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The Future of Console Gaming

part 2/page 7


   The biggest question these days is why, prior to the U.S. launch of the Dreamcast, Mr. Stolar appears to have been asked to leave Sega. Although much of the core gaming press points to examples of Mr. Stolar upsetting RPG developers such as Vic Ireland from Working Designs from as far back as his work with Sony, best indications were that while Mr. Stolar had been able to re-organize the company, it was his continuously butting heads with Japanese management over funding for U.S. software development and company direction that was the clincher. For one of many documents discussing the conflicts between SoA and SoJ, examine this statement in an article which appears to be from the Wall Street Journal, reprinted by Gaming Age:

"Instead, the meddling from headquarters (over U.S. launch issues) seemed to make matters worse. The volatile Mr. Stolar and Mr. Okawa clashed repeatedly over key issues, including launch timing, Sega's distribution plans, and compensation for the company's game-software developers. So heated were the disagreements that they sometimes culminated in shouting matches between Mr. Stolar and Mr. Okawa - arguments mediated by interpreters who scrambled to translate harsh words and unfamiliar phrases."(7)

   As it stands now, SoJ has completely removed the office of President at SoA, and looks like it will be asserting more direct control of the U.S. and European markets. Why? Well, I think we can look to the words of Charles Bellfield, director of marketing communications for SoA, regarding Mr. Stolar's "replacement" Toshiro Kezuka:

"Sega is one company, and all three branches [SoA, SoE, and SoJ] must work very closely going forward, and bringing Kezuka in [at this position], will be very helpful going forward."(8)

   ...and this comment by another Sega spokesman regarding Mr. Kezuka:

"He will work as a superb interface with our Japanese parent company."(9)

   Just where is SoJ going with Sega as a company. Well, it is clear that networking games is going to be a top priority in the coming years, and you can expect to see development down this avenue for the Dreamcast.

   Sega on the whole, seems caught up in the internet "community" craze that has struck so many companies here at the turn of the decade. While this may or may not pan out, my guess is that the Dreamcast will at least be internally supported to achieve this goal. The big question as far as networking goes is wether or not AOL will be supported on the Dreamcast in the future. The last word I heard on the matter was that AOL might have a Windows CE based version of their software available by this summer which could allow for a port of AOL to the Dreamcast. The big "if" here is on how much demand AOL sees for the port, and how big of a market the Dreamcast can command by then. Also, from what I understand any Dreamcast AOL implementation would be a precursor to AOL's work on Microsoft's proposed "X-Box", which Microsoft may try and push as a set-top/"cable box plus" alternative with AOL to Time Warner Cable subscribers. Of course much of that will depend on what happens in the federal anti-trust case against Microsoft, and if AOL really wants to stay friends with Microsoft.

   Don't forget that with or without AOL or Microsoft, Sega has now had years of experience with on-line gaming and successfully developing on-line content distribution via most notably, the Sega Channel for the Genesis, or the NetLink for the Saturn not to mention other projects. If anyone between Sega, Sony and Nintendo is going to have success in the U.S. market, Sega has had the previous experience to give them the potential edge to avoid mistakes.

   The last issue to be on one's mind is SoJ's new single management approach to the whole company. If Japanese management can truly figure out the American market then they may do well here in the long run. As it stands though, between now and January will likely be the key months for Sega. If they can make it through Christmas with powerful sales, there will be hope for them as a strong presence in the market, at worst there is always room for a third company in the industry, even if it is as a niche player.

   No matter what though, there will likely be a decent amount software coming out for the system through the next year or two. I expect that we will probably even see a peak of PC game ports during the wave of second and third generation games on the system. Windows based PC ports will likely taper off though after the next version of Direct X is released and the task of porting backwards (across two versions of Direct X, and two versions of the Visual C compiler) becomes close to impossible unless the code was correctly implemented from scratch to accommodate the Dreamcast port up front.

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