I may be one of the most fanatical Sega loyalists to ever grace the face of God’s green Earth, but even I have to admit that old Service Games is ailing these days. A report made last year said that Sega would be making some serious job cutbacks and focus on existing IPs like Sonic and Football Manager. They also closed down some of their branches in both Europe and Australia. Admittedly, that piece of news led me to make a joke in poor taste: that at least now the credits in Sega games would be half their immense length.
Still, this brings up the topic at hand: let’s just say Sega can’t turn things around and end up like…say, THQ? (Too soon?) Obviously if that were to happen, clearly Sega’s a pretty good candidate for being bought, due to their immense importance in video game history. After all, they were one of the few companies to successfully transition from first-party developer to third-party. So, I’ve decided to write this little article/blogpost/rant/whatever to determine which companies would be the best for Sega. In writing this article, I’m assuming a best case scenario: one where all of Sega’s assets would be obtained by the company who buys them out, rather than the messier scenarios that ended up happening with companies like Midway or THQ. Of course, I might consider writing a second article down the road, with regards to a less “cut and dry” method of selling off Sega’s assets, but for now, it’s just going to be an all-or-nothing kind of thing.
And what better company to start with than Sega’s old rival, Nintendo? There have been some rumors circling the internet of the Big N’s intentions to buy out Sega recently, so it’s only fitting that we start discussing Nintendo’s stakes in buying out Sega.
Pros: Obviously, a Nintendo-owned Sega would be doing pretty well on cash, not to mention the fact that Nintendo’s modern line of consoles tend to invoke the creative spirit of Sega’s first-party past, and as such, Sega has a much better track record when it comes to adapting to Nintendo’s unorthodox systems as of late, both console and handheld. A fully integrated Sega could only improve on this state of affairs.
Furthermore, Nintendo has had a good history with incorporating existing firms under their brand name, the most memorable of which was, of course, Rare. Similarly, Nintendo has many “second-party” style companies under their banner at this point in time anyway (HAL Laboratory, Intelligent Systems, and a little firm the once-mighty Sega worked with: Game Freak).
Similarly, Sega’s wide range of titles both complement and contrast with Nintendo’s own library of hits, which would allow for more diversity on Nintendo’s offers. But ignoring other less interesting advantages, I’m just going to blurt out the megaton: this could potential lead to a Mario/Sonic crossover game without the word “Olympics” in it. Mull that one over.
Cons: The most staggering disadvantage to a Nintendo-owned Sega is the same as it would be with many of the hardware companies: it’s a closed platform. With Nintendo at the reins, there’s no way we would end up seeing nearly as much saturation as any third-party developer could give us, which makes sense, when you think about it. Another problem is that due to Nintendo’s systems’ weaker specs, certain attempts at emulation could be subdued in the future. Finally, it seems like Sega’s been making more of a transition towards digital sales: to this day, out of the 3 major console manufacturers, Nintendo still has the weakest online presence in all forms (though this is steadily changing, more due to the increasing incompetence of their rivals than anything else, unfortunately.)
Score: 9/10 Dolphins
Next on the docket: the company that I, to this day, irrationally blame for Sega’s shift to third-party company and for the early deaths of both the Saturn and Dreamcast in North America: Sony! Gonna be honest, I’m not really fond of this scenario, but I’ll try to be as balanced as I possibly can.
Pros: The only major pro I can think of is that, all things considered, Sony has treated most of their second-party acquisitions quite well, though that may only be the North American and European branches, so we don’t exactly know quite how well that would apply to the Japanese branch. Still, Naughty Dog isn’t exactly suffering under Sony’s leadership.
Cons: Sony itself isn’t exactly doing so well when it comes to finances themselves lately, and ironically, they’re playing it even dumber than Sega by sinking a great deal of capital into the Vita, which just isn’t paying off in any tangible way.
Sony’s PlayStation Network, in most cases, would be considered neutral or even slightly positive for Sega at best, but given the sheer amount of downtime the service suffers, it’s probably more of a negative than anything by this point. Sony also shares Nintendo’s prime weakness: PlayStation is a closed platform, so all of Sega’s titles would strictly be PlayStation-exclusive, which limits the scope of what Sega could release and on which platforms.
