Dreamcast for rent!

In the UK at the time of the Dreamcast's release there were a variety of places one could rent video games for the weekend. Hell, I did my most of my game playing during that era through my local Blockbuster store (R.I.P) as a large number of the releases on Sega's little white box of joy were suited more to a quick weekend blast, rather than collection keepers. I have particularly fond memories of cramming as much Zombie Revenge, Wacky Races and Dynamite Cop 2 as my 48-hour rental period would permit. However, despite the popularity of gaming in here Japan, video games have never been seen as suitable media for rental use. Hell, even buying and trading games was made illegal at the turn of the century (only to be overturned a few years after) and that is why you will most likely see the infamous “No Resale” mark on most Japanese Dreamcast software.

 Tsutaya media rental
Yet, somewhere around the middle of the year 2000 Sega struck a deal with Tsuyaya, the biggest video rental store in Japan, to rent selected Dreamcast titles through their stores. The service was launched on September 30, 2000 and for just 400 yen (roughly $4) customers could rent a game for 7 nights. Only, Sega titles such as Space Channel 5, Crazy Taxi, Sonic Adventure, and Virtua Fighter 3TB were ever released under the service which was terminated a year later due to the cancelation of the Dreamcast and strong pressure from other game publishers who wanted to avoid a culture of game rental in the country. The rental scheme is another example of Sega’s forward thinking at the time as it attempted to pursue ways to keep the Dreamcast in the public eye. Again, while it may have gone the same way as their online Dream Library rental service, it is still a great addition to the Dreamcast’s fascinating history.

VF3TB made a perfect title for Sega's rental games

In fact, this wasn’t Sega’s only connection with Tsutaya. The company had previously offered an entirely free “Dreamcast Trial” service through the aforementioned rental store in which lucky gamers could apply to rent a customised Dreamcast for up to 7 nights for no cost. Yup, this set was no strings attached, absoloutely free of charge! Unbelievable in the current market and on further investigation it seems was offered as something of a PR offensive after the negative press the company had recieved due to the failure to manufacture the units they had promised (see the hilarious Yukawa commericals for further  insight on this).

The system included in this set came complete in a heavy duty black case marked with the awesome Dreamcast swirl, and “Dreamcast Trial Edition” in Japanese on the outside. The contents, were very similar to a standard boxed system, only that rental editions came with an orange “Dreamcast trial set” sticker sealed on the lid of the console and the front controller, and also came with a plastic card covering how to set-up the system. The console included also lacks the only function of the regular edition and the modem slot is instead taken up by a blank piece of white plastic similar to the consoles sold in Hong Kong, and other parts of Asia at the time.

The Dreamcast trial set

The console lacks the online capabilities of the regular console 
The standard practice was for the set to come complete with 5 different trial games but as they were never strictly specified by Sega it seems that the software differed depending on the store. It seems common however for sets to have featured the “What’s Shenmue” trial disc as well as a copy of the now much sought-after, Jet Set Radio demo disc.

Games varied depending on the store

 A simiplified instruction manual was packaged with the set
The promotion was launched on September 22, 2000 and only ran until the end of November of that year and subsequently there are believed to be as little as 500 of the sets in existence. It has become one of the more desirable editions in recent years due to its novelty factor and splendid heavy duty casing. Interestingly, it appears that at the end of the campaign that the consoles were never returned to Sega and that they were simply given as freebies to the staff working at the particular video store were the games were being rented at the time. Lucky gits!