It must be hard to see the ship sinking from the captain’s seat, even when someone shows you a live feed of water pouring in through a breach in the hull. That’s exactly what happened with Sega in the early 2000s, as the company faded from competing 1:1 with Nintendo to barely registering against newcomer Sony not once but twice.
During the twilight years of Sega’s time as a contender, Peter Moore – most recently of Electronic Arts – was the head of marketing and was trying to right the ship. In an interview with Glixel, Moore talked about those days, his efforts, and the response of higher-up mebers of Sega’s Japanese staff.
It started with a focus group
“We did a focus group here in San Francisco, I’m trying to think of what year this would be – probably late 2001, early 2002 – because I needed to prove to the Japanese that our brand was starting to fade away,” Moore said. “And so we asked [a] focus group, a bunch of 18-, 19-year-olds, a classic question: ‘If a video game publisher was a relative or friend, who would they be?”
Moore explained that EA was the ‘arrogant quarterback,’ while Rockstar was the ‘drunken uncle’ who pops up occasionally as the life of the party and then disappears for a while. Sega, on the other hand? “Your granddad,” he said. “Who used to be cool, but even he can’t remember why anymore.”
Moore filmed these focus groups and presented them to Japanese executives and chief developers within the company, including Sonic the Hedgehog creator Yuji Naka and Shenmue creator Yu Suzuki.
Moore described his relationship with Naka as troubled at the best of times, but said that showing him the filmed focus group caused Naka to slam his hand on the table.
There’s no expression in Japanese
“This is ridiculous,” Naka said, according to Moore. “You have made them say this. Sega is the great brand, nobody would ever say this, you have falsified!”
“So I said to the translator, ‘Tell him to f*** off.’ The poor guy looks at me sand says, ‘there’s no expression in Japanese.’ I said, ‘I know there is,’ and that was it. That was the last time I ever set foot in there.”
Moore said that Sega execs couldn’t make a move if its chief developers weren’t into it. As game tech evolved and started to focus on more mature players, Moore said that became an inflection point. Moore wanted to move with that, while Naka et al. resisted.
“You can point to those moments and say, ‘that’s when everything started to change,'” he said. Moore’s move to Microsoft took place shortly thereafter, followed by a shift to EA. This winter, Moore announced he’d be leaving the game industry to take on the role of the chief executive officer of his favorite football team, Liverpool FC.
This isn’t a new story
We’ve heard this story about Sega before. Not this exact story, but more than one like it. After the success of the Sega Genesis in America, Sega of Japan seemed to resent the success of its American side and began to make counter-intuitive business decisions. The company missed out on deals with Sony and Silcon Graphics (the company behind the Nintendo 64 chip) before going with its own ultimately underpowered technology, despite protests from Sega of America’s then-CEO Tom Kalinske. Even the design of Sonic the Hedgehog back in the day was a point of contention between the Japanese and American arms of the business.
Over and over, these stories continue to surface, of Sega of America trying to point Sega of Japan in the right direction. There’s always going to be another side to the story, and that’s a hard one to get as Japanese executives are going to be a bit harder to wrangle, but the continuing narrative points to a self-sealing coffin, and this story is just the latest nail.
Check out the full interview at the source link below.