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Sega Readies SegaNet Debut

NEW YORK – As a preemptive strike to the launch of Sony’s PlayStation2 game console this October, Sega staged a Christmas-in-July event here to re-introduce the press to its successful Dreamcast system while unveiling a slew of new games planned to drive holiday sales.

First launched in the United States last September, Dreamcast currently lists an installed base of more than 2 million units, and Sega intends to build that further by delivering its first titles with online gaming capability, among others.

Sega demonstrated that it is prepared to fight Sony’s announced largest CE advertising campaign to date for the PlayStation2 with its own expanded ad campaign, totaling approximately $130 million, or 30 percent over last year’s campaign that supported the launch of the Dreamcast platform.

Sega communications director Charles Bellfield said the new ad campaign – which will in part feature the launch of the SegaNet multiplayer-game-centric Internet access service, will commence with the MTV Awards telecast and will move on to the start of the NFL season this September.

Ads will target ABC’s Monday Night Football telecasts with the September release of Sega’s NFL 2K1 game, which has online playing capability. The company will focus on a range of network and cable programs targeted to the young-male demographic.

The service will be offered in September for a monthly subscription fee of $21.99 with an option to share the account with a desktop PC. Dreamcast owners who sign up for two years of SegaNet will receive a $199 rebate, essentially covering the cost of the console.

“Retailers are key in our marketing strategy,” Bellfield said. “We are handing them a marketing programming offering a net-zero cost to the consumer for the player, and a chance to focus on selling the content and experience of Dreamcast this year using our retail communication program that is already in place.”

Sega demonstrated a variety of new games that feature online playing options. Titles include NFL 2K1, NBA 2K1 (October) and Quake III Arena, each of which is expected to be a hot seller this year.

In addition to playing games, users can roam the Web on their television screens using the PlanetWeb TV browser, or access the Web on a desktop PC using a standard browser such as Internet Explorer or Netscape.

Noting that Dreamcast has been criticized for not accommodating broadband capability, Bellfield demonstrated the online playing capability of the narrowband system, which worked fluidly throughout the demo. Skeptics said that would not be possible with narrowband systems, he pointed out.

Additionally, Dreamcast’s communications port (called the main system bus) will allow swapping the telephone modem module for future USB, DSL or Ethernet modules. The SegaNet service is scalable for broadband play. The same port can be used to add a forthcoming Zip drive for storage, as well as audio players for streaming audio and MP3 music files.

Since Sony’s announcement that Playstation2 will hit U.S. shelves at $299 in October, Sega Dreamcast systems have been promoted for $149, which includes a built-in in 56K modem, said Bellfield.

Among the hot new games slated for fall release:

  • · Sonic Shuffle (October) packages mini games in kids’ board-game style with Sonic The Hedgehog and friends.
  • · Ecco The Dolphin: Defender of the Future (August) players take on the role of Ecco the Dolphin for underwater adventures.
  • · Samba De Amigo (October) encourages an interactive dance, with a maraca peripheral control that users shake to the beat of the music, while Samba the Monkey commands poses.
  • · In Seaman (August) a half-man, half-fish holds conversations with players through the voice-activated Virtual Memory controller. Players must feed and care for the virtual aquatic pet or risk making him grumpy, as he slowly evolves from a fish-state to a more human form.