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Top 10 of 2009: Interviews

We run down what some of the key industry players had to say in the past year

Each year when we look back at the main themes that have been running through the industry it's always interesting to see what people were saying near the beginning of the year, and compare that to how people felt at the end.

But the past 12 months have been among the most turbulent in the industry's history - notwithstanding the changes that were starting to creep in at the tail end of 2008 - as the videogames business saw closures, cuts and genuine contraction.

Here, in order of publish date, we run down the ten most important interviews from 2009, how they reflect the year as a whole, and what we can learn as we look ahead to - hopefully - a better time all-round in 2010.

Mike's words in January were a pretty accurate assessment of how the year would follow.

Mike Hayes, SEGA (January)

When we spoke to the then-boss of SEGA Europe (since promoted to a more senior role), the industry was still digesting the Christmas 2008 sales data, and wondering if previous widespread predictions that the videogames business was "recession-resistant" - not "recession-proof" - were really going to hold true.

Back then he was cautious about what lay ahead, and in light of how events in the following eleven months transpired, it's interesting to look at what he identified as the key challenges, and how they shaped the year as a whole.

Q There have been recessions before, and people for the most part seem confident that the games industry will emerge relatively intact - what are your thoughts on the current economic climate?

Mike Hayes: Well, there are definitely three ways in which it's different. The first thing is credit - it's a big issue. You can't get credit in Eastern European countries, it's harder in the Middle East, there's no credit insurance. You've got retailers where credit's on hold, like Toys R Us - even though people aren't going to stop buying videogames, our ability to get through the channel is harder.

The second thing is retailers, definitely in the United States, are being far more prudent in what they buy, so they're clearly going to focus on the triple A titles, but their day one orders are coming down. What they're saying is that they'll take in as little as need to, see how it sells through, and then they know they can order again in a matter of days if not hours. So that's hurting us.

But I also think that this time around there's definitely an oversupply of good games in the market from publishers. I think that was very evident in the UK at Christmas when you had fantastic games coming out and selling great in the first week, maybe two, and then falling off a cliff.

He also identified the risk to new IP, something which was a tough ask in 2008 and has proved to be a significant challenge in 2009.

Q: Microsoft is investing in the Halo universe in that way, for example. But it does make you wonder that if the industry is cutting back on new IP, then further down the line... For EA I'm sure they'll look at new content around Mirror's Edge and Dead Space in the future, but those aside, might there be a genuine lack of choice and variety further down the line - and if so, what will that do to the industry?

Mike Hayes: I think that's a very good point. From our side, we're going to balance it. We're going to do three broad things - we'll take on existing franchises and innovate, like the Football Manager 3D engine, FML, and we've got some interesting stuff on the future of Total War, and where we want to take that, because times are changing and online is becoming far more relevant.

Secondly, we will go for the new IPs, the MadWorlds, and so on. And the third point is that we will constantly try to reinvigorate what we've had before with new ideas. We've had limited success - Sega Rally was a great game, but didn't press any buttons. Samba de Amigo was a great game on Wii, but it didn't really break out.

But we do have that catalogue that we like to look at. There are a lot more things that we can do properly with Sonic, where we develop in the West. Sonic Chronicles on the DS is an excellent game - not commercially huge, but an RPG on the DS is never likely to be so. It was a nice, profitable, critically-acclaimed game. Sonic needs that quality to come back into it.

So we think that if we balance those three things, we're not going to get it all right, but hopefully if we can get one new IP out of that in the next two years, we'll be delighted.

Hopefully other publishers will take that mixed approach, and that balance will get us through.

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