History of Sega in Russia
From Sega Retro
|History of Sega in Russia|
|Official Sega distributor(s): Forrus (1993-1995), Buka (1994-1999), Bitman (1996-1997), R-Style (1997-1999), NVT (2000-2002), 1C-SoftClub (2004-present)|
The modern state of Russia (known officially as the Russian Federation), emerged as an independent state in December 1991, following the demise of the Soviet Union (USSR). The move from a one-party communist state to a more Western-style capitalist society, meant that luxary items such as video games were able to become more widespread. Sega has been involved in the region in various guises since at least 1990.
- 1 Sega Master System
- 2 Dendy
- 3 Forrus
- 4 Competition
- 5 Bitman,R-Style and Buka
- 6 PC Games
- 7 Game crisis in Russia
- 8 Simba's Video Games
- 9 New Game Consoles
- 10 Sega Dreamcast
- 11 1C-SoftClub
- 12 Konstanta Plyus
- 13 AtGames Presence
- 14 Srednesrochnyye finansovyye i real'nyye investitsii
- 15 Mega Drive Mini
- 16 Homebrew Games
- 17 Sega Amusement
- 18 Sititek
- 19 References
Sega Master System
While video games had existed in Russia during the days of the Soviet Union (Tetris being the most well-known example of a Russian video game export), virtually no Western video game companies chose to sell their products inside the bloc.
After Gorbachev's reforms in the second half of the 1980s, the situation changed and more Western culture began pouring into the USSR. Sega had a go at selling the Sega Master System (model no. MK-3096-19) inside the Russian SFSR in 1990. The elusive Russian Master System outputs a SECAM signal (for compatiblity with the Soviet TV standard) and lacks both a card slot and reset button, much like redesigned Master System II console seen elsewhere. Little is known about the console's fortunes, though given its rarity, it is unlikely to have been a success.
Russia's video game market is widely considered to have been created when Russian importing company, Steepler, created the "Dendy", an own-branded Nintendo Famicom sourced from Taiwanese manufacturers. At the time, no legislation existed in Russia to protect video game copyrights - while cloning games and hardware was both illegal in much of the world, the Dendy and its derivatives were perfectly legal in Russia - Nintendo could not stop the console's distribution, and didn't.
With a fully fledged marketing campaign, Steepler was able to dominate its home market, but the economical situation in Russia meant that Dendy was out of reach of most consumers, costing several months' worth of the average worker's salary (and indeed in 1993 it was estimated that 39-49% of the population was classed as being in poverty). Steepler were able to bring the costs down as the years went on however, bringing the console into a more affordable price range around 1994.
In 1993 Nissho Iwai (a Japanese firm which had operated in Russia for decades) got the rights to sell Sega consoles in Russia. The company decided to look for a distributor who want to sell consoles in the country. Negotiations have started with Steepler who, seeing the success of Sega Mega Drive in Europe, also wanted to repeat it in Russia. Nissho Iwai was ready to start cooperation but the company wanted from Steepler to break all contracts with Taiwanese companies that produced Dendy. Steepler did not want to do this and the negotiations ended.
Nissho Iwai created the company Forrus. Sega would sell stock to Nissho Iwai, who would sell it to Forrus, who would distribute to retailers across the country. In November 1993, Sega Master System I and II were released all in European PAL. Mega Drive was released in April 1994 in two variants: model I in Asian version which was distributed in limited quantity and model II in European PAL version which was more available. In the next months Forrus also released Sega Game Gear and Sega Mega CD II, all in European PAL. In 1994, the Sonic - Super Hedgehog program was created which was weekly television show promoting Sega products.
In August 1994, Kunimasa Yagi arrived at the headquarters of Nissho Iwai to present Sega's plans for Russia. He announced that Sega plans to sell 1 million consoles in 3 years and intends to have a 90% share in the Russian video games market. Kunimasa Yagi also said that promotion consoles are limited due to numerous counterfeits on the market.
