Sonic’s 20th & 25th Anniversaries: Then & Now

Sonic’s 20th & 25th Anniversaries: Then & Now

by April 6, 2016

We may have forced Sega to change its promotion practices when it comes to websites and teases, only to have data mining become commonplace throughout the community. ~ End Of Year Statement by Tristan, December 31st, 2010

2010 for TSSZ was…crazy. I’ll just leave it at that. But with the current state of the fanbase and the division over teasers and revealing things on a game, this statement speaks volumes. And yet, this would set the stage for an anniversary year. Surprisingly, that anniversary year wasn’t all too different from the one we’re facing now. At least, not as much as I originally thought. Let me explain.

On April 7th, 2011, SEGA teased Sonic Generations for the first time. The name wouldn’t be revealed for two weeks, which is when we got our first proper look at the game. Now, five years later, I figured we took a moment to recall what happened before Generations was revealed and compare it to today to see where things stand.

Five Years Ago
The road to Sonic’s 20th anniversary began in June of 2010, 10 months before SEGA teased Sonic Generations. At the time, SEGA was releasing Sonic Colors, Sonic 4: Episode I and Sonic Free Riders. A couple of ports on Steam, Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine and Sonic Spinball, were on the horizon. Likewise, Sonic Adventure was ported to the Xbox 360. However, the “start” of this road wasn’t launched by SEGA, but by Crush 40. Johnny Gioeli had mentioned that Crush 40 was helping with “a big game” next year. A couple of months passed and SEGA began to tease what was to come. Takashi Iizuka mentioned in August that “you just might see something special” for Sonic’s 20th anniversary. Two months would pass, when SEGA appointed a new Sonic Brand Manager and delisted their average to poor Sonic titles.

However, October was a turning point. The leaks began. a Sonic Paradise interview with a SEGA Spain representative spoke of a game code-named Sonic Anniversary that would be released in 2011 (they also mentioned of a third Mario & Sonic title for the London 2012 Olympics coming). It was here that we first learned what the gameplay would be like. They also made it very clear that they were not supposed to talk about Sonic Anniversary at all. SEGA of America’s official response to the leaks was clear too. But SEGA wasn’t done teasing things. SEGA of Europe teased a Sonic title coming in 2011 and SEGA of America mentioned that “two very exciting announcements” for Sonic would be made in the “early part of the next calendar year [2011]”. Meanwhile, there was a desire by SEGA to “getting Sonic back up to the quality levels [SEGA] has had historically”. Then came a December report saying that three Sonic titles are planned for his 20th anniversary. SEGA of America then repeated what they said in October. The “early part of next calendar year” would see Sonic anniversary announcements. However, it went from “two” to “two or three”.

Then came the next phase of the road to Sonic’s 20th anniversary: the rumors began to surface. GameStop was allegedly taking pre-orders for a “new Sonic game”. As 2011 arrived, SEGA of America hoped that it will be a “great year for Sonic”. And yet, by mid-January there was not a single Sonic game on the list. Meanwhile, merchandise for the 20th anniversary was being strongly showcased. A music portal for the anniversary opened and Crush 40 announced a concert in Tokyo. Meanwhile, Takashi Iizuka acknowledged the quality of Sonic, stating that he “wants to live up to…consumers’ expectations, by contributing more to Sega”. At the same time, more music artists began to suggest involvement in Sonic’s anniversary title. First came Tony Harnell, then came Howard Drossin. A SEGA press gathering in New York City gave some fans the idea of a surprise that would be revealed, but SEGA dismissed this. But the message was clear about what would be dominating Sonic’s anniversary: merchandise. Another rumor sprouted on Sonic Paradise, this one proven false, and the merchandise line continued to be announced.

It is worth noting that, by April, there was still not really a single Sonic title on the 2011 SEGA calendar. It is also worth noting that, outside of leaks, we knew absolutely nothing about the Sonic anniversary title, other than the fact that it exists.

It wasn’t until the final week before its teasing that the name “Sonic Generations” began to be used. We first learned that SEGA has something big to share about Sonic two days before its reveal. The day before, we learned that this would be a new trailer to be exclusively revealed on Facebook. And then the trailer dropped. Classic Sonic showed up for the first time. And the community exploded.

