The year is 1992. In a typical British household a typical British family is huddled around the television, still unsure about what has just transpired during the ad break of their typical British soap opera. Nestled among the traditional commercials for washing powder and breakfast cereal is a blistering whirlwind of fast editing and bizarre imagery; a smoke-filled barber's shop, a handsome hero with bionic implants and a generous helping of slickly-edited footage from a series of video games, punctuated by an infectiously catchy slogan: To be this good takes Sega. The effect is mesmerising. This is the family's first taste of an advertising campaign that will change the way video games are promoted in the UK forever. This is the birth of 'Pirate' TV.
We could see the NES was exploding in North America so it seemed like the right deal at the right time
The road to this pivotal point in UK televisual marketing history is one that has been documented widely over the past few decades, but bears repeating. While Sega and Nintendo may be pretty cosy bedfellows today, thirtysomething players will vividly recall an era when these two giants fought tooth and nail, marking a dividing line in school playgrounds all over the world long before Sony and Microsoft came along and assumed the same roles. While there are subtle differences in the tale depending on whether you're based in North America or Europe, in the UK, Sega's ascendancy came out of a steadfast desire to swim against the tide and buck trends whenever possible, and the man who oversaw this gleefully disruptive approach was Nick Alexander.
Alexander's entry into the video game arena occurred in 1983, when he became Managing Director at Virgin, aged just 27. His relationship with Sega began when Virgin purchased British budget label Mastertronic, the firm responsible for Sega's European distribution, towards the end of the decade. "Sega had delivered its shipment of Master Systems to Mastertronic too late for Christmas, so furious retailers understandably cancelled their orders," Alexander explains. "Mastertronic was plunged into a financial crisis which was only solved by our acquisition of the company and the merger with Virgin Games to become Virgin Mastertronic, with myself once again in the role of Managing Director. As it happened, Sega had also failed to deliver on time to their distributors in France and Germany, and asked us if we would take on those two regions as well as the UK. We could see the NES was exploding in North America so it seemed like the right deal at the right time, so we agreed, laying down the foundations for Sega Europe – which Virgin Mastertronic would become in 1991 when Sega purchased the firm outright and I became Sega Europe CEO."
The feisty attitude which seemed to infuse all of Richard Branson's business ventures was present and correct in both Virgin Mastertronic and Sega Europe, and this directly influenced Alexander's stance when it came to promoting Sega's products. "In the early years of the '90s, Nintendo's marketing position was always kids playing with mum and dad, being happy families," continues Alexander. "We, being a Virgin company, it just seemed obvious to me that kids didn't want to be playing with their parents. They wanted to be a bit more rebellious, they wanted to have a bit more attitude; this wasn't about being part of a happy family – this was about killing things, fighting things and driving very fast. So very naturally our positioning was much more about the individual player; it was pitched at an older player as well – the thinking was that if you get the older teenager then the younger children who aspire to be like their elder siblings will naturally follow. In truth, our marketing never really shifted from that core ideal. This is about being cool, and above all else not being like your parents."
In Japan, Sega as a company measured itself against Nintendo, and they used to think that if Nintendo did it, we should do it too
Alexander's bold vision was to be executed by the crack marketing duo of Phil Ley and Simon Morris. The latter had attracted Alexander's attention after his sterling agency work on some of Virgin Mastertronic's very early Master System campaigns. "I was responsible for the first ads that were done, like the ones with the talking TV set and the first use of the 'To be this good takes ages' slogan," he explains. "They were very functional and moderately creative – it was standard category launch advertising, really. Following this, I was then given the role of marketing director of Sega UK. Nick was my boss, Phil was running marketing for Europe and I was responsible for the ads."
