Vertical Slice: Sega of America – Why I’m Not Surprised

Vertical Slice: Sega of America – Why I’m Not Surprised

by February 13, 2015

I’ve been predicting a organizational reshuffle of this magnitude within Sega for some time. But I found the news of Sega of America’s downsizing nonetheless startling. This is Sega of America, the cool cats that brought us Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic Spinball and Comix Zone, and the last major Sega headquarters in the Western world. And now it’s heading over to California to “refocus” on digital releases and laying off 120 men and woman along the way?

I’m startled, but not surprised.

Sega Sammy has been announcing moves away from the “packaged” videogame market for several years since 2012, giving the impression that Sega of America’s (SoA) downsizing had been on the cards as a contingency plan for just as long. And what caused Sega Sammy to commence this plan? Why, Sonic Boom of course.

Sega Sammy has given no specific reason for the downsizing, but the poorly received and underperforming releases of the uninspired Shattered Crystal and the unfinished Rise of Lyric are far too recent to not be complicit. After all, of Sega Sammy’s three hundred company wide layoffs, over a third of them are within SoA alone.

Blaming Sonic Boom just makes sense.

But the Sonic Boom games are just a few of many blunders by both SoA and Sega Japan in recent years. I’d go as far as to say that Sega Japan is equally to blame for SoA’s downsizing. In fact, I suspect that SoA is being sacrificed in an attempt to keep Sega’s Japanese arm healthy, mainly because Sega Sammy wants to keep their monetary assets close to home. But what’s important to note is that this is a Sega problemthe culmination of years of overhyped and ultimately disappointing products, poor customer relations and a host of reputation damaging decisions. Decisions that have resulted in three hundred job losses.

Think about that for a momentthat’s three hundred men and women facing unemployment, a proportions of which probably had no direct influence on Sega’s managerial decisions. How many of those three hundred people are dependant on that Sega payslip; how many mothers, fathers and carers? Three hundred people nervously polishing their CVs and preparing to fire them off into the void. All because of Sega’s incompetency at decision making.

Lets look at someof my favourite Sega cock-ups from the last few years, shall we?

TSSZ Vertical Slice Bayonetta Anarchy Reigns

Platinum Games is a shiny knight in an world where Mega Man is dead and Rare makes Kinect Sports titles. Its games are well received, moderately success and consistently awesome. I love Platinum Games. So why oh why did Sega treat them like a two-bit shovelware workhorse?

The year 2009 saw the release of Platinum’s first hand held title, the critically acclaimed space opera RPG Infinite Space for the Nintendo DS. Never heard of it? Platinum doesn’t blame you―in 2012, Platinum producer Atsushi Inaba told Edge magazine (#246) that Sega was to blame for under shipping the game.

July, 2012: Anarchy Reigns, Platinum’s multiplayer brawler, is released in Japan, with the fully localised Western version ready and waiting for a near simultaneous worldwide launch. Missed out on the fun? Platinum doesn’t blame youfor reasons undisclosed to Platinum and player alike, Sega sentenced Anarchy Reigns to die a lonely Western death in January 2013 with little to no fanfare and a budget price tag.

Although Sega own the IP, the eponymous heroine of Platinum’s landmark title Bayonetta has become the company’s fan appointed mascot. But there might be a few of you displeased with the crippled frame rate and long loading times of Bayonetta‘s PlayStation 3 port―and Platinum wouldn’t blame you. In the aforementioned issue of Edge Inaba admited that allowing Sega to handle the port was the company’s “biggest failure“.

Thanks Sega.

But wait, my list of Sega brain farts doesn’t end with Platinum Games. How about Sega’s refusal to localise Yakuza 5 despite fan demand, until finally handing the job over to Sony? And let us not forget Sega’s ongoing inability to even mention Phantasy Star Online 2 in the same sentence as “Western Release” even though the official US site and Facebook page are still up!

Vertical Slice Rome II Pre Order

What’s that? Sega values its customers? That must be why it rammed a plethora of pre-order bonuses for broken games down our throats with Total War: Rome II and Aliens: Colonial Marines. Speaking of which, I wonder how Sega’s court case against Gearbox is going. We know their joint defence against Roger Perrine and John Locke didn’t go well$1.25 million, straight into a settlement fund. Ouch.

With so many botches under its belt it’s hardly surprising that wait, what? You want me to list a few more more? Oh okay, but only because I love you TSSZ readers so bloody much!

Sega Sammy say it’ll be focusing on digitally distributed PC and mobile games. So I wonder how long it’ll take them to dust off its bad reputation for lazy PC ports. The HD “remasters” of Sega’s most beloved Dreamcast titles were particularly embarrassing, seeing as the games’ only improvements were Xinput compatibility and modern resolutions. Sonic Adventure, for example, is still only playable in a 4:3 aspect ratio!

Then there’s Sega’s foray into mobile gaming, where its shoddy iOS and Android conversions of Sonic 1 and Sonic 2 were scrapped in favour of Christian Whitehead’s. And let us not forget Sega’s ingenious idea of asking customers to pay for its “free-to-play” titles Sonic Dash and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, before removing the price tag altogether.

Customer satisfaction guaranteed!

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If it sounds like I’m venting, then it’s because I am. Sega is a company I once adored, the company that gave me Sonic as a child, and a a shed load of fantastic games through the 90’s and beyond. But like a man married to a drunk, I can only stand by, helpless and pleading, as Sega pisses its reputation and finances down the drain.

It’s hard to be sympathetic. It’s hard to care. Sega is in a bad, bad place, and it only has itself to blame.

Read Michael’s previous columns via his TSSZ author page and check out his blog at MegaWestgarth. Feel free to leave comments below on how good Sonic Adventure 2 is. He knows how much you like to do that.