Sega's Mike Hayes
13th Jul 2010 | 14:09
The last time we sat down with Sega's Western president Mike Hayes, he candidly admitted that the much-loved firm was craving more success with hardcore games on PS3 and 360.
A couple of weeks later, its Aliens Vs. Predator crashed into the No.1 slot of the UK charts.
The Rebellion FPS was Sega's second major hardcore smash hit of 2010 - following the release of Platinum Games' Bayonetta back in January.
But the publisher hasn't finished remedying its relationship with the hardcore just yet - and its biggest triumph of the year may be just around the corner.
Another Platinum title, Vanquish, has won rave early reviews ahead of its October release - with Insomniac Games, no less, labelling the sci-fi shooter its favourite title of E3.
Our view? We tend to agree with our sister mag Xbox World 360 - it really is shaping up to be "the future of third-person shooters". Shinji Mikami is at the helm, so perhaps you shouldn't be surprised.
All in all, then, Hayes has a lot to smile about.
But, like the rest of Sega, he knows his company is close to finally cracking the hardcore market after years on the periphery - and isn't taking his eye off the ball...
How was E3 for you?
Very good. Our big titles were spread across the platforms again. Sonic Colours got good reviews generally and Vanquish on 360 and PS3 from Platinum games was much loved.
The one I think punched above its weight was our new Kinect game, Sonic Free Riders. Because it's one of the only 'branded' Kinect titles, I think that's appealing - it's retailers I'm mostly getting this from, they're kind of upbeat about that.
It was interesting having the digital games on the stand as well for the first time. We've had two major retailers who are committing to Sonic 4, even though they can't physically sell it [as it's on XBLA and PSN].
They want to promote it so they can sell more points cards, which of course is income for them.
Elsewhere, there's our pièce de résistance, Shogun 2, which is shaping up to be one of the best Total War games we've released.
Do you think perhaps the lack of other massive PC titles is helping Shogun sing on the show floor?
Yeah, I hope so. It's interesting, now that you mention it, there wasn't a lot of PC games showing at all - even APB at EA, I thought they would make a bigger noise with that but they didn't.
We never talk about Football Manager at the show but God bless it, there's that going to be as usual in it's right time so I think we'll do very well on PC this year. We're probably a top three PC publisher usually, so hopefully we'll do a little bit better this year with that.
You mentioned your Sonic Kinect game. Do you think that might help you stand out - because you've got that ability to draw the eye of more experienced gamers?
I hope so. You and I talked about this before with Sonic; we've got this big segmentation opportunity, although it's also a real challenge.
We've got to make games that appeal to the 7-to-12-year-old which is exactly what Colours will do - and then we need to appeal to the core gamer, which is what Sonic 4 is doing.
Riders, funnily enough, is actually where the boundary is grey, and we like to say it will appeal to both. The feedback we're getting from retailers is that because it's branded is very popular both in America and Europe, it's an easier sale when they're talking about Kinect to consumers - "look you've got Sonic".
So whether it's the core gamer that wants Kinect titles that are more gamey or whether it's the animals game-type [type of consumer] I think Sonic fits in between.
So I'm hoping we get a bit of both on that but until we see where Kinect ends up in terms of who is going to buy it, and the price point is interesting, it's difficult to call.
What did you make of Kinect and Microsoft's presentation at E3? Generally, our audience seemed to be disappointed with it in comparison to the Sony and Nintendo showings...
By the 360 presentation?
By the 360 presentation.
Why was that?
Not only because it was Kinect-focused, but because the games MS showed for Kinect perhaps didn't live up to the hardware revolution that was hinted in 2009...
Right, because they showed dance and because they showed keep fit stuff.
In the year before we saw something that looked like it was going to be a massive step forward for technology...
I think that's probably a bit harsh. The dev kits we've had to work on have been exponentially improving over the period we've had them. The amount you can do out of the blocks is actually made pretty tricky.
I think what Microsoft have got is a vision of where that's going to go, I think when we're here this time next year Kinect will have more of the features that will be and are available on it.
My guess is when we're at E3 next year, more of the features of Kinect will be in use by developers. I think you'll find more clever and sophisticated applications then.
It is a reasonably complicated piece of kit, therefore it's going to take us longer to use all of those aspects in a game. We're not going to be able to develop something [for the hardcore] in under a year, which is frankly what we've had.