Alexander and his fledgeling team found themselves in a unique position when compared to Sega's other regional offices. "In Japan, Sega as a company measured itself against Nintendo, and they used to think that if Nintendo did it, we should do it too," he says. However, this approach hadn't resulted in any significant gains, with Sega's brand new 16-bit Mega Drive system seemingly unable to break the cast-iron stranglehold of the ageing Famicom. "The Japanese market was something like 85 percent Nintendo, 15 percent Sega. In North America, the story was largely the same as Japan, with the NES enjoying almost complete control of the 8-bit market. But in Europe things were totally different; from the get-go, we were the market leader. We were helped enormously by Nintendo changing their distribution arrangements in the UK pretty much every year because they hadn't got it right and kept trying to do something else." This allowed Sega to establish an early lead by tempting existing ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 owners to ditch their underpowered home micros in favour of the Master System, a console which offered generally faithful replications of the Sega classics they'd played in their local amusement arcades.
Despite its early European success, Morris felt at the time that Sega remained the outside bet. "The tectonic plates were still forming," he explains. "There were two big players and we were very much the underdog, in spite of our larger market share. In the early days we were the arcade business which was trying to become the living room business, and Nintendo – which was distributed by Mattel at the time – was very much the 'safe' family value business and had an amazing track record in Japan and North America. Nintendo was building awareness around its family-friendly image and around Super Mario, and our guess was that kids would ultimately reject that. We essentially set out to claim the space with our marketing, and the reference point I always give was that we were The Rolling Stones to Nintendo's Beatles."
Nintendo was building awareness around its family-friendly image and around Super Mario, and our guess was that kids would ultimately reject that
It was clear from the outset that to capture the hearts and minds of the nation's youth a fresh marketing stance was required which disregarded all that had gone before. Nintendo had played it safe and tended to show families encamped around the TV screen with rictus grins etched onto their faces – a tried-and-tested approach intended to appeal to the doting parents who ultimately controlled the pursestrings – but Morris knew instinctively that connecting with the real audience, the players themselves, was the true route to cracking the market. "It was all about being rock and roll, it was all about being anti-establishment, it was all about being something that your parents wouldn't endorse in a million years," he says. "I used to have a picture on my desk of a what I called a 'disco vicar' – a vicar trying to get down with the kids at a church disco and failing miserably. We always held that up as a litmus test to our creative work. Does it look like we're trying to be a disco vicar? If it did, we wouldn't do it."
Which leads us back to the striking scene recounted earlier; the bemused family wondering what the hell they'd just witnessed during their previously sacred ad break. The 1992 commercial that really kicked off Sega's UK revolution was dubbed 'The Cyber Razor Cut' and its timing couldn't have been more perfect. Nintendo's 16-bit Super NES made its European debut in the same year, giving Sega its first true test in that region, and the company's weapon in the face of this technically superior rival was the impossibly slick Jimmy. Played by Welsh actor Peter Wingfield – who would go on to find global fame in Highlander: The Series and has recently retired from acting to become a doctor in the United States – Jimmy was the epitome of cool. The commercial opens with our hero entering a steam-filled barbershop, sitting in the chair and asking for the titular cut from the deranged barber, brilliantly brought to life by Steve O'Donnell – perhaps best known for his portrayal of Spud Gun in Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson's farcical British sitcom Bottom. This request prompts a sequence where Jimmy's arms and eyeballs are 'upgraded' robotically, allowing him to master the blistering stream of Mega Drive games – of which there are over 100, Jimmy kindly informs us – that flood the screen.
This groundbreaking TV spot was filmed by award-winning cinematographer Geoff Boyle, who has been working in this arena since 1985 and can count Ford, Pepsi, Lego, BMW and Fosters as some of his past clients. "I remember having really great storyboards that were more like comics rather than 'ordinary' storyboards," Boyle recalls. "Storyboards for commercials are usually a series of images in the same format as TV and are intended to be a fairly strict guide. What we got with this was a great comic book with frame shapes all over the place; the intention was to give us the feel of the piece and to encourage us to explore and play with images."
The huge steam boiler just outside the studio door was terrifying; I spent the entire shoot expecting it to explode
Cyber Razor Cut pushed technical boundaries as well as creative ones, affording Boyle the opportunity to experiment with new gear and techniques."This was a time when cameras were evolving and speed changes in shots were becoming easier," he remembers. The shoot wasn't without its difficulties, however. "We had to raise the entire set up off the ground so that we could pump steam through and have it coming up through the floor – this tended to turn the set into a swamp! The huge steam boiler just outside the studio door was terrifying; I spent the entire shoot expecting it to explode."
