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The Sega Master System (know as Mark III in Japan) was Sega's step into the gaming world, in 1986. Sega also released the 'Sega Master System II' in 1991, to serve as a 'budget console' to those who could not afford a Mega Drive/Sega Genesis, which was initially released 2 years before, in 1989.


Before the Master System, there was Sega SG-1000, SC-3000, and Sega Mark III.

Unfortunately none of them are a commercial success, so then Sega decided to develop a successor of all the preceding system with better, newer, and faster hardware than the Famicom.

Engineered by the same internal Sega team that had created the SG-1000, the Mark III was a redesigned iteration of the previous console. The CPUs in the SG-1000 and SG-1000 II were Zilog Z80As running at 3.58 MHz, while the Mark III, SC-3000—a computer version of the SG-1000—and Master System feature a Z80A running at 4 MHz. The Mark III and Master System also carried over the Sega Card slot used in the SG-1000.

For the console's North America release, Sega restyled and rebranded the Mark III under the name "Master System", similar to Nintendo's own reworking of the Famicom into the Nintendo Entertainment System. The "Master System" name was one of several proposals Sega's American employees considered, and was ultimately chosen by throwing darts against a whiteboard, although plans to release a cheaper console similarly referred to as the "Base System" also influenced the decision.

Sega Enterprises Chairman Isao Okawa endorsed the name after being told it was a reference to the competitive nature of both the video game industry and martial arts, in which only one competitor can be the "Master".[1] The futuristic final design for the Master System was intended to appeal to Western tastes.[2]


In Japan the Master System managed to do considerably better than the SG-1000, however it could not compete with Nintendo's Famicom. It also had a limited library in part due to Nintendo's licensing practices which prevented third parties from making software for rival consoles.

In North America the Master System struggled to distinguish itself, in part due to Nintendo having already built a strong presence in the region with the NES being the game console said to have brought the North America market back from the video game crash of 1983. Nintendo's licensing practices also prevented many third party video game companies for developing games for rival consoles, leaving the Master System with a reduced library both in North America and Japan.

In Europe, The Master System found far greater success however as the video game crash had not affected the market there in the same way.

Nintendo had also failed to consider Europe a high priority when marketing their consoles, and as a result Sega managed to make a name for itself, with the Master System greatly outselling the NES by 1990[3]. The PAL region recieved many exclusive titles never seen in either North America or Japan, in part due to Nintendo's lack of licensing presence as a result. The Master System as a result was only discontinued in 1996, giving it an impressive 9 years on the market in the region.

The UK in particular had been a mostly homebrewed country, with a focus on home computers such as the ZX Spectrum being seen far more commonly than consoles such as the NES. By the time the Master System arrived however the ZX Spectrum was beginning to look dated, and coupled with a low price and an aggressive marketing campaign "Do me a favour, plug me into a SEGA", the UK quickly became one of the biggest markets for Sega.

In Brazil, the Master System became a huge success largely in part to Tectoy, a Brazillian toy and electronic company who succeeded in obtaining the distributor rights in the country. They managed to claim 80% of the country's video game market[4].


  • The Sega Master System is still being sold in Brazil at the time of this writing(2021) as a plug in and play console, making it the console with the longest lifespan at 32 years ever. For context the Mega Drive only lasted 7 years in the region, and the Dreamcast lasted two years.



  1. "Bruce Lowry: The Man that sold the NES". Game Informer. Gamestop. 12(110): 102-103. June 2002.
  2. Parkin, Simon (June 2, 2014). "A history of video game hardware: Sega Master System". Edge. Archived from the original on June 5, 2014. Retrieved September 13, 2014.
  3. Complete Guide to Consoles
  4. Sega-16 interview
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SG-1000 · Sega Master System · Mega Drive (Mega-CD·32X·LA·Mini) · Sega Saturn · Dreamcast