Not content with just marketing Dendy consoles, Steepler used its position of market leader to market its Mega Drive clone, the Pro 16 Bit. Its distribution channels and associated Dendy brand helped drive sales across the nation - at this point the Dendy was synonymous with video games in general, leading to curious situations were consoles would be referred to as "Nintendo Dendys" or "Sega Dendys". Steepler also distributed its products around former republics of the USSR giving it a territorial advantage over Forrus which in 1994 had only 25 sellers and only in Moscow.
Steepler decided to go further and registered the Mega Drive trademark on June 10, 1994. This meant that according to Russian law, they had the right to sell Mega Drive despite Sega's disagreement. The trademark case would be repeated in Sega's history in this country it will be present even today.
Steepler and Dendy sold games from USA, Asia and pirate versions. Consoles sold by them are Sega Mega Drive 2 in green box which was a clone that looked almost the same as the original consoles, Mega Drive 2 from Southeast Asia and Sega Genesis CDX from USA. In June 1994, Steepler sold 4,000 Sega Mega Drive but planned to increase sales in the autumn from 10,000 to 15,000 for a month.
Its Sega operations were cut short in end of 1994, however, when Steepler was chosen as representative of the Nintendo in all former USSR countries.In Russia and CIS countries, the newly created Dendy company was selected as an exclusive distributor. While the agreement permitted the unlicensed Dendy consoles to be sold, sales of rival products (such as Sega) was restricted. Sega products were sold by Dendy with restrictions but Steepler could sell Sega consoles normally.SNES delivery started on November 15. A large advertising campaign was launched and 10,000 consoles were sold by the end of the year. Unfortunately, only a small part of the games reached the distributor, so customers only bought consoles without games. In January, the promised rest of the games arrived. Nintendo delayed the next delivery of consoles by up to two months. Because of this, Dendy didn't have any goods to sell, so it was decided to negotiate a new contract with Nintendo and permission to sell Sega consoles was given. The high cost of importing original SNES consoles and cartridges from Germany affected the Steepler, which was declared bankrupt in 1996.
Another major competitor to Forrus was Bitman, established in November 1994. In addition to marketing NES clones, the company launched its own Mega Drive, the Super Bitman, based on the infamous KW-501 clone console.
Bitman,R-Style and Buka
In 1994, Nissho Iwai offered Buka the status of authorized distributor, so the company also began selling consoles from Forrus. Sega began to deliver a Mega Drive 2 in Asian PAL standard which was cheaper than EU version. This model become very widespread in country. Buka managed to get along with Steepler and Dendy for the sale of original Mega Drive, but they sold them at a more expensive price than clones.
At the beginning of 1995, Nissho Iwai gave Buka full distribution rights and appointed them as Sega representative in Russia. During the co-operation with Sega sold:
- Mega Drive II- It was best-selling Sega console among the rest. Available in European and Asian PAL.
- Sega Saturn- Released in 1995 in the Asian NTSC but available in small quantities. From January 1996, it has been available in larger units in the European PAL.
- Mega CD II- Available in Asian NTSC and European PAL.
- Sega Game Gear- Available in European PAL. Mega Drive set had Game Gear poster/catalog with games and accessories for it.
- Master System 2- Available in European PAL. Buka was the third company in Russian history to distribute MS. Being aware of previous failures and the presence of the new Saturn console, MS was not advertised and was available in limited quantities. Mega Drive set had Master System poster/catalog with games and accessories for it.
- Mega Drive 32X- Available in unknown specification.
In 1995, 30% of the Sega consoles sold in Russia were clones. The consoles sold by Bitman and Kenmaster had each 10% of sells on the market. Despite the large piracy, Sega recognized Mega Drive as a success in Russia.
