold 2.7 million units in the U.S. by the end of 1998, according to Gary Gabelhouse, president of entertainment market watcher Fairfield Research Inc. Sony, meanwhile, sold more than 13.4 million PlayStations.

As the Saturn's failure became evident, developers jumped ship; while Sony's PlayStation has spurred the creation of about 170 titles every year since 1996, the number of titles released each year on the Sega platform fell from 119 in 1996 to 12 last year, according to data released by media market watcher NPD Group.

A second chance
Sega says things will be different this time around. Already, Sega has shipped over 1 million of the consoles in Japan since its November launch, and expects retailers to log 250,000 to 300,000 preorders for the system before its U.S. launch, almost three times more than Sony's preorders before it launched the PlayStation.

Stolar also claims that more than 100 companies are developing for the platform. As proof, he showed off almost a dozen games, including Virtual Fighter 3tb, Rally 2, Sonic Adventures, and House of the Dead 2 -- important titles that will make up the staple of sales at launch. Sega also showed off two sports games -- basketball and football -- developed internally.

In addition, Stolar put to rest criticism about the Dreamcast console's lack of support for digital video disk technology. "When DVD reaches a comfortable price point for consumers and developers, we will add support for it to the Dreamcast," However, whether "support" consists of a separate DVD-enhanced product or built-in support was not clear.

He noted that thte new console will have a 56kbps modem for the U.S., a slight upgrade from the 33.6kbps modem used in Japan.

Despite the features, Dreamcast is about games and getting those games developed, said Stolar. "Dreamcast is as alive as the games you develop," said Sega's Stolar.

Of course, that cuts both ways.