SEGA announced SEGA Forever recently and promised to bring “every classic SEGA game” to Android and iOS for free, and even includes some cool enhancements like cloud saves and controller support. There is some beautiful irony about saying your 16-bit era games will, in fact, support controllers.

There are, of course, also ads. From Polygon:

The big caveat is that every Sega Forever title has ads. […] To get around the ads, players can spend $1.99 to get a purer experience. […] All Sega Forever games will be available at this price, the publisher said, and that includes those coming to the program in the future.

When I heard about this my mind boggled at the possibilities. SEGA pretty much doesn’t have to do anything except slap some ads in an emulator and ship ROMs already floating around the internet anyway. High quality emulators already exist for the 8/16/32-bit systems for mobile devices but the industry precedent this potentially sets is what interests me. Imagine all those retro games you miss or missed, accessible on a device you already carry everywhere you go, for free(ish)!

Except that’s apparently not what they did according to ars technica:

Sega’s performance issues stem from the use of a new emulator based in Unity. […] Players that already paid for one of the launch games… also suffered from issues, including the inability to remove advertisements from the game.

The article goes on to highlight some possibly justifiable sour grapes from Retro Arch:

“Sorry to all the people that are experiencing subpar performance with this Unity thing,” the RetroArch devs tweeted. […] “Hell, they could have had this running on the desktop right now on top of consoles and maybe some netplay as well. Oh well…”

All of this leaves me asking: SEGA… what the hell? All you had to do was pick any of a dozen emulators and sell them to us or slap some ads in there. Cloud saves are cool (and the emulators already support controllers) but nostalgia goggles will make people play classic games without enhancements. Instead of a super slick emulator experience what you end up with is this mess:

Sonic the Hedgehog title screen Ad #1 New Game screen and ad #2 Character select screen and ad #3 Sonic the Hedgehog actual title screen Act 1 complete Ad #4

In the 60ish seconds it took me to open the game and finish Act 1 of Green Hill Zone I got to enjoy four ads, two of which are video ads with countdown-to-skip timers which I’m sure generates huge numbers of mistaps.

I wanted this post to be glowing praise of SEGA for their open mindedness, willingness to adapt to the times, and clever way of generating boatloads of revenue (not to mention good will) for basically no effort. Instead I’m now lamenting the future think pieces that will explain why Sony and Microsoft never followed suit because of how spectacular a failure SEGA Forever was. And don’t hold out hope for Nintendo just yet as they seem to be continuing their strategy of releasing bespoke hardware instead of just giving us the games on the platforms we already use..

Luckily it’s still very early days for SEGA Forever, so I haven’t completely given up hope that they can turn this around and make a compelling case to the industry that the ship-ROMs-make-money business model is a valid one. Sony and Microsoft, if you’re reading this you have an opportunity to Sherlock SEGA and make all your Gen 1 stuff free (with ads if you must 🙄) and show them how it’s done. Plenty of modern devices can handle emulation from that generation, like say the powerful PCs you both make and sell.

Or you can take matters into your own hands and just build a RetroPie.