Cyber Razor Cut was just the beginning. More commercials followed, showcasing the dynamic between the seasoned gamer and his young ninja sidekick. "We made those ads with John Lloyd – the director of Blackadder – and they really set us off in the UK," Morris says. "The backdrop was early London docklands scenery, which again was ahead of its time; when I see The Long Good Friday or Blackadder I think of how we brought those two disparate elements together with the Jimmy campaign." Sega's approach was thoroughly 'in your face' and certainly had an impact, yet it explored core themes which are almost timeless – it's just that they hadn't been applied effectively in the world of video game advertising before. "Jimmy was an expression of how we thought players saw themselves," explains Morris. "I worked with Amazon recently on the TV series Mr. Robot, and that's basically the same idea; over 20 years later and someone's turned it into a TV show! Jimmy was an ultra-cool tech kid living under the radar in a custom-built truck packed with cool gear and the latest games."
The Jimmy campaign continued with 'Howdedodat', a commercial set in a Mad Max-style desert environment that was focused on selling Sega's full-colour portable Game Gear console. "It was lit entirely with mirrors that had to be continually adjusted to compensate for the moving sun," explains Boyle, who returned to direct this iconic ad. "The dust was just incredible. At one stage I complimented makeup on how good – or perhaps 'bad' is the right word – Steve [O'Donnell] was looking; he had a really dirty, greasy look. They replied that they hadn't done anything, and asked if I had tried sitting in his place. I duly obliged and discovered that the effect of all my mirrors was to create a ferocious oven far, far hotter than the already baking heat. No wonder he was sweaty!" Filmed just outside Guadix in Spain, the logistics of Howdedodat's production ensured that Boyle and his team faced some interesting questions at the customs desk. "We had to explain to officers that the huge bag of sand we had with us was in fact just a huge bag of sand – we did the close-up in a studio back in London and wanted to make sure that the sand matched."
We actually launched with a series of spoof adverts for fictional products – the one I remember really well was a detergent called Ecco
However, even Sega's ice-cool hero was eventually seen as too obvious and predictable, and Jimmy would be put out to pasture as the company shifted onto the next phase of its anarchic marketing blitz. "We carried on the revolutionary theme with Sega Pirate TV, which was a vehicle that gave us much more flexibility," Morris says. "We actually launched with a series of spoof adverts for fictional products – the one I remember really well was a detergent called Ecco." These short-burst commercials were supported by a billboard campaign which carried what appeared to be legitimate posters for these fake products, but when the corners were torn off after a few days the Pirate TV logo would be revealed, along with the day and time of the 'proper' commercial – something that, in the days before the internet, was quite a unique undertaking. "This was viral marketing before the idea of viral marketing was even a thing," chuckles Morris. "People didn't have a clue what they were about and that was fine, it got them talking."
While Peter Wingfield's wisecracking Jimmy had been unceremoniously jettisoned, O'Donnell's hyperactive character was retained as a spokesperson of sorts for the Pirate TV run, which was about to take off in the grandest fashion imaginable. "We launched the Mega-CD in 1993 with a two-and-half minute commercial, which was an entire ad break – I don't think that had been done in the UK before," Morris recalls. The spot is essentially a parody of the Francis Ford Coppola movie Apocalypse Now and was filmed on location in Thailand at great expense. O'Donnell assumed the role of the insane Colonel Walter E. Kurtz – only in this version, he's gone AWOL to play video games.
