Sega Master System
Many people probably remember the Sega Genesis and its competition with the Super Nintendo, however fewer people probably remember that Sega also had a system that competed with the original Nintendo called the Sega Master System. Although the Sega Master System was technically superior, there are a number of reasons it was never really able to compete.
The Sega Master System used the Zilog Z80A running at 4 MHZ vs the NES which used a Ricoh NMOS 6502 CPU. This is probably a draw. While the Z80 runs at a faster clock rate, the 6502 gets more done per cycle. However, the SMS had more RAM as the NES (8 kB vs. 2 kB though NES carts often had RAM expansions), more video RAM (16 kB vs. 2 kB), and could display more colors (32 out of a palette of 64 vs. 25 out of 54 for the NES).
Despite these technical advantages, sales numbers for the SMS were much lower than those for the NES throughout most of the world. In the U.S., it finished third behind the Atari 7800. At the end of the day, this was because of the lack of a reasonable quantity of high quality games and poor advertising.
There were a number of very good games for the SMS. For example, the Phantasy Star series started life there and there were several great Sega arcade conversions. However, quality releases were few and far between. Not only did Sega struggle with getting third party developers because of Nintendo’s restrictive licensing agreements but Sega apparently had a strict three month deadline for developing most of their own SMS games which often limited quality and/or depth.
Nintendo had a head start being released nearly three years earlier in Japan than the SMS and nearly a year earlier in North America. This head-start allowed them to obtain the restrictive licensing agreements they were infamous for and also allowed them to establish a market lead that would never be threatened. Sega’s advertising (or lack thereof) didn’t help much either. For a long time, their marketing department was run by two people. It doesn’t matter how great your system is if you don’t put the effort into convincing people. Nintendo did a much better job of this.
Despite all this, the Sega Master System was a great system with some great games, especially in Europe where it was a bit more popular (and Brazil where it is still popular today). The Sega Game Gear hardware was almost identical to the SMS so it lived on a little while longer in that form as well. There was even a simple adapter that you could get that would allow you to play SMS games on your Game Gear (though you could not do the reverse).