Tadashi Takezaki is currently the president of TMS Entertainment, but was previously involved with all domestic Sega Mega Drive software in a marketing capacity. Today he enthusiastically talks about an outsider’s view of Sega as someone who’s acted both as the face of Sega and as a representative of Sega fans.
Interview: Kiyoshi Tane
Space Harrier as a First Brush With Sega’s Creativity
Mr. Takezaki, you’ve said that you joined Sega and did marketing for them because you’d already liked them. But what is it that originally attracted you to Sega in the first place?
(Takezaki) The primary reason was their games that were full-body experiences. Back then, Namco was the company that really shined when it came to arcade games, right? But one day I walked into an arcade and saw a Hang-On cabinet with a huge bike, and I thought “What’s going on with THIS company?!”.
You were thinking “Where did this thing come from?!” (Laughs)
(Takezaki) And with Space Harrier after that, they finally synced up the flashy moving cabinet with a really great game, and Sega made an impact as a company that was truly creating next-generation entertainment. It was right around then that I realized there was something about them that was different from a regular company. And when I heard about Galaxy Force being released just after, I went to the arcade after work and was spinning in that cabinet wearing a suit. I did the same thing with the R360 cabinet, but basically whenever Sega released something new I’d go and check it out! (Laughs)
So you got into Sega through their arcade games.
(Takezaki) I’d been buying home console games ever since I became a working adult. And like any good adult, I read every game magazine I could for information. And though the Mega Drive was a very interesting console, it just didn’t really get picked up by those game magazines as much. And that made me want to learn about it even more. But Sega themselves just didn’t really seem to advertise much here.
During the CSK era (Sega’s parent company from 1984 through 2004) you were turned onto the Mega Drive by a co-worker, right?
(Takezaki) That’s right. I also provided Mega Drive related information to that co-worker as a sort of “after service” (Laughs) If you were looking for Mega Drive information back then, game magazines just didn’t have much of it outside of supplemental issues. And even if you went to the store to buy a new Mega Drive game on the release date, stores often wouldn’t even be selling them. I wasn’t really sure what would happen if Sega didn’t do a better job of keeping up with its fans.
But despite that, you still only had eyes for Sega! (Laughs)
(Takezaki) In order to follow in the footsteps of my co-worker, I put together and distributed a sort of weekly newsletter that compiled all sorts of information, including that found in overseas magazines. And it got quite a reaction when it was distributed to game shops and had news about popular games being ported over to the console, when that news came from those overseas game magazines. I even got inquiries from domestic game magazines about it.
That’s something Sega should have been doing themselves from the start! (Laughs)
The Arcade Industry Not Being Accustomed to Distributing Information
(Takezaki) When I asked about it after joining the company, it seems that Sega had a marketing department but there was no one there that handled home console releases. Because Sega was an arcade company that got into the console market, they were just sort of doing what they could to support that part of the business. But it was a fundamental difference in industries: When an arcade game company puts out a good game, it gets popular in the actual arcades. But with a home console game, you have to hype it up before release so that people will buy it. So when I started asking about publishing after joining the company, I was told by someone in the editorial department that Sega didn’t proactively advertise anything. And they wouldn’t give me any sample ROMs for that purpose.
They weren’t used to getting information out there beforehand.
(Takezaki) Once I got a handle on the situation, I knew that we needed to get as much information on Sega’s console games out to the media as we could so that people could understand their allure. But managing the distribution of all of that is difficult, so I asked media outlets to go through the proper channels and began sorting it out one piece at a time.
That’s a part of those feelings of wanting Sega’s games to be acknowledged that you were talking about.
(Takezaki) I felt that distributing that newsletter was the limit of what I could do individually, but official information from the company itself should be getting published in hundreds of magazine issues! (Laughs) I said that it was important to appeal to people through means that weren’t just our official Mega Drive magazine, in order to really promote the hardware. So in that way, I caused some problems for the people working on that magazine. But we had to appeal to people who didn’t already have a Mega Drive too.
