E3 2011: Sega's Pritchard talks Aliens: Colonial Marines, used sales
Publisher's executive vice president of marketing offers his take on Gearbox's new game, secondhand market, the six-week-long PlayStation Network outage, and Vita support.
LOS ANGELES--The 2011 Electronic Entertainment Expo comes to a close today in Los Angeles after some big announcements were made. Nintendo unveiled the Wii U, Microsoft brought Halo 4 out of the shadows, and Sony offered the finalized name of its newest portable, Vita.
One of the major exhibitors on the show floor this year was Sonic house Sega. The company used its floor space to showcase a range of games, including first-person shooter Binary Domain, Aliens: Colonial Marines, Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games, and others.
GameSpot caught up with Sega's executive vice president of marketing Alan Pritchard and picked his brain about a range of topics, including Aliens: Colonial Marines for the Wii U, the effect of pre-owned sales on the publisher, the possibility of Bayonetta 2, and more.
GameSpot: How have you enjoyed this year's show?
Alan Pritchard: I think the show has been positive in general. I think that a lot of publishers and retailers have been looking to E3 to give the market a little bit of life, and I think it's been challenging for publishers in many ways, as we wait for new formats to kick in. We've learned a lot more about Nintendo's and Sony's plans.
GS: Sega recently dated Aliens: Colonial Marines for spring 2012. What does this game mean for Sega? And what's your opinion of its developer, Gearbox Software?
AP: It's a huge game for us. We had Aliens vs. Predator from Rebellion a couple years ago. I think Gearbox Software and Randy and his team speak for themselves. The quality of products that comes out of that studio is fantastic. I think the energy from [Gearbox CEO] Randy [Pitchford] really says a lot...he's living and breathing this. He's a huge Aliens fan. We've also announced our internal studio Creative Assembly is working on another Aliens property. Aliens is an important franchise and is part of our strategy moving forward. I think we should see a much better performance [with Aliens: Colonial Marines] than we did with Aliens vs. Predator.
GS: Aliens: Colonial Marines was shown during the Wii U sizzle reel at Nintendo's briefing on Tuesday. Is this game actually coming to the Wii U or was it just a prototype?
AP: Aliens: Colonial Marines for the Wii U was part of Nintendo's briefing, so that was great. And Sega and Gearbox have been fortunate enough to be involved with Nintendo from the start. It was a prototype, but we do have it playing on the [Wii U] dev kit. We need to know more about the exact launch timing [of the Wii U] and if it is something that will work for our Aliens franchise. Is it something that is going to be simultaneous? To be up there with the other first- and third-party tech demos...it's good that we're part of that thinking for the platform.
It was interesting that Nintendo didn't really talk about the Wii [during its briefing], which is obviously a platform that is still important for most third-party publishers.
We have some big titles [for the Wii]. Mario & Sonic is a semi-first-party game so that's going to be important for us this year. We do have some Wii games left in development, and we do have some Wii product in our product road map. We do have some future stuff. How the Wii lands compared to PS2...I don't think we know though about that yet. They have potential future price drops up their sleeve. But it does need new content, as well as a catalog to drive the new hardware through. Obviously, it's going to be big for this Christmas, and I think the Wii will be a very viable platform through next Christmas.
GS: How about the Vita? How does Sega plan to support Sony's newest portable?
AP: We have Virtua Tennis 4...a launch title whenever that is. Then we have other projects in development, some of which will be launch window titles. And some other stuff for holiday. I think Sega is seeing the Vita as a good opportunity. Sega does well as a publisher at the beginning of platforms. [Virtua Tennis 4] is the only one that we've announced as a launch date title for Vita.
GS: Will Sega support the Vita with new IP or games based on existing Sega properties?
AP: There's a mix of new IP and franchise continuation. We try to utilize as much of the Vita's features and functionality and incorporate that into the gameplay so we can differentiate it from existing franchises on other formats.
GS: One of the biggest news events of the year has been the six-week-long PlayStation Network outage and the fallout surrounding it. How did this affect Sega? And is Sega's relationship with Sony changed following it?
AP:I don't think we can allow it to affect our relationship, regardless of what we think (laughs). We need to work with Sony. And we do have a good relationship with Sony. It has affected us because if it's down, we can't sell games.
GS: Can you offer a specific monetary figure concerning how the downtime affected Sega?
AP: I wouldn't like to quote a percentage or a monetary figure [of how much it's affected us].
However, digital and console download is very important for us. And we've had great success with Sonic 4 Episode 1. It was the number-one selling title in its launch month. We've got Renegade Ops coming out later this year, and by the time that releases, everything will have smoothed over on the PSN.
Everyone who makes content for that service has been affected. Poor old Sony. It's been a horrible month for them, being beaten up by the press and what have you. As long as it's fixed and is future proofed in time for our big new releases, then it's no problem for us.
GS: Did Sony do enough during its media briefing to apologize for the situation?
AP: It's a difficult one, isn't it? They could have dedicated more time to it, but that's not what they wanted to use their briefing for. But to hold their briefing and not say anything could have also been a problem. So they had to say something, and I think it was fine. And I think their take is to put it behind them and move on.
GS: Movie tie-in games don't always fare well. What are Sega's thoughts on bringing these games to market, considering Sega just released Thor: God of Thunder to cold reception?
AP: I think the peak time, the golden days, for movie properties, was four or five years ago, when it seemed to be a type of product that consumers had a bit more appetite for. I think movie-licensed properties have struggled from a quality perception point of view.
We signed a five title deal with Marvel four or five years ago, so we're locked into it. It's just a little bit unfortunate that the last few outings have been at a stage in the market when film-licensed products just aren't as popular. And compounded by that, we're very reliant with how the box office performs...and also the quality of the title. I think we've been a little unfortunate with the quality of some of our previous titles. Thor has done OK-ish, but we do have good expectations for Captain America. And it's had quite a lot of good feedback at the show.
GS Will Sonic Generations be released for the Wii U?
AP: The timing just doesn't work. Generations releases this November, and the Wii U is coming out next spring/summer. I think one of the things we don't have to do, or reduce where possible, is we don't want to port games. I think if there's going to be a Sonic game for the Wii U, it needs to be built from the ground up. It's more likely that it would be a separate stand-alone installment or in conjunction with a multiplatform release in the future. But to bring out Generations on a platform six or eight months after we release PS3, 360, and 3DS probably won't be the best strategy.
AP: We still have a good relationship with Platinum Games, and their next title is Anarchy Reigns, which comes out during the early part of next year. So that's all we've announced to date from Platinum Games. We know a lot of people have been asking questions, thinking it's the right thing to do, but we haven't said anything on that.
GS: What are Sega's thoughts concerning the effect of pre-owned sales on a publisher? How do these secondhand sales help or hurt your goals?
AP: It's often a hot topic and in other territories as well. It's a difficult one I think. It's clearly a model that's unlikely to go away, and it does work for certain retailers. I think that some retailers do have the ability of linking pre-owned to new release sales and helping pre-owned drive sales of new releases. So from that perspective, you could say there are advantages for publishers. I think there are some positive promotional aspects. It's very difficult to ascertain...very difficult.
GS: Publishers have been enacting "Project $10" systems, whereby a $10 pass needs be purchased by secondhand owners to earn access to all features of a game. Does Sega plan to offer something similar in the future?
AP: We've been having those discussions internally, but we don't have any plans to incorporate that into any games yet. But there are a number of discussions that have been going on for a while at Sega. So at some point, we may have something to talk about.