Q&A: Sega brass talk Platinum deal

Publisher's US president and VP of marketing discuss their approach to making commercial hits from critical darlings; say new games won't be one-offs.

Last week, Sega announced that it had signed a deal with PlatinumGames, the spiritual successor to Capcom's shuttered Clover Studios. Led by many of Clover's familiar faces, Platinum boasts an all-star talent roster featuring Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil 4, God Hand), Atsushi Inaba (Okami, Viewtiful Joe), Hideki Kamiya (Resident Evil 2, Devil May Cry), and Hifumi Kuono (Clock Tower, Steel Battalion).

Madworld will be the first PlatinumGames release from Sega.

Currently there are four Platinum projects confirmed under way: the over-the-top gory Wii title Madworld, DS sci-fi role-playing game Infinite Line, cinematic PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 action game Bayonetta, and an as yet unannounced project from Mikami. GameSpot sat down with Sega of America president and COO Simon Jeffery and VP of marketing Sean Ratcliffe at a San Francisco unveiling of the games to discuss the company's attraction to Platinum, how to ensure the games perform as well on the sales charts as they do in reviews, and the challenge of bringing Japanese games to a Western audience.

GameSpot: How did the PlatinumGames deal come about?

Simon Jeffery: I think as most of the people in the gaming media know, when these guys splintered away from Capcom, there was massive interest in what they would do. Their portfolio, talent, and track record is phenomenal, and publishers--especially the Japanese publishers--were intently interested in seeing what they wanted to do.

When ODD and Seeds merged to form PlatinumGames, they knew the direction they wanted to take. They wanted independence. They wanted to be able to make games on multiple formats, and we along with most of the gaming publishers started courting them. It just worked out that we were able to offer them the kind of freedom and independence to build the games they wanted to build.

The guys at Platinum are just at the top of their game right now, and what they've delivered is so clearly AAA in every way, when they started to show us product, we had to have it.

GS: Their games so far have been more successful critically than commercially. How are you going to address that?

SJ: I kind of argue with some of that. Devil May Cry sold huge, but in general, yeah, you could categorize some of their products in that manner. I think that might be because even though I'm a huge fan of Capcom, it's still run in the West as a very Japanese company. Sega is run in the West as a Western company. All of the Sega management in North America and Europe is Western management. We really believe that with strong marketing competency and sales competency with people who are experienced selling games in the West, we can help bring these games Platinum is building to the West and make them commercially successful as well as critically successful.

Sean Ratcliffe: It's a challenge for us to take this content and make it successful, but it's the same challenge we face every day with any sort of game. It's not particularly because it comes from PlatinumGames. How do we make any title the most successful it can be?

GS: Is this just an issue with marketing and how it's presented to people instead of actual content? Do you tell them, "Maybe you don't want to have the character put that chainsaw in that particular place?"

Infinite Line will let players create their own spaceships.

SJ: These guys are let to do whatever they want. They built the trailers. They build the games. We help them with the marketing direction. We think the games they're building are world-class on literally a world basis. We want to help them sell those games in the West, and we see Sega as providing them with advice on what will work, what won't work, what might be too much blood for the [Entertainment Software Rating Board] in the case of Madworld...

But these guys are some of the best guys there have ever been at building game content in our industry, so we want to trust them and respect them for their accomplishments and what they'll build in the future. There's a trust investment as well as a financial investment, and we really want to deliver on that.

SR: We don't see the role of marketing somehow diluting this content down. We are working with these guys because they show an inordinate amount of innovation and creativity in what they're doing. Our role in marketing and publishing is to harness that, shape it, make sure we're not running afoul of the ESRB, but not diluting it.

GS: Is this deal exclusive, or can Platinum work here and there for other publishers?

SJ: It's completely exclusive.

GS: Do the intellectual property rights for these brands stay with Sega or Platinum Games?

SJ: Sega.

GS: What's the battle plan for establishing three or four original IPs in the marketplace now? You've so far made a big deal about PlatinumGames as a brand, but will you build all the marketing around the developers?

