The answer to how many Mega Drives were sold all together from 1988 to 1998 has long been unanswered, as pointed out by an interesting post over on Digital Press. The most quoted figure seems to be 29 million, but how did a console that was #1 in its generation for so long end up selling 20 million less than the SNES?
Sega has never released official sales figures for its consoles, something Nintendo does regularly. This means that whilst we have a solid figure for sales of the SNES at 49 million, unofficial statistics have to be used for the Mega Drive.
One problem with compiling Mega Drive statistics is the fact that there were so many models released. In fact, the Mega Drive is the console with the most official variations. Does this mean we must only count standard Mega Drive models or more obscure ones as well?
The previously mentioned figure of 29 million has been quoted many times with no source, meaning that it may not be reliable. I have never really understood how a console so popular for so long could eventually be outsold by its main rival, which had been stuck in second place.
Maybe Sega should not have dropped support for the Mega Drive so early - the infamous axing in 1995 was fine for Japan, where focus was needed for the upcoming Saturn, but in the West 16-bit was to be supported up until 1999. This was when Nintendo officially dropped the SNES, almost four years after Sega dropped the Mega Drive. Could this be where Nintendo took over? If so, is it possible to count the officially-licensed Genesis 3 from Majesco in sales despite being released after Sega had moved on?
This leads on to the next problem - seen as how the Genesis 3 was third-party but still officially-licensed, do the latest breed of officially-licensed Mega Drives count in worldwide sales? This includes Blaze's recent handheld and mini plug-and-play models, among others. Perhaps a line should be drawn at 1999, when 16-bit officially ended.
One poster on Digital Press has outlined sales figures that they have compiled:
- Genesis (North America) - 19 million
- Mega Drive (Europe) - 9 million
- Mega Drive (Japan) - 3.5 million
- Genesis 3 (North America) - 2 million
- Mega Drive (Brazil) - 2 million
- Nomad (North America) - 1 million
We will never know the true sales figures for the Mega Drive, unless Sega has them but has not released them. What we do know is that the Mega Drive was the best-selling 16-bit console overall in PAL regions, and dominated most of the generation in North America.