I can really get that “Sega feel” from what you just said. Since they came from the arcade industry, making good hardware came first. Then they just keep people hooked with interesting games afterward.
(Takezaki) And that’s the right way to do it for the arcade. But because they did the same thing for their consoles, they wondered why it wasn’t working! (Laughs) Advertising the way I did just as a user sold maybe tens of Mega Drive units, so I wanted to do it better as a part of the actual company.
You felt that gamers who weren’t already familiar with Sega wanted to know more about them.
(Takezaki) This is jumping around in the conversation, but I interviewed some third party developers for an event called “Yuusei Sega World” in 1992, before I transferred over to Sega. And it wasn’t Sega that talked the most enthusiastically about the Mega Drive, but rather Game Arts! The conversation always turned to wanting Sega to do better PR for their hardware. They felt that they had to be the ones to do it, since the platform holder themselves weren’t.
At the time you were working as a systems engineer at CSK, and paid your own way to Yuusei Sega World. And getting contacted by one of the Sega board members that you met there was the reason for you joining the company, right?
(Takezaki) That board member told me that they were looking for someone who could do marketing for the Mega Drive.
Even though going from a systems engineer to marketing isn’t exactly a normal career move! (Laughs)
Sega’s Official Fan Representative
Your connection to the user-base was very important after joining Sega, wasn’t it?
(Takezaki) I was already a huge Sega fan myself, but I didn’t really know what they were like as a company. I wanted to distribute more information while showing that there were real people behind the scenes here at Sega, not just the figureheads that fans knew. Like if someone has a complaint, they know who to direct it to. So I got permission to use names in the magazine, so that when people sent in comments I could respond as “Sega Takezaki”. Then I started a new column in the magazine called “Sega Takezaki’s Let’s Have a Marketing Meeting!”, which Continue magazine published some of as well. And through those means I wanted to show Sega’s company culture in a slightly different way than articles in regular game magazines.
You were showing that even the marketing people who like the company so much are interesting.
(Takezaki) The serialization of “Segasta Gaiden” in Fax Club (A free newsletter distributed by fax) was an extension of that too. I got used to doing things like this myself back in my school newspaper days, so I was always working with this tiny print at home on the weekends. I wrote a lot of it during my personal time, thinking about how nice it will be to shorten the distance between us and our fans.
That sounds a lot like Takahashi Meijin, who was the face of video game companies for awhile.
(Takezaki) Takahashi Meijin was definitely doing it before I was, and is a really amazing person who is basically promotion personified. I wasn’t quite that. I was often called “the fan representative”, and Sega fans would tell me things as though I was the chairman of a labor union or something. They probably were thinking that I was the fan representative at Sega, so they can just direct it all at me.
That’s a big sign of trust.
(Takezaki) Anyway, I wanted to strike a balance between the passionate people who wanted to be heard because they loved Sega, and Sega themselves doing interesting things. I believed that if I got the information that Sega should be dispensing out there, it would make things better for both sides and Sega’s products would get more notice worldwide.
Sega third parties were oddly fond of the hardware, weren’t they?
(Takezaki) It was never “This game is fun” with them, but rather “I pushed the limits of the Mega Drive!” or “Look at this amazing graphics processing!”. It was all about technology, and fans got really into that. That was what their relationship with Sega was like, and we wanted to keep them coming back with that same enthusiasm.
Thinking about it that way, maybe an allure of Sega’s was that desire to always be exciting people! (Laughs)
(Takezaki) Probably so. That’s the Sega that everyone supports, after all.
That Sega Creativity Resurrected in the Mega Drive Mini
You’ve been the president of TMS Entertainment since leaving Sega, but what have you thought of Sega from the outside?
(Takezaki) Looking objectively at Sega’s current products and services, it feels like they’ve been a bit quiet for the first time in their history. It wasn’t until the release of the Mega Drive Mini that they recaptured that old “Just what the heck are they doing?!” feeling! (Laughs)
I think that Sega’s level of creativity was especially high just after the Dreamcast. They were making kid-focused arcade games that they’d never really had before like Mushiking: The King of Beetles and Love and Berry: Dress Up and Dance!, which were pioneers in the card battle game genre.
