Sega’s superstars

After four years of hard graft, Sega believes this is the year it can break into the Top Five of games publishers by value. Progress has been steady, if not spectacular, in the past couple of years as it has moved up from eighth in 2006 to seventh in 2007 with a value share of just over five per cent.

But one should remember that this was a company coming in from a standing start when it first outlined its intentions to be a global player on multi-formats in 2003.

With no back catalogue to build from and its investment in Western development unable to be rushed, Sega has been focused and patient.

And huge success has come of late thanks to the brainwave that was Mario and Sonic At The Olympic Games. Available only on Wii and DS, it has sold well over a million units already.

With a new wave of marketing recently outlined, Sega hopes that total sales could be over two million by the end of the year.

And that’s the kind of target that any ambitious publisher needs if it is going to take up residence at the top of the publisher share charts.

We will re-advertise this title heavily and continue re-marketing it all through the rest of the year,” Sega’s UK boss Alan Pritchard told MCV. We’ve sustained sales at 25,000 a week. Even GTA IV, Wii Fit and Mario Kart Wii haven’t dented it that much. Importantly, it has held price too.”

A new TV creative is being produced for roll-out soon, whilst Sega is planning for uplift alongside its launch of an official Olympics simulation game in the summer and the start of the tournament itself in August.

The success of Mario and Sonic has underpinned a tremendous period for Sega, which has seen the company rise as high as number two publisher by value during April.

We’re effectively treating this title as a new release within our FY ‘09 planning, which is to the end of March,” adds Sara Grover, who is overseeing the UK marketing team during Tina Hicks’ maternity leave.

With the official game coming for PS3, 360 and PC there will be five Olympics SKUs on the shelves by the time the real sporting event starts on August 8th – all of which suggests that RRPs will continue to hold and Sega can use this to further build momentum.

The last few months have been massive for Sega, with other titles such as Vikings, Sega Superstar Tennis, Condemned 2 and Iron Man all performing well. These, alongside the stellar Mario and Sonic, have made up for disappointments such as Sega Rally, Golden Compass and The Club.

Sega Rally reviewed well and won a BAFTA but didn’t resonate with customers. We always knew that The Golden Compass was very dependant on how the movie did, but we handled it well at retail,” adds Pritchard.

But we’re really starting to get going on 360 and PS3. Vikings and Condemned 2 have done well, Iron Man is performing in line with expectations. And there is much more to come on those formats, when arguably we had under-performed a little as a next-gen publisher until now.”

John Clark, an impressive signing from Eidos a year ago, has worked hard on what he calls structure and people and process” during his year in charge of the sales team.

Like European boss Mike Hayes, both Pritchard and Clark are quick to point out that market share is great, but nothing beats profitability.

And profitability is being delivered, with the UK currently enjoying its most successful period since that set-up back in 2003. The focus for Sega now is keeping things going all the way through the current financial year to March 2009.

Other big titles on the way include the Incredible Hulk licensed title, Sonic Chronicles on DS, Sonic Unleashed and Gearbox-developed shooter Aliens: Colonial Marines.

And there’s more, such as Empire Total War, the maracas-shaking Samba De Amigo on Wii and a secret or two yet to be unveiled at a retail conference in Lisbon next week.

We have always been very clear in our ambition to become a top five publisher,” Pritchard concludes. And the company has made acquisitions and investments as part of that strategy. Last year we had a lull between some PS3 releases at launch in March and nothing really until Sega Rally in September – which ran straight into the brick wall at retail that was FIFA and Halo 2.

This year we have a more even release schedule. April was our best ever month, with an 11.4 per cent value share and second place, but we have to be realistic about the impact other publishers’ big releases will have on that. Year to date, we are number three publisher in value, with a share just short of 10 per cent. That may drop a little, but we have a good chance to improve on last year’s market share and to improve on our profitability.”

And with those Olympics games playing such a key role in its portfolio, Sega should certainly be well drilled in how to make a final dash for the wire.

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