Anniversary Special Statement: A Bitter-Sweet 16th

Anniversary Special Statement: A Bitter-Sweet 16th

by April 2, 2015

Tristan on What Is, And What’s to Come in a World Beyond Blue

It’s strange to see how much you’ve changed in 16 years.

When I officially began this site in 1999, after a couple a test runs before, I was 13 years old with nary a care in the world other than friends and school. Now I’m almost 30, have had a legitimate adult career for more than 10 years, and this site, like my own life and I’m sure yours, has endured a fair share of highs and lows.

Truth be told, I wasn’t sure I’d still have a role here at this point, not even in my current “mostly oversight but damn I miss the daily grind” capacity. In fact, when I began doing Night Zone on FM radio in Boston now almost 12 years ago, I saw an opportunity to bring to the world music that, to this point, had been associated with geeks, nerds, and loners. Had it flourished, it would have been what TSSZ evolved into–a way to share the music many of us enjoy with the world on an unprecedented platform. But it didn’t. It peaked too early. Night Zone was dropped after three cycles, and geek became chic a decade later. Though I’d like to believe I was a bit ahead of my time, the loss of something I poured much of my heart and soul into, at the sacrifice of something else I equally poured effort into, set me behind for years. Seeing such a significant opportunity like that be for naught is not pleasant, and while I admit I’ve spewed a fair bit of vitriol in some of my recent time here, that epiphany is not something I’d wish on my worst enemy–and I’m pretty sure I still have a few of them left.

If you remember in my previous Special Statement, I essentially lamented on how stubborn I am; how I’m unwilling to let things go and move forward.  That may not have been overtly what I was going for, but look at the clues. I’m in the generation where many of my friends already are or soon will be married, and with great jobs they love to boot. I’m talking about how hard it is for me to try something new. And most of all, I talked about the great memories I had covering stories on this site.  The problem is, many of the memories after the stories were published and the impact was made were not great. The truth can be ugly; so too sometimes are the consequences of saying it. I know many journalists across a wide array of platforms. Many have a much more public face and platform than I. Very few of them, if any, have been subject to the kind of harassment this platform and I have.

Yet, after 16 years, we’re still here. Just as it was not easy for me to let go in September, it was not easy to keep coming some days leading up to that decision. Right now, the achievement feels bittersweet.  Sure, the reporting still makes a difference. We still break big stories, and our reach on those stories sometimes is significant. But there’s also that familiarity and pride that comes with knowing something you’ve helped build still makes an impact after all the sweat and carpal tunnel.  (Blood, sweat, and tears didn’t quite feel appropriate.)

That faceless company Sega and I, in many respects, share that same human quality of stubbornness through loyalty. It is why I am so concerned about the state of the company today.

I could talk about the numerous management missteps made, both with keeping their own house in order and with needlessly evolving what was once one of the world’s top brands in Sonic. I could talk about the passive-aggressive attitude some of the company’s public faces took toward those who dared to ask them even remotely tough questions (yes, I know–pot, meet kettle.) For me, it really boils down to this: When TSSZ officially opened in 1999, Sonic was on the upswing and about to see enormous success as the Dreamcast entered millions of American homes. In 2015, as I write this, the hedgehog and its entire mythology may have to rely on impulsive in-app purchases amid a million other choices of media consumption for the company that cultivated his popularity and with him changed the landscape of video games to simply survive.

That’s a scary thought. We as Sonic fans live in scary times. How many more rounds of restructuring can Sega endure before there’s nothing but an empty shell company left? How many times can Sonic reinvent himself at the mercy of focus groups and marketing buzzwords? And even if those problems are solved, how can a hedgehog reborn survive the scrutiny of a still fractured fanbase?

I do not believe Sega wanted to change and evolve Sonic because they wanted to; I believe it was because they felt they had to. They, like I once did, felt they saw the light at the end of a long tunnel filled with hard work and harder choices made in efforts to reach the finish line that resets at the beginning of each fiscal year, arbitrarily set by shareholders and bean counters. That’s not embracing change, however. It’s not aging gracefully. It’s changing out of necessity. There aren’t many, people and companies alike, who do it well.

So now what? One of the things I have learned in my time away is the need for trust and for community. Working together toward a common goal and common good is good for all parties involved. I see signs of it with the collaborations Sega has made with Taxman and Stealth. And hopefully, you’ll see some of that effort reflected here in the coming weeks and months, as we put more of a focus on you, and the parts of our community that make Sonic so great. We want to keep telling your stories, and bring you news about what you’re interested in, be it Sonic, Sega, or beyond. Our team has your trust and mine to do that, and it’s never taken for granted. And yes, you’ll still see me pop in every once in a while. Be assured in the meantime that I am working with the rest of the team to ensure what you want in visiting us every day is not ignored. You will hopefully see the fruits of our labor soon.

See, I’ve realized a close community can endure anything. The bonds you build, on and off the computer, are important. Think of what our community has seen in 16 years. We’ve had adventures and we’ve had heroes, and we’ve had memories to hopefully last generations, but we’ve also had Werehogs, Lost Worlds, and lost opportunities. Our community is strong because we have these memories, good and bad, and our identity has always strengthened. What was once a small group of sites and message boards and faceless usernames is now a series of passion turned professional projects, of careers born out of dedication, of commingling with thousands of fans around the world. We are knowledgeable, we are talented, and we are loyal.

And I should know. I went to one of those meetings last year when Sonic Boom came to New York. I saw hundreds of fans who still love a speedy blue hedgehog, in most cases unconditionally. I saw parents bringing their children, and children bringing their parents and those parents–perish the thought–enjoying themselves. What’s in the news isn’t always rosy, but sometimes what we and all of us do whether it’s every day or once in a while still warm hearts, and bring smiles.

Not many companies can say that about their fandom. It’s up to Sega–with all of our help, we hope–to unlock all of that potential. I wait with nervous promise to how they and you evolve in the time still in front of us. Our team will be there to see it all.