It has been a rough path being a SEGA fan, while I do feel like they have made some great games in the past decade, its easy to see that they have also made their fair share of mistakes. A few weeks ago the newly elected Sega Games Co. CEO and Vice President, Haruki Satomi had a interview with Famitsu where he discussed how he felt some games SEGA released in the last decade abused fan’s trust towards the brand and how they are learning from Atlus in the West.
Of course the internet was an uproar, some even stating that SEGA hasn’t released a good game in a decade. Regardless of how you feel about SEGA, its always good for a company to take feedback and be straight when talking about the company. So this week’s round table we discuss what we thought of Mr. Satomi’s interview.
My main takeaway from Haruki Satomi’s comments is that he at least seems to be aware of what fans think of the company, and wants to change the negative impressions people have of them. His response to fan reactions especially shows that he knows what people are saying online. But most of all: he seems to be more open than past SEGA CEOs have been. Never have I heard SEGA be this self-aware. And while obviously they do still need to show that the quality of their games will improve (which is hard to do considering that he didn’t become SEGA Games CEO until last April), it’s good to see that this new CEO at least wants to try and also communicates more with the fans.
I do hope that when he talks about learning from Atlus in the west, that he means that they’re going to be localizing more of their games. It’s already surprising to see that they’re now localizing the Hatsune Miku games and Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax, but it’d also be nice to see more Yakuza and Shining games or even Puyo Puyo Tetris come over if possible. Of course, there’s also Phantasy Star Online 2, but I assume that it’s somewhat harder to bring over because of it being an MMO. They also seem to know better about giving their development teams enough time to develop their games, with Sonic Team getting more time than they usually have to make the next big Sonic game. Though Sanzaru only having a single year to push out Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice is still somewhat worrying, but that might be more because of SEGA America than SEGA Japan.
Barry the Nomad says:
It sure has been a weird year for SEGA fans. We’ve seen SEGA of America moving from San Fran to L.A., and in turn several beloved SEGA staff leaving the company. We’ve seen the promise of classic SEGA IPs revived for film and television. We’ve even seen the return of Aaron Webber to the Sonic the Hedgehog brand. While several gaming sites have claimed this means doom and gloom for the company, I see it all as a positive step in a new direction. I hesitate to say “the right direction”, but the recent comments by Haruki Satomi make me hopeful that SEGA as a whole is starting to seriously plan for the future and stop making so many poor decisions (ideally, each word in “stop making so many poor decisions” would link to our reviews of the Marvel games, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, and Alien: Colonial Marines).
The mention of Atlus is especially nice, as they are a company recently acquired by SEGA who knows how to release niche Japanese titles in the West. If SEGA can do what Atlus has done for their Japanese games, it will be a major win for both fans and the company. One thing I wanted to also mention about Haruki Satomi’s comments is the insistence of the gaming press to label this as an apology. I read it as an acknowledgement, particularly when it came to select games and decisions that “partially betrayed” gamers trust. While I don’t think SEGA deserves a pass for some of their decisions in the third party era, I do think it is good form to acknowledge past mistakes.
I’m not somebody who believes that SEGA suddenly dropped the ball when they became a third party company. And I don’t blame SEGA entirely for their current business model either. It seems to me that today everyone and their grandmother claim to be burnt SEGA fans. ‘Remember SEGA of old?’ They lament. But as a SEGA gamer since the 90’s I remember a very different picture. I remember SEGA the underdog, even in the Dreamcast era it was hard to find a genuine blue-blooded SEGA fan. I remember hearing ‘SEGA Sucks!‘ regularly even in arguably their golden era.
In the years immediately after SEGA’s transition to a third party company they were still killing it. Game’s like Virtua Fighter 4, Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, Panzer Dragoon Orta, Super Monkey Ball, Shenmue 2, House of the Dead 3, Skies of Arcadia Legends, F-Zero GX, Phantasy Star Online Blue Burst, Otogi, Jet Set Radio Future and many more were released and for me SEGA were still on top form. But I don’t think it will surprise you to hear that almost all of the games mentioned above didn’t sell very well. And history repeated itself last generation… Again SEGA released a lot of great games and again they were met with lukewarm sales and apathetic gamers.
It seems to me that only in retrospect do many gamers see that in fact SEGA do not ‘suck’ but release a lot of great games. I saw a topic on Neogaf recently asking: ‘Which is SEGA’s best game?‘ The thread was full of commenters saying that they cannot choose a single greatest SEGA game as they have released such an amount of great and varied games. But if SEGA’s best game can only find fanfare years after release it’s no surprise to me that they have taken the less ambitious route; eventually something has to give.
