With the recent news that SEGA will be accepting voluntary redundancies, downsizing and focusing on mobile and online, I would have assumed my reaction would be greater. I thought I would be launching tirades on Twitter and stamping my feet and whinging in every single avenue I could find. However, reading the news simply stirred one thought in me -“called it.”
Since SEGA left the hardware business and transitioned to a software developer, we have seen them gradually change forms in a never ending quest to remain relevant with their many properties that either were never touched or butchered in fumbling attempts to innovate. Every time they dropped the ball or failed to recognise what people were asking for (rather vocally, as was the case with Phantasy Star Online 2) I became more and more disillusioned. Over time, I just stopped caring about what modern SEGA was doing.
I remember when Binary Domain flopped, I played it, saw how amazing it was and realised that SEGA had barely marketed it with only a handful of attempts at creating viral videos. It’s as if they assumed that because it was a “SEGA” game that it would sell, that their brand alone was enough for them to keep moving games. However, SEGA wasn’t the powerhouse it used to be and by 2012 they were widely considered to be a shadow of their former self. The push for advertising would have made the difference between Binary Domain flopping and it being anything other than a hidden gem that sold barely any units.
This is only the first issue I have observed that SEGA perpetuated up until this point. Up until they released Golden Axe: Beast Rider, Secret Level had last worked on questionable games like Final Fight Streetwise and a bunch of ports. What positive memories people have of playing Secret Level’s games don’t change the fact that they did not have the acumen to be trusted with a property that was in the process of being rebooted.
According to Simon Jeffery’s, then COO of SEGA of America, ““We looked…at building an internal studio from scratch, but were so impressed with…Secret Level and their next-gen technology.” They were well aware of what Beast Rider was and how it was coming and it still released like a dying dog fumbling out of a rickety old doghouse. Whatever your opinion of Beast Rider, it played and looked like a first generation Xbox game.
About the only franchise SEGA has given a proper go has been Sonic, as our favourite blue hedgehog is their bread and butter in the west. This is obviously discounting their flailing arcade business. Sonic keeps getting regular games that seem to be getting better with every release and that’s a good thing, but if they could only approach all of their classic franchises with this much persistence and effort, then they would be in a much better position.
Imagine an open world Streets of Rage that uses a 3D world map and 2.5D screen for missions? Or an After Burner reboot to take on Ace Combat with modern planes and a colourful, arcade like aesthetic so you have the best of modern dog-fighting in 3D space with a beautiful, comfortable aesthetic? These aren’t hard ideas to come up with, as I just sat here and did it and I am not a game designer. Of course, it’s not that straightforward, but the point is they have decided to go for the easy options instead of trying to drag their reputation back up from the doldrums by repositions their IPs as dominant again.
What about not listening to fans? SEGA has been inconsistent in this respect. Have they rushed PSO2 to a western release when we have clamored for it? I for one would kill to play this game if I could do it legitimately, but I can’t. This is despite people literally begging for it. Have they listened to fans about bringing their classic IPs back with quality reboots? That is an undeniable and emphatic “no.” Sure, they have released the 3D remakes of their classic back catalogue on 3DS, but that isn’t showing fans you are listening to them.
What about their current position? The runaway (sorry) success of Sonic Dash and the rising popularity of free to play in Asia is obviously prompting SEGA to pursue the golden goose. The golden goose being the easy options in gaming. It is cheaper to focus your resources on free to play mobile and PC. The initial cost can be recouped with premium items and expansion content. Although there is no guarantee you are going to make your money back, if the cost of entry is nothing, it is compelling to give the software a try. That is the basic psychology of the system anyway, there is actually a lot of thought that goes into developing and releasing a successful free to play title. Whether you agree with the morality of it all is beside the point, because it is happening.
Personally, my brain is stuck in a perpetual ’90s loop. I don’t like where gaming is going and the larger world for that matter, so I tend to play, watch and immerse myself in the 90’s as it was a better time for me and in my opinion, the world. It was also where SEGA was doing their best. SEGA really was doing their best, they were innovating and creating beautiful gameplay experiences with some of the best games of all time. How could you call Panzer Dragoon Saga anything but beautiful? I ask you though, what has SEGA developed themselves in recent times that you could call beautiful? The problem is, I can’t tell.
I don’t say this to pull down what SEGA is becoming. If they can bring themselves back to a consistently successful and demonstrably profitable position, then that is great and I wish them the best of luck in that endeavour. Do I feel that I can continue to follow what they are doing the way I was if they go down this route, however? I don’t think so. SEGA, for me, will continue to be a company that got me through a lot of hard times in the ’90s and early oughts and that is it.