To act even more effectively against piracy Sega has chosen a second distributor. After one year of negotiations, in January 1996, an agreement was signed under which the Russian company Bitman became the distributor No.1 of Sega Europe in Russia and the CIS countries With its own chain of stores, Bitman was able to distribute the Mega Drive 2, Sega Saturn, Sega Mega-CD 2, Sega Game Gear, Mega Drive 32X and Sega Pico in addition to the Super Bitman (which was called the official clone) all in the European PAL system. At a joint press conference on June 6th, 1996 this fact was officially confirmed and detailed plans for distribution were presented. Press releases stated that "The Bitman-Sega strategic alliance will lead Russia into the information future." At the conference, it was announced that Sega products will be available for purchase with a one-year warranty and with a certificate of the Russian State Standard. Saturn has also been announced as the main gaming system, but the demand for the affordable Mega Drive II and Pico is also strong. The prices of consoles were very close to the prices of clones, which undoubtedly had a positive impact on the competitiveness of products, especially since clones could be found in most cities. According to CEO of Bitman in 1996, 50% of consoles sold on the Russian market were from Sega, but 35% were either mostly Chinese fakes or official clones (Super Bitman).
After the success of Mega Drive, Sega had high hopes for the distribution of Sega Saturn. The Russian and CIS markets have become a priority among former Eastern Bloc countries.The European version of the console could already be bought from official distributors since January 1996, but full retail sales in other stores began in May 1996. Despite the efforts of Buka and Bitman, Sega Saturn just as in other countries of the world did not sell as good as Mega Drive. This was due to a small number of pirated software that helped Mega Drive and PlayStation gain popularity in the country.
In 1997, Bitman participated in a large-scale campaign to remove suppliers of illegal products from the Russian market. In December 1997, the company was acquired by R-Style, who inherited Sega's distribution agreement. R-Style continued selling the Saturn (European PAL and NTSC-U), Mega Drive II (European PAL), Mega CD II (European PAL) and Pico (European PAL) in the region until the end of the 1990s.
In 1998, it was estimated that there are hundreds of thousands of Sega Mega Drive consoles in Russia (including original consoles and clones).
The Russian PC market for many years was under strong piracy pressure. Compilations that contained many games on one disk appeared as the first. Then came Russian pressed bootlegs that became very popular in the former USSR countries and in former Warsaw Pact countries such as Poland. They were games with covers in Russian. The games were of good quality so at first many people thought that these were original games. Along with their popularity, the first translations of games into Russian appeared also illegal translations of Sega games such as Sega GT by 7th Wolf.
Game crisis in Russia
In 1998, the economic crisis began in Russia. Original games began to cost huge amounts. This resulted in a very high level of computer piracy (95%). Pirate titles were widely available, within a few days of their release, outside of every Moscow metro station. Many realized that official distribution has no future in Russia.
As a leading software publisher in Russia, the CIS and the Baltic States, Buka has seen this problem since it was founded in 1993 and used various methods to limit its impact. They decided to take a risky step, releasing two versions of games, a full box version with instructions (and a small surprise), as well as a cheaper version in the jewel case to compete with pirates in terms of price. The customer has chosen a legal product.
In 1999 Buka also began talks with Nintendo, Sega and Sony to apply a similar solution, but no company agreed. Therefore, it was decided to stop cooperation with these companies. R-Style also decided to focus on selling computers.Although piracy still existed, the government and other companies tried to fight it.
Simba's Video Games
The rights to Mega Drive in 1999 were registered by Mezhregional'naya obshchestvennaya organizatsiya sodeystviya proizvodstvu i realizatsii videoigr. Sega didn't have a representative in Russia at the time, so it couldn't react.
The company also owned the rights to several other brands such as Liko, Game Boy (from 2002) and Simba. The last one had a company called Simba's Video Games.They produced famiclons but with the acquisition of rights to Mega Drive they also began to release clones of this console. This clones became popular. Most of them looked like Playstation.The company also produced accessories for console such as Vzlomshchik Kodov.
New Game Consoles
In 1999, new Mega Drive clones from the New Game appeared on the Russian market. To avoid problems with the use of Mega Drive name, the company named its clone Magistr Drive. The company translate Mega Drive games into Russian.
