In August of 2012, SEGA announced a new publishing initiative dubbed “SEGA Alliance”. SEGA Alliance’s aim was to “focus on publishing mobile games made by independent developers” and to “provide participating developers with comprehensive marketing and production support as well as creative consultation”. The first of these SEGA Alliance titles was Owlchemy Labs Jack Lumber, an iOS title in the vein of Fruit Ninja that, in my opinion, went well beyond the Fruit Ninja formula and was quite an excellent game. Unfortunately, according to Owlchemy Labs founder Alex Schwartz in an interview with Indie Static, “working with publishers has been a big experiment and so far it hasn’t been financially successful for Owlchemy.” Schwartz detailed just how much of the SEGA Alliance offerings Owlchemy Labs took advantage of, as well as talked about how much freedom indie publishers have in a SEGA Alliance deal.
According to Schwartz, the game had already been funded and developed, so no production support or creative consultation took place. Instead, Owlchemy Labs relied on SEGA’s marketing push, which resulted in a booth at PAX, swag to hand out and assistance in editing and releasing a promotional video filmed at the World Lumberjack Championships. Schwartz also noted that “One of our requests was to be 100% in charge of all creative, with sign-off required from us when anything public would be shown about the game”, to which SEGA agreed. In the end, however, Schwartz conceded that “SEGA did a good job attempting to market and support Jack Lumber. Right now, our iOS platform sales are much lower than expected.”
In my opinion, SEGA did as much as they could do within the confines of the SEGA Alliance partnership in marketing the game. While Jack Lumber is a very fun title, it doesn’t quite grab you with its name, nor does it give a very good idea of what the game is all about. Once you see screens of it, it does very much resemble Fruit Ninja, which could cause many consumers to write off Jack Lumber as a cheap clone before ever giving it a chance. The App Store is a big place, and I wonder if without SEGA’s help if Owlchemy Labs title would have even had the number of sales it does now, even if it still didn’t sell enough. Important to note too is that while Owlchemy Labs dubbed the game “not financially successful” for them, it is unknown if SEGA came out ahead thanks to their cut (assuming they got one) and whatever partnership fees they earned. Also of note, we have yet to hear of any more SEGA Alliance partnerships. To read the full interview, head on over to Indie Static.