Sega reaches milestone as third-party publisher

The release of Super Monkey Ball in the US further cements Sega's position as a third-party publisher. SOA's Charles Bellfield talks to us about the milestone release and his company's relationship with Nintendo.

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Super Monkey Ball marks somewhat of a milestone for Sega of America, as it is the company's first game to be released on a Nintendo console in the North American market--the game is already available on the GameCube in Japan. The animosity between the longtime rivals is almost legendary, but the two companies have similar business practices and development philosophies, and Sega now finds itself firmly allied with the markers of Mario, Pokémon, and Zelda.

"Mario is our best friend," said Charles Bellfield, vice president of marketing and corporate communications at Sega of America, when asked about Sega's partnership with old rival Nintendo. "The two companies are actually quite similar, in fact," he continued. "In a desire to compete, we both allowed the market to evolve for so many years. Now that Sega and Nintendo have come together, you will begin to really see the fruits of our relationship. We've both shared a common heritage, and now we both share a common passion and interest. Our perspective on the industry has been very similar for many years. We are both developer- and console-centric, and our sole objective is the world of video games--we're not confused with conflicting business objectives like other competitors."

This partnership could run deeper than one might imagine, judging from the game announcements and the comments from the respective publishers. There have been persistent rumors regarding joint development projects between the two firms, and when asked if the two companies would partner in developing content for consoles or the arcade market, Bellfield refused to comment either way. "In this industry you can never say never--you never know what could happen a few months from now," he explained. "But there are always things that are too early to talk about and announce. The combination of Nintendo and Sega together is a powerful force on any platform."

While Sega continues to stress that it is still a multiplatform third-party software developer, its support for the GameCube and Game Boy Advance is headlined by several of its high-profile properties. The most prominent of these is, of course, Sonic's first appearance on a Nintendo console in the form of a GameCube port of Sonic Adventure 2. However, the company will also release Phantasy Star Online on the console, and internal studios such as Amusement Vision and Overworks are tinkering with the GameCube hardware. "We will look across the board, at all our great properties, when bringing games to the GameCube," Bellfield explained. "Sonic is a natural fit on the GameCube and is the type of game that has an affinity for that consumer base, and bringing Sonic to consoles, you can see very much the potential that Sega will have in this market. But we will look at the expertise of the specific development team, the audience, and the potential of marketing partnerships with the hardware manufacturer in selecting games for specific consoles."

As Sega transitions into its new position as a third-party publisher, it finds itself with many strange bedfellows. However, the company's partnership with Nintendo seems to be a perfect match of philosophy, as both companies' development practices are based on creating games that are both entertaining and innovative. Super Monkey Ball, which is now available on retail shelves ahead of the launch of the GameCube console, seems to embody that way of thinking. "In typical Sega style, Super Monkey Ball is a very addictive game," Bellfield said. "With games like this, we're able to innovate with a far larger installed base of consumers."

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