As developers, we understand that. [PlayStation] Move is probably slightly different because we've been involved with that kind of motion control with Wii and to be honest what we did with EyeToy etc. before, so it's probably easier for Sony to show and deliver more right now.
As I say, this time next year I think there will be more intuitive uses of Kinect which will probably appeal to a more sophisticated audience.
Is that something Sega is interested in? Creating a more a sophisticated title or titles for Kinect that may appeal to a hardcore gamer?
Yeah. We want to do more clever things on it - create original ways of using it, rather than just taking existing ideas and not just doing the same thing. Having said that, of course, with the success that we've had with Wii, there are a lot of motion games we would like to reinvent for Move and Kinect.
We've got a tech group based in England, in Southall [Middlesex]. We took them from the Racing Studio when we closed that as it was actually a very good team - we just couldn't find something for them to do. They're sat with their test tubes and Bunsen burners and that's exactly what they're doing - using the new devices to see what we can do in an original way.
We've got one good idea and hopefully something will be out the back end of next year, perhaps early 2012, which we think will use the aspects of Kinect a lot more originally and in a more sophisticated way.
Last time we spoke a big theme was you said you needed to woo the hardcore a little more on PS3 and 360 - and that was reflected in your market share. How's that plan working out?
Well we had a boost with Aliens vs. Predator, so that kind of moved us up that chart. Alpha Protocol has done okay - it hasn't done as well as we had hoped. I think time was probably an issue in terms of when we launched it with everything else that was going on.
Vanquish is getting a good response - that's our big hope for the release later this year to keep us in the 360/PS3 core game slot.
Then we've got two other big games that we'll be announcing this year for 2011 and 2012. So we're not going to be overly aggressive - but we're going to try to have one or two each year in that segment.
Having succeeded with Aliens is an example - if we can have something like that with Vanquish being successful or one of the others, that helps us gradually increase that market share.
The issue is that when you see Black Ops or Gears costing $50 million dollars-plus, consumers are becoming used to that and that is becoming the benchmark.
So naturally it is harder for others to compete in that unless you're going to commit that kind of money. For us, being more prudent by limiting the number of titles but doing those better and spending more money on them - we hope that strategy will realise a better market share for us. We're definitely very pleased with what we've got in Vanquish.
Just on Alpha Protocol, you had high hopes last time we spoke - you even mentioned that you were hopeful of a sequel. Has that plan taken a dent?
Let's speak very commercially; the game hasn't sold what we've expected, therefore we won't be doing a sequel. The concept was brilliant, though.
You know this whole thing with Metacritic where you have to be in the high 70s to mid-80s minimum [to have any success] - well, with RPGs you have got to be in the late-80s.
Whilst we had a good game, I don't think we had a game that had enough to get us to that upper echelon and I think that was the issue.
Again, the amount you need to invest to get there is so large because RPGs are naturally big projects. We've decided we won't do a sequel.
You mentioned the massive budgets that go into the Black Ops etc. Although you might not have those budgets readily available, doesn't that help you avoid homogenisation? Bayonetta and Vanquish are not your usual action titles...
That's a very good point. I think a lot of that is driven through how creative the developer is going to be and to an extent the publisher wont get involved in that.
If you've got someone like Platinum Games, who have that that different, quality approach it is an advantage. But of course that is quite difficult to find, especially when you're in a genre that is so well populated.
I think where we sit from a commercial point of view is that the Black Ops, the Gears, the Halos... In terms of the numbers they do they are so phenomenal, but there is a very good market below that.
Obviously there's failure underneath, too - so the good news is whilst Vanquish isn't shown at a Sony or Microsoft E3 show, if we can get enough interest with it, get it to a certain level of sales, then we sequelise it.
Then we start having the confidence to put more money in it and be a bit more experimental and sort of be a bigger production. I think where we're positioned right now with Vanquish is correct, and if we're getting some underground praise for it, that will position us quite nicely.
AvP came from nowhere - a number of other publishers have said they didn't expect that to do as well as it has - so I think if we can do a similar thing with Vanquish, we've got a chance. We won't overly trumpet it until it's out there with the consumer.
If we can release that and sell 1 or 1.5 million units across the US and Europe, that is fantastic. We don't expect to sell five million units - it would be nice, but we manage our expectations on it.