"We'd actually acquired the boat used in the footage from the Thai army and we had the use of government resources to help us with our shoot," explains Morris. "We took a normal bridge, stuck bamboo all over it and blew it up. Then we set fire to a field to get the right backdrop for the shoot, only realising later that we had actually crossed the border into neighbouring Burma, potentially triggering a diplomatic incident. Naturally, we were asked to explain ourselves afterwards, but we always seemed to be asking for forgiveness rather than permission – that would be the best way to summarise the whole approach of that period." Slapped wrists aside, it's impossible to ignore the astounding impact this commercial had. "I'm pretty sure that the spot only ran 11 times, but in later life when I meet people, they all recall seeing it," Morris continues. "I like to refer to this as 'The Woodstock Effect' – the number of people who say they went to Woodstock and the number of people who actually went are wildly different, and that commercial achieved the same kind of notoriety and cachet."
We set fire to a field to get the right backdrop for the shoot, only realising later that we had actually crossed the border into neighbouring Burma, potentially triggering a diplomatic incident
The later 'Planet of the Pigs' commercial was even more bizarre than its predecessors, boasting a dystopian setting, hordes of evil porkies and a vengeful O'Donnell brandishing remodelled Mega Drive II and Mega CD II consoles. On the other side of the pond Sega of America, under the sterling leadership of former Mattel boss Tom Kalinske, had also achieved success by targeting older players with edgy marketing, but even so, Alexander admits that it was often difficult to get his Japanese bosses to grasp precisely what Sega Europe was trying to achieve with its campaign. "I think it would be fair to say they were completely bewildered," he says. "They'd look at the sales and see we were getting results, but they really didn't get it at all. I remember having a meeting with Sega president Hayao Nakayama in London and him suggesting we should use the Japanese ads in Europe to save money – ads which aired in a market where Sega had a 15 percent share. I politely explained that it would make more sense for them to use the European ads in Japan!"
It can't have been easy to convince Sega of Japan that demonic barbers, spoof commercials and imperialistic pigs were required to sell the brand to the UK masses, and Morris feels that Alexander doesn't get enough credit for the protection he afforded his marketing team at the time. "We really pushed things," he admits. "We had outrageous print ads in Viz [a comic aimed at adults which continues to run to this day] which made allusions to masturbation and featured slogans like 'The more you play with it, the harder it gets' at a time when our biggest rival was trying to be whiter-than-white and was focusing on families as its target audience. Nick, to his credit, protected us from Sega of Japan superbly, until one day someone happened to see one of the Viz adverts on a flight back to Tokyo and went absolutely tonto! Nick was an amazing leader who allowed his lucky generals – myself and Phil Ley – to go and create merry havoc, and it worked."
It was around this time that Nintendo finally tried to fight back with its own campaign, enlisting comedian Rik Mayall to front a series of irreverent TV commercials – also directed by John 'Blackadder' Lloyd, coincidentally – which aimed to appeal to the same audience that Sega had so successfully courted. Morris is just as unimpressed now as he was when they originally aired. "We had already taken that space and it was very difficult to oust us from that position from that point on," he says. "If I had been Nintendo at that time I would have thought about how this makes the company look in the eyes of the consumer – trying to take a space that isn't rightfully yours. But still, in some ways imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – it proved that we had got it absolutely right, at least."
If I had been Nintendo at that time I would have thought about how this makes the company look in the eyes of the consumer
As Sega's standing in the UK grew, so too did the promotional opportunities available to the company. In 1993 the firm became a lead sponsor for the Williams F1 team, and in doing so, unwittingly helped forge motorsport history. "We knew one of Damon Hill's oldest friends and via this contact we committed to giving him the money which was instrumental in getting a drive with Williams that year," Morris explains. "Bringing sponsorship into Williams meant that he got his seat confirmed, which meant he was in a position to do what he later did, which was to win the world championship in 1996 and become the first second-generation driver to do so."
Sega's 1993 adventure in Formula One didn't end there; that season it purchased the naming rights for the European Grand Prix, which took place in soaking conditions at the Donington Park racing circuit in the East Midlands. "It was a 'floating' Grand Prix and no one else wanted to sponsor it," Morris recalls. The venture cost a considerable sum of money and Morris admits that at the time he and his team received quite a bit of flack from the higher-ups at Sega as a result, but in hindsight, it was nothing short of a marketing masterstroke. "If you ever watch Asif Kapadia's excellent documentary film Senna or indeed anything to do with F1, you'll know that the opening lap that Ayrton Senna recorded during that race – in which he overtook four drivers in the driving rain – is acclaimed as the best lap ever by fans of the sport," explains Morris. "It's impossible to show that lap without showing Sega branding."
