Sega Visions Part 1: Humble Beginnings

The year was 1990, Sega, far from being the software we remember was struggling to gain a foothold in the US market. Having recently regained the publishing rights of its 8-bit console, the Master System from Tonka, it found itself having to manage not one, but two different consoles. Sega executives knew Master System owners had little connection with the software giant, moreover, studies had shown Sega owners were more vocal and more likely to defend their underdog console. For this reason, marketing director Al Nilson wanted to create an official magazine for its userbase and so, in June/July of 1990, Sega Visions was sent out free of charge to all registered Sega Hardware owners.

Sega Visions' premiere issue cover

Now, this wasn't the first Sega themed publication in the US, that honor falls to Team Sega Newsletter, a simple magazine mostly used to advertise Master System products. It's unknown to me whether Team Sega Newsletter magazine was produced by Tonka or Sega. Sega Visions on the other hand was meant to expand on this concept, offering more original content, providing customers with information which could be later used as ammunition against Nintendo fans and more importantly, give its userbase a voice. This allowed Sega to communicate with is estranged Master System demographic and in turn, promote both systems.

A review for the Master System version of Golden Axe touting 'arcade-quality graphics'

At first, Sega Visions functioned more as a glorified ad than an actual magazine with original content. The first few issues focused on advocating the two consoles' software line-up through catalogs, limited time offers and 'reviews' which were seemingly more preoccupied in getting its readers to purchase the games instead of providing an actual critique. This can be witnessed in the Master System Golden Axe review, which touts "Arcade-quality graphics". Though the game is a technical achievement for Sega's 8-bit console, it was still a far cry from what arcade contemporaries displayed graphically. Moreover, it fails to mention Tyris Flare and Gillius Thunderbeard aren't playable in this version or that there is no 2-player mode. Despite this, it still make an arguable claim that "it contains all the elements" responsible for the success of its arcade counterpart, declaring this port as "the new standard for 8-bit videogames". Simply put, the text made little attempts to hide the fact it was a sales pitch first and an analysis second.

The magazine introduces Michael Katz to all Sega readers

Most of this premiere issue consists of ads, catalogs, coupons and 'reviews'. Reading it today however the main draw comes in the form of an introduction letter by then Sega of America President, Michael Katz, fanmail and the magazine's attempts at creating a community. It's ironic how the article states Michael Katz is still "settling" in his new job and that "no one is better equipped to lead Sega" considering he was replaced by Tom Kalinske only a few months after. In a 2006 interview with Sega-16 it became abundantly clear that to this day, Michael Katz (understandably) carries a chip on his shoulder over his abrupt end at the software giant.

Sega FAQs

Being the first issue, the fan mail was expectedly short. With that said, a page was dedicated to frequently asked questions, avid readers may notice most of these were related to a confused consumer who didn't know how the Genesis would affect the Master System's future or in what way did these two systems differ. One inquiry in particular caught my eye, asking why should users purchase a 16-bit console instead of waiting for 32-bit hardware, the answer not only dodged the issue, but even went as far as to imply we would need HD televisions before any system could surpass the Genesis.

Fan mail

As previously mentioned, the fan mail was understandably short, considering this was Sega Visions' first issue. Aptly named "mailbox" only three questions were shown, one from Australia. Considering this magazine was only published in the US it's likely Sega was scrapping the bottom of the barrel, even if the person who contacted them would likely never read the magazine's reply.

Sega Visions' first issue may not have much to show, but we need to keep in mind that at the time, Sega had a mere 8-10% of the console market. It is likely that Nintendo Power's budget exceeded that of Sega Visions' tenfold. In part 2 of this new series, I'll be taking a look at how the magazine grew during the Genesis' early years and how it built a community. This second part will cut off just before the system's peak.

Click here for Part 2

No comments:

Post a Comment