But to your point, yes, you can try and do things slightly differently - but we're in the hands of the developer to give us that inspiration.
As you said, you have to be commercially minded with these things but... hopeful of a Vanquish sequel in the future?
Absolutely, yeah, yeah, definitely. I think with Vanquish - because it's coming from a Platinum Games stable - we're pretty optimistic. Bayonetta set a fantastic benchmark in terms of quality.
Generally, what's your perspective on 3DS? Had you seen it before E3?
We're under so many NDAs, I can't answer that question. Are we going to have titles at and around launch? Absolutely yes, we will do.
I think Nintendo have managed the whole project absolutely brilliantly. They've worked brilliantly with third-parties; that was said at their E3 conference.
I think that was a double-sided comment from them actually: 'Thank you third parties, but you actually didn't believe in DS and Wii [at launch] did you?' And we're like: 'Point well taken.'
Whereas of course with 3DS it's one of the best third-party involvements there has been in recent years with Nintendo - that's fantastic.
How big a step forward is it for the industry?
I mean, what a great piece of kit. It's truly innovative. Their engineers are quite phenomenal - first of all with the DS and now this. The interesting thing is for Nintendo is I think they can expand their audience. I think they can move beyond the younger audience. It was encouraging to see games like Saints Row for example from THQ at E3.
I think that's a great opportunity for Nintendo and for us - particularly Western-orientated publishers. So House of the Dead or Aliens vs. Predator or other core titles like that could see a home on that platform as well, of course, as all the brands that we know will do well - Monkey Ball, Sonic etc.
In terms of technology, It's Nintendo isn't it... They work in their huge, successful separate world. That dismissal of 3D glasses was a surprise, but they've created something unique. That's Nintendo.
They'll create a phenomenally big market that this time around, which will engage third-party; at least engage them more from the outset.
I think what Reggie was saying about the gaming is absolutely right - forget the technology of what they've created with 3DS, just enjoy the games.
They had that swagger back at E3, they were not apologising for their success quite so much...
Donkey Kong looked especially good. I'm a big Donkey Kong fan so I was pleased to see that coming back.
What about 3D on the Sony side? That's obviously a more expensive proposition. How long will it take to hit the mainstream?
It's difficult for us to answer that - we can only going on what Sony have advised.
The first thing to say is that to get 3D in a game is relatively straightforward technically - which is why we're all able to move into it quite quickly as long as the art is designed from the ground up.
It's got that going for it - we're not having to spend millions and millions of dollars on making changes to do it which is great news.
How quickly will there be an appropriate penetration of 3D TV in the European markets? The figure I heard was in five years there would be 40 per cent - I think that's from Sony actually.
It will take several years to get to the point where it's quite common.
There is the minor problem of motion sickness when you play overly and particularly if you play a driving game like Motorstorm. I played a bit of that. I think for driving games 3D is going to be phenomenal - because you get all that necessary depth of field around you which actually does put you 'in' the car.
That, I think, is really interesting with what you can do, but my God after ten minutes, if you've gone for it, it was a bit like how sea sickness feels!
There are going to be games that are appropriate, just like there are movies appropriate for 3D and movies that aren't. It just doesn't make sense doing rom-coms in 3D.
The fact we can do it technically means publishers are going to really support it. Also, for the first time in technology there's a common standard across all the TV manufacturers, so that's good news - it means we can move towards it quicker than Blu-ray.
Since we last spoke my learning curve with 3D has just gone exponential in terms of understanding.
We're pleased to say we're going to make some announcements on 3D very soon.
If that's the future, let's go all the way back to the past - and the Dreamcast games that are coming to XBLA. Do you have other formats from the past you're maybe bringing onto those platforms?
Not for the moment. You're talking about Saturn?
No we're going to focus on Dreamcast, there's a significant catalogue there. Once we're done with that we'll see.
We have talked about it but I think what we did with the Genesis/Mega Drive games was opened the floodgates, particularly on VC it worked very well and then lately what we've done on XBL and PSN. It sold phenomenally well, but it was a little fragmented.
What we want to do with Dreamcast is we want to refocus people on the console and make it more of a campaign, more defined, more understood.
So confusing it by putting other things in we thought probably wouldn't be the right thing. And obviously Dreamcast was huge for the fans so we'll focus on that first.