Hurdling over the competition

How strong is Sega’s line-up for 2009 compared to previous years?
Undoubtedly our best ever. That may sound like the typical soundbite but FY10 is the culmination of several years’ hard work as the ‘new’ Sega to establish fresh brands and new development goals.

This year we continue our strong emphasis on PC  and Wii with excellent new titles, more for the Total War series and a new and improved Football Manager. In addition, we are also excited about possible breakout titles on PS3 and 360 with Bayonetta, Aliens vs Predator and Alpha Protocol. Add that to huge IP staples like Virtua Tennis and the next Mario and Sonic and you can see why we are optimistic.

You continue to have incredible success with Sonic & Mario. Why?
Two great gaming IPs on a fabulously fun platform with a game designed to use the Wii to the maximum via a series of fun individual sports. It’s a perfect combination of simplicity yet innovation and classic well loved IP.

You’ve furrowed a very deliberate strategy of creating ‘adult’ titles for Wii as other publishers catch up to the idea. How is this working for you – and what challenges have you faced?
The reality is that some mature games have worked better than others. I think it is inevitable that as we try to extend into an under-exploited genre on Wii there would be some challenges. So while the critically acclaimed Madworld has under-performed commercially we have got a proven success with House of the Dead Overkill which has performed well across Europe and North America.

As other publishers and Nintendo move into the mature arena with more games we feel that our investments have been worthwhile.

How do you view 360 and PS3’s respective installed bases?
No issue that both formats have achieved a very commercially acceptable installed base level in Europe. We have to applaud both companies for making two next gen platforms viable in the marketplace. At the very least it allows us to cross collaterise the increasing cost of making video games. We are just excited at both companies’ plans to grow the business further through 2009.

Are Nintendo formats getting overcrowded at retail – and does that put you off?
Nothing ever puts us off Nintendo formats. Like every successful console there will be a perceived or actual over-supply of games. As ever we need to try and cut through with relevant brands, appropriate quality and innovation.

With Sega games such as Let’s Tap, (yup, it does what it says on the tin), Wacky World of Sports, the use of the new Motion Plus controller for Virtua Tennis 2009 and more, we think we can stand out.

Can you see Sega acquiring over the next year?

The will is there but the chances are declining as the pool gets less deep.

Does being a big player in games help you in a recession?
It’s a mixed blessing. On the one hand we have the momentum of a large development and distribution resource, but of course it is harder to be nimble. The big issue for Japanese businesses based in the UK right now is the weak pound. And that is regardless of size!

Are there any areas of your portfolio (both in terms of genre and formats) that you think you could be doing more in?
We definitely want to take some of the space owned by Ubisoft, Activision and EA on the 360 and PS3. Sega does not have the core heritage that those companies enjoy in parts of their portfolio. Hence our focus on Bayonetta from Platinum Games in Japan, Alpha Protocol from Obsidian in the US and Aliens vs Predator from Rebellion in the UK.

Is the traditional retail channel necessarily the best route to market for a company like Sega?
Of course. Despite goals, ambitions and commentators’ thoughts, retail represents the vast majority of sales to our consumers.

Yes, digital distribution is becoming more important and certainly more profitable – it’s undeniable. However, the devaluation of retail at the hands of this new medium is a long way off – and that, of course, assumes that retail will not successfully adapt to the new medium in any case.

Let’s also not underestimate the tremendous job retail does in marketing video games to the consumer.

The games industry still suffers from a bit of an image problem with Government and the media. How can we improve this?
I’m not sure the games industry needs to improve, quite frankly. JFK springs to mind… surely it is what Government can do for us!

PSP was the only modern format to drop YOY software sales in 2008. Can it recover – and how?
Sony are being extremely innovative with their PSP plans for the future. We have seen a remarkable resurgence of the platform in Japan, where our own Phantasy Star Portable was a major PSP hit. So we are confident that the platform will have a second life. Our Football Manager portable does particularly well on the platform.

What do you think will be the biggest innovation in games this year – and how can you take advantage?

Let’s wait for the E3 announcements, I reckon we are in for some treats…

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