Sega's been teasing its Sega Forever service for a while now, and has recently indulged in a satfisyingly old-school promotional campaign which includes mailing out cassette tapes with classic Sega tunes on.
Now, the company has finally lifted the lid on the service and as expected, it's exclusive to smartphones right now. Sonic the Hedgehog, Altered Beast, Phantasy Star II, Kid Chameleon, and Comix Zone are the first games available and will go live tomorrow, but Sega is promising new titles every two weeks, and says that the service will cover "Master System, Genesis/MegaDrive, Dreamcast, and more".
Accurately emulating consoles like the Dreamcast and Saturn isn't easy, but Sega Networks' chief marketing officer Mike Evans - speaking to Gamesindustry.biz - says that the company is committed to covering all eras:
Yes, it's more expensive... [and] obviously, the dev time and build progress is longer, but with the increasing CPMs forecast over the next 18 months, We will be able to support those titles as well.
Each Sega classic is free to download on Android and iOS and comes complete with cloud saves, online leaderboards and Bluetooth pad support - all totally free of charge. The catch is that you have to endure adverts, but you can choose to buy each title for £1.99 / $1.99 and play it ad-free, if you wish.
But can a service built almost entirely on nostalgia really have a long-term future? Evans thinks so:
Nostalgia is actually very much in vogue, which is one the reasons we've been chasing it down. Everything Nintendo has been doing has been driving big waves in nostalgia, they've done some amazing things and they had a lot of success with the classic NES. There is a film and documentary coming out about retro gaming called Console Wars. We also have a Sonic movie coming in 2019.
Nostalgia doesn't die away. For a lot of us, this is fundamentally part of our childhood, we've grown up with something that's really formative for us and I don't think that disappears. Things go in and out of trends, but that's been consistent for the last two decades.
The question now is could we see Sega expand this service to other systems, like home consoles? And what does this approach mean for Sega fans who own a Switch? After a flood of classic Master System and Mega Drive games on the Wii Virtual Console Sega took a step back during the Wii U era, choosing to put selected Game Gear, arcade and Mega Drive games on the 3DS only.
Now that the firm is effectively giving its history away using free-to-play tactics, will Sega dare to put these same games on the Switch Virtual Console (when it arrives) at a higher price? Evans is quick to point out that many of the games in this collection are being created using Unity, so porting should be fairly easy:
About 90% of the games so far are in Unity. The reason we chose Unity as middleware is it enables us to take this content to other platforms as well. So my first focus is mobile. It's a huge project and what I really want to do is get mobile right. After this, there are options: we can look at desktop, Facebook, we could even take these games to consoles like Switch.
Let us know your thoughts - and if you'll be supporting this service on mobile - by posting a comment below.