In many ways, the Sega Genesis was the console that defined home video gaming in the early to mid-1990s, thanks to how it played home to some of the most popular games of the era and to how it was marketed, as well. The system first arrived in Japan, where it was known as the Sega Mega Drive, in 1988, and it arrived in the U.S. a year later (it actually only carried the “Genesis” name in the U.S., and was known as the Mega Drive in nearly every other territory).
The system actually struggled in Japan, where it saw stiff competition from Nintendo’s Super Famicom/Super NES, and from the PC Engine. But it caught hold in America, largely due to how it was marketed. Part of the marketing campaign for the Genesis’ western release was the slogan that simply said: “Genesis Does What Nintendon’t.”
The branding for Sega at the time focused on the Genesis as an edgier, “cooler” console to have over a Nintendo system, and it helped to drive the company to ultimately end up with a 65% market share in the home console arena in the U.S. The arrival of Sonic the Hedgehog around the same time also helped – he, too, was framed as a cooler alternative to Super Mario via a noticeable attitude and a focus on speed.
The Genesis managed to have a strong release in the U.S. thanks to the plan established by Tom Kalinske, CEO of Sega of America, to see it be a success after a weak launch in Japan. This involved cutting the price of the console, creating a team to develop games specifically for an American audience, expand aggressive marketing, and re-bundle the console with Sonic the Hedgehog instead of Altered Beast. The result was explosive out of the gate, and many gamers who had otherwise been waiting for the U.S. release of the Super NES ended up buying a Genesis instead – Sega would go on to outsell Nintendo in the home console market for four holiday seasons in a row.
The Genesis not only became Sega’s most popular console, but has since been considered one of the best and most influential video game systems of all time. It sold nearly 31 million units worldwide and helped to define what video gaming could be in the 1990s. Its continued popularity has led to the announcement of the Mega Drive Mini, a retro throwback console set to arrive in time for the system’s 30th anniversary in 2018.