Open Letter to @SEGA – Here’s the Plan #Phoenix #VideoGames

Open Letter to SEGA – Here’s the Plan! From the Ashes of the Past 15 Years: A New SEGA Can Be Born!

Full Disclosure: I love SEGA. As in from my first SEGA Genesis in 1990 all the way through to my Dreamcast console that saw it’s run end in the early 2000s, I hardly played any other gaming platforms. I never owned a SNES or an original Playstation while they were popular, I bought them used many years after the fact. SEGA was my home, and at the time they could do no wrong in my eyes. This was the fabled game designer/publisher that brought us such great video game series during their console dynasty: Sonic the Hedgehog, Toe Jam & Earl, Afterburner, Shenmue, Phantasy Star, Out Run, Shinobi, Panzer Dragoon, Virtua Fighter, Crazy Taxi, Space Channel 5, and many, many more. Even after SEGA announced that they would cease all console production in 2001 and focus on making games for the other gaming platforms, they still gave us the following amazing games: Binary Domain, Yakuza, Bayonetta, Valkyria Chronicles, Full Auto, Mad World, Vanquish, Super Monkey Ball, and Sega Super Stars. SEGA has a rich history of developing great games, which is why I am writing this open letter to them. It’s time for a change of plans SEGA, but no worries, I have your future all mapped out.

Why Does Sega Need a Change of Plans? Since 2001, SEGA has been developing games for all major gaming platforms with varying degrees of success. Various economic circumstances has seen SEGA reduce staff and the frequency of game releases over the last decade. Ever evolving, SEGA has smartly shifted to digital releases and mobile app development to reduce overhead costs and maximize profits. SEGA still sees a fair share of success when they leverage their properties through these newer distribution models, but they are nowhere near where they were back in the Genesis/Mega Drive days. This is why SEGA needs a change in plans, to push the focus of their business to growing their consumer base by releasing a new batch of exclusive high quality console and mobile games.

So What’s the Pitch? Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe that it is time for SEGA to re-enter the console race. I know that you think that I am crazy, but just hear me out on this one. Here’s the strategy:

  • Make 2017 the last year that you develop multi-platform games.
  • Focus your in-house development teams on creating console exclusive experiences for a variety of your hit franchises, as well as a handful of creative and exciting new IPs.
  • Get your R&D team cracking on a new console code named the Phoenix (Hey, the idea has been bandied about for years, I say we should just run with it!), with 3rd party development input, to be launched Holiday of 2018

Wait What? A New Console? Are You Serious? Why Now? I’m glad you asked. This is a fantastic time to offer a new console on the market for a variety of reasons.

  • The Xbox One and PS4 are already 3 years into their life cycle, and both Microsoft and Sony are working on upgraded versions of their hardware to offer to consumers next year. This is the first time that console developers have attempted to extend the life of their consoles by offering upgraded models that will perform noticeably better than their predecessor without being branded as a new code named console such as PS5 or XBox 411 (or whatever random number they try to tag the next XBox with). This strategy could easily backfire for Microsoft and Sony, as the consumer market may treat their new offerings much in the same way that they treated Nintendo’s Wii U.
  • Speaking of Nintendo, they are possibly dead in the water for the foreseeable future. Sure, they have their mysterious gaming platform the “NX” launching in March of 2017, but they sure aren’t creating any buzz about it. In fact, we don’t even really know what the “NX” is yet. All we know is that it plays video games and that it will have a version of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and a Just Dance game on it. Above and beyond that, we literally have confirmation on nothing else. Nintendo has no viable sales plan for the 2016 holiday season, and unless the “NX” is something extraordinary, the only major release they have lined up is the aforementioned Zelda game. The home of Mario can only subsist off of Amiibo sales for so long. If the “NX” doesn’t catch fire in 2017, Nintendo may find themselves in the same position that SEGA was in way back in 2001.
  • Essentially, the market is potentially perfectly prime in 2018 for a bold new gaming console that will play the games that they expect (Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, Madden Football, Grand Theft Auto, etc.) but with a host of top-tier 1st party console exclusives (Sonic the Hedgehog, Bayonetta, Yakuza, Phantasy Star, etc.) that they won’t be able to get anywhere else. SEGA should be the provider of that console. They can easily play the nostalgia card with virtual console releases of classic games, as well as show off new IPs and fresh takes on classic franchises to “wow” a brand new audience. We are heading into a perfect storm of circumstances that could make the market ripe, and like a Phoenix from the ashes, SEGA should seize this opportunity!

