Wednesday, 21 November 2012

What Has Sega Done For Me? - Part 1

Video games have come such a long way since the likes of Tennis for Two and Spacewar! crawled out from the digital primordial ooze. Now more than ever we're hearing debate after debate as to whether games have transcended past a form of simple entertainment to full blown fine art. While I'd like to believe that both are the case, with the latter becoming really apparent in the coming decades, my head is unfortunately ripped from the clouds on a regular basis by the cold, wet slap of the mighty dead fish of publisher business practices.

A string of events have led me to turn my attention to developer and publisher Sega, the grandfather of my life-long gaming experience, and I feel compelled to compile some of their recent, money-grabbing business practices that not only devalue their brands and IP's but also defecate over the faces of their customers and their fans.

Seventh Generation Digital HD Re-Releases

The original news of the HD re-release of several Sega Dreamcast classics, to be made available via XBLA, PSN and PC, was met with a high level of excitement by those whom had come to regard the Dreamcast as one of the best consoles ever made. What we got were underwhelming ports of Crazy Taxi and Sonic Adventure near the end of 2010. Crazy Taxi was heavily criticised for Sega's failure to include the original soundtrack, which consisted of no more than six or so songs from punk rock bands The Offspring and Bad Religion. Sonic Adventure was in fact a port of the PC upgrade, Sonic Adventure DX, but with the bonus content removed, repackaged and resold as DLC.

Space Channel 5: Part 2 and Sega Bass Fishing would later be released as part of the Dreamcast Collection in early 2011, a physical disc which also contained both of the previously released ports Crazy Taxi and Sonic Adventure. Not only was this collection released exclusively for the Xbox 360 and PC, omitting the PS3 for unknown reasons, but Dreamcast fans wanting to play Space Channel 5: Part 2 and Sega Bass Fishing had to pay for an additional copy of Crazy Taxi and Sonic Adventure to do so. The whole affair was disappointing and confusing for those that mattered most, the customers.

Financial Troubles and Further HD Re-Releases

It was a few months into 2012 when rumours of Sega's financial hardship started surfacing. The company's profit for the fiscal year ending March 31st 2012 was ¥20 billion (£153m), half of what the company had predicted to have made, according to a report made at the time by Edge. Soon after that the news came that many unannounced games in that were currently in development would be cancelled, while other announced games would no longer be published by Sega.

Sega's troubles really hit home when the official announcement came that both their Australian and European offices would be closing, resulting in multiple job losses. Sega's solution to the problem? More half baked, digitally distributed HD releases and some questionable wheeling and dealing.

It wasn't long after this that Sonic Adventure 2 and cult classic Jet Set Radio were announced to be released in HD in a similar fashion to the Dreamcast re-releases before them. At the time of the announcement I was sceptical and wary of further unsatisfying ports, yet gave Sega the benefit of the doubt. They were in trouble, and throwing out a few re-releases of popular games may give them the financial boost they needed to get back on track.

What we got was essentially more of the same. Sega had learnt from their mistake with Crazy Taxi and had released Jet Set Radio HD with almost the entirety of its original soundtrack, with some Jet Set Radio Future tunes thrown in, yet the HD polish wasn't enough to cover up the archaic player and camera controls that dampened the experience the first time around. A missed opportunity.

Sonic Adventure 2 HD fared worse, as almost no attempt to revitalise the game for modern audiences was made in any way. The new HD resolution highlighted old and embarrassing textures and backgrounds, the widescreen aspect ratio didn't come into effect for half of the cut scenes, and the much needed 3D camera controls were not implemented. 

For me, however, the final nail in Sonic Adventure 2 HD's coffin was Sega's dastardly scheme to squeeze even more money out of their customers by ripping the bonus content from the previously released Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, released about a decade ago for the Nintendo GameCube, and again repacking and reselling it back to me.

My issues with the game can be read in full in the review I wrote for Sega Addicts, the conclusion being that Sonic Adventure 2 HD was nothing more than a lazy port and another missed opportunity. In fact, it was more than that, it was intellectually offensive to me as a customer of Sega, and as a fan of Sega.

Success Despite Disappointment

Despite Sega's lackadaisical attempt at revitalising their line of IPs, both Sonic Adventure 2 HD and Jet Set Radio HD stayed high in the XBLA download charts for several weeks. Their third release in this series, NiGHTS Into Dreams HD was better received, with many fans going gooey-eyed over Sega's inclusion of Christmas NiGHTS, a Christmas themed demo of the original game handed out on Sega Saturn demo discs. Many people thanked, nay praised Sega for the overwhelmingly benevolent act of including extra content with a HD re-release of a 16 year old game, although it should be noted that a proportion of the Christmas NiGHTS content was actually missing from this HD release. I for one was more baffled that Sega didn't think to rip the extra content and sell that back to customers as DLC.

So it was at this point I finally realised that Sega wasn't the company I had grown to love over 20 years ago. In fact, the company that I find myself writing about on almost a daily basis, Sega Sammy Holdings Inc., is a cold hearted, money grabbing, corporate machine intent on squeezing every last penny out of their fans' wallets. However, instead of being a well-oiled, combine harvester of raw cash like other video game publishers such as EA and Ubisoft, Sega is a giant, headless, robot chicken, running around, spewing out mediocre digital releases out of its neck, while shitting out fancy trailers and empty promises onto the faces of its worshipful fans below.

Sega is a business. I understand that. But isn't Sega's business dependant on its customers? And don't we, as customers, deserve a little better? Check back in a few days when I look over Sega's recent dealings with regards to their retail releases in What Has Sega Done For Me? - Part 2, and if you have something to say in response, please drop a comment below.


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