Comparing Then With Now

So now that I’ve explained the road to the reveal of Sonic Generations, how does it compare with 2015/2016? Yet me first explain the similarities. There ended up being a lot more than I originally thought.

Johnny Gioeli let us know an Anniversary game exists – Johnny teased a 2011 anniversary Sonic game, and he teased a 2016 anniversary Sonic game. The difference? the latter was deleted. The former also kickstarted the pre-anniversary news train.

SEGA kept teasing us a lot – The context of the teasing, surprisingly, remains the same. Over and over again in 2010/2011, we heard about how there would be announcements for Sonic’s anniversary. The teasers were just as vague as they are today. In fact, were it not for the SEGA Spain leaks, we basically got nothing at all about Sonic’s anniversary game for 10 months. No numbers, no cryptic sentences, nothing. Just the repeated “wait for 2011, we have announcements” line. And, just like now, SEGA never outright said that there would be a new Sonic game in 2011.

A game announcement was not early Sonic Generations was teased and then formally announced in April. We are now in April again, and nothing has surfaced so far. Both 2011 and 2016 look to follow trends where anniversary games get a mid-year announcement. And yet, just like in 2011, SEGA has a large non-Sonic game release calendar planned for 2016.

Merchandise was a big theme, with the Classic era being the focus – By now, you guys may have very well noticed the many Sonic 25th merchandising articles on Sonic Stadium, and a lot of you have been uncomfortable with the vast number of Classic era products. Well, 2011 wasn’t much better than this. And just like in 2011, 2016 is having a vast initiative of merchandising by many partners.

SEGA was acknowledging Sonic’s quality and “listening to fans” – For months, we’ve been hearing nothing but SEGA’s apologetic nature. Well, they were doing that in 2011 too.

SEGA appointed someone with a major Sonic ranking role – A new Sonic Brand Manager was hired in 2010, and a new Sonic Chief Officer was hired in 2016.

A lot of the headlines didn’t come from SEGA – We learned more about the anniversary game from outside sources, especially musicians and merchandising partners. And so far, that is how Sonic’s 25th has also shaped up to be.

Now for the differences:

Aaron Webber is now alone in getting the message out – A lot of what we learned in 2010/2011 was not from Aaron Webber, but from Alan Pritchard, Kellie Parker, Jurgen Post, and Mike Hayes. Now, it’s mainly Aaron. Although he now has an intern, it’s still evident who is in charge.

SEGA has had to do damage controlSonic Generations followed Sonic Colors, a game that was well received when it came out. This year’s anniversary game will follow Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, which wasn’t so well received.

No more leaks – Things have not been leaked in a long time. SEGA used to be very reckless and careless about what happened to their products and who spoke about them. This no longer applies and it has resulted in a much more tight-lipped SEGA. The only thing that was “leaked” so far was Johnny Gioeli’s post, and that was deleted shortly afterwards. Things seem to be suggesting that SEGA’s not only being silent to recover from the restructure, but to not leak anything.

SEGA is smaller and structured differently – A lot of the faces who were around to help promote Sonic and get news out are no longer with the company. A lot of SEGA’s divisions that existed in 2011 no longer exist in 2016. SEGA is structured very differently, thanks to last year’s restructure. SEGA’s American HQ isn’t even in the same place anymore. This doesn’t even count SEGA’s acquiring of companies like Atlus.

SEGA doesn’t release Sonic games all the time anymore – To list the many, many Sonic ports and new releases that SEGA had in 2010/2011 would be difficult. In fact, it can be argued that 2010 and 2011 were SEGA’s busiest Sonic years in a long time. 2015 and 2016 won’t change that.

SEGA actually has a Sonic release already planned for this yearSonic Boom: Fire & Ice may be of little interest to some, but this is still a Sonic game. And not only is it a Sonic game, but it’s one that we already know is releasing this year. This doesn’t even count the Wii U version of the 2016 Mario & Sonic title. By April of 2011, there was not a single Sonic game on the release calendar and no Mario & Sonic title announced yet. It may be hard to believe,  but the first quarter of 2016 has arguably been just as busy for Sonic than the first quarter of 2011!