(Takezaki) I also think that was a big breakthrough for Sega’s creativity. Kids card games in particular hadn’t really been done that way before. You’d put one in the corner of a shopping mall, and it would basically become its own mini arcade.
For them to have been such big hits and not part of an existing series also speaks to Sega’s creativity.
(Takezaki) The level of creativity is just too high, or probably everyone doesn’t want to just keep making things that others have already made. Both Mushiking and Love and Berry were original titles, right? It didn’t feel like anyone was saying “There’s a market for this!” or “We’re going to expand the market by bringing in an outside IP!”.
Sega wasn’t typically involved with IPs belonging to other companies.
(Takezaki) Once the area of play and systems are established, well-known properties tend to win out. But because Sega is full of people who want to create unique things and new ways of play, they don’t do things that way. By creating new games and systems that aren’t explicitly featuring characters that are guaranteed to sell, they leave behind those types of characters and world views in order to make that all possible.
Space Harrier was a great example of that.
(Takezaki) I think it’s largely a matter of not having the margins to be able to do things like that nowadays. Making cabinets that read cards like Sangokushi Taisen, or large-scale medal games like StarHorse. I wonder what they’d even have left to do now if Sega had continued making such surprising arcade games. I’m sure there would still be something, but it wouldn’t be easy to find.
When someone outside of the company comes up with an idea, Sega employees have probably already tried it.
(Takezaki) Since I’ve been a Sega fan for a long time and continue to follow them now, I often think about what they could do nowadays that would surprise everyone and still make for good business. I haven’t been able to come up with anything, but if I do I’ll go tell Yukio Sugino (Executive Vice President) myself! (Laughs) I’d really like for Sega’s young employees to come up with an idea that no one has thought of and make it into a product themselves though.
It’s not from the younger generation, but the Mega Drive Mini and Game Gear Micro have brought back that feeling of Sega creativity.
(Takezaki) It made me think they really were doing something crazy! (Laughs) Both of those are very strange things to release, and the Mega Drive Mini even had Tetris on it (which had some drama surrounding it). A lot of mini consoles are coming out these days, but they took these very seriously. Most official products similar to this wouldn’t have so much care put into them! (Laughs)
It seems like the sort of thing they didn’t plan to make any profit off of.
(Takezaki) This is Sega after all, so I’m sure they’ll manage. They’ve developed a global business that operates across many different enterprises. It really is a matter of it working BECAUSE it’s Sega. I myself bought six different pieces for the Mega Drive Mini, after all. I should have only bought enough for one Mega Drive/Mega CD/32X tower, but I had to have a spare.
Why did you have to have a spare tower? (Laughs) The Game Gear Micro seems like the product of someone trying to make retro games playable on a very small object.
(Takezaki) That’s not typically a size of something you’d play games on, is it? It makes you think that they’re not being logical, or they really just wanted to try and make it work, right? It makes me wonder what on earth they’re doing, but as a fan I’m sure I’ll buy four! (Laughs)
It makes me happy that people can say “It’s Sega, what are you going to do” again! (Laughs) Lastly, please tell the readers of Continue what you’ve been up to lately.
(Takezaki) I’m currently the president of TMS Entertainment, which handles anime production. Japanese animation as a whole is classified as “anime”, and is quite highly valued overseas. I’d like to foster an environment and structure that will allow this to continue.
I never imagined I’d be hearing you talk about anime, Mr. Takezaki (Laughs)
(Takezaki) Sure (Laughs) Well it is the anime subsidiary of Sega Sammy Holdings, and since I’ve entered the industry Japanese anime has held it’s position in the worldwide film industry over the last 10 or 20 years. I’ve been thinking about how I want to make one of my goals to help allow it to continue that way. It’s an industry with a long history, but I think I might be able to make some good changes in it if I can push myself for maybe ten more years until I retire. We were raised on anime and manga, so I’d like to give everything I’ve got in giving back to it.