Sega may have been out of the console game since Dreamcast's demise 2001, but chances are most people will have familiarity with the name.
And for those growing up in the 90s, many will surely have played one of its classic roster of games like Sonic the Hedgehog at least once across consoles like the Master System, Mega Drive, Game Gear and the Saturn.
But for numerous reworks of Sonic and its successful strategy and simulation PC games, much of its classic IP has remained dormant outside of retro game compilations like the Ultimate Collection.
Sega Networks has a new plan to revive its old IP though: Sega Forever.
Blast from the past
Through this, the company plans to launch a raft of retro first-party games from its console hey-day for free on mobile, with a release slate of roughly one title every two weeks.
It's not a direct replacement for the Ultimate Collection, those will remain for sale on other platforms.
Rather, these re-releases will come from a variety of its classic hardware, mostly ported to mobile through the Unity game engine, though Saturn fans may have to wait due to issues creating good emulations of these titles.
The games will be ad-supported, typically showing an ad upon a game's start-up. A $1.99 in-app purchase will be available in each title however for those who want to ditch the ads entirely, as well as enable offline save slots.
Each game will use virtual buttons in keeping with the original control schemes of a game's home console.
The first batch of retro games includes Comix Zone, Altered Beast, Kid Chameleon, Phantasy Star II and Sonic the Hedgehog. Not just focused on releasing these retro titles on mobile, Sega will also be providing fun facts about each game to educate players on the history of the title.
And in future, Sega also aims to add in local multiplayer over a wi-fi connection.
Speaking to PocketGamer.biz, Sega Networks Chief Marketing Officer Mike Evans says the idea for Sega Forever came about as part of an attempt to replicate the experience people can have when owning their first console, and bringing it to the masses.
We think it will both revive what we're doing and allow people not to just rediscover these games but discover them for the first time.Mike Evans
“If I think back to my childhood my first console was the Atari 2600,” Evans reminisces. “My father bought it, got into a lot of trouble because he'd spent I don't know how much of his wages on it. But it kind of panned out okay in the end.
“The point that when I played it I realised that things, for me, wouldn't be the same again. It was like a kind of renaissance.”
The idea is to connect new consumers with Sega’s IP who may not previously have played these games.
For those who have bought the originals and even the re-releases, Evans says that being free means it could be a chance for those players to get back into titles they haven’t played for a while too.
“It's different for different kind of personas, cohorts of people, but we think it will both revive what we're doing and allow people not to just rediscover these games but discover them for the first time,” says Evans.
Secondly, it’s a way for Sega Networks to kick off a new advertising business in the mobile space in which it hopes to build up a large network of players, similar to the model used by the likes of Ketchapp and Gree.
It’s an interesting use of the ad-based business model, in which Sega can release classic games fondly remembered by older console players while not having to simply focus on big bets to compete with the top mobile companies and their vast sums of cash.
“We had a hard reset as a division just over a year ago,” says Evans.
“Mobile is so challenging and in many ways the gold rush has stopped from where it was. It's been a tremendous journey for the last nine years but it had to come to some kind of peak. It's still going to grow, there's still devices going and still innovation, but I think growing the network enables us to generate revenue immediately in a sustainable way whilst also hopefully reviving some of our brands.”
Growing the network enables us to generate revenue immediately in a sustainable way whilst also reviving some of our brands.
Sega Forever actually forms just one pillar of the company’s new mobile strategy, but could provide a key foundation for its plans if its able to retain users in its network.
The second pillar will see Sega continuing to make new games for mobile devices built especially for the platform, as it has done recently with Crazy Taxi Gazillionaire.
These games will be ad-supported and feature in-app purchases, but won’t necessarily be seen as having top grossing potential – though will have an affinity with its Sega Forever scheme, offering potential for cross-promotion within its network.
The third pillar is Sega’s play for top grossing games, which will require bigger investments and longer development times.
“That's a longer bet and I want to do fewer of those because it's a lot riskier, but also spend more time trying to get it right,” says Evans. “So this business supports that, which supports [the other pillar].”
Sega Network's plans to create a new advertising network with Sega Forever, as well as, as Evans puts it, "democratise retro gaming", shows a new future for the company's mobile operations that both harnesses its past successes and looks ahead to new industry trends.