The fanbase is no longer optimistic – In 2010/2011, TSSZ conducted multiple polls before the announcement of Sonic Generations. 55% were not concerned with Sonic’s anniversary. 91% said 2010 was a good year for Sonic. 37% and 34% lost and gained faith in Iizuka, respectively. And, most importantly, 79% said they won’t leave Sonic fandom if SEGA messes up Sonic’s 20th anniversary. It’s also worth noting, considering what we know about the Sonic movie, that 85% once said in a poll that they would support one. In contrast, 51% feel Sonic did not have a good 2015. Articles in 2011 were filled with comments of optimism and hope. In 2016, articles are filled with comments of tension, hostility, and uncertainty. It’s a different ballgame here.

SEGA has more events planned – Outside of Summer of Sonic and an E3 gathering, 2011 had very few events. 2016, on the other hand, has had a calendar consisted of the SXSW panel, an Adventure concert in Japan, the Sonic 25th event in July, Summer of Sonic, a Tokyo Joypolis birthday party, and more. SEGA seems to be actively getting the fans involved more in 2016 than in 2011.

Sonic Boom exists – SEGA had only one branch of Sonic in 2011. Now there are two.

So what does this ultimately mean? It’s time to make what look to be the best scenarios behind SEGA’s silence.

Theories

SEGA is more tight-lipped – There’s no question that SEGA and leaks do not go well together anymore like they used to. SEGA is no longer the careless and reckless company that seemed to leak things every couple of months. And, with leaks being a major source for the Sonic 20th headlines, it may very well be the defining reason why we have heard nothing on the Sonic 25th game.

The gaming industry has changed – The gaming industry in 2011 is significantly different from today. Mobile gaming wasn’t a force to be reckoned with, leaks were somewhat uncommon, PR was more of a necessity to market your products, and you couldn’t rely on fan-funding via sites like Kickstarter to get your products out there. The politics, especially, have changed. What you say and do before the game is even out will dictate a game’s fate even more now compared to then. Your mistakes will not only be unforgotten, but now it’s possible that you could not be forgiven for them. It’s a gaming industry that is much more forceful than it used to, and SEGA may have had to adapt to the times.

The restructure recover is still going – I don’t think people fully understand just how much work has had to be done by SEGA because of this restructure. SEGA has been completely redone and rearranged from the ground up. Only recently has SEGA of America’s HQ changed and it seems that, at long last, SEGA is finally settled. It’s why SEGA did not have a significant presence at events like E3 last year, despite the company having a decent lineup (SEGA actually had a nice lineup of games last year, it’s just none of them were Sonic), and a lot of games got delayed. And it may still explain the lack of Sonic 25th news.

SEGA is taking their time – Fans have demanded SEGA not overdo Sonic releases for years. As I said, 2010 and 2011 saw a lot of them. And it seems it has been a gradual slowdown with releases. 2013 only had Sonic Lost World. 2014 had the Sonic Boom games. 2015 had Sonic Runners and a Sonic Lost World port to Steam. It’s a sharp contrast to the 4+ Sonic releases that SEGA pumped out every year. And this is likely another contributor to the lack of news.

Conclusion

It’s evident that the lack of Sonic 25th game news may not be as much of a shocker as previously thought. In fact, it seems like it’s less to do with restructures and more to do with what has forced SEGA’s hand. Things have changed. Times have changed. The teasers and silence may be due to the extent of SEGA’s capabilities right now. It’s not that SEGA doesn’t want to say anything, but they can’t. As for the teasers, they seem to be a combination of SEGA’s smaller size and newly set boundaries of PR and business practices that have had to be done with the evolving game industry. The social media PRing that Aaron and Gene, the new intern, is having to handle is almost all of Sonic’s PRing now, and with the NDA and changed times, there’s nothing they can do. SEGA’s silence/teaser initiative may not be a good/bad move, but the only move. Who is at fault? It’s hard to say. But there’s a point where not everything can be directed towards SEGA. It seems things are a lot more complicated now than it used to be for the company. Whether this will contribute to a good Sonic game or not is still significantly up for debate.