Jurgen Post took over the role of running Sega Europe with plenty of games industry experience, having been something of a protégé of Chris Deering within Sony for 20 years.
Before landing at Sega, where he initially took over responsibility for Benelux, he had spent plenty of time in the music business too. And, whatever the games industry’s current challenges, he knows where he’d rather be.
“I helped launch the original PlayStation in Europe with Chris, they were fantastic times. But I have also worked in the music business with both Sony and BMG,” Post explains.
“Being in music itself is great, but you don’t want to be working for a record company. Record companies are lost and everything is going down or being cut back. So Sega was a great opportunity to move back into the games industry.”
Having run Sony BMG in the Benelux, Post got the job of setting up Sega’s operation there, splitting from distributor Atari. But as that office became well established and senior execs began moving around on a global level, Post added the pan-Euro role to his domestic gig.
Mike Hayes, looking to strengthen Sega America, enticed Alan Pritchard across the Atlantic in the summer, and so Post became the first non-British boss of Sega Europe in a decade (remember JF Cecillon, Dreamcast and all that money wasted on Arsenal FC shirt sponsorship?).
Post knows that Sega today is in a different phase to even that of a couple of years ago, when he first set up the Amsterdam office.
“There has been a big jump forward, thanks very much to Mario and Sonic. Now we have that franchise, other Sonic plans, plus some big IPs like Football Manager, Virtua Tennis, Total War and more.
“The biggest change since I first started at Sega is that it has gone from a very small publisher to a successful, medium-sized publisher. The challenge now is about sustaining our position and doing the right things going forward.”
SEGA’S NEW AGE
UK, Benelux and Australia are Sega’s best performing territories historically, although these have been hit most by a weaker overall market in 2010.
Sega had a good quarter to end of March, but Post admits that the company has been quiet since then. Indeed, he has been quiet, in a media sense, getting down to work on the territories rather than giving interviews.
“Our financial year starts in April and it has been quite a tough start, but we are very happy to be moving now with Football Manager, Sonic Colours, Sonic Free Riders and Vanquish all before Christmas. Finally we have got something new to sell again.”
But what is it, specifically, that has caused some of the recent trade opinion that Sega has struggled a wee bit in terms of sell-through against expectation? Even Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games had some people muttering last Christmas.
“Well, I’d say we’re no exception to the rule. Yes, we have found things a little harder than expected in the past year, but so has everyone.
“The main reason was, quite simply, putting in numbers a little bit too high. Maybe we have to be more careful in the future.
“It is all about better forecasting.”
Post says that, across the European market in general, growth is coming from Spain (“up 10 per cent this year so far”) plus Italy and Scandinavia, with Germany flat, France down a little.
UK, Benelux and Australia are feeling most pain.
He attributes this to the fact that some territories, like the UK, are more advanced in their platform lifecycles, thus experiencing bigger leaps and subsequent dips.
Any local market issues, he says, are driven more by saturation, piracy (on the DS) or changing consumer habits rather than macro economic pressures on consumers.
Whilst hopes are pinned on Christmas titles, Sega has settled into a clear strategy now of focusing on key brands.
New IPs, such as Vanquish, and Alpha Protocol before that, will still be tried. But Sega knows more than most how hard it is to break new brands late in a technology cycle.
“We know we have Sonic and Football Manager this year, a new Total War next year, and a new Sonic and Virtua Tennis next year. These are the kind of titles that will allow us to focus on being healthy and profitable.
As Post zones in on what his and Sega Europe’s objectives are, there is an uncanny similarity to Sega West president and CEO Mike Hayes. The mantra that profit is sanity and sales are vanity runs deep amongst the likes of Post, Pritchard and UK boss John Clark.
“Maybe year-on-year we are one per cent up on last year, even after a quiet summer, because we now have strong catalogue titles that are being managed well. But just growing share is really not our focus. That would be nice, but profitability is the goal.”
To that end, Sega in the UK avoided summer price promotions, with the view that Sonic Racing and the Mario & Sonic titles can hold their value and make good sales through winter.
Some Sonic titles have even been deliberately retired, so that there is no consumer confusion as newer, sharper Sonic titles come to market.
“Sonic Racing and Mario & Sonic will benefit from the marketing activity for Colours and Free Riders. Any Sonic game with an average Metacritic has been de-listed. We have to do this and increase the value of the brand. This will be very important when more big Sonic releases arrive in the future.
“We could make a lot of money on back-catalogue Sonic titles, but let’s keep price at least at mid price and let’s keep the number of Sonic games available under control. Otherwise you can have cannibalisation. If there are ten Sonic games on the shelves, with people seeing Sonic Rush DS or Sonic Rush Adventure, this may not help our overall strategy.
“Let me be clear again. In Europe, Sega has three pillars in Sonic, Football Manager and Total War. We are going to be working very hard to make these franchises bigger.”
Profit, longevity, long-term planning. This is the new Sega. Possibly fewer risks after some hard lessons on new IPs. And, for the foreseeable future, no more setting up of local HQs.
“We are happy with where we are and what we’ve got. We won’t be setting up HQs in, say, Italy or Scandinavia. There has been a good deal of success here in the past few years and, for me, taking over as head of Europe has been like jumping onto a train at full speed. My job is to ensure things continue to run smoothly.
“Sega is still one of the youngest publishers in Europe. Rob Cooper has been at Ubisoft for 10 years, whilst Sega has only been a multi-format publisher for five or six years. We have learned a lot, but must continue to learn.”
So, finally, as if we didn’t know, what does Mike Hayes want from his new man in Europe?
“You can scribble it on a piece of paper. It’s a couple of numbers that we have to hit. Simple as that.”