In the last 15 years Microsoft’s Xbox has risen to become, along with Sony’s PlayStation, one of the twin pillars of home console gaming. And while stalwart companies like Nintendo have enjoyed success as well, Xbox and PlayStation are Coke and Pepsi.
But while Microsoft’s machine has built a solid reputation for itself through solid hardware and an extensive games library, it didn’t just materialize out of thin air. In fact, it wasn’t even the first of the famous “sixth-generation” of consoles. That honor goes to the Dreamcast, Sega’s last-ditch effort to save a sinking ship and recapture some of the Genesis mojo they’d lost along the way.
The Dreamcast exploded on the scene upon its release in 1999 to rave reviews and high sales, and yet just 18 months later it was discontinued, making room for Xbox’s meteoric rise. But is that all there is to the story, or are these two consoles more intertwined than the official records suggest? Was the Xbox merely a successor to the Dreamcast’s historical footnote, or is there an argument to be made that it paved the way for Microsoft’s console? Here’s looking at the question from a few different perspectives.
Right off gamers will notice an aesthetic similarity between Dreamcast and Xbox—and it’s found in the controllers. While it’s true that there aren’t worlds of difference between many console controllers, it’s clear that Microsoft was influenced by the Dreamcast when they designed their stick. Certainly this can be seen in the four A, X, B, Y buttons in diamond configuration, as well as the sheer size and bulk of the controller. But the real tell is the ports. The Dreamcast controller came with two expansion ports and—surprise, surprise—the Xbox aped that very feature.
The game library
Both the Dreamcast and original Xbox were (and still are) beloved by hardcore gamers for their extensive libraries of solid games. But you can hardly accuse Microsoft of following in Sega’s footsteps by giving gamers good titles. What is more suspicious is that after the Dreamcast’s demise, many of that console’s games, such as “Crazy Taxi” and “Shenmue,” were released on the first Xbox. Then there was the general cross-pollination of titles between the two systems. The popular Xbox series “Project Gotham Racing” was an extension of Dreamcast’s “Metropolis Street Racer”; “Jet Set Radio Future,” a reimagining of “Jet Set Radio” for Dreamcast, could also be found on the Xbox; and the highly popular Sega Saturn game “Panzer Dragoon Orta,” which was supposed to have been released on the Dreamcast, finally found a new home on the Xbox. So, again, the links between Sega and Microsoft are obvious.
The online factor
Upon its release in 2001, Microsoft was eager to push the fact that the Xbox included a built-in modem allowing for online play. For many gamers this was a welcome innovation, and one feature that the other big boy in the room, the PS2, didn’t focus on (at least initially). But Xbox didn’t get there first—the Dreamcast included a built-in modem before any of ‘em.
And while this feature represented the nascent stages of online compatibility for home video game consoles, the Dreamcast also managed to do a pretty good job with it. Sega was forward-thinking enough to allow users to upgrade the internal modem and, most importantly, it delivered on its promise: allowing gamers to fire up the system and play with folks around the world. All one needs to do to see that the Xbox is really Dreamcast 1.5 is to draw a line from that system to the wild popularity of Xbox Live just a few years later.
When Microsoft announced in August 2015 that the Windows 10 operating system was coming to Xbox One, it created quite a buzz. After all, this was the moment Microsoft was finally, after 15 years, combining its two behemoths. But it wasn’t the first time the company had such an idea. The forerunner for putting a Windows operating system on a game console first occurred in ’98, before the release of the Dreamcast. Sega had informally partnered with Microsoft to allow developers to make games on Sega’s own platform or the Microsoft CE OS. To Sega, the notion of gamers being able to play titles both on the Dreamcast console as well as personal computers running Microsoft CE meant less risk that their new console would flop.
But the majority of developers chose to use Sega’s platform to produce titles, and by the end of Dreamcast’s run it had a paltry 50 or 60 CE-based titles. Despite this tactical failure, Microsoft saw the future, and by 2016 they had finally made good on running a slick Windows operating system on a powerful console. Just another way the Dreamcast was the forerunner of the Xbox.
The question of whether the Xbox one is an extension of the Dreamcast, or the Dreamcast is merely a stand-alone precursor to the first Xbox, is one that stokes passionate online debate. Some gamers don’t put much stock in the links between the two systems listed above, while others view much of Xbox’s success as having been built on the back of the Dreamcast. If the above points serve to illustrate anything, it’s that there is some weight to the latter argument.