Score: 3/10 Vice Presidents of Halo Killing
And then there’s Microsoft. Microsoft and Sega actually have a pretty long storied history together. The Dreamcast ran on Windows CE, Xbox got quite a few sequels to some Dreamcast games (Jet Set Radio Future and Shenmue II come to mind) and they both had their marketing handled by Peter Moore at some point. But whether or not MS would be the best place for Sega to go isn’t quite as easy to determine.
Pros: When it comes right down to it, even after the bad couple of years Microsoft’s had, they’re still swimming in the big bucks. Sega’s main issue these days is money and a Microsoft-owned Sega would definitely be much more secure than any of the other big 3. There’s also the fact that of the big 3, Microsoft is the only one that has interests in the PC market, so there’s potential for all Sega games to end up on both PC and whatever console Microsoft is supporting. Slim potential, but a much greater one than Sony or Nintendo. Microsoft would directly benefit as well: obtaining Sega could potentially allow Microsoft to make some significant headway into building a Japanese install base, which has been one of the major flaws of the Xbox platform since its inception.
Cons: Let’s deal with the elephant in the room: Microsoft has had a pretty crummy track record with one of their biggest acquistions in the gaming industry: Rare. Turning a once-renown developer into a Kinect minigame manufacturer while outright refusing to use any of the intellectual properties they gained in the acquisition of said company is a black mark that no company can ever hope to erase. Also, with regards to the earlier PC comment, Games for Windows Live (Microsoft’s PC service) is despised by the majority of PC gamers out there, plus Microsoft themselves don’t appear to release much for it themselves.
Score: 5/10 Red Rings of Death
Well, they may not be entirely first-party at this point, but Steambox is a coming and it appears to be Valve’s attempt to enter console territory. Besides, like it or not, Valve basically is the champion of PC and PC is still technically a gaming platform. So let’s do this.
Pros: Being what appears to be the only Japanese developer that understands that the PC gaming markets both exists and has the potential to be profitable, Sega has already released quite a few of their games on Valve’s Steam service as it is, including several emulations of old Genesis games that were also found on other, similar online marketplaces. Similarly quite a few of Sega’s most recent successes have been with series that seems to only thrive on PCs: Shogun: Total War and Football Manager, for example.
Even more important is that out of all the potential first-party developers, Valve has made the most effort to be a multiplatform company, with such releases as The Orange Box, the Left 4 Dead series and Portal 2. While the console incarnations of the these games may not be able to match the sheer amount of customization and the sheer number of updates of their PC counterparts, they are still perfectly functional and a lack of patching is more the fault of the person running the platform than Valve themselves. Considering Nintendo’s recent announcement that they would not be charging for the ability to patch games on the Wii U, it seems only natural that even a Valve-run Sega could thrive perfectly on multiple platforms.
Finally, a partnership with Sega could be advantageous to Valve: allowing them to make a real attempt in trying to gain a foothold in Japan.
Cons: Aside from Valve’s irrational fear of the number 3, I really can’t think of anything major. Perhaps they wouldn’t be able to offer as many financial resources as some of the other companies on the list, but Sega would still be in a good position to make a comeback.
Score: 9.5/10 False Half-Life 3 Rumors
Gonna be honest, I’m only doing this section to round this out to five companies. I’m not a big fan of Apple’s business practices or their products, but they are their own platform(s), so I guess they deserve a shot at this too.
Pros: Money. That’s it. Just money. Apple’s doing well when it comes to finances, much like Microsoft. That’s the only advantage I think an Apple-owned Sega would enjoy. Unless Sega and/or Apple gets off on murdering my childhood. So there’s another possibility.
Cons: For starters, Apple hasn’t really had any success in the gaming field (anybody remember the Pippin?) and it also doesn’t appear to be a part of their modern strategy, at least in terms of first-party offerings: they’d much rather just make the most widespread platform in whatever fields they are attempting to conquer at any particular point in time. At this point in time, that would be smartphones and tablets, so we’d probably only be able to expect sequels to Sonic Jump and maybe the occasional port of an old game with horribly-implemented touchscreen controls. And somehow, despite being effective a PC company, Apple’s iOS is as closed a platform as Sony and Nintendo, if not moreso.
Score: 1/10 New Versions of the iPad Released This Year Alone
Japanese Third-Party Developers
Moving on from the first-party developers, let’s tackle Japanese third-parties.First up, another favorite company of mine: Capcom. Capcom’s had some pretty good years, but they’ve also been suffering from a recent PR meltdown, concering a few of their more rash decisions over the last couple of years.