As well as having its logo emblazoned on practically every advertising hoarding on the circuit, Sega commissioned a special Sonic the Hedgehog trophy that was held aloft by the triumphant Senna on the podium. No promotional option was left untouched. "We got them to draw Sonic's feet on the side of the Williams FW15C so it would look like he was driving and we were even trying to sponsor the underside of Damon Hill's car in case he ever turned it over," laughs Morris, though it's obvious that he's not joking. "I was recently at McLaren and some of the guys there reminded me that we used to put a Pirate TV insignia on the car for every race Damon won, so they, in turn, started putting a squashed hedgehog on the front of Senna's car when he won! Can you imagine that happening in the sport today, with the incredible sharing power of the internet and social media? It would go wild! Like so much of our promotional activity at the time, it was one of those things that simply came together." The irony of this friendly rivalry between Sega-backed Williams and McLaren was that Super Monaco GP II, the 1992 Mega Drive sequel to the famous arcade title, carried Senna's endorsement and had been developed with his input.
We turned a very small market share into a dominant share at the end of the 16-bit era... We had 75 percent of the market at one point and we were the first to do a million units in a single day
While there are other elements which were instrumental to Sega's success at the time – such as excellent games, robust third-party support and decent pricing – it's impossible to underestimate the contribution of the firm's marketing, the tool which allowed Sega to enter countless homes around the UK and turn apathetic teens into loyal, almost fanatical recruits to the cause. "We turned a very small market share into a dominant share at the end of the 16-bit era," says Morris.
"We had 75 percent of the market at one point and we were the first to do a million units in a single day. The release of Sonic 2 was record-breaking; you think about that launch in the days before digital, that was utterly phenomenal to ship over 750,000 units through retail. But even then, we only spent what we made so we were never being ridiculously profligate; we were paying our marketing bills out of our revenue – it was old school, the pre-dot-com days where the means justified the ends and the ends justified the next means. There was effective control in that sense."
However, nothing lasts forever and as the 16-bit glory days drew to a close Alexander became disenchanted in his role. "The lack of understanding between Europe and Japan was a large reason why I decided I should move on," he laments. "We had realised at the beginning of 1993 that the 16-bit market was going to decline and that it would be some time before 32-bit machines would be at a price that made them mass-market, so there was a summit at the beginning of the year and we decided that what we needed to do was diversify in some way, to secure another revenue stream. I came up with the idea of acquiring Thames TV, which had a huge library of programmes and good animation studios but had just lost its broadcast rights. We had the Mega CD and it seemed to me that Thames offered unique programming that could help us push the video playback aspect of our hardware and give us media franchises – a lot of which had international appeal – that would give us a whole host of options for the console. There would be video game crossover of course, but in the meantime, there would be enough revenue to keep us ticking over. Sega of Japan passed on the idea and that was that, so I decided to move on."
When you've got a very clear vision for something, it's easy to know if something is right or wrong... That fed into our retail advertising and all of the other promotional activity that we did as well
Morris would also part company with Sega following the launch of the Mega CD, and cites his keenness to shake things up as the key reason for his move. "I like creating revolutions and get restless easy," he says. "I wanted a fresh task. Myself and Phil moved on to Sky, challenging the status quo of British television. Then, in a later life, I was running Ginger Productions with Chris Evans when we were doing stuff like TFI Friday and the Radio One Breakfast Show, then it was onto Football365, one of the big dot-coms in the first wave. Later I co-founded LoveFilm, which has since been bought by Amazon, which leads me to my present role of Vice President Global Creative at Amazon. There's a pattern as far as my career is concerned – once I get to the point where I feel comfortable, I move on."
