You may be wondering how anything that's 'free' could be worth anything, but just give me a second (or however long it takes you to read this) to explain. SEGA FOREVER, the new brand that will be rolling out retro Sega games on Mobile, has announced that five games will be released today on mobile when the brand goes live. These are Sonic The Hedgehog, Comix Zone, Phantasy Star II, Kid Chameleon and Altered Beast. There are also plans to issue a few more titles in the next couple of months.
How do I know this? GamesIndustry had a chat yesterday with Sega Networks' chief marketing officer Mike Evans, who is claiming Sega Forever was his idea. He has been wanting to bring retro Sega games back to the fans, and feels that the mobile platform is the best route to take.
One of the key reasons [we're launching this] is the insight. Within all the games, we're running ongoing surveys and we're always super interested to understand what our fans want. We'll able to chart the relative strength of the IP, we'll be able to understand the demographics and the psychographics of the people who are playing the games, and once we have that audience we'll be able to create further games and experiences for that audience as well.
This isn't exactly a new technique to revitalise old games into the current gaming era, as we've seen a resurgence of many old titles by other developers and publishers too, trying to monopolize on our nostalgia. Sega naively believe that bringing back old IPs will boost their sales by 50% by 2020. I'm not saying it wouldn't, it's a good plan, but I feel that is truly ambitious and perhaps somewhat unrealistic.
Perhaps a better focus would be to develop new titles for franchise games, and then release the retro version for free at the same time. But just because it is free, doesn't mean that there won't be income though. Either the ads pay for the games, or you can pay to have the ads removed, which just serves the same purpose.
It's a very easy conversion to take those games to free. We're just bolting in the advertising support model and a single in-app purchase that can disable those ads.
So, either way, they get paid. You can read the rest of the interview yourself, but let's get to the most important question: will it be worth it, even though it is free? And here I am talking about the enjoyment value. Now, I have always been as much a Sega player as I was a Nintendo player; in other words, never. So I turned to others who have some experience in this matter.
According to Eurogamer, the games are ported over by Unity, who is using a sub-par emulator. Sega were busy with negotiations with RetroArch, but the negotiations entailed RetroArch effectively losing rights to its programs. And John Linneman from Digital Foundry suggests it's not just that the emulator runs it at 30fps, but that it is also very unstable.
The games are designed to run at 60 frames per second. This emulator tries to do that but drops frames resulting in something that looks more like ~45 fps or so. There are loads of dropped frames, hitches and skips. 30fps is bad, but an even, stable 30fps would have been better than this. The issue here is that it skips and stutters during gameplay. And when a notification occurs, it gets much worse. So it never plays smoothly.
And to me that is the key. I have several free mobile games where I have chosen to keep the ads. Paying to have them removed has never been an issue to me. Yet, if I was ever motivated to try Sega out for the first time, it would not be under such poor quality.
This seems to be the latest trend though. I am seeing more and more retro games coming to mobile free of charge at much less quality. It seems as though developers are milking us for the nostalgia. Even though we may not be paying for it, the advertisers are. Not that they care or are even playing these games, but the revenue that they are indirectly getting from us will continue to drive developers to bring us sub-par retro games.
When asked why Sega went with Unity, Mike explained:
About 90 per cent of the games so far are in Unity. The reason we chose Unity as middleware is it enables us to take this content to other platforms as well. So my first focus is mobile. It's a huge project and what I really want to do is get mobile right. After this, there are options: we can look at desktop, Facebook, we could even take these games to consoles like Switch.
So they're looking at bringing these sub-par games to Switch as well. Does it matter? Would you mind having to deal with glitchy stages and poor graphics just for a few moments of goosebumps and a trail down memory lane?
I did it on the PS Vita I guess. And that wasn't even free. I paid for the PS1 Silent Hill, Destruction Derby and Abe's Odyssee. They had the same original frustrating controls, but I loved replaying them nonetheless. The framerate was good and the graphics were as I remember them though, and definitely did not hinder my enjoyment of them. Oh, and there were no ads....
I guess it all comes down to personal opinion really. If you manage to pick up any SEGA FOREVER games, let us know how it plays and if it was worth the enjoyment / frustration.