15th July, 1983 basically marks the beginning of the established order of gaming. That was the day that Nintendo released the Family Computer. Soon after, it was the clear market leader in its homeland; every trace of competition that come before, like the Epoch Cassette Vision, was erased. Nintendo was the king of the hill, and it would remain this way for quite some time.
But it was not an out-and-out coronation. Sure, the Family Computer - "Famicom" for short - was popular from the start, but it did face competition from Sega, which also released its own hardware on the exact same day. Sure, we all know the fierce competition between the SNES and Mega Drive (aka Genesis) a few years later - now known as The Console Wars - but that wasn’t the first time that these two companies had battled for dominance of the living room.
Sega started development on a home video game in the early '80s and eventually produced two systems called SG-1000 and SC-3000. The SG-1000 was a standard home console priced on par with the Family Computer at 15,000 Yen ($65 in 1983). It packed a Z80-based processor, a very popular chip which also saw use in the ColecoVision and many home computers as well. It came with one hardwired controller and played game cartridges, but didn’t have many other features. The SC-3000 was essentially the SG-1000 in a computer case for twice the price. It had more RAM and a keyboard, but both machines played the same games. In the early 1980s, it wasn’t clear what kind of machine consumers wanted and so Sega covered both ends of the market.
The SG-1000 and SC-3000 were backed up with a strong marketing campaign. Multiple print and television ads were produced in 1983 and 1984 featuring famous Japanese celebrities. Sega also released 21 games in the first six months. Contrast this with Nintendo, whose television ads were mostly gameplay with an unknown person holding a controller in a first-person view, and released only 9 games in 1983. The launch and honeymoon period for the SG-1000 went well, with 160,000 systems being sold in its first year, way ahead of Sega's original projection of 50,000 units. The fact that Nintendo had to issue a recall on the Famicom due to faulty parts helped, too. However, it was not to last; after Nintendo started to break away with the lead and win over third-party publishers, Sega decided to update its system in the form of the SG-1000 II. The internals were the same, with the main change being a resigned controller that did away with the joystick.
Sega remained competitive, but the gap in sales widened over 1984 and 1985. By the end of 1985, the Family Computer was in 4.5 million homes, while SG-1000 group of systems were in about 2 million. Perhaps the sales numbers led Sega and Nintendo to apply different strategies to their home games business; Sega began releasing more powerful hardware, whereas Nintendo used chip upgrades in cartridges to extract more performance out of the Famicom. It led to Sega releasing five systems in Japan between the years of 1983 and 1988, while Nintendo released only the Disk System add-on and mostly stuck to cartridges.
The Family Computer may have beaten the SG-1000, but it didn't wipe out Sega. When it came to the Master System, Sega was dominant in virtually every market except for Japan and the US. The Genesis was extremely popular in the U.S. at the height of the Console Wars. As for Japan, The Saturn became the region’s best-loved Sega machine. All of this came from the early ventures that Sega embarked upon with the SG-1000.
This article was originally published by nintendolife.com on Mon 25th June, 2018.
i wonder why they never port these games over to anything
For someone who had an Amiga 500 I feel utterly undereducated about retro consoles, never heard of this bad boy, so awesome.
They should make a micro version 😃
Very interesting set of limitations this systems seems to have had. And man, the Z80 is legendary for a reason.
For the few original designs in there, I'd really love to play those as well. Though quite many of the games appear to have been cut-rate versions of gamers from other systems/arcade in the first place. So porting those might not be optimal.
Great article. I wanna read more
I've always wanted to have a SG-1000, out of curiosity, although I know importing one is expensive, getting the games too and also I'd have to modify it to properly use it in a PAL TV.
I'd literally never heard of this console before today so consider myself educated
If this is Console War 1, I guess Atari VCS vs Intellivision is Console War 0? Perhaps the Napoleonic or Crimean Wars?
And if anyone tries to say they weren't competitive, go watch some Intellivision commercials that tell Americans that only morons would buy an Atari.
Never heard of it.
Just as well. I don't miss that era of gaming (God, those awful sounds!), and the fact that nobody seems to remember these games is a testament to how insignificant an impact SEGA has had on the industry then and some 35 years since.
@Moroboshi876 Same aside from the PAL issue. I'm in the US and I'm curious but the cost is more than I want to pay. Its pretty similar to the Coleco Vision I believe.
@Alikan You're right about that. Atari and Intellivision was the first big console war. For the US at least. I lived it but was still young. Good times but I was more involved in Nintendo vs Sega!
Too many console iterations appears to have been Sega's problem from very early on then, and not just after the Genesis era where things started getting beyond ridiculous.
@impurekind The thing is, the value of money didn't go down over time, but up, that's why people say it should cost more
And here I thought I knew a lot about gaming history. Didn't know Sega made something before the Master System.
So Sega have always had the problem of releasing multiple systems too rapidly, which is what destroyed their console development business. What's that saying about the definition of insanity...?
So cool that gems like Knightmare and Rally-X got ported to this! Taiwan is too underrated.
"When it came to the Master System, Sega was dominant in virtually every market except for Japan and the U.S."
I don't think it's true, at least not in a "in virtually every market" kind of way.
In France, it was long though that the Master System and the NES sold roughly the same (and I include myself in the people who thought that). While writing the third book of his history of Nintendo, Florent Gorges was able to access the numbers from GFK. From 1988 to 1993, Nintendo sold 1 788 000 NES while Sega sold 970 000 Master System and Sega didn't won a single year.
In Europe, in Mars 93, Sega had sold 6,2 millions units (I don't know if Sega included Australia as a PAL country in those numbers). At the same time, Nintendo had sold 8,51 millions units in it's "other" region (which include Australia and, I think, others small countries outside Europe).
