Friday, April 12, 2019

[YouTube] Letters From Sega

When I was younger I'd write letters to game companies. Most of the time I believe I was inquiring about upcoming products and probably offering ideas for new games that, of course, would always be politely declined. Today with the Internet, electronic mail, and social media we're overloaded with more information than we need on every game. It's also much easier to reach out to those that make games and yet, at least to myself, it feels like there is less of a connection. In 2019 more people play games than ever before and I expect the big publishers get flooded with messages on a daily basis. Obviously there isn't time to reply to everyone and certainly not via snail mail which is time consuming and costly, and so that personal touch is not something modern game players will likely ever experience. However, 30 years ago the industry was still small enough that players could feel like they were part of something bigger and that they mattered.

While I own quite a few video games, one of the highlights of my collection isn't a game at all, it's a hand-written letter from Sega. Based on the responses I still have, I wrote to Sega at least five times between 1988 and 1996. Only the first response I received is hand-written; that's the one from 1988, before Sega grew in preparation for the launch of the Genesis. That first letter being hand-written makes it feel much more personal than the other responses, and certainly leaves a positive impression, especially on a kid.

In the letter scans the addresses are removed which is why you see blank spaces even though I'm sure you can see that in the video. I know I put so much personal data out there already that it likely doesn't make a difference. Anyway, as you can see in the letter it does begin with the standard corporate message and then Sandy talks about the games I must have written about. I never did get Phantasy Star, unfortunately, as I think I got Miracle Warriors instead and then moved onto Genesis games the next year where I played a lot of Phantasy Star II. Sandy might be taking a shot at Nintendo with the strategy guide remark and as she states, she did send me hints which is something Sega often did. You can find numerous scans and videos of the hint pages online that fans received back then which, like the letter, was very nice of Sega to do. I've no idea what Nintendo's customer service was like but Sega's was top-notch and it had to be since it was way behind Nintendo in the 8-bit market. The rest of the letters aren't nearly as interesting and are all typed but you can see the various Sega letterheads. Looking at the envelopes and reading the letters in order does paint a picture of the changes going on at Sega as it got bigger and bigger with its success in the 16-bit generation.

I did search on the name of the person who wrote that first letter (and the second one which is typed) to see if they still worked in the industry and if I could actually ask them a few questions about their time at Sega. My search failed though I did find a Sega newsletter at Sega Retro (Page 10) that has an article about Sega's customer service department in 1988. It's a great read that details how the department operated and the eight employees that worked there, half of which worked the phones. Sega had a toll free phone number for a while but I was much too shy to ever call that. The Master System wasn't huge in North America so I was surprised to learn that the four people that answered the phone lines received about 1,000 calls every week! The team also got to play all the games at work when they weren't writing or answering phones; they had to so they could be knowledgeable when writing to or speaking with the fans.

That Snail Maze game letter is kind of funny because it's written as if Sega suddenly decided to give me a free game when the game was always in the Master System console. It was a nice bonus to learn about and without the letter I'm not sure when I would have found out about it (magazines likely mentioned it eventually). I couldn't scan everything Sega sent since it would have taken way too long as there are a lot of hints and many pages of release information. However, you can see some of that in the video and I did scan some random pages. I'm not including Sega Visions here which was a free magazine Sega sent its customers beginning in 1990, another great gesture. Also, although that newsletter that looks like a magazine cover says $3.50 on it, I did get that for free as well. 

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