Pros: Capcom’s definitely got funds, considering their recent foray into outsourcing various titles (Dead Rising 2, DmC, Lost Planet 3) to Western companies. Not to mention they recently obtained DR2’s developer: Blue Castle Games, or as they’re known today, Capcom Vancouver. Of course, Capcom would also benefit from having Sega on their side, as this might cause them to further embrace the PC platform on the whole, as opposed to their current, admittedly weak efforts at this point. And as a bit of wishful thinking, this might end up making a Sonic/MegaMan crossover something more than just an Archie comic, to the delight of my inner eight-year-old.
Cons: Capcom’s actually got a great deal of IPs just rolling around on their end, factoring in Sega’s wide library would just make an even bigger mess, rather than resolve anything. As such, Capcom buying Sega might end up being one of those scenarios where Sega just makes Sonic the Hedgehog forever. Also, Capcom’s prefence towards acting in the interests of the Japanese market to the detriment of international markets might bite a Sega revival in the backside, as Sega’s largest foothold appears to be Europe.
Score: 6/10 Cancelled MegaMan Games
Is it Namco Bandai, or is it Bandai Namco? Whatever the case, they’re one of the more popular Japanese third-party game developers, at least on a global scale. So let’s see what they could offer Sega.
Pros: Like Capcom, Namco Bandai is doing pretty well for themselves from a financial standpoint, especially with all of the licensed games they’ve done based on various popular anime series. Namco could also reap the benefits of Sega’s competence in the PC marketplace: Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition was their one major release on PC and it was extremely buggy at launch, to the point where fans ended up releasing a patch in order to fix the game. Finally, Namco Bandai Games have proven that they can successfully juggle the assets of two major gaming companies, so they may be the best choice for adding a third.
Cons: On that last note, let it be known that Namco Bandai took a few years to regain their footing after the merger, which led to some really poor quality games for the time being, so adding a third company might also mess up the equilibrium they’ve found. Similarly, as they’re already working off the assets of two gaming developers, as with Capcom, Sega may just be reduced to a Sonic-only company.
Score: 6/10 Soul Calibur Sequels I Wish They’d Never Made
Gonna be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of Square Enix, not since the merger anyway. Even before the merger, Squaresoft was on thin ice with me. But leaving them out of the running would be an injustice even I’m incapable of committing. As far as Japanese third-parties go, Square-Enix-Taito-Eidos-Terwilliger is definitely a major player.
Pros: Well, the former Eidos is doing pretty well for itself, making such heavy-hitters as Deus Ex: Human Revolution and the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot. And Taito still gets to make awesome arcade games, despite being a wholly-owned Squenix subsidiary. Maybe an SE-owned Sega would enjoy the same fate as Eidos and Taito.
Cons: Square Enix hasn’t exactly been doing so well when it comes to money lately. More importantly, if Sega gets absorbed in Square Enix, thus forming “Square Enix Sega”, expect a similar Sonic-centric release schedule from Sega. But on the plus side, Square Enix’s bag of tricks will increase by a whopping 33.3%! If that’s not progress, I don’t know what is.
Score: 4/10 More Kingdom Hearts Spin-offs
Konami was definitely one of my favorite companies growing up, being responsible for such beloved games as Castlevania, Contra, Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill and Turtles in Time. Lately though, a lot of their more recent offerings have left me unimpressed for the most part. Still, they’re definitely a major player when it comes to video games.
Pros: Wikipedia says Konami is the fifth largest video game company in the world in terms of revenue. I’m not sure if I believe them, but if this is true, then Sega’s debts would probably be easy enough for Konami to leverage for the time being. Another point, Konami’s recent releases have kind of…well, sucked. Considering Sega’s just recently gotten back on track themselves, maybe Sega could fix Konami or something.
Cons: …well, that or just revert Sega into its previous state of releasing really terrible games. Also, Konami doesn’t really have the best reputation when it comes to dealing with companies they’ve acquired: does the name “Hudson Soft” ring any bells?