Despite his enviable and glittering CV, Morris is keen to stress that his tenure at Sega was perhaps the most important of his entire career. "The signature of that style of marketing and the lessons learned from those campaigns have been directly responsible for the success of Sky, my contribution to Ginger and my ten-year contribution to LoveFilm," he states. "They all owe a debt to what I learned and what I was allowed to execute in the Sega days. When you've got a very clear vision for something, it's easy to know if something is right or wrong, and I always used to say if everyone in the business instinctively understood what our position was then it would all fall into place. That fed into our retail advertising and all of the other promotional activity that we did as well; it was '360-degree' and 'CRM' marketing before those terms even existed."
Since the end of the 16-bit era, the video game arena has changed almost beyond recognition. Sega and Nintendo, two forces so committed to overtaking each other, have since reconciled, while Sony – the company which swept in during the 32-bit period to thoroughly embarrass the old guard – remains a dominant power. Morris sees familiar elements in Sony's mid-'90s marketing, which was resolutely focused on popular culture and rebelliousness.
Sony directly picked up from where we left off. Their marketing guy was unashamedly a student of what we'd done at Sega
"Sony directly picked up from where we left off," he asserts. "Their marketing guy was unashamedly a student of what we'd done at Sega. People talk about Sony working with musical acts and famous dance clubs to gain credibility, but we were doing stuff at the Ministry of Sound in 1993 – we were in that space long before they arrived on the scene." However, while Sega may have laid down the foundations, Sony has built an empire on them which, more or less, has remained solid for the past 20 years, For Alexander, this shows just how far the industry has come since the early '90s; gleeful chaos has given way to stability. "I look at the business now and it's much more professional," he says. "At times we were making things up as we went along, but it was a great period to be involved in."
Morris agrees. "It's a great legacy to have. Brands exist in people's minds – they don't just exist on the side of a bus or in a TV ad. We made sure that – and I hate to use the word – we were seen as the 'cool' brand and that ran through everything we did. It's something I've tried to replicate at all the other roles I've been in. I say this with the utmost humility, but I feel it was a defining campaign in the video game category."
This feature originally appeared on Eurogamer in 2016 and is republished here with kind permission.
This article was originally published by nintendolife.com on Sun 13th October, 2019.
Yeah, Sega really did have some brilliant advertising campaigns back in the day. I mean, I was a total Nintendo fanboy then, but even I couldn't deny that Sega did a much better job at positioning itself as just this really cool and edgy company. Of course, not enough to convince me the Mega Drive was actually better than the SNES though. And, just a little side note, playing both the SNES Mini and Mega Drive Mini again these last few weeks has reaffirmed in my mind all the reasons why Sega's system was/is great but the SNES beat/beats it in almost every single way that actually counts, especially the games library of truly timeless classics that honestly still hold up brilliantly even to this day in most cases. So, really, "To be this good actually takes Nintendo". Let the 16-bit console wars rage on!
Its a shame that SEGA fell apart so easily. Having SEGA Europe do their own thing back in the early 1990's seemed like a good idea because the idea of global branding didn't really exist; people just watched TV and read the newspaper (or teletext!) and the window to the world was very controlled.
Despite this Nintendo kept its image the same in every market and has continued to do so, even in the face of the sigh 'dark mature' days of the PS2/Xbox.
SEGA on the other hand had 2 separate teams working on the potential Saturn and didn't really know what to do with the Mega CD or the 32X. Each region was independent and in the face of Sony this proved their downfall.
Those print ads that were in Viz were/are just utterly brilliant. lol If only the likes of Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo had the balls to put out stuff like that now!
I was JUST reading through Sega Mega Drive Collected Works book about all this You guys reading my mind or something?
The idea of Sega Europe buying out Thames Television after they lost their lucrative licence as the London Weekday ITV company? Now that would have been interesting...
I was a mega drive fanboy as a kid. Probably because my older brother and his mates were. which were probably because of this marketing. Interesting and cool article
You don't really get this kind of marketing anymore in the gaming industry. You'll get the jabs from companies from time to time like during E3 2013 when Sony ripped into Microsoft. And it worked let's be honest. But, it's so cool looking back at the 1990's and seeing just how Sega, Nintendo and Sony marketed their software and consoles.
