The Evolution Of Sega: A Conversation With Simon Jeffery
August 11, 2008 Page 2 of 4
The Relevance of Sonic
For games like Sonic, where did the impetus come from, in terms of trying to reinvent that series? It feels like the last couple of tries have been trying to figure out where Sonic is supposed to be in this 3D world. Is that coming from the U.S. side or the Japan side right now?
SJ: I'd say it's a combination of both. I think the Japanese side, at Sonic Team, have realized that old Sonic doesn't really gel with today's consumer and today's kids especially. We needed to do something to make something more appealing. That, and the market's gotten a lot more competitive, and Nintendo's success recently has been outstanding. So it was a collaborative effort with western Sega and Sonic Team in Japan to do some reinvention.
Part of that reinvention is also being completely made in the west with stuff like Sonic Chronicles being built by BioWare on the DS. That was something we had to strongly petition to Japanese management to allow us to do, but when they did, it's actually a great process.
How important do you feel mascot branding is, going forward? Obviously it's changed a lot since the old days.
SJ: Yeah, I don't think mascot branding is particularly relevant in today's gaming market, to be honest. There's very, very few. Nintendo has Mario, but they probably don't like the fact that people always associate them with Mario when they've got all these other games and brands and characters.
I would love for Sega to not be thought of as the Sonic company. I think we probably will be for a little while, but the more content that we bring out that's successful in other areas, the better.
And with a game like Sonic Unleashed -- this is perhaps too much digging down into one game, but it's still kind of telling a story and trying to make Sonic a different thing than he is, which is just a guy who's blue that goes fast. Do you think we're going to see any kind of flip back to simplicity?
SJ: I think Sonic Unleashed is interesting, and we think it will resonate quite nicely, because it is that, and it's doing something completely new with Sonic as a character. But then a large part of the gameplay is absolutely traditional Sonic -- 2D speed, and nothing else. We think that's really why it works quite nicely.
Sega/Sonic Team's Sonic Unleashed
I'm definitely looking forward to that part of it. I'm just hoping that I won't have to cringe through the rest. (laughter)
The Question of Studios and Talent
There was a lot of speculation that Sega would purchase Sumo Digital, because they've worked so closely together, and it was a big surprise when Sumo went to Foundation 9 and Sega brought in Creative Assembly. Can you explain the thinking on those things?
SJ: We're really close with Sumo, and when Foundation 9 asked us, they said they wanted to start buying studios in Europe, and they asked us who should they look at first, the first company we said was Sumo. We just thought it would be a really good fit.
We work with Foundation 9 and a number of their studios, and we've got a great relationship with them. I think we're their biggest customer, so it made sense to extend that and collateralize a lot of the work that that studio does with the stuff that Sumo does on our projects. Sumo's continuing to do work for us, and the relationship's not changed. In fact, the boss of Sumo is now the boss of Foundation 9 worldwide, so it's worked out quite well.
Creative Assembly was a very conscious decision to open up a new part of the market for Sega, a part of the market that Sega has not really been associated with at all. It was part of a drive to ensure that qualitatively, we could guarantee every couple of years we would have a triple-A, 95 percent-rated game coming out from a world-class studio. We've pretty much left them alone to build product the way they want to build product. I don't know if you've seen Empire: Total War yet, but it's absolutely stunning.
about Secret Level?
SJ: Secret Level was a little technology house that was just down the road from us that was a pretty small company. They were building Golden Axe for us anyway, and we decided that we wanted to start an internal studio in North America.
So we went through all the motions of looking to hire studio heads and looking for office space and looking to hire producers. Then we suddenly realized that we've already got 40 people who have got a strong technology background already building a game for us.
Sega/Secret Level's Golden Axe: Beast Rider
It would be way more cost-effective and efficient to build them out, so that's what we did. We acquired them for a pretty small amount of money and built them out. If we hadn't done that, we wouldn't have been able to get Iron Man to market in the timeframe that we did.
Iron Man was qualitatively not what we wanted, but it's a game that was built start to finish in 14 months, and that's in the power of the studio to be in a great position to be building products going forward in a really strong manner.
Do you think that Secret Level can be built into a triple-A studio branch -- maybe you have a different view of them than I do?
SJ: Probably not a triple-A studio, but I think they're absolutely capable, with the right people, of building product that scores in the 80s, absolutely. They're not a Creative Assembly and they never will be a Creative Assembly, but as a work-for-hire studio, they've got some great assets, some really strong technology, a strong tools pipeline, and they're one of Sony's preferred developers on PlayStation 3, because their technology's so good.
And we're absolutely able to make the most of that. I think the design side of the studio... they don't have world-class designers, but they do have world-class technology and world-class art.
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