SJ: We absolutely believe that the franchises we introduced tonight will drip feed tonight. We showed more on Madworld for a reason. There's more there, and we don't want to oversaturate with three products at the same time. Madworld is probably going to be the first to market. We really want to make sure there's distance between [games]. One of the great things about the way Platinum is structured is that they want their creative directors to run their own lines. So these franchises will be built over a long term. What we've seen today is the starting point, but all of those games--Bayonetta, Madworld, Infinite Line--won't be one-offs. They're all uniquely different enough from everything in their space to build complete franchises out of. The whole foundation of PlatinumGames is built around that long-term strategy. They don't just want to make a quick buck and throw out a few games. They've been in the business long enough to know what works, and they really want to pretty much establish themselves as gaming gods.

GS: When Platinum president and CEO Tatsuya Minami introduced the slate of games to the press, he commended Sega for having the "courage" to sign PlatinumGames. What did he mean by that?

SJ: Quite literally, we believe in their independence and we gave them their independence. We don't want to force them to do something they don't believe in. We don't want to force them to do something that isn't right for the games they're building, or something that might be right for this market but not that market. We think they're smart enough and proven enough to build world-class games and I think these guys appreciate that we're letting them do their own thing and not being the big bully publishers.

This lunar pic is about all Sega's shown of Bayonetta.

SR: In today's world, publishers are businesses at the end of the day, so they have to turn a profit. That leads to a more formulaic approach, sort of building games and properties and franchises. In some cases, publishers acquire studios because of creativity or proficiency in a genre they're lacking, but slowly and surely they knock out the creativity by becoming like an overbearing parent. "You can't do this, we don't want you to do that." What Sega's doing is saying, "We want to work with you because of your creativity. We don't want to destroy that; we want to encourage that."

GS: The platform choices could be key for some of these titles. How are the conversations about what titles end up where going to go?

SJ: These guys are platform-agnostic. Bayonetta's on the next-gen platforms, Madworld's on the Wii... One of the things we really like about them is they're building teams and expertise around specific platforms. Instead of saying, "Today you're doing it on this, and tomorrow you're doing it on that," they're really trying to build up and leverage expertise. The stuff they're building on Bayonetta is the best stuff I've seen on next-gen. It's absolutely outstanding.

But we're not concerned about what happens on platforms or where they might go. These guys are smart enough, savvy enough, and broad enough to go any which way.

SR: In the last hardware cycle, there were clear winners in terms of hardware. But it's a different sort of dynamic now in terms of hardware and penetration of hardware. I think the idea of sticking to one platform is an idea most people are moving away from. We're looking at development on multiple platforms here so it's not a huge concern for us.

GS: In recent years you've been teaming with Western developers a lot, either acquiring them or shopping out external development to them. That seemed to be a change in strategy for Sega. Does this deal with a Japanese developer signal another change in your approach?

SJ: Not really. I think it's a reflection of what's happening in the Japanese market and where Sega feels we need to be with bringing Japanese product to the West. We look at games like Metal Gear Solid and see the fantastic success and penetration and market acceptance they've had in the West. Sega wants to bring more products from Japan that are globally appropriate to the Western market.

GS: What's different about bringing a Japanese game to American market instead of a Western game?

SJ: Well, 90 percent of games built in Japan don't sell in the West, and 90 or 95 percent of games built in the West don't sell in Japan. There's just a huge cultural divide, a huge cultural disconnect. If you look at the sell-through charts in Japan on a weekly basis, you'd probably recognize one of those games as having made any kind of penetration in Western markets. However, there are games like Devil May Cry, Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy, that have hit a critical mass of commercial appeal as well as resonating with gaming press. We want to get the balance right and ensure that we have our share of those games. But you're right, a lot of our business is about building games in the West for the West.

SR: We need that balanced portfolio. We want games for kids and families, core gamers, casual gamers, mobile and handheld gamers, and so on. We have got to have that broad view, and that means the development strategy--working only with one type of developer, or only in one part of the world--that binary approach doesn't work anymore. As a global company, we have to have that balanced view. It's not alien to what we're doing; it's a key part of what we're doing.

