Originally posted August 2002, updated October 2005

The PS2 is the console that killed one of the greatest consoles to ever grace the gaming market, with marketing, hype and press releases alone. I say that it killed the Dreamcast because it outsold it 2:1 in the same market, at twice the price, with a fraction of the game library. Why the Dreamcast was shut down is a bit more complicated than just that.

"Building Steam"...

Was it the reputation of the Playstation 1 that made the PS2 a success? The Sega Genesis was a large success in the United States. Yet when the multiple-CPU containing successor, the Sega Saturn, was released, the consumer was nowhere to be found. During the Saturn's life, the masses kept buying the Sega Genesis and Genesis games. They eventually chose to go with the Playstation instead of the Saturn, a decision that is most often linked to many Saturn games having looked slightly worse than the average Playstation game, and to that the PS1 consistently having more games on the retail store shelves.

Conversely, 248 titles were made for the Dreamcast during it's lifetime in the US, but the masses all pinched their pennies for the PS2, and kept buying PS1 consoles and what few PS1 games worth noting after the DC's launch were released. In addition, the Playstation 2's launch games almost all looked slightly worse than Dreamcast games, due to complex and unorthodox hardware, aliasing problems and low resolution display and textures. Despite the Dreamcast's 2.5 million console lead and roughly 200 title lead of at least equal quality, it was the PS2 which took off almost immediately. Selling out for nearly six months, while it was Fall of 2002 before its library reached 300 titles, made the PS2's the most successful launch of all time.

"Superior marketing"

Was it superior marketing on Sony’s part that made the PS2 a success? From the DC’s US launch to the PS2’s, Sega advertised in game magazines, online, but only in select areas on television. Instead of bombarding with television ads, Sega launched the first efficient gaming network, based on limited 56K technology, and actually offered Dreamcasts for free to people who would just sign up for 18months of Sega’s SegaNet service. The free Dreamcast deal was called, by Sony execs, a change in the console distribution paradigm. In addition to that, Sega easily put out more games for the Dreamcast, themselves, than any other publisher. All of the games Sega released were of the highest quality and originality. All these things, and a $50 price drop in the console’s retail price, in its first year, did not manage to make the Dreamcast a success.

Still, some speculate that it was advertising from the giant corporation that made everyone hold their breaths for the PS2. Yet, there was virtually no ad campaign at all for PS2. Sony didn't have to advertise the PS2. By October 2000, preorders for the PS2 had surpassed what they could manufacture of the console for six months.

Media Hype

However, one prominent and reliable presence during the Dreamcast’s 13 month lead was inane babel, by still employed game mag "editors", promising constant greater than 60FPS, and greater-than Dreamcast quality texture sharpness and diversity in PS2 games. The reasons quoted for these wonders were the super powerful, better than a room full of Sun workstations (i.e. Toy Story 2 quality graphics), Emotion Engine and better texture clarity due to "streaming data off the PS2’s ultra fast DVD drive". There was also loving talk of beizer curves, Odd World Munch's Oddessy (which ended up seeing exclusive release on XBOX), GranTurismo 2000 (which came out in Fall of 2001), and movies of MGS2 (which had a not-so delightful surprise for everyone), but why would the public care about vaporware more than the Dreamcast's games that were already available on the shelf? In order for the pre-launch hyped version of the PS2 to not have been just vaporware, it would have had to actually come out as stated. Needless to say, what was advertised, and what was received in regards to the PS2 were two entirely different stories.

Project Reality

Sony's promise of Toy Story 2 Quality graphics in games was certainly just marketing hype. After developers started complaining about the 4MB VRAM not being enough for textures, Sony also claimed that the system didn't need as much texture memory because "it was powerful enough to render individual grains of wood in a door". None of that beats "grandpa" Ken Kuturagi's claim in 2000 that "You can communicate to a new cyber city. This will be the ideal home server. Did you see the movie 'The Matrix'? Same interface. Same concept. Starting from next year, you can jack into 'The Matrix'!'' Yet they didn't even get out a Network Adapter until late 2002, while the Dreamcast came with a modem and had broadband before the PS2 launch, and the Xbox comes with a Network Adapter out of the box. The fact that nobody would want to "jack in" to a PS2 with the same interface as The Matrix would be a small point to make.

