The Sega Genesis, otherwise known as the Mega Drive, was Sega’s third and most successful attempt at a video game console. The Sega Genesis eventually sold 30.75 million units globally. To this day, licensed rereleases of games were still being sold, speaking to the long-lasting impact the Genesis had in the gaming community.
History of the Sega Genesis
The Sega Genesis was originally released in Japan in 1988 under the Mega Drive name. The system incorporated design attributes from the System 16 arcade board and was the company’s answer to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Ironically, the console did not fare nearly as well in Japan as it did in western countries.
The Genesis was originally supposed to be released in January 1989. At the time, the American Genesis team was very sporadic, as the company did not have a concentrated marketing plan. The release was placed on hold until a proper vision was constructed. The console released in North American toward the end of the year in 1989.
Genesis was initially hoping to sell one million units in America, but they fell about 50% short of that goal. However, the company made some drastic changes, including slashing the pricing of the console. During the 1991 holiday season, the Sega Genesis outsold the SNES nearly two to one. This, in turn, granted Sega a 65% share of the 16-bit console market at the beginning of the following year.
This was the first time Nintendo surrendered their control of the console market since December 1985. The trend continued for Sega, who was able to outsell Nintendo for four consecutive holiday seasons. Sega aggressively campaigned against Nintendo, with slogans such as, “Genesis does what Nintendon’t.”
As Sega anticipated the 16-bit technology becoming outdated, Sega released a CD-based peripheral add-on known as Sega CD, and a 32-bit peripheral add-on known as Sega 32X. Sega sold nearly 2.25 million CD units, but the 32X units did not fair as well, selling less than a million units by the end of 1994.
However, Sega underestimated how popular the Genesis would remain, and fell short of their inventory demands for the original 16-bit version. This allowed Nintendo to reclaim their market share. In all, 30.75 million Genesis units were sold worldwide.
The Genesis is renowned as one of the best consoles ever created.
IGN ranked the Sega Genesis fifth on their list of the top 25 gaming consoles of all time, indicating that for a time, the Genesis was the most popular gaming console in the world.
GameTrailers ranked the Genesis sixth on their list of the top 10 gaming consoles of all time, mentioning that the console’s mark had been left on the history of gaming.
Sega Genesis Games
Although production was initially modest, the Sega Genesis games library eventually grew to contain nearly 900 games just for the 16-bit version alone. This accounts for games across the entire world, so there were fewer games than this released in the United States. A list of the US Sega Genesis games library can be found here.
Sega made a significant amount of money off third-party game developers who wished to release a game for the Genesis. Sega would charge companies approximately $8-$10 for each game that was sold. During the height of Sega’s market control, there were about ten games for every one game that the SNES had. The vast game library was a huge selling point for those considering purchasing the Genesis.
Sonic the Hedgehog
One could easily make the argument that without Sonic, the Sega Genesis would have failed to exist. In trying to compete with Nintendo, the company was in need of a character that could compete with Nintendo’s Mario. Much care was taken into crafting Sonic the Hedgehog, down to the fact that his blue color matched the cobalt blue in Sega’s logo.
Sonic the Hedgehog was included as a pack-in game, a decision that helped the console excel in North America. Gameplay was quick and featured a fun character. The decision to bundle Sonic the Hedgehog in with the Sega Genesis is a decision that allowed the Genesis to push past Nintendo for North American market share.
Electronic Arts still remains a popular games manufacturer to this day, but they got their start by working with Sega in the late 1980s. In 1989, EA reverse engineered the Genesis and entered into a year-long negotiation with Sega. After intense negotiations, EA signed a deal that featured a liberal licensing agreement.
The license agreement allowed EA to make as many titles as they wanted, with any name that they wanted. The company also had more control over royalty rates and manufacturing. EA was also permitted to put a yellow stripe on the sides of every cartridge they produced. This helped with licensing and brand recognition.
In 1990, the company released the first Genesis version of John Madden Football and later, popular games like NHL ’94. The success was two-fold. The Sega Genesis benefitted, particularly in North America, from having a library of such popular sports games that could be played on their console. And EA sports benefitted by skyrocketing in popularity, growing into one of the largest game manufacturers.
Videogame Rating Council
The Genesis also paved the way for the Videogame Ratings Council after Mortal Kombat garnered a significant amount of attention for the violence that existed in the game. The council rated games based on what age group they were appropriate for after consultation with experts in psychology, sociology and education. However, these groups were fully funded by Sega.
After instituting the rating system, Sega released a much tamer version of Mortal Kombat. In that version, much of the blood and violence was removed from the game. However, gamers were able to enter a code that would grant them access to the original arcade version, which was significantly more violent. Doing so allowed the company to release the game under a more family-friendly rating.
After the backlash over Mortal Kombat and later Night Trap, which came to a head during congressional hearings that also featured Nintendo, video game manufacturers united to create a universal rating system. The companies created the Entertainment Software Rating Board in 1994, an independent organization that still operates today.
Sega Genesis ROMs
The Genesis utilized read-only memory in its game cartridges. Data stored on Sega Genesis ROMs could not be modified, which made them great for storing the firmware necessary for the system’s games. Sega Genesis ROMS were stored on cartridges that were then inserted into the gaming system.
At the time, read-only memory was significantly cheaper than the floppy disk alternatives that comprised the market. Compact cassette tapes were another alternative but were deemed to be too slow and unreliable.
The popularity of Sega Genesis ROMS was captured in the 2014 book, Sega Mega Drive/Genesis: Collected Works. The book, over 350 pages in length, is considered to be the authoritative volume on the console, as it covers the entire life and legacy of the 16-bit Genesis. The book was released by publisher Read-Only Memory.
The book was officially licensed by Sega and contains interviews with over 30 team members involved with the Genesis project, including former Sega president Hayao Nakayama and former Sega of America CEO Tom Kalinske.
Sega Genesis Controller
One of the reasons the Genesis was so iconic was because of its six-button controller. When providing their review of top video game consoles, IGN wrote in regard to the Genesis, “…what some consider to be the greatest controller ever created: the six button.” The Sega Genesis controller featured A, B, C, X, Y, Z, and Start buttons. It also featured a directional pad on the left side of the controller.
There are some Genesis games that are not compatible with the six-button variant of the controller. Instead, they are only compatible with the previously-seen three-button controller. To counter this, Sega added a Mode button to the controller. By holding the Mode button while the system was booting up, the controller would operate as the original three-button controller.
Initially, the Sega Genesis controller came in two different sizes. The original-sized controller was intended for Asian markets. A bigger controller was designed for those in North America and other western countries.
Sega Genesis Portable
The first fully-portable version of the Genesis was the Genesis Nomad. This Sega Genesis portable unit rivalled Nintendo’s GameBoy. The Sega Genesis portable featured a 3.25” LCD screen and operated on six AA batteries. The Nomad was capable of supporting the entire library of Genesis games.
Many years later, in 2007, Tec Toy released another portable version of the Genesis. This console featured 20 games that had already been built into the system. This handheld device featured the original three-button design, opposed to the six-button controller that helped Genesis gain popularity.