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Sober Speculation: Sega’s 60th Anniversary Surprise

Sega apparently has something big lined up for next week. Let's speculate.

Update 5/29/2020 7:00 PM: Added another Sega Shiro at the end. It only makes the whole thing more confusing.

I should be clear: there’s probably no such thing as “sober” speculation; we’re all drunk on our own hopes and biases and my own intoxicated bias here is based on Zenji Nishikawa’s scandalous promise that he’s got a “huge scoop” about Sega for the June 4th issue of Weekly Famitsu. Whoa.

Someone saying they’ve got a big scoop is one thing, but Nishikawa is claiming this announcement is “on the level” of Wired’s exclusive on the PS5. Nishikawa is quoted as saying he “interviewed a certain company’s executive and technical staff, [and] it’s really revolutionary… really, it’s a revolution.” Apparently this announcement, which he confirmed to be about Sega, will “rile up the games industry.”

You’d be forgiven for thinking this is about a new console–and you’d hardly be alone. After all, what-the-hell-else could this be given the language used here? Something on the level of Wired’s feature on the PS5, something that’s “revolutionary?” So! Let’s go through some possibilities before we get drunk on thoughts of a new console–the thought of which would be insane–both in terms of how cool that would be…and how literally insane Sega or anyone else would be for trying to do that.

First, let’s be clear on the facts:

  • Sega’s 60th Anniversary (founded on June 3rd, 1960) is next week.
  • Back in March, Sega launched a new website for a new character, Sega Shiro.
  • This week, Nishikawa promises a scoop with “revolutionary” news that will “rile up the games industry.”
  • Sega itself has promised “a variety of special contents for this 60th anniversary.”

Yup. That’s a Japanese ad alright. So…what the hell is coming next week?

Some Kind of Sega-Related Service (Streaming, On-Demand, etc.)?

Likely, but hardly revolutionary.

Sega has a large catalog of games and a deep history. The industry is embracing streaming and digital on-demand services such as Xbox Games Pass more and more; some might even claim it’s the eventual future of gaming altogether. Put two and two together, and this seems to make some sense here.

A large catalog and legacy is a perfect fit for a new streaming or on-demand service that’s priced competitively. It would hardly be surprising, but most importantly, would it be a “revolution” that would “rile up the games industry?”

Sony’s had a streaming service with PS Now for quite a while; Microsoft has Project xCloud on the horizon; Google is still trying to convince us Stadia is a thing; and Amazon, of course, will be trying to force one on us soon enough.

So unless Sega has some kind of timespace-defying tech (you know, like “Negative Latency“) for a game streaming service, I can’t imagine that such an announcement would be revolutionary given that it’s already being done. Expected? Sure! But it ain’t “riling up” the game’s industry unless Sega is really just that into themselves.

Some Kind of Mini-Console that Stops Short of Competing with PlayStation and Xbox?

Very likely, but would that “rile up the games industry?”

Enough gamers have one of those mini classic consoles under their television (or tucked into a junk drawer) to justify more interest in such a device. What if Sega took the concept and expanded upon it with an online store and better construction?

Though they’re cool, most of these mini consoles are rather cheap little plastic boxes and can pretty much only play the games they come with out of the box. The prospect of a device with more quality construction and can possibly connect to the internet to download games from Sega’s catalog would certainly be compelling. If it also offered modern indie titles, it could be what the Ouya always wanted to be–but with better quality and some substantial first-party exclusives.

There’s been speculation for some time now about a mini Sega Saturn. Perhaps this is what Sega will deliver this time around, but instead of it being just another mini console, it will have some greater functionality.

A Competitor to Whatever the Atari VCS Wants to Be?

I don’t think anyone really knows what to expect from Atari’s new VCS, the new “console/pc hybrid.” First off, Atari has had somewhat of a hard time with this machine that throws doubt on its future. Secondly, the concept of the console/pc hybrid was sort of already done with the Steam Machines and, I mean, those didn’t really do much.

