Back in August of 2012, SEGA announced a new initiative of theirs they called SEGA Alliance, which would focus on working with indie game developers to publish mobile games. The deal is one that offers SEGA’s marketing and promotional team to get the word out about a game, and creative consultancy is also available if requested. It’s not that releasing a game on mobile game stores requires a publisher, but getting noticed among all the noise can be really hard, so SEGA thought they could use their name to drive interest to games.
The first developer to make use of this initiative was Owlchemy Labs with their game Jack Lumber, which is all about chopping up wood that is flung across the screen and avoiding the dissecting of various forest creatures that sometimes appear too. Essentially it takes the gameplay of Fruit Ninja and gives it a beard and an axe, as well as slow motion line-drawing as opposed to just making quick single slices.
We spoke to Alex Schwartz, Founder of Owlchemy Labs, about his experience working with SEGA under Alliance and how the whole publishing process was handled, what it involved.
“The most common goal working with a publisher on an already funded iOS title is exposure. An indie’s main battle is getting seen. Our partnership with SEGA was all about getting eyeballs onto our game.”
Though they were working with SEGA, Alex says that the relationship was one that only affected the promotion of Jack Lumber. And even then, the whole Owlchemy Lab team were consulted on everything concerning this as they wanted to maintain their unique voice at all times.
“One of our requests was to be 100% in charge of all creative, with sign-off required from us when anything public would be shown about the game. We’re very protective of our brand, and rightfully so. As indies with a niche product and a strong and unique marketing style, we want to make sure that our voice is the one that is heard.”
The majority work for SEGA, then, was to provide Owlchemy with a booth at PAX, the swag they had to give out, and they also helped to edit the clips of their World Lumberjack Championships video. As Jack Lumber was a finished product already, Owlchemy were not in need of an form of production support of creative consultation, but SEGA do provide these services as part of an Alliance partnership if a developer is after it.
Chop And Change
Of course, at the time of the announcement we could only hope that this partnership would be a successful deal for both SEGA and Owlchemy, aka a well-known and long-standing developer and publisher of games and a quirky development studio who are gifted with producing silly, attractive and polished games. What could go wrong?
“SEGA did a good job attempting to market and support Jack Lumber. Right now, our iOS platform sales are much lower than expected.”
Through no fault of either party involved, Jack Lumber hasn’t quite been the success it was hoped it would be according to Alex. So maybe the mobile gaming market isn’t as easy to understand or promote within as SEGA perceived. Which brings into question the worth of the Alliance initiative for indie game developers who, let’s face it, can quite easily release their mobile game but just need the promotion and it doesn’t matter too much where that comes from as long as it works.
In the light of this news, it may not be too surprising that no other indie games have been announced for publication under SEGA Alliance. This could be due to them not being ready yet, of course, but maybe SEGA considered Jack Lumber an experiment – a quick dip of the toe into the water, which was colder than expected. Perhaps they’re reconsidering the program altogether – is this shaky start enough to pull Alliance from existence? Probably not, after all it wasn’t as though they did a bad job necessarily, but it proves that promotion and marketing isn’t always enough. Whatever the case, SEGA are being very quiet about the whole thing and our attempts to contact them about Alliance and their future plans with it, as well as what they make of Jack Lumber not doing so well have proven unsuccessful.
For Owlchemy Labs, they have to move on and seek other ways of gaining revenue to cover their costs. They haven’t shared with us the exact details of SEGA’s cut under Alliance, or what profit they got out of it, if any at all. But they did reveal that they’re currently working on ways to take Jack Lumber to other players, and this time they’re doing it without any outside help.
“We are currently porting to multiple platforms – we haven’t specifically announced which yet, but those new platforms don’t involve a publisher and we’re trying our hand going it alone (like all of our prior games such as Snuggle Truck, the mobile version of Aaaaa!, etc).
I don’t know how sales will compare with our sales under SEGA, but we shall see. Working with publishers has been a big experiment and so far it hasn’t been financially successful for Owlchemy.”
Hopefully Owlchemy Labs will be able to come back from this slight upset. But what does this mean for SEGA Alliance? If you’re a developer thinking about using a publisher for your mobile game, then it’s worth taking all of this into account before jumping in to a deal with anybody.