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A Brief History of Gaming
The Sega CD Killed the Pack-In Game
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on March 15, 2012   |   Episode 23 (Show Archive)  

            
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This is one of Sega's humble advertisements!
Once upon a time in a world very different from now, video game companies used exclusive pack-ins to tempt consumers to buy their systems. The Genesis dangled Altered Beast in front of fans, the Super NES had Super Mario World and the TurboGrafx-16 punished early adopters with Keith Courage in Alpha Zone. Even if these weren't always the best titles, gamers knew that they would have at least one game to play when unboxing their new system.

Game players aren't as lucky these days. Oh sure, the Nintendo Wii came with Wii Sports and the PS Vita had a bundle at launch. But outside of those anomalies, video game systems don't launch with pack-in games anymore. These days you are lucky to get the system, a controller and an instruction manual, let alone a game to play. And even if you do get a game, it's usually a throwaway downloadable title nobody asked for in the first
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Wii Sports is the exception to the rule!
place. Microsoft launching the Xbox 360 with Hexic HD is not the same as Nintendo giving away one of the best platformers of all time with every purchase of the Super NES.

I know what you're thinking: How could this have happened? Some will point to the rising cost of making both hardware and software. Others will tell you stories about how the economy isn't like it used to be. A few will sit you down and force you to play Altered Beast until you stop asking. But these people are all wrong. The real reason nobody offers pack-in games is because of the Sega CD.

Sega must have known going in that releasing a CD add-on was a risky proposition. Not only was it hugely expensive to manufacture, but it had the potential of splitting the market and doing damage to Sega's brand. This is a company that had been riding a wave of good press thanks to successful
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How different things would be if Sonic CD was the pack-in game!
showings at major conventions. But with costs spiraling out of control and a market that had already rejected the TurboGrafx-CD, the Japanese company had only one option: Load the Sega CD with hundreds of dollars in games, music and videos.

When Sega announced the three hundred dollar price tag, they made it a point to emphasize the "$300 worth of free software." It's almost as if you're getting the system for nothing. The press release continues, "Coupled with a $99.99 Genesis, the Sega CD gives you a high powered multimedia system, with software, all for under $400." Although Sega had reason to crow, gamers that actually looked at the "$300 worth of free software" had every right to be skeptical.

In total, Sega packaged a whopping six discs in the Sega CD box. For three hundred dollars, gamers picked up five Genesis ports, a TurboGrafx-CD game, a CD sampler, a collection of CD+G songs and the introduction of Virtual VCR. With the possible exception of Nintendo's Ambassador Program, this is the most amount of "free" software ever given away with a brand new game console.

In fact, it's too big of a haul. By packing so much crummy content into one box, Sega effectively killed the importance of the pack-in game. This act of desperation was felt throughout the industry, leading to the PlayStation, Xbox, Dreamcast and GameCube all launching without a pack-in game.


This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the Sega CD. I've had two decades to crunch the numbers, and I still can't figure out how Sega gets to "$300 worth of free software." Yet it's the type of thing that was pushed in advertising, point of purchase displays and in magazines. It's bad enough that
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the Sega CD ruined pack-in games for everybody else, but I would hate to think that one of my favorite first-party companies is a liar. Let's do the math.

Sol-Feace (Price: $59.99): One of two standalone games packaged with the Sega CD, Sol-Feace is a port of a cartridge-based shooter from Wolf Team. Despite already hitting the Genesis, this 2D shooter won over critics with its unique play mechanics and detailed visuals. Outside of offering a few noteworthy cinemas and some kickass tunes, Sol-Feace didn't do
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much to show off Sega's overpriced, single-speed CD system. It's a perfectly unspectacular shoot-em-up that few people remember being packaged with the Sega CD.

Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective (Price: $59.99): Britain's most popular sleuth had something of a trial run on the TurboGrafx a year before Sega released their CD add-on. Still, this year-old port wowed critics and consumers with its improved voice synching and full-motion video. This is the showpiece game, thanks to the disc's minutes of live-action video starring real actors. It featured three unique cases (The Mummy's Curse, The Mystified Murderess and The Tin Soldier) and
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absolutely zero replay. On the other hand, it definitively proved that the Sega CD was better at full-motion video than its competition. Much like Sol-Feace, this game would have retailed for the standard $60 asking price of a Sega CD launch game.

Sega Classics Arcade Collection (Price: $59.99): Assuming that Sol-Feace was included for the rockin' CD soundtrack and Sherlock Holmes found his way into the box because of the full-motion video, I guess this Sega Classics Arcade Collection is here to demonstrate the large storage size of a compact disc. This disc features four Sega Genesis hits, including Streets of Rage, Revenge of Shinobi, Columns and Golden Axe. Even with a funky
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menu and some technical glitches, this is easily the best game disc packaged with the Sega CD. Unlike the other two games, I'm not convinced Sega would have charged full price for this Genesis compilation. Then again, I see no reason why they wouldn't, so I'm sticking with the $60 price point.

The Colors of Modern Rock (Price: $29.99): The box proudly states that this Virtual VCR disc is a "groundbreaking technology developed by Digital Pictures (Night Trap) that permits the Sega CD-ROM to display real motion video." In other words, it's a small laserdisc. While the disc is supposed to play an hour of video content, this particular collection only features six music videos. We get blockbuster tunes from top hit artists like Too Much Joy, T-Ride, The Belltower, Xtra Large and Dramarama. Perhaps the only well-known act was Mr. Big, whose "To Be With You" has been featured in movies and Rock Band 3.


Hot Hits: Adventurous New Music Sampler (Price: $14.99): This is the point where Sega completely gives up and just tosses in a music CD. There are no videos on this disc; it's simply audio you feed to your $300 game system. Hot Hits features ten bands you may or may not have heard of, including They Might Be Giants, The Escape Club, Lush, Throwing Muses, Yo-Yo, Saigon Kick
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and Chubb Rock. Incidentally, Dramarama makes a second appearance with "Haven't Got A Clue" (video above), the hit song featured on The Colors of Modern Rock.

Rock Paintings: CD+G Sampler ($14.99): The final disc featured even more music, this time with graphic accompaniment. In case you've never heard of CD+G before, it was a technology that allowed record publishers to incorporate the ugliest visuals of all time on the TV screen while playing music. This wasn't exclusive to the Sega CD, it was the type thing you could play on a number of machines. This specific sampler featured hits from Little Feat, Information Society, Chris Isaak, Fleetwood Mac and Jimi Hendrix. But don't get too excited, because every second of the song is ruined with the visual abortion happening on your TV screen.


No matter how many times I add it up, I still get $239.94. I've never been so overwhelmed by a collection of discs this underwhelming. Sometimes I wonder if Sega knew what they were doing when loading the Sega CD with so much crap. Would they do it again? Either way, Sega changed history and proved that simply throwing free software at the consumer won't make them buy your expensive hardware. That's a lesson learned the hard way.

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