I remember buying EGM and it had VHS cassettes with commercials and game trailers packed in with it.
Very nostalgic stuff. Interesting to see Sony mentioned since it was always clear to me and my friends that Sony took over from Sega in the way they seemed like the cool one whereas Nintendo were, to quote the article, the disco vicar.
Talking as a Sega kid, it's obvious in retrospect that 8- and 16-bit Nintendo were way better than Sega, yet Sega did have a far more appealing image in the 90s. Nintendo kids were the ones that had to be in bed early, you had to take your shoes off at their door, there was this atmosphere in their house that you were in a US sitcom type of household. That stereotype held up very reliably.
Plus, it didn't hurt Sega that many of the things that made the SNES so good weren't released in the UK, like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Chrono Trigger, etc. But then Sony came along and beat Sega at their own game, and the Saturn might as well have not existed. I didn't know a single person that had one.
The PlayStation 1 adverts in the UK were similar in that they were trippy. I always remember wanting one really bad
I was already familiar with the Sega Pirate TV ad campaign, but when I saw the thumbnail for this article when I got on to Nintendo Life I was a little startled. I'd dare say the Sega Pirate is scarier than the You Cannot Beat Us guy!
Ah its so strange hearing mega drive, I swear Genisis sounds so much better...or Im just a stupid American.
@Matroska It was always fascinating as a child to run into somebody with a Saturn. I would ask them many questions them about the games they had! 😂
Since it was the 90s more like blur to Nintendo’s oasis
Sega lied about their blast processing. Their advertising was slick, but it was a lie. This was also low. The UK for some reason, has always disliked Nintendo. I never understood why either.
Having just read 'Console Wars' about this whole period, even the people in charge of Sega knew its success was a triumph of style over substance. Blast processing? Please!
Never heard or read these stories before, so this was a great read, thank you.
I was an avid video game fan back in 1993 but I don’t remember any of these SEGA Pirate TV adverts. I’ll check them all out on YouTube when I get chance.
@TenguKing That’s funny - I feel exactly the opposite. I was a Sega kid, and completely had my head turned by the facts that Sega games basically just looked brighter, faster and, frankly, cooler. Nintendo was for babies.
These days, I think Nintendo just flat out had the better games. Even if you think the first-party battle is fairly even (arguable), the support of Squaresoft and Enix just completely tips the balance for me.
I was a school kid during the Classic Console Wars, but growing up in the north of England at the time it was a one horse race: the NES has been and gone and the Mega Drive ruled supreme. I knew maybe one or two people with a SNES but Nintendo were pretty much known for the GameBoy and as such we’re not really in competition (although I had a Game Gear I always wanted to play my sister’s GameBoy as the batteries lasted for ever!). Having talked to other people my age it really was SEGA vs Amiga in the early 90s. I remember playing both Super Mario World and Super Mario Kart in shops and not being particularly interested. Sonic was far more impressive at the time for speed and graphics and racers like Road Rash were what we were playing. In the UK Nintendo were not particularly established (which is probably hard to grasp if you’re from the states; microcomputers were all the rage here in the 80s) so I guess there was less of a thrill at going from 8 bit NES to 16 bit SNES. Most of us went from Sinclair Spectrums or Commadore 64s, so regardless of whether you feel the SNES was better than the Mega Drive, you should at least appreciate how impressive SEGA’s machine was to a 8-10 year old at the time! Don’t get me wrong; I grew to love Nintendo, but of all the systems the SNES is the one I gave the least connection to (we picked a side and stick with it in those days. 25 years on and I’m still Mega Drive kid!)
I remember those pirate tv ads well and the comic series in Sonic the Comic.
Hopefully I’ll be getting the Mega Drive Mini soon. Can’t wait to have it next to my SNES mini. The circle will be complete...
The Sega Pirate Skull look like The Mask without the green skin.
‘Alexander's bold vision was to be executed by the crack marketing duo of Phil Ley and Simon Morris.’
That’s pretty bold.
You can watch em on YouTube.
