Time changes all things, and video games are no exception. Jumping from 2D scrolling platforms to the immersive 3D exploration worlds and advancements in virtual reality, many franchises are forced to evolve to survive. But not every franchise can successfully. While some companies and developers tread water and try to find a safe shore, even gaming giants are barely keeping their heads above the rising waters of demand these days. Sega almost drowned.
Jon Rooke, Sega Europe’s Marketing Director, knows this all too well. As Sega’s games jumped from the Genesis to the Dreamcast to compete with the Playstation and Nintendo 64, something got lost in the translation. Some say it was the plot of the games, some say it was the graphics, but trying to take their characters off their set paths and create environments and scenarios to run around loose in proved chaos and the company’s stock plummeted, forcing them to sell to a third party developer.
Recently, they found some hit and miss successes in partnerships with Nintendo and on the mobile platform. Despite their mobile games like Sonic Dash being a success, they took a beating to get to that point with titles such as Sonic Generations, Sonic 6, and Sonic Boom. In an interview with Marketing Week, Rooke explains the trials and errors of getting Sega back up on it’s red-and-white stripped feet.
Above: “Hit” and “MISSED IT BY A COUPLE OF MILES”.
“Sega has publicly apologized to the fans as the quality of console games in the Sonic franchise hasn’t been acceptable over recent years,” says Rooke. “It’s been tough translating that iconic side scrolling 2D experience from the 90’s into 3D but Sonic is still huge for us so the new games will be more inspired by how it played in its heyday.”
“Sega was an innovator, the Dreamcast was offering online gaming as early as 1998. But perhaps back then we were pushing boundaries a little too soon. Nowadays we know what we’re good at and the strategy is to be more gradual. Over the next few years, we want to use engaging content and marketing to remind the public why they fell in love with Sega in the first place.”
But Rooke also claims Sega isn’t pulling the plug on console gaming.
“We’ve had some great successes on mobile – our Sonic Dash game has over 100 million downloads – but mobile is an overcrowded market and being truly innovative in that space isn’t easy,” he added. “The strategy at Sega is to focus on producing great content first and then decide which platform it works best on afterwards.”
“Yes, we want to innovate and back smartphones and virtual reality but our key purpose is to go back to what the brand used to stand for and I think the buzz around Shenmue 3 shows that people love our legacy,” adds Rooke, who says Sega is currently “exploring ways” to re-release their Shenmue titles. A kick starter is in the works for the overdue Shenmue 3.
Rooke told Marketing Week: “Now my biggest challenge as marketing director is to make sure people are aware that Sega isn’t just this heritage brand that made all the Sonic games but we’re making cutting edge adult narratives such as Alien Isolation too. Not a lot of people realize we make Football Manager either – that has to change.”
Confessing that Sega has failed to do “great job over the last four years” in engagement and development, Rooke states that Sega is interested in revitalizing its 2D legacy and that listening to its fans is a key strategy.
Apologizing for something that is reflected on as a failure to viewers and gamers is nothing new and is rather refreshing. After so many recent developers are rushing to get their products out to the public, many errors and glitches arise and patches and fixes are slow and minimal at best. Barely anyone apologizes to the consumer for the blunders of half backed games. But to have a company admit to their lack of quality and wanting to improve in the future for the sake of fans is bittersweet as it doesn’t fix the current problem, but gives hope for better things down the road. I mean, who can forget Joel Schumacher apologizing for his directing the box office bomb “Batman and Robin”? There is no better way to let a fan base down than taking something they love and making it look like a joke.
Well, at least Sega doesn’t have to worry about apologizing for something as ridiculous as “bat nipples”.