News travels fast around these parts, and if you’re here, chances are you’ve already heard that Sega has sold Visual Concepts, the developer for their now legendary Sega Sports games.
Sega fans all over the world didn’t want to see this coming, and many think it was a mistake.
I think Sega finally made the right call.
Electronic Arts has the NFL locked up in a 5 year exclusivity deal, which pretty much means that the only successful football game for the next 5 years will be Madden (or whatever EA decides to name it). I abhor this decision by the NFL to operate on an exclusive arrangement with EA, as it sets a precedent. It puts a price on competition, or rather, a price on ensuring there is no competition. The yearly NFL Football games are the biggest moneymakers in sports games (at least here in the US), and with that route no longer available to Sega, they had the option of calling it quits or pushing for better games in other major sports, such as NBA Basketball, NHL Hockey, and MLB Baseball.
Another turn of events transpired, however, that pushed Sega even further back. Their contract with ESPN expired. Electronic Arts once again swiftly moved in and snatched that license up for the next 15 years. Any brand recognition that Sega might have earned over the past couple of years due to the ESPN license would now go to EA. Naturally, the hardcore Sega fan would know the difference, but our numbers are insignificant when it comes to game sales. I don’t blame ESPN for this decision, though. The ESPN license has changed hands so many times over the years, it was inevitable that EA would one day decide to claim it for their own. 15 years is a long time, though.
Interestingly enough, Take 2 (the publisher for Sega’s 2k5 sports lineup) decided to play hardball with EA, and managed to secure exclusive rights among third party publishers (i.e. anyone but Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft) to Major League Baseball for the next seven years. I feel that this move is also bad for the industry in general, but with the precedent set by EA, it was only a matter of time until another sport buckled and gave in to the promise of large amounts of cash. The trend is set, and I speculate that within two years, all major American sports will have exclusivity deals with one publisher or another.
Sega’s sports games haven’t been profitable for years. Even though the $20 price point on all the 2k5 games shifted a lot of units, the amount of profit actually made from these games was relatively little, if any. At $20 a game, there really isn’t much money to be made from high quality titles like these. Take 2 gets a cut for their publishing and distribution of the games, ESPN got a cut for use of their properties, Sony and Microsoft get royalties, and there’s also the cost of marketing the game.
I thing Sega’s getting out while the getting’s good. They put up a valiant fight, but they are a business and need to be profitable in order to keep the shareholders happy. With the cards stacked against them, Sega would have needed killer marketing campaigns for their 2006 sports titles if they had wanted them to even be remotely successful. And as we all well know, Sega’s marketing department has been and continues to be their weakest spot as evidenced by my actual quest to buy Virtua Quest.
Now that they don’t have to worry about sports games, perhaps we’ll get to see a few of those games that have so far remained Japan only releases. I’d really like to see a Sakura Taisen game come stateside.
As a final note – you may have detected a slight change here on the front page, but weren’t quite sure what it was – well, the mailbag is officially discontinued due to a lack of responses. You’re still welcome to send me email with whatever’s on your mind, and I may feature some of it here on the front page, but there’s just no longer any real justification to keep a separate section for a mailbag. Most topical discussion happens in the forums anyway.
I’m looking forward to adding more lifestyle articles to the site, as well as reviews of sega’s current games (with game of the moment entries for older titles), but I’ll be retiring anything that just isn’t happening anymore (like the mailbag for example). I’ll leave it on the site, but it will be in a place dedicated to our retired sections.