Stormrise, Viking: Battle of Asgard, Condemned, Planet 51, The Golden Compass, Iron Man, Let’s Tap, The Incredible Hulk…
There was a period in Sega’s recent history where it released a seemingly endless number of (often not very good) games.
Financially, the strategy worked for a while, specifically during the Wii era, but the firm’s failure rate became too great. So over the last five years, Sega has spent its time focusing on fewer ‘pillar’ franchises.
We were a little bit opportunistic, signing a lot of titles and doing things that were not necessarily very good,” acknowledges Sega’s European boss Jurgen Post.
There was a time when you could sell a lot of products, for example on Wii, but that market has gone. Today if you want to survive, you need to focus on quality. We want to create games that are very good and have a long tail.
We scaled down to the very bare minimum. For us to restart, we needed to set-up a new strategy, and that is now paying off. So we can start to add more pillars to the structure.”
In 2012, Sega cut back to focus on three key series – Sonic, Football Manager and Total War – and has been gradually adding additional franchise ‘pillars’ ever since.
In 2013 it acquired Relic, along with the Company of Heroes and Dawn of War IP. This year, it has added Endless Space creators Amplitude to its family of studios.
Then there’s an altogether different pillar – one devoted to independent games.
It’s called Sega Searchlight,” explains Post. It looks into new creative opportunities, the sort of titles that could be a standalone pillar in the future. One example is Motorsport Manager by PlaySport. When it was released on mobile, it did 1.6m downloads… OK, it’s a $3 product, but it shows there is an appetite for something different. Now we are bringing it to PC this autumn. That’s a Searchlight product, and we have more of those with announcements due over the coming months.”
Continues Post: We are always looking for content. We have IP that we are trying to make bigger – whether that is Football Manager, Total War or Dawn of War. We just want to build upon them by adopting new business models, going into merchandising, movies, all of it. But we are constantly looking for new opportunities. We are pretty good with that.”
Part of the firm’s transformation four years ago included a reduction in its retail business. Sega’s focus has become increasingly PC and digital-only, although it does still release boxed titles with the help of Koch Media.
We don’t necessarily make a choice about whether it is boxed or digital. It depends on what the consumer wants,” Post says. Total War: Warhammer was a game that was still in a box, and we are working with Koch, and quite successfully so. The same is with Football Manager. Motorsport Manager, however, which is kind-of a new start-up, that will be digital first. But talking to Koch at the moment, they’re saying that they really like the game, and they’re asking if they could do a boxed version in limited territories where it makes sense – like Germany, where there is a strong PC boxed market. So where there is an opportunity, we will do boxed.”
PlaySport’s Motorsport Manager (above) is yet another Sega product created in the UK. The publisher actually owns three UK studios: Sports Interactive, Creative Assembly and Sega Hardlight, while its European HQ is also based in Britain.
So you can understand it if the company is feeling nervous following the decision by the UK to leave the European Union.
Brexit has definitely caused issues. Our workforce is very international,” Post admits.
About 27 per cent of our UK workforce is from Europe. I’m one of them, right? So there was a bit of a panic and people are concerned about what will happen. It’s not a short-term issue. People working within the studios and Sega will be safe. It’s more about the future. How easy will it be to get people from Europe? We are constantly trying to find people for our growing studios. Creative Assembly being one of them, which has 450 people right now and is still growing. We are constantly looking for people, and from that point-of-view, looking at the future, I am a bit concerned.
People are also worried about coming to the UK. Then you have people who are unhappy with what happened in the UK. People may start thinking about moving back to Europe. It is certainly an issue.”
Yet despite Brexit, Post is clearly feeling confident about Sega’s position after a few subdued years. The current release slate is bigger than it has been in a long time, and although these games are not all as diverse or high profile as the firm’s 2008 line-up, they certainly seem more reliable (and, frankly, better).
Next year also marks Sonic’s return in the console space – following a period as a Nintendo exclusive. While the latest Total War game (Warhammer) is the fastest-selling title in the franchise’s history.
And then there’s the partnership with Xbox on Halo Wars.
Total War maker Creative Assembly is currently working on Halo Wars 2 (above), an RTS game that is designed to appeal broadly on both PC and Xbox One.
To be able to work on one of the biggest IPs in the world is just proof that we are doing something right,” says Post. We made a choice four years ago to focus on quality. Maybe we are a bit in the niche segment with Relic, Creative Assembly, Sports Interactive and Amplitude… these studios are making games that are PC based, they’re strategy, they’re hardcore, but they’re quality. Microsoft is now working with us because of that choice we made a couple of years ago.”
He continues: As a non-strategy gamer, Halo Wars 2 is very easy to get into. It also plays very well on console. It is a great opportunity to bring the RTS genre to a wider audience, but also to bring RTS to console… these are all great learnings for all of us.”
Sega is also teaming up Warner Bros with LEGO Dimensions, and has a whole host of new initiatives in merchandise, movies and VR.
VR has caught the whole company’s attention,” Post explains. We have a lot of VR kits in the office and people are playing with it. We are exploring ways to release games. We’ve not announced anything, but we are very close to making an announcement. We did Alien: Isolation about three years ago on Oculus Rift, it was a demo that was bloody scary. To bring that back to VR would be a dream and dreams can come true.
VR will take time, but we will start releasing some titles just to learn. It is a platform for the future.</