The details on Nintendo's new machine are out: The Dolphin, as it's known, is slated for a holiday release in 2000. It will be powered by an IBM PowerPC processor and will not be cartridge-based, but rather DVD-based -- just as Sony's upcoming PlayStation 2 is, interestingly enough. Sega had also once talked of DVD -- which potentially transforms a game console into an entertainment system, since you can play both games and movies on it -- but eventually let go of the idea. And that may hurt the company in the long run.
Not that Sega seems to think so. Wandering around the company's E3 booth Thursday with David Karraker, vice president of Sega's PR agency, Access Communications, I heard nothing but confidence. Sega's Dreamcast machine is built and coming out, unlike the other two "next generation" machines from Sony and Nintendo, which are still in development. Third-party support for Dreamcast is "terrific," says Karraker -- although "decent" might be a better word. And take a gander at the 46 games on the show floor and the dozens more lined up for release, he suggested.
After spending some time playing the various games and seeing what Sega had to offer in terms of good games actually on their way to the Dreamcast, I have a higher opinion of its chances of success, though I'm still not convinced that it's going to be the industry-sweeping sensation Sega is touting.
When Nintendo announced that it was going to build its new machine around DVD, instead of the cartridges it has used in the past, it entered into direct competition with Sony, whose PlayStation 2 will also be DVD. Sega's machine is based on the older CD format, so it's not entering this head-to-head DVD machine contest.
Everyone agrees that the console industry benefits from having three companies making hardware -- better competition means more and better games and cheaper hardware. For that reason, most observers, me included, would like to see Sega survive and prosper in this market.
Gamers buy systems based on the games available: They want to put their dollars into the system that has good hardware, but, more importantly, into one that's going to provide them with great game-play and fun. This much the Dreamcast can do. However, as the gaming industry gets larger and works harder to draw in the mass market, more than just serious gamers will be buying console systems. And to them, the question of whether the system they're buying is just for games or might be used for watching movies may well matter, giving Sony and Nintendo a huge advantage. If that happens, Sega could be in a world of hurt.