INTERVIEW: Sega of America

JOURNALISTS have the luxury of rehashing a standard introduction to corporate profiles of Sega. So long as you shoehorn in the obligatory Sonic reference and mention the ‘tragic demise’ of the company’s console manufacturing epoch with a retro tear in your eye, you’re on course.

Then it’s easy street: throw in some textbook obsequious remarks such as ‘resurgent’ or ‘renaissance’ and it’s on with the show. For extra points, you can even rely on the oldest of old chestnuts: ‘a return to former glories’.

But all that’s getting a bit outdated now. The company’s rapid expansion and list of mammoth IP has proven that this particular phoenix rose from its ashes long ago – and that it is now soaring again.

It’s a message that the company’s US president Simon Jeffery is certainly keen to get across.

We’re well on our way to being one of the real leading publishers in the West,” he tells MCV. We can’t say that we’ve completely fulfilled our ambition in the US and Europe just yet. But that’s just because any such aspiration that is claimed to be fulfilled is too binary.

You can very much expect to see us climb the publisher tables in the next few years on both sides of the pond. Indeed, we already are.”

The publisher’s Q4 line-up may well be the strongest in its short history as a pure software company, with truly massmarket titles like Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games and the novel-turned-blockbuster-movie adaptation The Golden Compass waiting in the wings.

Jeffery says that the unique synergy between Sega’s European and North American offices puts it in a truly exclusive position.

[Sega European president] Mike Hayes and his team are some of the most terrific people in the entire games business,” he explains. We really all do get on like one big happy family. Most publishers are predominantly European, or predominantly American. We call ourselves Sega West – and we are equals. It’s a model that we think truly brings unique advantages and strengths.”

Those strengths include stealing a march on rivals when it comes to new formats, it would seem. Following a notably strong PS3 launch line-up – with titles such as Virtua Fighter 5, Virtua Tennis 3, Full Auto 2, Sonic The Hedgehog and World Snooker Championship 2007 all hitting UK stores in March – Jeffery also claims that the company was a fast supporter of Wii. So fast, in fact, that he believes his employer was actually the first publisher to spot the console’s potential to transform a generation.

Jeffery explains: Sega can proudly beat our collective chests and say that at E3 2005, when much of the industry was saying that Nintendo had already lost the next-gen race, we were saying: ‘Hang on a minute, this is a great idea. Nintendo is pulling out of the arms race and headed in a completely different direction – a mass market direction.’

The great Wii line-up we have this year – NiGHTS, Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games and Ghost Squad, which uses the Wii Zapper – are testament to our decision.”

Jeffery’s enthusiasm for Wii continues with his belief that the ease and relative value of developing for the console will mean that it houses more creative titles than its rivals over the next two years.

There is no doubt that we will see more risks, and therefore more creativity on both the Wii and the DS in the next couple of years,” he explains.

Just look at what EA is already doing on the Wii – EA doesn’t do that kind of game. We also sees the same trend emerging on Xbox Live Arcade and on PlayStation Network.

A new Peter Molyneux or Will Wright could well be cutting their teeth on this stuff right now.”

We will probably see a fair bit of standardisation for a while from third-party publishers in the games that they develop for 360 and PS3, as the huge development costs are ‘rationalised’.

The industry will certainly be looking at Sony and Xbox to bring along as much new IP as possible, to whet consumers’

appetites for new and original games.”

Jeffery reserves comparable enthusiasm for the PS2 – promising that Sega will not make the mistake of leaving the format stranded too early.

We believe that the PS2 will be around for quite some time,” he says. This generation of hardware will have longer legs than any previous generation, and that’s definitely healthy for the industry.

We expect Sony to price manage the PS2’s shelf life for another two or three years at least. PS2 high profile titles, especially ‘wide market’ and licensed titles, will absolutely be part of the Sega portfolio going forwards.”

However, it’s the next-gen formats that Sega is no doubt looking to develop for – and Jeffery admits that the

company is still on the lookout” for potential buyouts of US and UK studios.

Sega West’s executive team obviously has ambitious goals – and the financial clout to get them there. With a slew of eye-catching Q4 releases at the ready and a jumbo line-up for 2008, it looks like those stock Sonic-referencing article introductions may permanently be a thing of the past.

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