Sega, once a dominant force in the console space, has reduced its presence in the sector over the years.
Though it still supports console platforms, the firm is today best known as a PC publisher, producing the likes of Football Manager, Total War, Company of Heroes and Dawn of War.
When I talk about studios, there are three I focus on in particular – Relic in Vancouver (Dawn of War, Company of Heroes), Sports Interactive (Football Manager) and Creative Assembly (Total War),” Sega Europe's SVP of commercial publishing John Clark says. And our four key franchises [listed above] are core PC properties.
With our consumer and studio-led strategy, we're in a really good position for driving community value and experiences. We've really enhanced our business through PC, based on the flexibility that gives us in terms of getting feedback and content created by the community, which is really valuable. Plus, being able to see through data and analytics how consumers interact with the content is really important.
It doesn't mean that we are exclusive to PC. We see PS4 and Xbox One as key platforms for us going forward, especially as they develop their digital capabilities. That's very exciting for us.”
Though Sega has high hopes for Total War: Warhammer, it hasn't been all good news for the fantasy strategy title. In October 2015, Creative Assembly announced that the in-game Chaos race would be a pre-order incentive – news met with a negative reaction from some members of the fanbase.
We look at DLC as enhancing the gaming experience, offering choice for fans to pick the experience they want,” Clark says.
We have been working with that strategy for many years and trying to refine it. You do something for DLC and some people are more supportive than others – that's clear. There's a range of DLC that's offered, some of it is free, some of it is paid-for content. But it is all to enhance the game and the Chaos race is no different.
In terms of people who were annoyed about this, we listened to them and tried to understand why they felt that way.
It all comes down to quality of the game. People wanted to wait and see what Total War: Warhammer is like when it launches, hence why we have extended the duration of the pre-order until one week after release.”
But Sega isn't entirely focused on PC and is bringing a number of popular Japanese games to the Western console market. Following a PC remaster release in November 2014, Sega is launching RPG Valkyria Chronicles Remastered on PS4. And last December it brought Yakuza 5 to PS3.
"We've really enhanced our business through PC, based on the flexibility and data it provides us."
John Clark, Sega Europe
It's about listening to the consumers,” Clark says. For every Sega lover out there and all the fan sites, here at Sega we also employ lots of Sega fans. They all have the same desires and aspirations of the Sega fans that don't work here. We have a concerted effort and almost internal campaign for people wanting to bring all the Japanese content out in the West.
Valkyria Chronicles is a great example of that where internally we pushed and found a way to remaster it for PC, which has gone on to lead to the console release. We'll continue to do that and we feel we have a really good handle on the fanbase because we have a reciprocal fanbase within Sega.”
Unsurprisingly, the publisher has also had a lot of demand for the release of an HD remaster of the first two Shenmue games, even before the surprise announcement of Shenmue 3 at E3 2015.
‘You should bring Shenmue 1 and 2 out' is probably one of the first things that people say when they start at Sega,” Clark laughs. Or when you tell someone you work here. That's one of the most popular questions we get asked.”
Though still an instantly recognisable company mascot, Sonic was missing from Sega's line-up in 2015. This followed years of annual releases that varied from mediocre – 2013's Sonic: Lost Word stands at 63 on Metacritic – or dire – Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, launched in 2014 and has a Metacritic rating of 32. What are Sega's plans for the Sonic brand going forward?
We have the 25th anniversary coming up and there have been items and news stories in the press about that milestone,” Clark says. That's imminent. We have a very talented team over in the US that are currently working out the best and strongest direction to take Sonic the Hedgehog as a franchise.”
As E3 approaches, the question about whether Sega will be in attendance arises. Though one of the founding fathers of the LA trade show, the firm was all but absent last year, not having its own stand on the show floor and instead showing Total War: Warhammer at Koch Media's booth.
At this year's E3, we're going to be showing Dawn of War III behind closed doors, which is certainly one of our most-anticipated and biggest releases that we're going to have coming up in the near future,” Clark says. And through Atlus we're going to be showing Yakuza 0. We are going to announce the full E3 line-up in the coming weeks.”
And looking to the coming twelve months, Sega has a pretty strong release schedule.
Over the next twelve months, we've got a full house of triple-A new releases with Total War: Warhammer from Creative Assembly and Relic's Dawn of War III to be added to the offerings from Sports Interactive,” Clark says. It's a fantastic place to be in.
Additionally, we will have Yakuza. And we also have the exciting announcement that we're partnering up with a small studio in Guildford called Playsport Games headed up by Christian West. He launched a mobile app called Motorsport Manager, which has been very successful and we worked with that team to develop a PC version of Motorsport Manager. We're really excited about that because it's been the first time for many, many years that we have invested in a start-up to try and bring brand new IP to the market.”
Since the start of 2016, things have gone awry in the UK games development scene.
In April, Microsoft closed Fable developer Lionhead, while Sony shut Evolution – the studio behind 2014's DriveClub (though its staff have since moved to Codemasters). In April, meanwhile, Activision ‘restructured' Guitar Hero Live studio FreeStyle.
Sega is a publisher with a sizeable presence in UK games development – Football Manager maker Sports Interactive is based in Shoreditch, Total War studio Creative Assembly is based in Horsham while Leamington Spa is home to mobile specialist Hardlight. And Sega is bullish about the state of the UK games scene.
As well as being really talented teams, our UK studios are based in three hubs of games development in this country,” Clark says.
In those areas there's a lot of vibrancy and with a great deal of talent that's out there. Yes, some studios are closing down, which is really unfortunate, but we're seeing a lot of exciting start-ups