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Discussion

37 comments
Ruhdezee
Ruhdezee

madworld ..... i need it

kenn0bi
kenn0bi

Ratcilffe is a marketing legend in the industry

gunswordfist
gunswordfist

I hope this makes Sega one step closer to killing Nintendo.

jonano12
jonano12

make shenmue 3 for f**k sake the story needs to be finished cuz in my opinion its one of the best i loved the first one icompleted it four tims before it broke on me never played the second but i will be soon come on maybe its the epic game that sega needs to show its a world class games company again bring back the dreamcast greats best console of the times

Ghimo
Ghimo

Sega has come to the slow and painful realization that it can't rely on just pachinko machines alone to pay the bills. Hopefully that realization means a renewed commitment and investment in better video games.

ZippyDSMLee
ZippyDSMLee

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

LindBergh2007
LindBergh2007

peterlala2002, don't listen to these Sega bashers they talk nothing but sour grapes when it comes to down to this article. Sega of America's marketing department needs a breath of fresh air, they need some strong hit games and clever marketing so that way when Sega of Japan officially returns to the console market people will welcome them back.( For the love of God please end 4-kid's contract and replace them with ADV!) I have faith in Radcliffe, I pray that he makes us proud. Steinberg let us down, Bernie ruined Saturn and Peter Moore left before he could even try to save face.

peterlala2002
peterlala2002

Sega ... Screw this, ANNOUNCE that you will be releasing ' Skies of arcadia 2, shenmue 3, sonic unleashed, New Nights, New Jet Grind Radio, new Ikaruga and Gunstar heroes, Streets of rage, samba amigo, and everything else u made great! and say its all going on your new CONSOLE! ... *dreams* Ps3, Wii, 360 has NOTHING on the dreamcast!!! ... too bad people didn't get to see that :( Mad World looks good, hope sega and clover release another God Hand ... no ones probebly heard of it, but it was a great game!

Ranteal
Ranteal

Ryusennin, I couldnt agree more. If SEGA has any nads, they will shut down shop right now and start a mexican riot and reap the profits!!!

drangel_jam
drangel_jam

At the end of the day, Sega is arguably the publisher with the most franchises that could appeal to both regions. It's all about making great games. --they either did not make the right sequels (at the right time): Sega Rally, -- they did them well without enough MKT push or new-gen substance: Virtua Fighter 5, Otogi --or they simply published downright bad games: Sonic 3d games, Nights,.

Ripper_TV
Ripper_TV

Ryusennin, fully agree with you. That's just nothing but high-flown talk, unfortunately. And yes, haven't seen a tough product from Sega since Dreamcast times. P.S. I'm voting for bringing more Japan-only games for the Western market and for improving quality of localisation. P.P.S. Can't understand, where do they get their money to make such deals? It seems Sega didn't do well in terms of money recently.

LindBergh2007
LindBergh2007

Sega of America's purchase "PlatinumGames" may be a breath of fresh air to the long dead Sega Of America who's marketing department has been dormat since 2005. hopefully, they can market these new titles with additude which is what made the Genesis so cool during the early 90s. I am rooting for both Simon Jeffery and Sean Ratcliffe(so long Stein) hopefully these new faces will inject new life into Sega Of America and if SOA plays thier cards right, by making better games they'll regain notoriety that way by the time SEGA of Japan finally annouces a NEW console, Sega will recieve a warm welcome back into the console market. Hurrah for SEGA!!!!!!! To peterlala2002, I'm with you! SEGA will rise again. They WILL be back with another console. Mark my words.

Proman84
Proman84

"Platinum boasts an all-star talent roster featuring Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil 4, God Hand), Atsushi Inaba (Okami, Viewtiful Joe), Hideki Kamiya (Resident Evil 2, Devil May Cry), and Hifumi Kuono (Clock Tower, Steel Battalion)." Wow, what a team! I can't wait to see what these guys come up with.

akiwak
akiwak

Hideki Kamiya!!! It was thanks to Resident Evil 2 that I purchased a Playstation. I first bought the PS2 for Metal Gear but that took too long to come out so I got Devil May Cry and WOW did that satisfy me until MGS2 came out. I still play Devil May Cry!!!!

retrofraction12
retrofraction12

I AM glad to see they are making new games, But I really would like another jet set readio.