Hardware manufacturers have made outrageous promises before. Nintendo promised no pop-up with the N64, which is something it largely succeeded at. Nintendo also made equally outrageous claims in regards to its own vaporware, "Project Reality". Nintendo claimed they would "combine three-dimensional graphics of the quality seen in films such as Jurassic Park and Terminator 2, with high- fidelity sound and an interaction speed around 10-15 times faster than the current 16-bit games." They also showed still shots of Silicon Graphics CGI with cutouts of Mario, Luigi and cast pasted on them.

Yet the N64 was outsold by the technically inferior Playstation consistently for its entire lifecycle. By September of 2003 the N64 had sold just under 18 million while the PS1 had sold over 22.5 million in the US, and Japan almost exclusively favored the PS1 after 1998. While that doesn't seem like a significant gap in sales, what that gap meant was virtually exclusive developer support for the PS1 over the N64, and the constant reminder from the media that the N64 was "failing".

That is significant, because it was Sony's claim that technical prowess alone that would make the PS2 gaming experience worth waiting for. Meanwhile Sega did promise that the DC was modular and could therefore be easily upgraded to compete for years to come. If history was going to repeat itself, what happened with the Genesis users eventually migrating to the Playstation would have happened again with PS1 users migrating to the Dreamcast, which had more games on store shelves, a better price point, more features and arguably better graphics. However neither Sega's empty promises nor their actual achievements caused millions of people to pinch their pennies for an entire year like they did for the PS2.

Factual Reality

Meanwhile the Dreamcast sold better, month to month, than any other console in history, except for the PS2 and including the Xbox and Gamecube. The Dreamcast's games reportedly weren't selling in 2000, except for Sega's sport titles and Sonic Adventure. The game sales could definitely not be blamed on lack of quality software. If anything it was an over abundance of extremely high quality software that was causing some games to languish on the shelves. That's not a claim anyone's tried to make though, so I won't either.

When the PS2 launched, it was twice the price of the Dreamcast. It had twenty seven games, the Dreamcast was approaching two hundred and fifty. All twenty seven of the PS2's games cost $50, and presented nothing new in graphics sound or gameplay for anyone who'd owned a Dreamcast. On the Dreamcast games could be had for $20-50 with no loss in quality of any kind to PS2 games. If either system could be blamed for having too much low quality software released in its first year, that blame would fall on the PS2.

So what was it? What was the issue, that caused the Dreamcast and it's software to not sell with so many great games coming out month to month, and the PS2 and its games, to so grossly outsell it? It was the Dreamcast being praised for ease of development, it was the PS2 that was being called complex and difficult to develop for. It was the Dreamcast which was relatively inexpensive and had leagues of great software in its library, it was the PS2 that was $300 and had 13 months of Dreamcast games to catch up with. It was the Dreamcast that had sharp high resolution graphics and texture quality, while the PS2 was openly mocked for aliasing issues, caused by lower resolution display, and blurry textures caused by the PS2 only having 4MB of VRAM. Though it is worth noting that unified Main RAM was available to developers that could and did greatly improve both issues by the end of its first year.


Popular theories at the time were that Sega's reputation was so badly damaged by the Saturn, which less than 3 million people ever owned, and the 32X, which less than 500,000 people ever owned, that the 60-80 million user strong mass market just refused to buy the Dreamcast, even given it's strong line-up and 13-month head start.

Popular theory for why the PS2 has outsold the Gamecube and Xbox more than 5:1 is because of it's head start and strong line-up. Yet this is did not happen for the Dreamcast.

