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SEGA's John Clark

The UK MD on price cuts, portfolios and the battle for Christmas cash

Although he's been at SEGA for three years, John Clark only became managing director of the company's UK arm a few months ago. He was promoted as part of a reshuffle which saw Mike Hayes becoming of SEGA West, overseeing operations in both the US and Europe. But it was Clark who took to the stage at last month's Fast Forward retailers' conference to present SEGA's Christmas line-up.

Afterwards, GamesIndustry.biz sat down with the UK boss to find out his predictions for this festive season, his reaction to the recent hardware price cuts and how SEGA plans to move forward in 2010.

GamesIndustry.biz How has the recent executive reshuffle changed the way SEGA operates in practical terms?
John Clark

SEGA is putting a lot more investment, trust, authority and freedom into our offices outside of Japan, and so far it's paying off. The whole SEGA Sammy corporation looks on the work the entertainment section does very fondly and we've shown really good growth. Certainly over the last five years, SEGA Europe has been a strong, growing and very profitable part of the business.

GamesIndustry.biz You sometimes hear staff working for Japanese firms complain their parent company can be very controlling. Is that something you've encountered at SEGA?
John Clark

Prior to working for SEGA I spent eight years at Eidos. The headquarters were in Wimbledon, and that was the worldwide head office. Therefore every decision was made just down the corridor from where I was sitting. You get used to that, and you don't realise just how much freedom you have and how close to the business you are until you're away from it. A lowly sales person, as I was then, could have direct input into the direction of the business, and that was always quite exciting.

So I was interested to see how I would adjust. But I have to say, the autonomy that SEGA Europe has and the entrepreneurial spirit is phenomenal. Based on my knowledge of places like Activision and Ubisoft, I would say SEGA is still more entrepreneurial than any other publisher based out of the UK. It feels a lot like Eidos in terms of the influence individuals and senior execs can have on the direction of the business, from signing deals with developers to discussing direction and profitability.

It really is divested into the European and SEGA West offices, so it almost feels as though it's a European business. Japan is very hands-off. Every business has certain procedures you have to go through, and there are definitely some Japanese-style influences, but they don't dominate the business.

Since I became UK MD we're looking at how we all operate, and all of our opinions within the entire team count. It's about taking the best energies and efforts and putting them in the right direction. We've got a lot of freedom and support when it comes to making the right changes.

GamesIndustry.biz SEGA's current line-up seems to feature quite a broad range of software. There are family titles in there but also games like Resonance of Fate, a Japanese RPG which is very hardcore. Isn't there a danger that with that kind of breadth, you spread yourself too thin?
John Clark

Yes, but the sort of titles we release come from three different areas - Japan, Europe and the US - and they're three different, viable markets. The titles which come out of Japan and work well globally tend to be Sonic, Super Monkey Ball, those core arcade-style SEGA licences. Then there are the RPG elements which are focused for Japan, do fairly well in the US and less so in Europe.

Then we have the European driven titles - Total War, Football Manager - which give us strength here. And we have forged alliances with companies like Marvel Studios which give us great success in the US.

That's the key for us. SEGA has spent a lot of time sourcing, hiring and creating partnerships with many different developers. Now we're really defining what those different segments mean.

GamesIndustry.biz What about games like MadWorld? That was a very stylish, innovative cult title, praised by critics and core gamers - but at the end of the day, did it sell enough copies?
John Clark

I go back to what I said about the entrepreneurial spirit of SEGA. We're prepared to have a go and try to be innovative, and we want to crack core gaming. We've spent a lot of time thinking there must be a way to release mature, more adult content on the Wii format.

House of the Dead performed really well. Was that because it was mature or because it was an arcade title? You might lean towards the SEGA IP and the affiliation with Nintendo, but we matured that up by bringing out House of the Dead Overkill, and made it more of a core game.

At the same time we entered into an exciting partnership with Platinum Games, the first result of which was MadWorld - a fantastic, innovative, original game, no doubt about it.

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Ellie Gibson

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Ellie spent nearly a decade working at Eurogamer, specialising in hard-hitting executive interviews and nob jokes. These days she does a comedy show and podcast. She pops back now and again to write the odd article and steal our biscuits.