Ryusennin
Ryusennin

Those Sega suits are hilarious. Such words coming from the guys who slashed Shenmue, Rez, Space Channel 5... Hilarious... and scary. I really wish Clover/Platinum the best for the future, but Sega is really the worst publisher to do business with.

peterlala2002
peterlala2002

Hell Yes! Sega! i LOVE you sooo much! and it has been so painful for the past years to see you guy's being brutally beaten down for every game u guy's released! Thanks For taking over the clover studios! NOW sega will pwn! im so happy right now! :) :) :) :) :) Biggest Sega Fan in the world!! WE WILL RISE AGAIN! ... make a few more franchises peoplewill love and boom! MAKE A CONSOLE! like back in the good day's! ... LOVE YOU SEGA

BelatedNoob
BelatedNoob

Yea, i cant wait to check this out on the Wii later this year.

Pices
Pices

madworld is definitely what everyone is lookin for , thank God that sega is finally making an amazing wii-exclusive game

Trajectorize
Trajectorize

Go Sega!! Here's hoping they can return to their glory of years past. Is PlatinumGames proves to be a great developer for Sega, any chance of handing them some classic Sega properties like Panzer Dragoon or Streets of Rage? Imagine SoR done GodHand style!

epormada
epormada

Sega's recently released Condemned 2 and Viking Battle for Asgard are two great games. Especially Condemned 2! They just need to stop making Sonic games. Unless the next one is titled "the Death of Sonic", just stop.

X-RS
X-RS

im sorry but there are a lot of japan only games westerners want. and i when i say a lot, i mean a $#!+load!

LindBergh2007
LindBergh2007

Sega of America's purchase "PlatinumGames" may be a breath of fresh air to the long dead Sega Of America who's marketing department has been dormat since 2005. hopefully, they can market these new titles with additude which is what made the Genesis so cool during the early 90s. I am rooting form both Simon Jeffery and Sean Ratcliffe(so long Stein) hopefully these new faces will inject new life into Sega Of America and if SOA plays thier cards right, by making better games they'll regain notoriety that way by the time SEGA of Japan finally annouces a NEW console, Sega will recieve a warm welcome back into the console market.

wooooode
wooooode

First smart thing Sega did in 10 years.

okassar
okassar

It doesn't sound epic,but Bayonetta looks pretty cool...

metalgeekguy
metalgeekguy

Do my eyes deceive me? do I actually see the words "Kill $#!+" blazing forth in the background of a game exclusive to a NINTENDO console??? Hell has frozen...

jasonharris48
jasonharris48

I can't wait to see what Shinji Makami is working on.

lamprey263
lamprey263

Awesome!! SEGA is going to be publishing the ex-Capcop, ex-CloverStudios games, they're definitely on their way to becoming a powerhouse pubisher that's back to making critically successful games... let's just hope they're commercially successful too. I'm finally glad to hear there's action on that front of the ex-Capcom staff. After all, Capcom's business decisions have been really crap since the separation of CloverStudios. For instance, they've remade Lost Planet... twice!! And they've re-released RE:4 for the Wii and Okami too. It's not like these are bad decisions, but this is almost everything they've come up with besides releasing DMC4 and RE:UC. Going back to that idea of critically success over commercial, I thought Panzer Dragoon Orta was one of those kinds of games. I hope this new decision by SEGA sparks ideas to bring back this series. At this point I wouldn't mind if the ex-CloverStudios staff worked on this or if SEGA re-united the Smilebit staff.

LINKloco
LINKloco

Everything sounds awesome. Can't wait for these games and the future for Platinum Games.=)

PlayerPrezident
PlayerPrezident

Sounds good! This might just put Sega back on the map!

mpeg3s
mpeg3s

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Taegre
Taegre

Great article, I absolutely love everything said here! Aside from the fact that I'm perhaps the last (proud) Sega fanboy, this is just the first time in a long time we've heard publishers talk sense. Aside from the very, very slim possibility that all four of these games will blow, the only way I see people not buying these games are because Sega is involved with them. We keep seeing people ignore great Sega games while giving huge attention to the subpar titles. Hopefully the mainstream audience will learn some sense this time around.

TheCarl
TheCarl

This is most excellent news. Thank you Sega for giving these extremely talented individuals a chance to express themselves without restrictions.

dr_jashugan
dr_jashugan

I hope great Japanese RPGs will come out of this deal. 8)