The Story of Segaís Oddest Game Ever

How one of Segaís final Dreamcast releases, SGGG, a videogame about a console-maker on the verge of collapse, offered its fans the chance to change the ending of a story that in real life concluded in tragic fashion.

Released in March 2001, right at the time the Dreamcast hardware was discontinued and Sega began its withdrawal from the console manufacturing business, SGGG (pronounced ‘Segagaga’) is a game whose existence exemplifies why the company of that day is so painfully missed.

Touching upon many genres, from business management sim to shoot ’em up, it is at heart a roleplaying game. Except, instead of being asked to rescue the princess or divert world destruction, your challenge is to save the game-maker from the very real-life forces against which every videogame company battles. It’s almost as if Sega was saying: “Sorry. We tried and failed. Would you like to see if you might have done things any better?” A glorious act of corporate postmodernism, it’s the final soliloquy of how things might have been from a company knelt before its sword.

As such, this is a game that deconstructs the very act of running a successful Japanese console manufacturer, subjecting players to all of the challenges and frustrations with which Sega was so familiar at the time. Full of insightful, clever commentary, it touches upon all aspects of the videogame business, presenting many of the characters, personalities and viewpoints you might find in its real-life inspiration.

From the overworked, underpaid development staff (“Game development is a very special job that requires a very special person. The high stress levels often drive our staff members to become… subhuman. They’re violent and need to be caged. But we need them to make good games. This is the unfortunate truth of the game industry,” remarks one NPC) to the hard-nosed executive wanting only safe, money-making sequels, the issues the game examines are as pertinent today as they were seven years ago.

Often it’s as if Sega is using your character’s voice as a vehicle to vent its frustrations with the very industry it helped define. One particular exchange illuminates and haunts in equal measure. “Games are nothing more than mere products!” exclaims a member of Sega’s management team. “You examine popular market trends, churn out nearly identical titles, and then you rake in the dough! Imitate our competitor’s top-sellers: that’s the golden rule! Throw away your emotions and become a mindless machine. This is how you make successful games.”

“But I want to make totally innovative games that nobody has ever seen before,” your character pleads.

“Innovation? How foolish! Who will take responsibility if the game flops?”

“But if we do it your way, we’ll never attract new customers. Surely it’s worth giving a shot?”

“You know nothing about the business, boy! I’ll teach you the harsh reality of the corporate world!”

And where such commentary might so easily have sounded whiny and bitter coming from this company at this point in its history, the game’s execution is so off-the-wall crazy, light-hearted and inventive that it serves only to make its creator all the more sympathetic and its lessons all the more striking.

But, while the game’s worth and significance is only too clear today, the very fact of its being is something of a mystery. While SGGG’s release date coincided with the Dreamcast’s death throes, the game’s development began a good while before that, when Sega still had hope that things would work out. What sort of management would green light such thinly veiled commentary on its failures? We caught up with the game’s director, Tez (Zolger) Okano, to uncover the story behind Sega’s most extraordinary and unlikely game.