SEGA of America’s attempts at keeping the Genesis alive by the mid-1990s (following the announcement in early 1995 that the Genesis would be discontinued) came on the heels of several different products. The SEGA Channel was offered beginning in 1994, but there were also two kid-friendly attempts to market the system to younger audiences. Do you remember SEGA Pico, and SEGA Club?
Previously, on Allison’s Written Words…And Retroist!
Earlier this week, wrote an article about SEGA Channel, the mid-1990s offering of a subscription-based game service that delivered fifty games (later seventy) monthly (later bi-weekly). That service ran between December 1994 and July 1998. It came about at the beginning of the end for SEGA Genesis, and was a way to keep the system alive despite SEGA turning its attention toward SEGA Saturn.
I wrote about it based on my own user experience with the service (I was a subscriber from January 1996 until it was discontinued in July 1998), what memories I had of the service, and what the perks were of having it in our home. I peppered it with videos, of course, because that’s how I roll when I’m writing.
And this GIF helps too.
That service, in itself, was not the first subscription-based video game delivery via the local cable company – I’m working on an article about an earlier type of service for next week on my blog.
SEGA Channel, as I was aware (and have rediscovered over the years) was not the only last-gasp attempt at keeping the Genesis alive in the mid 1990s, but the other two were marketed to a child-friendly crowd.
They were the SEGA Pico, and the SEGA Club, and they lived and died within a very short amount of time right at the same time the SEGA Channel was established.
The SEGA Pico was a standalone SEGA Genesis-type edutainment toy marketed to children between three and seven years old. The Pico was released in North America in November 1994 (it saw a release in Japan in June 1993), and sold for $139 (a successor version by another manufacturer retailed for $49.95, more on that later).
SEGA Pico’s hardware is the same as the Genesis, but looks like a laptop, with a Magic Pen to draw and point with. Character movement is done with the directional buttons. Content was displayed on a television screen via Composite video.
The cartridges are called “Storyware,” and are picture books with video game cartridge slots attached to them. Games focused on educational topics (music, counting, colors, coloring, spelling, reading, and matching). Their retail price ranged from $39.99-$49.99.
Wikipedia has a complete (and quite numerous) list of Storyware offered for the Pico (including the Japanese titles). Of course, it wouldn’t be SEGA if there wasn’t a Sonic The Hedgehog game, so yes, he did get his time in the Pico Smiling Sun!
Downfall of the Pico
The SEGA Pico’s sales in the United States were lackluster, leading to its discontinuation in early 1998 (the same year, coincidentally, that SEGA Channel was discontinued). Majesco Entertainment re-released the Pico in August 1999, retailing for $49.99, with Storyware starting at $19.99. As of 2005, 3.4 million Pico units and 11.2 million software cartridges were sold during the Pico’s lifespan.
The Pico sold in Japan until 2005, when it replaced by the Advanced Pico Beena. This version offered advancements, including a separate Magic Pen to encourage multiplayer play, as well as the ability to play without a television, and can save data. So 2000s educational topics include
intellectual, moral, physical, dietary and safety education. Some games even offered adaptive difficulty based on skill level.
And of Course, I Found VIDEOS!!
Because, why wouldn’t I?
Here’s a 1994 commercial for the Pico:
And his 1996/1997 Pico commercial, which proves that the line between SEGA commercials geared toward little kids, and the ones for the bigger set, is pretty much non-existent. I love how SEGA attempts to have “edge” even when marketing to younger kids!
And this commercial, from the (sadly) departing Sears…
From one child-friendly SEGA venture in 1994, to another (very short-lived) child-friendly SEGA venture, the time they marketed Genesis games to children!
If you needed thirty seconds to explain SEGA Club to parents, this was how SEGA did it.
“Because kids like to do stuff,” SEGA felt this was the right opportunity to market their SEGA Genesis to the child-friendly crowd with games made just for them!
Games were packaged the same way your standard SEGA Genesis games were, but with a very 1990s logo emblazoned on the box (so parents couldn’t quite miss them?), because seeing cartoon characters from Disney Afternoon on a video game box wasn’t enough.
Honestly, no thirteen-year-old played Richard Scarry’s Busy Town…except for my brother. Who thought it was a “horror game.”
Because it was in the Family Room section of SEGA Channel for a reason and he blatantly ignored that.
I tried Barney’s Hide and Seek Game for “laughs,” so I’m equally guilty.
Anyway, SEGA Club.
What Was SEGA Club?
As I said, SEGA Club was a child-friendly marketing strategy for the SEGA Genesis. Basically, it was a lineup of side-scrolling games made for the younger set.
SEGA Club was ushered in in July 1994 with the game Wacky Worlds, and had games on the three current SEGA systems: SEGA CD, SEGA Genesis, and the Game Gear. In total, nine games were released for the Genesis/Mega Drive, three for the Game Gear, and only one for the SEGA CD.
So, what happened?
The Quick End of SEGA Club…
…was the result of the discontinuation of SEGA Genesis.
As I discussed in my SEGA Channel article, the end of anything SEGA Genesis-related came with the announcement in 1995 that all development for the Genesis would end, as the Saturn was on the horizon. While ventures like the SEGA Channel and the aforementioned SEGA Pico continued for a few more years (both until 1998), the SEGA Club ended much sooner.
The other reason, aside from the discontinuation of Genesis-geared development, was that the Saturn did not have games marketed to children, thus ending this brand identity for SEGA.
The initial marketing was to also include a SEGA Club-themed SEGA Mega Drive (Model 2), but instead, there was a short run on SEGA Club-themed controllers marketed “for smaller hands.”
And this was the proposed console…
Alas, SEGA’s change of marketing heart made this the shortest-lived venture for SEGA, about one year, as opposed to the four years for the other two late-life SEGA Genesis ventures.
The sad shame of this end-of-Genesis-life marketing is that it really was the beginning of the end of the SEGA as we knew it. The next few consoles released in the post-Genesis world were not the hit that Genesis was. Many attempts were made to extend its life (in terms of peripherals, the 32X and SEGA CD), but in the end, flat out discontinuation really seemed as if SEGA’s fate was sealed.
But all the attempts to keep it going, as well as SEGA’s focus on the kid-friendly set, were interesting, if not nostalgically celebrated.
Oh SEGA’s child-marketed attempts, we hardly knew ye.