Another popular theory for why the Dreamcast failed is that it wouldn't play DVDs nor was it backward compatible with the Saturn. What makes this a viable partial explanation, is that both the Xbox and Gamecube do not support DVD playback out of the box, nor do they support some pre-existing software library, and they have sold similarly to the Dreamcast.

Yet another theory was that Sega simply didn't have the resources to sit on the market and keep pumping out games, to build a userbase of their own, which has also yet to work for Microsoft or Nintendo with their current gen efforts.

Finally the most popular theory is that the PS1 was so popular, and is perceived to have created the move to 3D, which in turn made gaming "cool" to more than just gamers, and that the PS1 had such success on the market that it was perceived that the PS2 would have vastly greater numbers in its software library, is apparently reason enough for 60 million users to wait through the Dreamcast's head start, of 13 months, to buy a PS2, and only a PS2, even with three competing consoles with unique offerings and comparable to superior graphics on the market.

If the PS2 had come out in 1999 and been called Dreamcast, I think it would have been a laughing stock. As it was the Dreamcast was called, from day one, a “stop gap” by game magazines, pronounced dead on arrival by Working Designs and EA, and surpassed in every way by Sony’s PS2 vaporware. If it had been exactly like the PS2 turned out hardware wise, it would have been called a "high res N64, with blurry textures". The DC was called just that by one of Usenet’s resident trolls. Yet DC launch games still display better texture quality than any PS2 game. Go into the Dreamcast’s middle age software and you could say that there is a significant step up in graphical quality, in favor of the Dreamcast. If it had come out and been called Dreamcast, they all would have said that Sega didn't learn their lessons from the past about complicated hardware ruining quality of 3rd party software.

Until late 2003, the best examples of the PS2’s graphical capabilities are MGS2 and GT3, both of which took nearly one year to come out from the console’s launch date. Nobody in the media or developer community complained about how long it took for solid looking and playing PS2 games to come out. By comparison, it took Sega one year to launch SegaNet and successfully, with little lag time, put people online playing NFL2K1. It was an amazing achievement, especially considering that none of the current console manufacturers got their act together until 2002. What was the most often repeated comment about SegaNet? It took to long to get rolling. One year to successfully do something nobody else had ever done, or did again until two years later, was too danged long. And to make matters even more comical, noted game magazines applauded Electronic Arts for releasing the first online Football game, in 2002 for PS2.

The Playstation 1 had a lot of great games, but no more or less real gems than any other console worth noting. A simple click on the two links above will reveal that’s a fact, not an opinion. Yet game magazines give undue credit to the PS1 and the PS2, not for software content, but for worldwide sales. They repeatedly advertise how great Sony's consoles are, and then mention that their reason is only based on sales in the fine print.

Sony's proven that it can do everything wrong, and still be a massive success. Just compare the Sega Saturn US launch characteristics, to what Sony did with the PS2 for a great example. It makes no sense why the PS2 has become such an instant success, when Sega put forth such a plainly superior effort with the Dreamcast, and both the Xbox and Gamecube are plainly superior hardware by just their first generation software.

If you care what I think, it’s a sad state of gaming. Mindless brand-name following can only lead to very boring gaming years ahead. I say mindless, because if these consumers were of a “wait and see” attitude, they certainly would not have bought as many PS2’s as they did. The PS2 simply didn’t have exemplary software until nearly a year after its US release, it should have sold as the Xbox and Gamecube had sold as a result of their average game line-up. Hopefully this generation of gamers will also have the taste to start purchasing the games that really do something unique, and not reward software developers for sloppy designs too.

On the same note, none of this changes the excellent library of games that the PS2 does have, or their playability, or the fact that the PS2 is still part of this generation of hardware in every respect. The PS2's library certainly merits success with gamers and on the market, but it certainly does not merit the total dominance that it has achieved at the expense of all competition big and small.

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