I have no idea how many NES units from the "other" region where sold outside Europe but it must be more than 2,31 millions to make Sega the dominant brand in Europe. I don't think it happened (it's more than what was sold in France and I don't think a highly populated country outside Europe is included in those numbers) but I don't have data to prove it one way or the other.
The source for the French numbers is, AFAIK, only available in french, but I took a photo :
Sources for the sales numbers in Europe :
So, used to be Nintendo vs. SEGA.
But now, Nintendo + Microsoft vs. Sony.
@MasterJay Yeah, I know that's why they do it the way they do but I just don't accept that a £300 console today is considered "affordable" and that this is what people are trying to tell me was similarly the case with the SNES--as in it was actually pretty expensive. The SNES actually was affordable back in the day as I recall it. In fact, I recall it seeming actually pretty cheap at the time. A £300 console doesn't seem cheap to me these days, but a £150 console would. So that's just how I see it.
@Alikan Atari's competition at the time wasn't just Intellivision, there was also the Magnavox Odyssey2 and the ColecoVision, which actually sold a bit better than the Intellivision, though all three of those machines between them didn't sell 1/3 the number of units the 2600 did, so it wasn't much of a war really. I owned a 2600 myself, but a friend owned a ColecoVision and I remember playing a few games on it including Donkey Kong, Rocky and the Smurf game which was one of the first platformers, coming out the same year as Activision's Pitfall.
Never did get to play on an Intellivision, though I do remember seeing the ads you're talking about, featuring the actor George Plimpton. Atari themselves indulged in that sort of advertising years later with it's "Do the math" ads for the Jaguar that implied you'd need to be stupid to buy competing consoles since the Jaguar was 64bits rather than 16 or 32bits. Of course, the Jaguar was a crap system with crap games that you'd need to be stupid to buy, but hey, they tried, right?
The very excellent video game history podcast "They Create Worlds" is currently running a series on the great Console Wars and their most recent episode dealt with the Famicom vs. SG-1000 (and it's variants). That episode (and every other episode) of the podcast is highly recommended for anyone interested in where video games (and the companies that make them) came from.
1983 was all about the ZX Spectrum, Commodore, Atari, Game & Watch and arcades for me. Interesting to learn what else was available at the time (that I’d never heard of).
Thanks for the recommendation. I’m always on the lookout for new podcasts.
@Marios-love-child thank you!
@Grimault thanks for this info! sure it wasn't every European country, but it certainly wasn't like Japan
@Captain_Gonru It was Intellivision
@Alikan I agree! But the term console war these days has gravitated to Sega vs Nintendo. Those INTV ads were fierce though!
@Captain_Gonru oh hey that's fine! At least you knew him from game commercials though he was the guy who was the official for Lisa Simpson's spelling bee on the Simpsons too! The Coleco Vision commercials that I've seen were pretty cool too. Atari also made a compact ad with a little kid imitating the INTV ads. ahh the glory days right?
@Captain_Gonru I know of it, but ill look it up now since you brought it up ^-^
I bet there aren't a whole lot of these units left in good condition. Think about it, if they were made in 1983, they'd be 35 years old. That's a long time for things to go wrong, break, or simply wear out. Without the fame and nostalgia shared by NES/Famicom and Master system, I bet a lot of them were left to rot in attics or even simply thrown out.
@Captain_Gonru Plimton did the intellivision commercials. If you’re looking for a Colecovision fix, check out the Colecovision Flashback with 60 built in games! Not the Nintendo licensed games like Donkey Kong of course but still plenty of classic gems in the mix!! Should be plenty of them available On eBay!
@Captain_Gonru yea it’s pretty close I remember the Colecovision very well as my brothers and I played the hell out of it! Lol. It’s 98% On I’d say with sound & music! Seems the only other way to enjoy the Colecovision library is through emulation which I have on an original Xbox! Otherwise the Flashback is the only legal option.
I own an AV Modded Famicom, bit I've always wanted an AV Modded SG-1000 as well...but sadly, that seems like a much more expensive endeavor than the $60 I paid for my modded Famicom...
This console should get a bit more attention if only to put history into better perspective.
For example, I have seen people claim that even in the NES era Nintendo was considered unpowered since the Master System was more powerful. In actuality, this was the device Sega used to compete with the Famicom.
As someone who collects consoles, however, this doesn't interest me. Being hard to find doesn't help either.
@Silly_G actually Sega's games shaped the whole arcade market and took many genres to a next level (take a look at Yu Suzuki's catalogue). then they were the first to introduce online functions and gaming on home consoles and digital delivery for console games (back in 1990 on Genesis with MegaModem and MegaNet, literally they were pioneers on the space frontier). We can easily say that most pillars of the modern market were created by Sega many years before others. Their impact was huge and massive behind the curtain, just not mainstream hyped. If you think that this is "insignificant" maybe you are just not aware of many important things. try to be more humble and deepen your knowledge over basic and mainstream things.
Never thought of the Saturn as Japan's (or technically the Japan region, using the terminology of the article) best-loved Sega machine.
As a Saturn fan, I would love to have seen that point explored in more detail.
I've played a few of the games from this system via emulation and to be honest I'm not greatly excited by them, but I have to say that, much as I love the Genesis and all the great Sega arcade games, I wish Sega as a company would recognize that their history extends beyond just the Genesis. It's so rare to see rereleases from any of their other consoles. Even systems like the Game Gear, Sega CD, and 32X which were contemporary with the Genesis/MegaDrive get ignored, not to mention its predecessors the SG-1000 & Master System, and successors the Saturn and Dreamcast.
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