Score: 4/10 Poorly Thoughtout Franchise Revivals
Index Corporation (Atlus)
I needed help picking out a fifth Japanese third-party company for the purposes of this article, the two suggestions I got were Atlus and Tecmo Koei. Considering a write-up on Tecmo Koei from me would’ve been really similar to that of Square Enix, except without the compliments regarding Eidos and Taito and had replaced the words “Final Fantasy”, “Kingdom Hearts” and “Dragon Quest” with “Dynasty Warriors”, “Ninja Gaiden” and “Dead or Alive” respectively. So I decided to go with Atlus instead, seemed like a more interesting choice, even if Tecmo Koei is a slightly more likely contender.
Pros: Well, Atlus is, in fact, owned by a major Japanese conglomerate by the name of Index Corporation. Index Corporation also owns such entertainment comapins as the anime studio Madhouse and major Japanese movie studio Nikkatsu. So clearly, Index definitely has enough money to wave around.
Furthermore, Atlus appears to focus more on RPGs than anything else these days, despite having delved into other genres like fighting games (Power Instinct series) and even medical simulation games (Trauma Center). Perhaps with a more financially stable Sega by their side, Atlus could once again experiment in genres besides RPGs.
One more thing, Sega’s got a pretty decent foothold on the European territories, which is a pretty weak region for Atlus. So that might be helpful.
Cons: Index Corporation already owns two game companies at this moment in time: Atlus and something called Interchannel, which I’ve never heard of, due to the fact that their games tend to be Japanese-only. Three might just be too many for them to handle at this point in time, especially considering the fact that Sega would dwarf both of their current acquistions. However, this seems like less of a problem for Sega and more like a problem for Atlus and Interchannel.
Score: 7/10 JRPGs I’ve Never Heard Of
Western Third-Party Developers
So we move onto the Western developers. Obviously, EA is the top contender for Western third-party developers, just due to their size and reputation in the video game industry. But would they make a good choice for buying Sega? No. No. God no. But I’ll write more on the subject anyway.
Pros: Like I said with Apple before, the only advantage here is money. EA’s swimming in it.
Cons: Well, EA IS considered one of the two most evil industries in gaming at this point in time. And unfortunately, that reputation is well-deserved. For starters, they generally destroy any smaller developers they’ve bought out: just ask fans of Westwood Studios and Bullfrog Productions. Some would even argue that BioWare is on the same path in that regard.
You’ve also got to factor in EA’s push for their own PC DRM/digital store platform Origin to the detriment of their own products. That would definitely hurt Sega, who appear to currently ally with Valve’s Steam platform at this point in time. Factor in such scummy business tactics as online passes, Project $10 and Day 1 DLC, and the only reason EA scored higher than Apple is because at least EA is still technically a gaming company.
Score: 1.5/10 Retake Mass Effect 3 Bitchfits
Next up, the other major evil Western third-party developer: Activision. Roughly as powerful as EA and equally scummy in the eyes of gamers, Activision would probably be another major choice for a Western takeover of Sega. Not one most people would be excited for, but there’s still a very distinct possibility.
Pros: According to Wikipedia, Activision Blizzard is the world’s second-largest video game company by revenue. So, like in many scenarios, Sega would be well-taken care of financially. I guess there’s also the potential for a Sonic the Hedgehog/Crash Bandicoot crossover, which would be kinda cool in a misplaced nostalgia, “original vs. most popular ripoff” sort of way.
Cons: While not as bad as EA when it comes to murdering studios, Activision has left many studios dismantled in their wake, though this generally only happens due to lagging sales. Furthermore, Activision’s main strategy appears to be turning anything even remotely successful into yearly franchises, until sales start falling, at which point they pretty much just kill the series for the foreseeable future. The only franchise Sega has that would probably be considered that marketable in the US would be Sonic the Hedgehog, and despite the last couple of games being good, Sonic’s still in a transition period, where going yearly too quickly might just defuse any attempt at repairing the series’ tarnished reputation.
Score: 2/10 Photoshops of Bobby Kotick with Devil Horns
When most Americans think of Western developers, they tend to make the mistake that they’re all located in North America. This is definitely not the case for Ubisoft, a French company that manages to stride the line between the vibrant fantasy we associate with Japanese video games and the more photorealistic fodder expected of Western dev teams. But would they be a good home for Sega?
