As managing director of European development for Sega, Gary Dunn is responsible for all internal studios, including Sports Interactive and The Creative Assembly, as well as running external development with partners such as Rebellion and Sumo Digital.
In this exclusive interview with GamesIndustry.biz, Dunn talks about the publishers recent experiment with mature-rated titles for Nintendo's Wii, why he would personally love to work on a 2012 Olympics game, developing Sonic titles outside of Japan, and why he thinks Sega can get ahead of the competition on new motion control technology.
Q: As well as your main studios – both internally and external partners – you also have a small specialised Technology Group, can you tell us what they do specifically?
Gary Dunn: They are six of the cleverest developers you'll find. They do all sorts and are our crack team. We have an art director in there, probably one of the best graphics programmers in the business, and some very good general game programmers. We use them as a crack team and they go all over. Their first job was to do the PlayStation 3 version of Viking: Battle for Asgard which they did in eight weeks.
Q: So they're fixers, taking care of issues quickly. Are they just there for problem issues?
Gary Dunn: It's all supply and demand and they do have some quieter periods. They were all actually members of the racing studio before we closed it down. Six individuals that were so talented that we weren't going to let them go to Codemasters. They did Viking just before we sold the studio and it seemed to absolutely make sense to keep that talent.
They're worked on Sonic, they've worked on Bayonetta, their breadth is huge. They're a broad support team. We deploy them in two ways. One is as a crack team when there's a problem, but also when we want to guide and shape a project, and it allows us to get better results from the same game team we were working with.
Q: What's the focus for overall Sega development in Europe and your internal studios?
Gary Dunn: Certainly in Europe our key focus is making the most of our own brands. With Total War we've done a whole road map and planned out the series with some exciting things which I can't talk about yet, but to evolve the franchise and monetise it better. With Football Manager, we've launched Football Manager Live, we're still doing PSP content, and again it's a case of making sure it's available on the appropriate devices. That was one of the reasons we stopped doing it on Xbox 360, we looked at sales and it wasn't an appropriate format. There are other devices where it's much better suited, and not just the main game.
Q: Are you looking at different business models with those key franchises?
Gary Dunn: That's the sort of thing we're investigating at the moment, but it's just too early to be explicit what our plans are.
Q: You've been one of the first publishers to release mature-rated content for the Wii, and others are following. But have you been disappointed with sales of House of the Dead: Overkill and MadWorld?
Gary Dunn: House of the Dead: Overkill was a profitable title for us. Whilst it had a rather sharp tail at full price, they do bubble away at a lower price point for a long time. You get your money back and a bit on full price, but over the years, if we do the final product return on investment, profits come from the lower price point. On that were were hoping for higher sales because the marketing was so in depth. It wasn't a bad performance, it was a great value for money proposition for us as a development exercise.
Q: It was an experimental approach compared to the amount of cute product on the console. Do you still think there's a market for mature titles on the Wii?
Gary Dunn: We had some hints when we released Ghost Squad and House of the Dead: 2 & 3 Return on the Wii which sold really well, it was great business. So that was one of things that allowed us to have the confidence to want to experiment and push it further. And with MadWorld, which came out of our Platinum Games relationship, we wanted to get behind the products because we thought it was a really strong product. You have to push boundaries and explore. I think whilst MadWorld commercially didn't sell what we were expecting I wouldn't say it's game over for mature Wii titles from Sega. We need another few months of sales data and see where we have available resources and support.
We're taking a look at the resources we have now. We've got money to invest in development, we're just considering where to invest it next and the honest answer is we've not made a decision on that yet.
Q: One of the biggest successes for Sega has been Sonic and Mario at the Olympic Games, which has sold constantly, and you've got a Winter Olympics version coming this year. Are you pitching for the 2012 Olympics in London?
Gary Dunn: I can't comment on that at this moment in time.
Q: Is it something you'd like to work on as a developer in the UK?
Gary Dunn: Personally, I would absolutely love to make a game based on the 2012 Olympics. It would be a wonderful opportunity for a game developer in the the UK to make an Olympics game. I would love that opportunity to get involved in that on next-gen. But we'll have to wait and see, as a British game developer that would be fantastic.
Q: You're also overseeing Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing – is it a big responsibility working on a Sonic title outside of Japan?
Gary Dunn: It's a big responsibility, but it's a challenge that I think every game developer would like to have so we're embracing it with both arms. We think it's really starting to take shape and get its own identity. It looks and feels like a Sega game, and if you broke it in half it would have 'Sega' running through it like a piece of Blackpool rock.
Q: Do you work closely with Sonic Team on that, alongside Sumo Digital?
Gary Dunn: One of our producers used to work with Sonic Team in Japan. We've been working with Sumo for a while and it was a natural fit. They did OutRun for us and Sega Superstars Tennis which had the little blue fella on the box. We've grown our partnership with Sumo over a five year period and we felt we could take the next step with them and give them a Sonic branded game to do.
Q: You've had plenty of success on the Wii and taking advantage of the Wii-mote. What's your take on the recent motion control technology from Microsoft and Sony? Is that something Sega is interested in developing for?
Gary Dunn: I was blown away by it, both systems offer us so many opportunities to do great things with videogames. I immediately now want to make another Virtua Tennis. There's so many games and possibilities. I want to go away and lock myself in a dark room with some of our cleverest chaps and see what we can do with it. We've got to look in different directions to almost throw history away and it requires a whole new way of thinking. We've got to ask what can we do with this, because completely different genres of games could open up.
Q: So you expect this technology to be a real evolution of videogames?
Gary Dunn: I hope so, and hopefully it will open doors to genres that weren't possible previously. There's going to be two strands. There's going to be pushing forward with gestural-based gaming systems and putting them into games and franchises you know will work. And then there's the chance to sit back and really invest time and money into products from scratch. Being the largest third-party publisher on Wii we obviously have good gestural experience so for us I can see an opportunity to get a land grab on some of our competitors by taking our head start in gestural gaming and evolving it.
Q: Is it going to be a headache from a development perspective – you've not only got three different platforms, but three different motion controls to work with?
Gary Dunn: It's going to be an issue but it comes down to how we deal with it. It's too early to say what those issues might be. There are two possible routes. You can opt to design a system around commonality so you have efficiency when you grow out your game design across platforms, or you can develop a different development process for each system. Time will tell which path we take.
Gary Dunn is European managing director of development for Sega. Interview by Matt Martin.