Cutthroat practices aren’t anything new to the business world, but you don’t normally hear about them when they happen within a single company. That’s exactly what former Sega producer Mark Subotnick alleges happened at his former company in the latest episode of The Retro Hour Podcast. (Thanks for the reporting, NintendoLife!)
As part of the episode titled “Dreamcast: Where It Went Wrong”, Subotnick detailed the time he was working on a Star Fox-like game called Geist Force with Sega of America. Once thought to be cancelled because of a lack of confidence in the product and missed deadlines, Subotnick tells his side of the story:
“Naka came to visit with his team to tour our studio [and] look at our tools and engine; we had a lot of proprietary [and] really phenomenal tech – I would say still to this day, [we had] some stuff that I haven't seen replicated quite at the level we had. [Naka] didn't realize that the people on my team, a lot of them spoke fluent Japanese, including my lead engineer. [Naka] started speaking in Japanese assuming that no one would understand; [he] started talking about what parts of our tech they were going take for Sonic and then basically said as soon as they ship, fire everyone but one of the engineers who knows their system and roll him onto our team for Sonic – and my team heard all that, so you can imagine how they felt. Naka was pretty powerful at Sega at that time.”
That, Subotnick says, caused a chain reaction throughout the company of people jumping from a sinking ship, with his five engineers finding other jobs. That meant hiring again, training the new hires, and basically restarting the team, which would take months and ultimately doom the project.
If Subotnick’s allegations are true, it paints a pretty bleak picture of how Dreamcast-era Sega treated its Sega of America studio. Naka’s casual disregard for the workers there and the work they did, not to mention the added insult to injury with saying these things in front of the developers there, is a bit astonishing if that’s what actually happened. Of course, that’s one side of the story. We may never know the whole truth, but if past experience is anything to go by, those in power tend to be in a position to not want to be forthcoming.
Yuji Naka, meanwhile, hasn’t had the best time since the downfall of Sega’s console ambitions. His latest creation, Balan Wonderworld, was bad enough that the Day One patch for the game earned our “Band-aid over a gunshot wound award” in our Alternate Game Awards, as well as ensuring his departure from Square Enix. Those things can happen when you release a game that can cause seizures.