Pros: Well, for one thing, Ubisoft actually has quite a bit of experience with Japanese developers as it is, they released Lunar Legend and Evolution Worlds (iterations of two of the few JRPGs I can actually tolerate), they handled Resident Evil 4 and Devil May Cry 3’s PC ports (granted, they weren’t good ports, but still) and they even released Grandia II in North America and Europe. The fact that they’re based in Europe, which is Sega’s strongest market outside of Japan, is just a bonus.
Furthermore, Ubisoft appears to be quite good at balancing their releases between both mature (Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, the Tom Clancy series) and family (Rayman, Raving Rabbids, Just Dance) fare, similarly to how Sega manages to cross-promote their various franchises of varying demographics (like putting Shenmue and Football Manager characters in Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing).
Cons: Ubisoft’s actually has some controversial business practices that they’ve only recently begun to abandon, including some of the most terrible DRM strategies imagninable. Couple that with their recent uPlay digital distribution/DRM service, which has been accused of including rootkits, and Ubisoft isn’t exactly a premiere choice.
Score: 6/10 Raving Rabbids Sequels
Of course, no article with regards to video game company buyouts would be complete without one mention of Warner Bros. Interactive: the people who bought out the majority of Midway’s old IPs and managed to resurrect Mortal Kombat. Warner Bros’s no slouch when it comes to releasing other top-notch games like Batman: Arkham City and my beloved Lollipop Chainsaw.
Pros: Simply put, Warner Bros. has deep, deep pockets. Couple this with their willingness to save a great deal of old Midway IPs (even granting one of them into a critically-acclaimed reboot) and the fact that we’ve got proof that they’re willing to try even the most insane ideas: let’s face it, no other major publisher, Western or Japanese, would’ve given Lollipop Chainsaw a chance like WB did. Suffice it to say, Warner Bros. buying out Sega might be one of the best chances we have at seeing something like say, a reboot of an old Sega franchise (Streets of Rage, maybe?) or hell, let’s shoot the moon: Shenmue III, and either of those games made with as much care as Mortal Kombat 2011 would be nothing short of amazing.
Cons: I may be singing the praises of WB’s video game side, but let’s face it: they’ve been in the movie business for awhile now, so there’s a chance that we could see them going full-blown evil at some point. To the point where they’d make EA and Activision look like saints. A movie studio doesn’t stay in business for nearly 100 years without being ruthless.
Score: 8/10 More Lego Games
Last up, Take-Two Interactive. They’ve already got two of the biggest Western developers under their belts: Rockstar and 2K Games, and as such, they’ve got quite a library of hits to choose from as it is: Grand Theft Auto, Bioshock, Red Dead Redemption, Borderlands, NBA2K (itself originally a Sega franchise), the list goes on and on. But would Take-Two make a good home for Sega?
Pros: Well, like I said, Take-Two already has a good number of hits under their belt, and as such, they’ve got a significant amount of capital. It’s a recurring theme, I know, but still very important for Sega’s continued survival. Furthermore, in most cases, Take-Two has been pretty good when it comes to releasing their titles on all major platforms (PS3/360/PC). All-in-all, Take-Two doesn’t really have any advantages that make them stand out, but the fact that they haven’t really done many scummy things this generation when it seems like every other major publisher has been guilty of. Even the blame for L.A. Noire’s controversial omission of several key members in the games credits was the fault of Team Bondi rather than Rockstar or Take-Two.
Cons: Well, for starters, Take-Two appears to be very skeptical of the potential regarding the Wii U, and Sega’s games have generally sold best on Nintendo platforms, at least as far as the the three major consoles go. This difference of opinion may prove disasterous for Sega’s bottom line.
Score: 7/10 Grand Theft Auto Expansions (That End Up Being Better Than The Game It’s Expanding)
So there you go, 15 companies, all hastily and haphazardly assessed in a way that only I, Professor Icepick could do. My top three picks are Valve, with a whopping 9.5/10, Nintendo with a 9/10 and Warner Bros. Interactive with a respectable 8/10. Bottom choices are Apple, with 1/10, EA with a 1.5/10 and Activision with a 2/10. But who knows if Sega even needs to be bought out at any point? Apparently, despite all the doom and gloom I’ve heard, they still manage to churn in excellent sales for such franchises as Football Manager and Shogun: Total War. Perhaps there was no point to this article at all in the first place. Still, not a bad exercise in determining which companies I’d like to see gain a stronger foothold in the video game industry.