Sega exited the video game console business nearly 20 years ago, but the company still retains some of the industry’s most iconic characters and beloved classic catalogs. That explains why Sega decided to put resources toward an all-new initiative it’s calling Sega Forever. Announced earlier this morning, Sega Forever is the new banner with which the publisher will reissue games from its backlog on iOS and Android, starting with five titles to be released tomorrow in the US. A new title every two weeks after that, and every game will start out free, with players having the option to turn off advertising forever with a $1.99 in-app purchase.
The first five Sega Forever games are Genesis titles: Sonic the Hedgehog, Comix Zone, Altered Beast, Kid Chameleon, and Phantasy Star II. But Sega doesn’t want to stop there. “I’ve got two decades worth of classic gaming content,” says Mike Evans, Sega’s chief marketing officer and development lead on Sega Forever. “Everything as far back as the SG 1000 Mark I through to Master System, Game Gear, Genesis, Saturn, and Dreamcast.”
The biggest issue to solve for now is emulation. Most classic Genesis games can be easily emulated through the game engine Unity, meaning software is used to effectively trick the original game files into thinking it’s running on different hardware. (Microsoft uses emulation to let the Xbox One play original Xbox and Xbox 360 games.) Sega is even looking to partner with the emulation community responsible for unofficial Master System and SG 1000 emulators to bring that tech to Sega Forever. “We’re looking at how we can work with some of these guys,” Evans says.
But Evans admits that emulation of Saturn and Dreamcast games only gets you around 85 percent of the original quality. And for him, that’s not good enough. “We can’t quite get the quality where we need to get it,” he says. “It’s more expensive to build the ports versus the emulations. It’s more time-consuming.” Porting is different from emulation, in that it requires the game be rebuilt from the ground up, where an emulator allows the game to essentially run on software that re-creates the console it was designed for. So for instance, a 3D game like Panzer Dragoon for the Saturn, which Evans “would love to see come back,” and which can’t be fully emulated, will take quite some time to port for mobile.
Beyond the difficulties of emulation, Evans says the company will prioritize which games to bring to Sega Forever partly using community feedback. “We’re going to look to take requests from the community. We’ll say, ‘Here is the list of titles we have,’ and we’ll say, ‘What will you like to see next?’” he says. “Sometimes it will be tied to a historical event. We’ve hired some new community managers to handle this as well. My firm belief is if you’re going to do this and try and create something for the community, you have to involve the community.”
The end goal of Sega Forever, according to Evans, is to create something akin to the “Netfix of retro gaming.” It may not take the form of a traditional monthly subscription service, at least not on mobile, but Sega wants players to think of its presence on iOS and Android as a gateway to the past that is more accessible and affordable than those of other classic game companies. Nintendo, for instance, still has yet to launch a proper version of its Virtual Console on the Switch and still charges handsomely for access to classic NES, SNES, and Game Boy games when they are released on newer systems.
In line with the Netflix-style philosophy, Evans says Sega is considering a desktop model for Sega Forever that may not include the same type of ad model that exists on mobile. “We could take it to Xbox Live Arcade or PSN as well,” he adds. “The content is evergreen in that sense. Mobile is a great place to start because the platform is ubiquitous.”