Sega’s UK superstars

Sega showcased its upcoming games release slate at its annual Fast Forward event earlier this month. Christopher Dring speaks to UK MD John Clark and marketing director Amanda Farr on the growth of the software market, new IP and a congested first quarter…

You’ve both had role changes recently, how have you been settling in?
John Clark: We’re both brand new in our roles, although I’ve been at Sega for three years and Amanda’s been involved in the industry for some time.
We’ve been looking at the dynamics of the UK office and are putting more focus on where we want Sega to be as a collective in the longer term rather than just releasing game after game.

In 2003 Sega relaunched as a third-party multiformat publisher, and we finished that year as the 35th biggest publisher. Every single year, we’ve invested more in product and more in people, and we’re now in the top six. We’ve released many games, and now we’re looking at how we release those games, how we do it more effectively, how we streamline, how we concentrate on the good games, the games that sell, as well as concentrating on the new innovative titles that will always be our life blood.

This year has had its ups and downs for the industry as a whole. What is Sega’s perspective?
JC: Sega’s last financial year was our most successful yet. Throughout the summer our release schedule has been more streamlined than last year but we’ve had some good hits, especially in Virtua Tennis.

The software market is tracking approximately 16 per cent down, but the collective release schedule has not had the weight of the previous year. Wii Sports Resort has performed really well and that shows that the big games can still do the big numbers. Games like Batman: Arkham Asylum, UFC and Prototype have done significant volume. So the opportunities have been there but the games haven’t been out. We’re positive that the strength of Christmas will show a year-on-year increase in the software market.

As for hardware, the price drops are welcome and we look forward to the new opportunities that should arise throughout the peak season.

Last year we talked about the quantity of new IP you had coming out, and you’ve still got more to come. But there appears to be a little less next year. Are you being more cautious with new properties?
JC: We are being more measured in all of the markets we are working in. If you look at Sonic, this year we’re releasing one Sonic title – Sega & Sonic All- Stars Racing. Last year we released multiple Sonic titles. We’re not exercising caution, we’re just focusing deeper on more titles rather than on a broader range.

Considering the incredible sales of Mario & Sonic, is the pressure on for you to repeat that success?
JC: When you have a successful title or brand it generates its own pressure. Whether it is Football Manager or Mario & Sonic; there is an audience that we will strive to reach.

We know more about Mario & Sonic now. We know more about the customer of Mario & Sonic and their buying habits. This time we’re releasing Mario & Sonic on DS and Wii simultaneously, which we didn’t last time. So rather than pressure there is a self-generated realisation that we can deliver more.

No one is saying ‘You sold 2.5 million on the last one, so do it again.’ We’re looking at the game and saying: ‘We can actually do this.’

We’re challenging ourselves to make the product bigger and drive it into consumer hands. The DS game this time around is better. The market is better.

Amanda Farr: This is a product the consumers want. And the game is better than ever. The marketing budget is bigger than before. We’re absolutely convinced this game can deliver. There’s no question about that.

Do you think it can be Christmas number one?
AF: This has every chance of being Christmas number one but it’s not just about that Christmas week, it’s about how the game sells throughout the whole period and beyond, and we are very confident that it can do that.

JC: There are three games that can be Christmas number one: Call of Duty, FIFA or Mario & Sonic. It’s as simple as that.

The price cuts on PS3 and 360 could make that a slightly larger challenge, and Modern Warfare 2 will be huge. Will it be bigger than the last Modern Warfare? I think it probably will be.

But we think we can do it because the last Mario & Sonic achieved a 30 per cent attach rate on Wii and on DS it got a seven per cent attach rate. And if we achieve even half of that, we’ll be in with a chance.

Wii hardware sales are down, is this a worry for you?
JC: The Wii has been the must-have Christmas toy for two years now, and was previously hard to come by. The console is now in full supply and its further into the lifecycle, but it’s still going to be really strong this Christmas.

AF: You’re talking about an incredible installed base that is continuing to grow. From a software perspective we are targeting more people than we did last Christmas. The major titles are still selling in big numbers, and Mario & Sonic falls into this category.

You’ve got a strong Q1 line-up, with Bayonetta, Napoleon and Aliens vs. Predator. But there are lots of Q1 titles coming from other publishers too, is the first quarter a worry for you?

JC: It seems to be the most congested Q1 there has ever been. However, by releasing titles that are must-have games in the chosen genre, we offer a great consumer proposition.

Bayonetta will probably be the first new release in 2010, and our campaign will run throughout December. We are also expecting high scores, so it is a game that will be a must-have.

AVP, is a core game, it’s an FPS, its high quality and based on a great license. So that stands alone.
Napoleon is really clear. Total War is one of the biggest PC franchises of all time. And because of this consumers will purchase it. It’s another must-have.

Previously you talked about increasing 360 and PS3 market share – is that still the case?
JC: Definitely, and Aliens vs. Predator represents our best chance because of the heritage of the FPS genre and the licence. But also Alpha Protocol and Bayonetta are part of our attempt to crack that market. We will keep trying.

You’ve got Iron Man 2 and Planet 51 in the works. What have been the challenges in creating movie IP?
JC: There are some key considerations for movie IP: Is the movie a brilliant movie? Is the game a brilliant game? And do they fit together well? And can they been brought to market together well?
Planet 51 is very different to other movie projects. Ilion and Pyro Studios are practically in the same room. So these guys are one, they are together. You will never get better synergy, communication and cooperation. You’ve got a core team who understands games and movies and are responsible for both. You couldn’t ask for more.

So are you happy with your upcoming release slate?
JC: Our current line-up has to be our best ever. It is the best thought out with the best depth and the best content.

AF: These games will also benefit from our strongest marketing support ever. The company is well structured to take advantage of these products. Added to the fact that advertising costs have gone down, we are implementing some great campaigns over the next six months.

Sega booked a lot of TV advertising last year, but it appears you’ve taken that even further this time…
AF: We evaluate every medium but it’s well known that the cost of TV advertising has decreased this year and there are fewer advertisers – we have benefited from that reduced cost. There is nothing else that can reach the sort of coverage that The X Factor and programmes like that can achieve.

On the other hand, the number of commercial stations has increased and more households have multi-channel sets than before. This allows us to be really targeted with our TV activity.

This year you will see us advertising across all of the media mix from the cinema campaign that we launched back in July for Mario & Sonic to the successful outdoor campaign that we ran for Virtua Tennis as well as specialist and mainstream print campaigns.

It is also about how the different media work together. When people are watching TV, many are online at the same time. We strive to deliver integrated campaigns whether online, TV or in print. There is a focus on brand and product awareness, which is a call to action to drive our products forward.

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