Maybe having Sega’s catalog available on such a machine might be the “killer app(s)” that would be what could make such a thing a success–but history has shown us either it’s a console or it’s a PC, and any attempt to hybridize the two is largely a waste of everyone’s time.

Some Kind of Exclusive Partnership with an Existing Platform?

Anything’s possible, but this wouldn’t be a “revolution.”

When Sega left the console race after the Dreamcast, it survived by making its games available for as many people as possible. The upcoming Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, however, feature some really interesting and powerful technology that might encourage or justify an exclusive partnership–one similar to the promises Sony made about the Cell Processor offering experiences on the PS3 that were simply impossible on another platform (which really never turned out to be true anyway.)

The new Xbox is a beast in terms of horsepower, and the PS5 apparently has some fantastic implementation of solid state storage. This “GO SEGA” event is meant, according to Haruki Satomi, to focus on “breath-taking experiences that no one in the world has ever imagined,” so perhaps Sega has struck up some kind deal with either Sony or Microsoft to bring content to their platform that fully takes advantage of and is built from the ground up for their respective machines. Microsoft has struggled in Japan since the dawn of the Xbox, so such a thing could be a great way for the brand to make an impact with Japanese customers–and Phil Spencer has recently opened up about the platform’s issues with the Japanese market.

A New Console?

This would probably rile up the industry, perhaps be revolutionary, but they’d have their work cut out for them.

The language Nishikawa uses really makes one think of a console–though he was clear that the announcement wasn’t a “Dreamcast 2.” Then again, if it is a new console, Sega could call it whatever the hell they want and then it technically wouldn’t be a “Dreamcast.”

When you add up all the alleged promises of Nishikawa’s story and this potential announcement celebrating Sega’s 60th birthday, it sort of takes the shape of a console–and that 60th anniversary site featuring their new mascot/character seems to focus a lot on the company’s history with hardware. Also, this new Sega Shiro character is, as Gematsu observes, “the eldest son of Hiroshi Fujioka, who portrayed character Segata Sanshiro to advertise Sega Saturn in Japan.”

The problem, of course, would be the enormous task of Sega inserting themselves into the market as a third option to Sony and Microsoft. And I say third because Nintendo is sort of in a world of their own with the Switch. The AAA world of games has largely been a binary realm between the PlayStation and Xbox brands, and while I’d love to see a new option with new, console exclusive experiences, I’m not sure how Sega, or anyone, could really pull that off.

If they really wanted an endless uphill battle littered with the Vita corpses, they could try competing with Nintendo on the portable front. Sony has shown how challenging that could be, but if Sega had some kind of super-powerful portable machine, similar to what Alienware presented with their UFO concept, that might be really compelling.

The reality, however, is that the biggest hurdle to a new console might not be Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo, but rather the significant economic downturn thanks to COVID-19. This probably isn’t the best time to convince someone to expect what would probably be a $300-500 expense on a new, unproven, and unpredictable platform.

Just Some New Games?

…this is probably what it is. But, hey, they could have something really cool to show.

The safest bet is probably on an event or announcement that just reveals new games. While definitely not as exciting as the prospect of new hardware, or even some kind of on-demand service, Sega would probably be wise to invest their time, effort, and money into new games that will be available on as many platforms as possible.

The twist, of course, is that Nishikawa has really hyped this upcoming story and announcement and has compared it to the reveal of a AAA-level console. But who knows? Maybe he’s that excited for a new Yakuza game or something–I mean, who wouldn’t be?

We’ll Know (Probably) on June 3rd and Definitely on June 4th

June 3rd is the date of Sega’s 60th Anniversary and is likely when we’ll hear something. Nishikawa’s scoop, however, is expected in the Weekly Famitsu which will be out on the 4th–the same day as Sony’s First Look event for the PS5.

Whether it’s one of these things, none of them, or some combination, here’s hoping for something exciting to look forward to during this cyberpunk, dystopic, mini-apocalypse we’re all going through. Save us, Sega.

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