The second half of our interview with senior execs from Sports Interactive, Secret Level and Creative Assemblyâ?¦

To Be This Good Takes Ages

In part one of this interview we looked at how Sega’s new internal teams – built mostly from acquired studios – have been treated during their transition to becoming publisher-backed developers, plus plans for sharing technology.

Here, we look at dealing with the Sega brand, recruitment, and plans for online.

Given that your teams are responsible for building Sega’s Western slate of games, do you feel there a lot to live up to given the strength of the Sega name?
Mike Simspon, Creative Assembly: There is a lot of history there, and that brings expectations. We were already tightly focussed on quality before joining Sega, and maybe that’s part of why CA was a good fit. We love making great games, and Sega would love us to keep doing it.

Jeremy Gordon, Secret Level: Absolutely. We have been entrusted with working on a classic Sega IP in Golden Axe, and we are fortunate to have access to some of the original team members who worked on the arcade cabinet. In parallel with that, we have been given the opportunity to bring the classic Marvel property Iron Man to life, and our studio and teams definitely feel the responsibility of doing justice to both these IPs on a daily basis. Sega has always been associated with innovation and quality, and it’s exciting to be give the chance to contribute to that legacy.

George Fidler, Studio Director, Creative Assembly Australia: Sega is certainly a highly respected and long established brand in the interactive entertainment business and we don’t take that lightly.

However, our own culture has supported the principles of quality and product leadership. These values come at a cost and you simply can’t build quality in at the end. Sega entirely supports this value discipline. Medieval II: Total War is an outstanding example of our commitment to quality development.

Miles Jacobson, Sports Interactive: I’d like to think our record speaks for itself, and that quality is one of the main reasons that Sega wanted to work with us. The only thing we have to live up to is to continue to innovate and improve the genre we are in, and we put that pressure on ourselves.

As the teams here a good mix from various territories, what are your thoughts on recruitment – are the US and Australia suffering the same talent scarcity that studios here in the UK are reporting?
Oz seems to have it better than the rest of us, but our plans are ambitious and we need good people to help make them reality. There is plenty of talent out there, but much of it is outside the industry and doesn’t yet realise that a job in games is probably the most interesting, challenging and varied job they could ever have. And it’s fun too. Of the talent already in the industry too much of it is wasted on dead end projects.

JG: Secret Level is fortunate in that we enjoy a location in San Francisco that gives us access to one of the world centres of game development. The trade-off of availability is competition, and being so close to the spectrum of developers from the super sized like EA Redwood Shores to the mid-sized Activision owned studios down to the large number of independents reminds us daily that we’re certainly far from the only game in town.

GF: Recruitment has always been our number one priority. Games don’t write them selves! It’s always tough competing for the very best talent in the world. So far, we’ve had great success in attracting the very best people to work with us. The projects we work on are high profile and innovative, which is attractive to prospective recruits. Secondly, we are located in Brisbane Australia, an absolutely beautiful part of the world with a very high standard of living. So overseas and interstate talent have found us an attractive option. Much of my time is spent promoting our studio to prospective employees, and over the past five years we’ve developed a strong reputation for being a very desirable employer.

MJ: From the conversations we’ve been having, it’s easier in the US and Oz than the UK, but still not easy, mainly because studios are getting larger due to next gen. There’s the same talent around, but a load more positions available globally, and it’s going to be like this for a while.

Is the Sega name a good tool for attracting new staff?
It certainly helps.

JG: Next to our people and culture, the Sega name and the IP that we are working on are the single biggest tool we have for attracting talent into the studio.

GF: As a small independent developer, prospective employees were always nervous about employment security. Being part of the Sega organisation, is a huge advantage in this regard. In fact we really offer the best of both worlds… the culture of a small independent product leadership studio, but with the support and security of being first party. It doesn’t get any better than that!

MJ: The backing of a company like Sega certainly can’t harm things, but we advertise as Sports Interactive, and will continue to do so, as that’s who we are. A studio that is part of the Sega network of studios.

We’ve talked about shared technology – but has there been an specific strategy for you guys when it comes to online? There has been a lot of talk about how the future of games will be largely influenced by online communities and user-generated content – it seems all your titles previously have been great early proponents of this, so what’s the next step?
Yes, there is a lot of talk. But I can’t yet comment on what where we’re going in the future with Total War.

JG: We are very keen to explore user-generated content in the future, but at the moment, we are content to support our brother’s at SI through comprehensive beta testing of Football Manager Live.

GF: We have always supported our Total War on-line communities. It’s been a vital part of the success of Total War. We are very interested in seeing how on-line communities emerge and evolve on the next-gen platforms. This will definitely be one to watch.

Football Manager Live is not the first step in this for us – we have been pushing the online community side of things for a decade, and it’s been instrumental in our growth ever since, with feature ideas, feedback, modding, skins, community tools, and ‘word of mouse’ being essential for all of our games, not just from our own forums, but also social networking areas like Myspace. FML is the next step in that for sure, but web 2.0 and the like are hardly new concepts. The important thing for us is to stay ahead of the curve on this side of things, and we will continue to innovate in this area.

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