I’m Listening, I’m Listening. How Would You Launch It? This is a fair question, and one that I have put a great deal of thought into. Console launches are tricky, and nearly all of them are driven by hype and deflated by the post launch drought. Good games create the necessary hype, so as long as there are a handful of exceptional 1st party games that are well received and demoed at industry shows like E3, Gamescom, Game Developer’s Conference, Tokyo Game Show, PAX, etc., then the hype will be there. Add a broad line of quality 3rd party support from the big names: EA, Ubisoft, Activision, Square-Enix, Warner Brothers, and more, and SEGA can establish a firm initial footing with the Phoenix. Also, SEGA will want to avoid the post launch drought, which shouldn’t be difficult given the large scope of their catalog. There is a ton of games to work with, and not all of them need to be brand spankin’ new. Launch a series of remasters that sees a new beloved game launched every month. Add new games to the virtual console weekly. It couldn’t possibly be difficult to emulate classic Master System, Game Gear, Genesis, Sega CD, and 32X games. Bottomline, as with all pleasurable things: pace and stamina are the trick. If SEGA can put together a viable launch plan that sees a regular release schedule of top-tier, mid-tier, and classic games during the launch window, then the drought can be avoided. Above and beyond that, here are a few things that I think need to happen for SEGA to make a console comeback:

  • Make the Phoenix a pure gaming device, optimized for great gaming experiences. Focus on the specs, performance, and adding robust online connectivity and features. Make it easy to develop for, and work closely with your 3rd party partners to ensure that they like the design tools and that they can easily make games that run well on the system. Don’t worry so much about the fiddly bits of silly apps, voice recognition, and whatnot, as those can all come after the launch window as a firmware update.
  • Support as many of the streaming services as possible on day one. Netflix, Twitch, Hulu, HBO Now, Amazon Prime, Spotify, Funimation, Crunchyroll, YouTube, Sling, and more need to be on the console and working at launch. A modern game console must play great games and have value adding streaming content.
  • Blu-Ray Drive and movie playback. I know that the future is disc-less, but we aren’t there yet. Plenty of consumers still watch disc based media and purchase disc based games. It would be a disservice to not make the console as accessible as possible. Offer all gaming content digitally as well, but don’t jettison the disc based approach just yet.
  • Focus on Western gamers. The console market is on life support in Japan, and unless a miracle happens over there, it seems likely that mobile platforms are the way that the Japanese market is going to game for the foreseeable future. Console gaming is still huge in the West! Focus on play experiences that will play well in a Western market with copious amounts of online multiplayer, FPS style games, sports titles, and action/adventure style RPGs. Think titles like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Fallout, Call of Duty, Forza Motorsports, the Witcher, etc.
  • Scoop up a couple big names as second party exclusive development partners. I’m thinking of developers like (I know these teams are not necessarily for sale, I’m just throwing names out there as reference points) Platinum Games, Volition, DONTNOD, etc. It would also be wise to employee and staff teams for individual independent style developers like Koji Igarashi, Yu Suzuki, Jonathan Blow, Dean Dodrill, James Silva, etc., and let them make whatever they want to make. Build up a team of high profile and well respected independent developers, and make them exclusive to the Phoenix.
  • The hardware is important, as it needs to be in-line with the competition, but even more than that, there has to be games, tons of great games. Hardware only exists to sell software, and back in the day SEGA made some of the best games in the biz. That’s why I want there to be a huge push on games of all varieties for the Phoenix. New IP, fresh takes on classic franchises, remakes, remasters, emulated classic games… essentially, everything including the kitchen sink.
  • Integrate mobile connectivity/compatibility into the console: Every body has a smart device, tablet, cellphone, etc. Use those devices to connect to the Phoenix. Add multiplayer modes that allow asynchronous game play from those devices. Make apps that work in tandem with the console games that allow gamers to continue to get experience points, or collect loot, etc., to keep them thinking about your games and the Phoenix console.

I even drew up a concept logo and mascot (I’m sure your PR team can come up with something better than this terrible thing I concocted in MS Paint):

How freaking awesome is that? I would by this console right now!
How freaking awesome is that? It’s like a riff on the classic Pontiac Firebird logo, but for a kickin’ rad video game console!

Launch Window 1st Party Software Suggestions: Ooh, now this is my favorite part! The 1st party titles that come out during that first 4 to 6 months after the initial launch are crucial to the successful launch of new hardware. Fortunately, SEGA has a veritbale treasure trove of amazing franchises to offer up for a new console launch. Here are my suggestions!

