Game Theory: How Sega is tapping into mobile success on the iPhone

Oct 1, 2010
Games

Even for a gaming pioneer like Sega, the iPhone is a “game-changer.” So says Mayra San Martin, the company’s director of mobile business development. Appolicious recently spent some quality time with San Martin and her colleagues at Sega to sample some upcoming titles (including the soon-to-be-released Sonic the Hedgehog 4, see exclusive premiere trailer below), […]

Even for a gaming pioneer like Sega, the iPhone is a “game-changer.” So says Mayra San Martin, the company’s director of mobile business development.

Appolicious recently spent some quality time with San Martin and her colleagues at Sega to sample some upcoming titles (including the soon-to-be-released Sonic the Hedgehog 4, see exclusive premiere trailer below), and get an idea as to how the company views the iPhone and other mobile platforms.

Needless to say, there is a lot of things at play for Sega that you’ll enjoy. Here is our inteview with San Martin.

What are the biggest areas of innovation provided by the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad?

The user interface and design of all three of these devices is extremely intuitive to the point where my 4-year-old nephew and 70-year-old grandfather alike can use it without any frustration. This simple yet elegant design aesthetic has helped make this a truly mass-market device. From a feature perspective, the devices allow social connectivity via Game Center and Facebook Connect an appealing way to consume all forms of media.

Are you applying these new tools and concepts to other platforms?

Whenever SEGA implements a new tool that a platform allows, we are always looking for ways to leverage that onto other platforms. Social connectivity and micro-transactions are two things that we are currently paying a lot of attention to at SEGA.

Share with us how SEGA views opportunities in the mobile gaming space relative to other platforms

The launch of the iPhone in 2007 was a game changer. In the past three years, Apple has been a driving force in getting people into the habit of playing games on their mobile devices. This along with the persistent focus on improving the platform with the addition of compelling APIs has elevated games on mobile to a new standard. As a result, our focus on mobile initially was to give consumers an opportunity to play their favorite SEGA games. Due to lower development costs on mobile in comparison to console, the platform is an ideal way to incubate original IP concepts. Our upcoming title, Kingdom Conquest, is a good example of SEGA developing a new IP and experimenting with a new freemium business model.

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Describe how you are using the iPhone to reintroduce Generation X gamers to classic titles they grew up playing.

Generation X is a very unique group of people who grew up with video games as a mass-market pastime and are traditionally early adopters of new technology. While some of them may not be using traditional consoles anymore, MANY of them own an iPhone. So it’s only natural that while making a game that appeals to them, we offer it on the devices they currently use. That said, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 will be utilizing specific iPhone controls and two exclusive levels that take advantage of the device, giving iPhone consumers and Generation X a unique Sonic experience found nowhere else.

How do you use the iPhone as a showcase to younger players who are not old enough to have played on a SEGA console?

The iPhone is a unique device in that it has gained mass-market adoption in a very short amount of time. This has allowed us to reach out to a very broad audience who enjoy both games and Sonic the Hedgehog. One of the great aspects about Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is that the game play elements are truly universal. Even if you haven’t experienced Sonic before, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 exposes you right off the bat to the speed and platform-based gaming people love. At its core is a level design that can be enjoyed in short bite-sized bursts, which are perfect for the iPhone consumer, making this game very accessible to everyone.

How does designing a game for the iPad differ from doing so on the iPhone?

The iPad is an exciting addition to the current landscape of gaming devices because it offers all of the flexibility, mobility and connectedness of the iPhone, but it improves upon one of the big constraints of the iPhone: screen real estate. With the extra screen size comes added opportunities for not only a better looking experience for the consumer, but also for additional control schemes and game modes that would not be possible on a smaller device. We are excited to take advantage of all that this platform has to offer in our upcoming games.

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Describe your efforts to date experimenting with freemium pricing models.

Kingdom Conquest, our upcoming free-to-play MMO, is SEGA’s first venture into a freemium monetization model for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and we are eager to see how the iPhone gaming community responds. Over the coming months SEGA will be watching Kingdom Conquest closely, in our endeavor to strike the best balance between fun, playability and revenue generation.

When does SEGA plan to develop titles for the Android Market?

We are excited to bring SEGA’s much-loved IP to the Android platform and are planning a couple releases in the next 3-6 months. Stay tuned!

What other mobile gaming platforms are you considering right now?

SEGA is always evaluating new platforms to extend our catalogue of brands onto mobile and other platform opportunities. We are looking forward to the launch of Window Mobile 7 and expect great things from the platform and Microsoft’s new and improved approach to mobile. We are also evaluating additional platforms, e.g., Nokia’s Ovi Store, Blackberry, Palm and Kindle as potential new launch platforms in the near future.

Where do you see the mobile gaming space a year from now?

Five years from now? No one ever dreamed that the mobile industry would have transformed itself so radically after the launch of the iPhone in July 2007. Just three years from that launch, the space has become vastly different than what we knew before; that makes for an incredibly exciting and diverse landscape in the mobile arena for years to come. I can only imagine what the future holds in the world of mobile in the next 1-5 years; if only my mobile could read lips or instantly translate conversations in 20+ languages, it would make life, work and travel all that more fascinating! It would also make public transportation much more fun, too.

Sonic 4 iPhone Trailer @ Yahoo! Video
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Brad Spirrison

Brad Spirrison is the managing editor of appoLearning and Appolicious Inc. In this capacity, he has sampled and evaluated thousands of iOS and Android applications. He also holds an M.A. in Education and Media Ecology from New York University.

Spirrison worked in concert with appoLearning Expert and Instructional Technology Specialist Leslie Morris while curating and evaluating educational applications.

A longtime media and technology commentator and executive, Spirrison is also a regular contributor to ABC News, The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Bloomberg West and The Christopher Gabriel Program.

Spirrison is married and lives with his wife and young son in Chicago. As his son was born just weeks before the debut of the iPad, Spirrison takes his work home with him and regularly samples and enjoys a variety of educational applications for young children.

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