The Sega Dreamcast also made it to the country. Until 2000, consoles could be bought from imports (usually from Japan) at a high price.
In 2000 NVT was appointed a distributor of Sega in Russia and CIS.Dreamcast was presented in Russia on Comtek 2000 which took place from 17 to 21 April 2000.On November 10, 2000, the distributor began selling the console pre-release and promised its official release at the end of the year. Consoles were sold along with Russian documents.
The end of 2000 was marked by a boom for DC consoles in the CIS countries, which was related to the mass distribution of Russified versions of games (pirated ones) and the decrease in prices of the console and games thanks to official distribution.
Despite the failure of Dreamcast in the world, in the CIS countries the console was well received and could be bought until the end of 2003.
With the popularity of the console, several local distributors decided to buy consoles from Sega and sell them on their own. It happened in 2001–2002 when Big Ben Interactive became a distributor in Western Europe. Local distributors bought consoles cheaply from them and began to distribute Dreamcast along with self made instructions in Russian.
Pirate games translated into Russian were very popular on the market. After some time they became more widespread than the original games.This games were distributed with custom-made packaging.There were a few companies that translated and sold pirate games:
At the time Dreamcast was distributed in Russia, Mega Drive clones could still be found on the market. The most popular were Mega Drive 4, Simba 268, Magistr Drive 5, Mega Drive X.New among these clones were educational consoles, which according to the producers, in addition to the possibility of games, taught foreign languages. These consoles included Obuchayushchiy Magistr and Obuchayushchiy Bakalavr.
In 2004 SoftClub became a distributor of Sega in Russia and CIS, which became a part of the company 1C.More modern games for the PlayStation 2 and beyond seem to be distributed in Russia legally without much concern. The country seems to have adopted the PEGI rating system and games are translated into Russian in a similar manner to other European regions.
In 2006, the rights to the name Mega Drive were sold to Konstanta Plyus.They released a series of devices on the Russian market called Mega Drive Portable. Games were placed in custom-made Game Boy Advance-style cartridges and are compatible in a number of different devices, most of whom steal design tips from Nintendo consoles.
AtGames products are present in this region and are distributed by Cyber Toy. A good chunk of their consoles have been released in the region, including the Arcade Classic and the Arcade Ultimate. Blue and green versions of the Arcade Ultimate appeared in Russia before other regions of the world (namely the UK, in which Blaze Europe introduced the blue variant in 2011), suggesting strong support from AtGames in that region.
The Micro Drive is currently exclusive to Russia.
Srednesrochnyye finansovyye i real'nyye investitsii
In 2017, Srednesrochnyye finansovyye i real'nyye investitsii bought the rights to the Mega Drive name. However, the company has not released any Mega Drive clone since 2017 although older generations of clones can still be bought. Despite this, other pirates on the market are still trying to avoid breaking Russian law and do not use the name Mega Drive in their copies, such as Super Drive, Titan, Retro Genesis, Magistr X and others.
Sega clones are still popular. In 2019, Mega Drive and Dendy clones had an 18% share of consoles sells in Russia.
Mega Drive Mini
Sega said there are no plans to release Sega Mega Drive Mini in Russia. The main reason is the difficult legal situation discussed earlier in this article. Even the 1C company sells Mega Drive clones such as Sega Retro Genesis or Magistr Drive. However, consoles can be bought from international distributors and local importers.
There appears to be a strong homebrew Mega Drive community in Russia, with many of their creations leaking into the commercial market by dodgy eBay sellers.
QubicaAMF is a strategic partner in Russia and CIS countries.
- Velikiy Drakon, "" (RU; 1995-10-01), page 5
- Velikiy Drakon, "" (RU; 1995-11-27), page 5
- Strana Igr, "xxxx xxxx" (RU; 1996-xx-xx), page 53
- File:Migr_8_RU.pdf, page 91
- Strana Igr, "Sentyabr 1996" (RU; 1996-xx-xx), page 89
- File:Radio 2001-12 RU Dreamcast.gif