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Lap Two

Sega Racing Studio's Guy Wilday talks Sega Rally, next-gen consoles and a changing market.

It's exactly a year since GamesIndustry.biz last visited Blythe Valley Business Park and spoke to Guy Wilday, head of Sega Racing Studio, about the company's prospects and it's first project, Sega Rally. In that time, the developer has more than doubled in size to just over 60 staffers, and Sega Rally has grown from an impressive technical demo to one of the most exciting prospects on a Sega release calendar already crowded with exciting prospects.

Remaking a classic game is a challenge the publisher has already proven it's equal to - thanks to the enormous critical acclaim heaped upon OutRun 2, and particularly OutRun 2006. Both games were handled by Sumo Digital in collaboration with Sega's Japanese developers. But with Sega Rally the publisher hopes to demonstrate that it can now marshal that cutting edge from within, and develop games with the sort of mass-market appeal that continues - even now - to drag pound coins out of the hands of arcade-going gamers who stumble into the welcoming arms of one of the most successful coin-ops ever produced.

The proof of that will be in the game's release across multiple platforms - PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC, with a PSP version handled by FlatOut developer Bugbear - in September. In the meantime, we caught up with Wilday again to discuss Sega Racing Studio's growth, prospects, and the realities of entering a market as a "multi-sku, multi-game" developer with several burgeoning platforms and a changing market with which to come to terms.


GamesIndustry.biz: We visited you last year and you talked about starting with tech and gradually bringing teams online as you expanded. How has growth been since then?

Dramatic. The studio's grown from six to 60 in 18 months, so fairly explosive growth. The plan for this studio remains the same - the plan is for us to be a multi-sku, multi-game studio and the expansion plans are as exciting and as impressive as they've always been. Our focus is very much at the moment on Sega Rally, of course, and getting that game delivered, but we're already talking about what the plans are next.

So you're not actually working on anything else now?

Nothing else is being developed at the moment, but definitely discussions and ideas are in the pipeline. Sure.

Are Sega going to let you loose on something of your own design or are you looking again at the back catalogue?

There are conversations about both. There's original IP in the pipeline, there is obviously discussions about other Sega IP. For me, I sort of think that's the beauty of this opportunity: you've got this fantastic back catalogue, and everyone in the studio has got their own favourite title they want to remake, and that's great. At the same time, we've got some quite cool original ideas we want to do.

How is the relationship with Sega?

Very good. They have let us be enormously autonomous. Obviously we're located two hours from the head office in London, and they were from the outset happy to establish us here, and have been very happy that we remain autonomous and remain... sort of independent, I guess. At the same time we're part of the Sega organisation so we have all the benefits of that as well. It's the best of both worlds.

Your growth here as the Sega Racing Studio in the UK has coincided with the country's own resurgence in motorsport - with Lewis Hamilton doing wonderfully in Formula One.

It's interesting, actually! The Midlands is historically a massive proving ground for motorsport. There are Formula One teams not far from here, there are car manufacturers here - a massive part of the Midlands. The rally team - the Prodrive Subaru is just down the road. There are still a lot of very prestigious motorsport companies in the area.

How have you found development on the two next-gen console platforms relative to one another? Obviously it's quite a contentious issue.

Yeah. For me it's always been pretty much the same. Sony always create very technically innovative hardware and always have. PlayStation 3 is no different in that respect. The flipside of very innovative hardware is that it takes you a while to get up to speed with it. The learning curve is steeper in that you have to get into it and understand exactly what the benefits are, and understand exactly how to do certain things to get the most out of the platform.

With Xbox 360 obviously development is simpler. The development tools and support you have are obviously excellent. So that really is the trade-off. We're very happy - the game looks identical on both platforms; the feature-set is exactly the same. We've sat them side by side and you're really hard-pushed to tell the difference. I think that's a testament to where you are with both platforms. The learning curve with PlayStation 3 is steeper, but once you're there the opportunities are very exciting.

As somebody doing a game with multiplayer very much in mind, how have you found the two online services?