Yep, genius marketing which sucked countless teens into wanting an inferior product.
The Beatles v Rolling Stones metaphor is good - might've been 'cooler' at the time but no one in their right mind thinks the Rolling Stones made better music than the Beatles.
Honestly those adult UK ads sound not too far below the worst of Sega of America ads.
The "dog" Game Gear ads. I think even back then it actually did get a few complaints of crossing the line on aggressive advertising. They said you'd have to be "colorblind and have an IQ of less than 12" (they said dog, but for a human it would be someone with legitimate disabilities) to choose to play Game Boy.
The only other SoA ad I can think comparable to the UK ads at least had subtlety that maybe kids wouldn't recognize. A photo of Genesis with 32X "Mommy, what are those two Sega machines doing?" "They're making an arcade system, dear."
And that UK ad "Female players probably can't handle the higher difficulties." Whoah there, I think even that time, a US publication running those would've gotten a few letters about that statement. Not sure how things were over there in the UK.
As you can see, the Mega Drive had double the processing power using the Motorola, compared to the Ricoh that the SNES used. The Mega Drive also displays more pixels on the screen.
The Z80 was used for generating the sounds in the Mega Drive.
I'm not a weirdo who hates his own family so I prefer Nintendo.
@antster1983 Exactly. The huge library of content available at Thames Television combined with SEGA would have been fascinating. I'm a huge Cosgrove Hall fan, which was a subsidiary animation studio owned by Thames, which made the likes of Danger Mouse, Count Duckula, The Wind in the Willows, Chorlton and the Wheelies etc. Just think about the possibilities of what might have been, a Sonic animated series by Cosgrove Hall would have been mind blowing!
@Damo A fascinating article and a very enjoyable read. I'm a bit of a SEGA nut but never knew SEGA almost bought Thames Television, that would have been fantastic. A Sonic animated series by Cosgrove Hall Films would have blown my mind back then.
I've replayed my Mega Drive (sticking to context of the article as a yank, but I always liked MD more tbh) games far more than my SNES games. I am glad I got one in 1990 (I got my own MD for my room for Xmas 1991) even though I was a raving Nintendo Nut at the time.
I like its sound chips (mostly when its the Japanese devs using their custom sound fronts to really make that chip sing) more too and feel it aged much better than the SNES's chip.
I finally got an SNES in fall 1993 with Secret of Mana, Mario World, Act Raiser, and I mailed in for a free copy of Mario All-Stars.
Also known as 1991. Or was it '92? Early 90's are a bit of a blur.
A great article which really took me back. I had a SNES back then, but in recent years have really come to appreciate the mega drive more and more. Even the much derided sound chip could pump that bass in a way the SNES could never replicate. Enjoy both for what they are - amazing consoles- and enjoy 😉
@RadioShadow I am going by wjat Sega said. There really was no blast processor.
@RadioShadow Name me one Genesis game that looked as good as Chrono Trigger, DKC or Killer Instinct.
This was a really, really great article, thank you for that.
The Saturn and the Dreamcast are 2 of the greatest consoles ever and games such as NIGHTS are just sublime. It’s kind of gutting to see Sega basically disappear.
I recognize Peter Wingfield as Tanith in Stargate SG-1, personally. To each his own references .
SNES vs. Genny/MD? Well it depends on what kind of games you like. Fantasy RPGs, Nintendo had a slight lead...Sega had a few classics though, like Lunar. Almost any other genre (especially if you like sports/racing), Sega had faster processors, 60 FPS, and a lot of games had higher resolution graphics. I grew up mostly with Nintendo, but in hindsight, it seems like most games that were on both consoles, Sega got the better version.
@michellelynn0976 The Vectorman games had some pretty impressive pre-rendered graphics at the time. I've never been one to care much about graphics, however, as long as the game was fun. But Sega CD had this crappy Dracula movie tie-in game that blew me away as a kid...all the sprites looked like they were filmed from a movie, and the levels were all pseudo 3D! It still looks pretty impressive today, but that gameplay...not fantastic...
@Asaki the Genesis did have some great games.
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