So when Haruki Satomi say’s that he wants SEGA to return to the brand they once was, I’m more than convinced that they could achieve that with relative ease. SEGA, after all are an incredibly talented company who only need to green light from the money men to push out another incredible game like Valkyria Chronicles, Yakuza, Binary Domain, OutRun 2, Alien Isolation, Sonic Colours and yes even Chain Chronicles… I’m more worried that they’ll never beat this ‘SEGA Sucks‘ stigma and yet more instant classic will sit on shelves unsold than anything else. ‘SEGA Sucks‘ is SEGA’s greatest hurdle.
I have been a SEGA fan most of my life and written about SEGA for a large portion of my life as a hobby. I would say that this makes me a ‘SEGA fan’ and as a fan I find that the company has been in a sort of loss in recent times. Not just SEGA, but most Japanese gaming companies have a hard time finding their foothold in the industry due to the rise in mobile gaming in Japan and the lack of console sales in that region. I remember their last big restructure happen way back in 2012 when they said they would be focusing on main franchises, at the time I felt that this was a good way for SEGA to gain more exposure for these titles, allow SEGA to carefully create and market them to an audience. Sadly this not what we experience with crappy launch of Total War: Rome 2, the Sonic Boom fiasco and even having Nintendo make Bayonetta 2 (seriously?). What was the point of running fewer games if the people in charge can’t even turn out good products? Much less market them.
What Haruki Satomi says is reassuring because the man has a proven track record and actually rather young for a CEO of a company (in his 30’s) so he grew up with the same SEGA brand we all know and love. Before getting the job of running all of Sega Games Co (aka SEGA basically) he was CEO and President of SEGA Networks (which now falls under Sega Games Co) where he helped improve SEGA’s mobile games. While SEGA didn’t have the worse games, they tended on making games based around boxed titles and reused assets. It felt like when Satomi came in, SEGA Networks really started finding its pacing with new hit game IPs like Chain Chronicles, made massive successful titles out of older franchises like Puyo Puyo!! Quest and even found new ways to profit in mobile like creating their online store Noah Pass (Allows users to download, play free-to-play titles and get money for trying them).
Now we come back to what he can offer with SEGA. I feel like Haruki Satomi understands that a company has to always continue moving forward and I hope he isn’t afraid of introducing the world to new IPs to add to the SEGA brand. I know a lot of people here want him to talk about resurrecting older IPs, that’s fine but SEGA was always about moving forward every generation. Imagine if all we got every generation was a new Sonic, Streets of Rage, and a few other key IPs? We would never have gotten classics later on like Panzer Dragoon, Jet Set Radio, Skies of Arcadia, and the list goes on.
So basically I like what he said, I think everything you approach in gaming has to have quality. It has become too easy for consumers to figure out which game is ‘shitty’ and its not worth trying to ‘pull a fast one’ on your fans. One thing that still concerns me is what are his thoughts on SEGA’s marketing departments for each region because I have to be honest I always felt like SEGA of America couldn’t sell squat if they tried.
Haruki Satomi’s statements come as a bit of a surprise for me. Not often do you find a President admit his company got it wrong, even more so when his father is the CEO of the parent company. Most in his place would often like to clarify where they were successful, so easily could Satomi have said that he presided over the success of SEGA Networks growth, about how he is different. But rather he took a more humble approach, admitted their were problems within SEGA and is looking to rectify them. I think a key part of the interview was when he addressed that SEGA learnt from Atlus how to market Japanese games, it seemed almost a way to down trodden SEGA America/Europe, who both had difficulties trying to establish a profitable fanbase for the company’s Japanese products to thrive. Hopefully this admission will further their attitudes in localising Japanese content for a Western userbase.
I’m glad to see the new President is also willing to give the games the development budget and length they need to be as great as possible but I think we’ve already seen this in action. Alien: Isolation had been in development for a significant amount of time and adding to that both Sonic and Warhammer have had 3 years of production. It definitely feels though that the company is looking to add to it’s mobile successes, not circle around it, which was a key point I always spoke of when people derided SEGA’s success in mobile. Now with a young and ambitious CEO it gives me belief he’ll do what he says, unlike CEOs at other Japanese companies who are in their late 50s or so that maybe stuck in the past, Satomi is only 37 and willing to expand his scope more so than others. After the video they posted in early June, this interview provided by Satomi and the Yakuza Team making a non-Yakuza game, signs are indicating SEGA is slowly regaining it’s strength and confidence.
I definitely view Satomi’s comments as a promising step in the right direction, though I’m still hesitant to fully become excited about them given how strongly SEGA’s expressed and demonstrated their commitment to their new direction by this point. He’s an important figure in the company, but he’s not the only one making the decisions. Given how entrenched Japan has become in the mobile market, it remains to be seen how much control he will even have over them. It’s also important to note that he only recently began serving his position, so any changes that he might deliver (unless of course they’ve already been set in motion) will take some time.
But those are my only reservations, really. I’m eager to see where Satomi takes SEGA in the future, and I hope it’s a future with a little bit more being offered for all their fans, not just certain ones.