  • Sonic the Hedgehog: This one is obligatory for day one of the console launch, but I have a twist – it’s 2 games. 1 old school style 2D sonic game and one full 3D style action adventure game. I would prefer that SEGA rope Yuji Naka back into making the classic Sonic game, however Wayforward Games (Shantae Series) would be an excellent choice as well. For the 3D game, I’d like to see Playtonic Games (Yooka-Laylee) get a crack at this one. Regardless, the blue blur needs 2 high quality games available at launch to appease the hardcore SEGA fans and to ensure new adaptors have fun platformers to play.
  • Phantasy Star Online 3: Phantasy Star is a long running series for SEGA that started off as a traditional RPG. Over the years, the game evolved into a MMO style action rolepalying game that delights thousands of online gamers each year. Unfortunately, Phantasy Star Online 2 has not been brought to the Western markets officially, but SEGA can rectify this by launching their new console with a brand new game in the series that would be available in all markets. PSO is a great experience, mixing all of the best aspects of MMO games with a fun and vibrant world that is heavily steeped in both science fiction and fantasy elements. Part RPG, part action game, and similar in some ways to the popular Monster Hunter series, PSO 3 would be a great game to get people online and interacting with other SEGA fans. Check out the trailer for PSO2 for an idea of what to expect.
  • Binary Domain 2 (with Binary Domain remaster): Binary Domain is one of the unsung heroes of the PS3/Xbox 360 console generation. Well reviewed, and beloved by the gamers who gave it a chance, Binary Domain is a sci-fi based third person shooter with a wonderful Blade Runner-esque narrative that involves synthetic androids secretly posing as humans. The game deals with the ethics of this practice, as well as a possible scenario of how humans might handle this type of situation. It is full of twists, turns, and moral dilemmas, and on top of all that, Binary Domain is an absolute blast to play. A 3rd person shooter, it plays similar to Gears of War. The game also has a “trust” system, where through dialogue choices as well as specific actions (proficiency in combat, poor combat performance, achieving specific character requests during missions, conversation choices, etc.) you build up or lose trust from your fellow squad mates. This trust effects whether or not they come to your aid in battle, whether they remain loyal to the group, and ultimately whether they live or die. By all accounts, Binary Domain should have been a huge hit, but sadly it was relegated to cult classic status. With a new console, Binary Domain could be relaunched as a tent pole shooter with more robust online multiplayer options, co-op multiplayer through the story mode, and some tightened up controls. Also, the set should include a remaster of the first game as an added bonus. Check out the trailer for Binary Domain:
  • Fighters Megamix: For the purposes of competition and great couch (and online) based multiplayer fun, I think it would be great for SEGA to take another stab at Fighters Megamix. Originally a Sega Saturn release, Fighters Megamix was a multi-franchise fighting game collaboration that included characters from Virtua Fighter, Fighting Vipers, Sonic the Fighters, Daytona Racing, Virtua Cop, and a few other games. It played very similar to Virtua Fighter, and offered a lot of variety and a huge cast of characters. The version for the new console would diminish the casts from Fighting Vipers whilst opening the franchises to include characters from Shenmue, Space Channel 5, Yakuza, Bayonetta, Valkyria, Crazy Taxi, and Toe Jam & Earl. Keep it similar to Virtua Fighter, but add in assists and interactive battle maps. Here’s a classic video from the original game to give you a feel for the series:
  • Shinobi: A brand new take on the classic Shinobi series, incorporating a huge open world, tons of enemy types, and a combination of stealth action and “Bloodborne” style combat. This is a classic franchise that has always been well received, and a new game in the series would give those who are looking for a solid single player game a great title to break their new Sega Phoenix console in with. With gritty and mature games like God of War, Dark Souls, and the Arkham series being so popular right now, this would be an excellent time for SEGA to carve themselves a piece of that pie. Shinobi would have a broad sweeping narrative that embraced both the classic elements of Ninja lore, as well as a healthy dose of mysticism and the supernatural. Check out this trailer for a Shinobi game on the PS2:

In Conclusion: SEGA, baby, now is your time! If you ever were going to step back into the console market, this is the perfect time. I know, things are weird at SEGA right now. Your company is heavily focused on Arcade games, digital releases, and mobile gaming, but that’s no excuse to not seize this opportunity to recapture your former glory and rebuild your empire. It will be a tough challenge, but if you navigate the difficult path to building a console smartly, making certain to cultivate strong 3rd party alliances, I am certain that a SEGA with a new found desire for greatness can capture the hearts of millions of gamers waiting for the next big thing. Be that next big thing. Do what Nintendon’t. Pick up all of the pieces that Micro$oft seems so happy to drop and leave behind. Prove that there is gaming outside of the Playstation. You can do this! Scream it with me: SEGA!

For the record: this has been a blast to write! Pallet cleansing in a ton of ways. It doesn’t truthfully matter if an executive from Sega ever reads this. Regardless of anything else, it needed to be said. I know that SEGA rejoining the console market is like a billion to one odds against it, but it’s a beautiful dream and I’m going to keep on having it because it makes me just a tiny bit happy. Perhaps one day SEGA will return, maybe not with a “Phoenix”, but in some other clever way that we haven’t thought up yet. I hope you had as much fun reading this as I did writing it. Thanks for reading!

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