Obviously Microsoft have been championing online for some time and have got enormous experience in that. They've been doing it for so long. And I think Xbox Live is pretty much a platform on its own when you talk to the consumer; they've done a great job. Sony are just in the process at the moment of getting their systems in place and looking at how that's going to go. We will have the same six-player online experience on both platforms.

Whenever we talk to developers, they always talk in these terms - that Sony's getting the platform together, scaling online. Do you think that maybe Microsoft's approach is to get bang in there for a few years and then start thinking ahead to the next console, whereas Sony are thinking of a longer cycle?

Maybe. I don't know if I've ever thought about it like that. The thing about Microsoft is that they have enormous infrastructure; they have online infrastructure for lots of other areas of their business, so therefore they've got an enormous amount of experience in doing this before, whereas for Sony they've got to establish that infrastructure and get some of that working and in place. It's a different proposition for them and Microsoft to a certain extent have been doing it now for longer, so they've had more time to get all this together. Yeah - I've no doubt that Sony are working very hard to get the support in place for what we need. Certainly that's our experience.

We've talked to various developers about the future of consoles. Silicon Knights' Denis Dyack has said that he thinks there has to be a unified console platform. But on the other side of it, when we spoke to Gabe Newell at Valve Corporation about it, his reaction was that as long as Microsoft and Sony are prepared to loss-lead on hardware it's hard to see the multi-console situation changing...

The unified platform - it's sort of the Holy Grail. What a unified platform gives you is that it's about the games at that point. It's not about platform differences any more; it can only be about the games content. I almost can't think of that happening in any other area. If you look at mobile phones, if you look at DVD players, if you look at digital cameras - everyone's got their own features, everyone's got their own innovations, everyone's got their own things that they want to push hardware-wise as well as in software. It'll be interesting to see if it happens. Technical innovation at the moment is as important as anything else, and it doesn't necessarily make game developers' lives easy but I think it's part of the business.

Well yes - the games industry often compares itself to film, but the watershed moment in film wasn't when somebody worked out how to accurately model a box falling over and being kicked across the screen.

Absolutely. For me, the interesting thing about film, if you look at that, is that the costs of film production are dropping dramatically to the point where you have the capability of making a Hollywood movie for less than GBP 100,000, which is astonishing really because there's no way, in my mind at present, that you could create a triple-A videogame for that sort of money. So it's interesting if you compare the industry in that way - and look at how the costs have reduced dramatically for film - whether that will have any interesting repercussions for us in the future, because obviously for the moment our costs are skyrocketing to a certain extent.

How much did it cost to finance Sega Rally?

It's a significant investment, as you can imagine. It's probably difficult for me to put a number on it, but as I'm sure you can imagine it's a multi-million-dollar project, for sure. It's a big deal to get one of these games out, and get them out to the quality you've seen here.

Are you keen to get close to your audience?

Absolutely. We've done quite extensive market research with this game, and it's been extremely valuable and very interesting, and I think we've targeted our market and tried to understand what they want specifically. It's one of the key reasons why I think the market's changing and the market's moving on. The feedback from that has definitely been that people aren't looking for simulations any more. They're not looking for big, expansive games with enormous challenge that take them a long time to complete; they're looking for...

Blockbusters?

And bite-sized gameplay. Something that's divided up in such a way that it's much more accessible. They're not necessarily playing games for the time periods that they have been before. They're now playing it for shorter, bite-sized chunks of time, and they want games that give them that sort of reward, but that they can dip in and dip out of much more easily.

So you're targeting a game that not only has that smaller profile but also has that much greater density of possibility within the smaller space?

Definitely. I think that's right. Videogames have obviously gone enormously mass-market, and to hit that demographic and get as broad a market as possible you've got to try and provide appeal for as much of that market as possible, and I think you're right - that is about trying to provide options in a number of ways for the consumers.

Guy Wilday is head of Sega Racing Studio. Interview by Tom Bramwell.

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Tom Bramwell

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Tom worked at Eurogamer from early 2000 to late 2014, including seven years as Editor-in-Chief.