What was the highlight of 2008 for Sega?
Alan Pritchard: Mario and Sonic at The Olympic Games. With two million games sold, you can see how that was a big deal for us.
John Clark: Agreed – we re-advertised this game, which was a first for Sega, and it has proved to be very successful. Another highlight has been the success of Beijing 2008. In terms of value, Beijing is the most successful Olympics title yet – although it was just behind Athens on the PS2 in terms of units.
AP: It’s important for Sega as a publisher to achieve strong results on PS3 and 360, and Beijing has probably been our biggest success on these platforms, enjoying over ten weeks in the top five of each format chart. Viking: Battle of Asgard and Condemned 2 have also done well, but Beijing has been our most significant launch on PS3 and 360.
But Sega’s movie tie-ins maybe didn’t live up to expectations. Will you move away from film licences?
AP: As part of the deal with Marvel, we are committed to releasing two more titles in the next few years, in the form of Thor and Captain America.
If you rewind the clock two or three years, Sega needed to add some weight to its line-up and licensed properties were a way of doing that. EA, THQ and Activision had done well in that space so we started with The Golden Compass, and Iron Man and The Hulk followed shortly afterwards.
Movie licensed products are struggling to do the numbers they were perhaps doing three years ago, especially with the earlier than expected demise of PS2.
JC: It’s important to note that the success of movie licensed games is linked to the critical and commercial performance of the theatrical release. In addition, not too long ago, this market seemed to offer growth. So now we see most publishers represented in what is a busy sector.
What are Sega’s ambitions for 2009?
AP: Our ambitions are to continue to be a profitable publisher, and in doing so, we’d like to maintain our current market share and publisher rankings. With the breadth of titles we have on multiple formats, we are well placed to do that.
JC: We’d also like to maintain the success we’ve had on Nintendo formats. One way of achieving that is with new IP like The Conduit and MadWorld, and traditional Sega titles will continue to drive broader market success.
Another key element of your 2009 line-up is hardcore Wii titles. Do you feel core gamers are under-represented on Wii?
AP: There have been some good hardcore Wii titles. Resident Evil 4 has done reasonable numbers; Red Steel has also performed really well. But since then, many publishers have migrated towards the more mass-market family titles, so perhaps there hasn’t been the array or depth of hardcore titles on Wii.
JC: More family friendly titles are being released on PlayStation and 360 as this is a growth area for these formats. Maybe with Wii there’s a reverse opportunity.
You’ve got a lot of new IP coming. Is this a new key focus for Sega?
AP: It is a focus, because Sega could very easily be a publisher that brings just Football Manager, Virtua Tennis and Sonic to the market. But, to have a more rounded line-up, we need to look outside of our portfolio. New IP is a challenge, something that is only too evident with many recent titles underperforming – but it’s necessary.
JC: Every publisher needs new IP. A balanced portfolio is vital for publishers to succeed, and non-licensed IP is a key part of that balance.
How do you separate adult Sega from family-friendly Sega?
AP: We initially debated that internally, when we started signing titles like the original Condemned, and at the time we did a lot of focus testing. Although the Sega brand is a great brand to have, people don’t necessarily buy games because they have got that name on the box. These are titles that are purchased on their individual merits and strengths.
Are you concerned about the current economic climate?
AP: It’s difficult to tell. We’ll have to see what happens at retail, and I think everyone’s feeling the pinch a little bit. There could be further consolidation of publishers, and retail and distribution have clearly been affected. There are signs that suggest this will be a tough year. From a Sega point of view, we are optimistic about our line-up, and you’ve only seen about half of it so far.
JC: Publishers and distributors are feeling the pressure. What has happened over recent weeks with the loss of EUK will have a big effect as we need strong, established, multiple routes to market. In 2009 we’re going to see some changes on how games are sold at retail.
AP: Aside from the installed base for PS2, the combined installed base of the other formats is around 20 million consoles. So there are still a lot of gamers who want and need to buy software. That’s a huge market, and we’ve got to remain optimistic.
Many publishers released a huge slate of games over Christmas, yet Sega appears to have focused on just a handful of key releases. Was this a deliberate ploy?
AP: We’ve had other titles slated pre-Christmas, which we moved to 2009 for a number of reasons. Over Christmas we managed to focus on Mario and Sonic, Sonic Unleashed and Football Manager, which has kept it a bit cleaner for us.
Looking more at the DS and Wii, with so many new games on the horizon, are the consoles not proving to be quite the cash-cows everyone seemed to think?
AP: The 360 and the PS3 are core-gaming machines, with core gamers buying eight to nine titles a year. Wii gamers are probably buying two to three games a year, so they are understandably migrating towards the more established brands. With some of the other titles and multi-format releases on Wii, it has been a tough time.