As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of the old school Sonic the Hedgehog games. In the original era of the console wars, when there was real guerrilla warfare and trading of blows every day to prove who was best instead of today’s bland trench warfare in which everyone seems to be racing to the bottom, I was squarely in Sega’s camp, bleeding blue blood for the Blue Blur.
Alas, those glory days were not to last. After Sega burst onto the scene in a blast of zany-colored 1990s zeitgeist, its momentum foundered in that period of gaming that transitioned to 3D on the edge of some very rough polygons. That was like the teenage era of video gaming: it was awkward, it was unattractive, it experimented with suspicious things, and it did not know how to talk to girls.
Anyone who has been even dully aware of the rise and fall of the Sega Empire since the turn of the millennium can tell you that Sega waved the white flag on the console wars in 2001 and shook hands with longtime rival Nintendo. A few years after that, Sega was bought by Sammy, a Japanese pachinko corporation, which redirected Sega’s efforts to the burgeoning world of the digital market and a broader portfolio of corporate acquisitions. In that time, Sonic in particular got caught up in the annual release schedule with increasingly disappointing titles, culminating in Sonic ’06.
Or so it seemed.
Earlier this year, Sega announced that the most recent Sonic game to date, Sonic Boom, is the worst-selling Sonic game of all time. Period. Hardly half a million copies were sold as of February 2015 and that is combined between both the Wii U and 3DS. Even the remarkably mediocre Sonic Lost World got to over 700,000 units sold.
To understand what that means from the ground level of the retro Sonic fan like myself, there is what is called the Sonic Cycle: a three step process in which jaded fans see concept/promo media of a new game that raises their sentiments to cautious optimism, then see more media that repeats the same mistakes of the previous game, and then finally the game is released that is every bit as bad as the previous game and everyone promises not to be as naive next time. Repeat the cycle ad infinitum.
Well, that phenomenon is nothing new. Maybe it is time we also coin the Sega Cycle. Similar to the Sonic Cycle, it is a three step process. Step 1 is that Sega execs say something both revelatory and eye-wateringly obvious about their poor strategies to the delight of fans who desperately want to believe that the 90s will happen again. Step 2 is that Sega then adheres rigidly to the formula that has not worked to restore it to its halcyon days, chagrining its base. Step 3 is that there is no Step 3.
Point is that Hajime Satomi, the current Sega of Japan president, recently spoke to Famitsu about Sega’s unimpressive track record, in total consistency with Step 1 of the Sega Cycle. Here are some winner quotes:
- “If we can make a title with proper quality, I believe there’s a good chance for it to do well even in the West for players that like to play Japanese games.”
- “I’ve been talking to the employees about how we should start putting serious consideration into quality from this point on.”
- “We did our best to build a relationship of mutual trust with older fans of Sega, but looking back, there have been some titles that have partially betrayed that trust in the past 10 years.”
Ah, of course. If only we tried this quality thing we’ve heard so much about! Seems to be all the rage with the kids these days. I suppose if we didn’t keep cranking out annual releases with less effort put into them than a sneeze, our fans wouldn’t feel “partially” betrayed.
I really love the idea that we might feel “partially” betrayed. How is one partially betrayed? Did Sega write about us behind our backs in slambooks but with only faintly insulting things like, “He wears white after Labor Day,” for example?
Most tellingly, this author describes himself as cautiously optimistic after Mr. Satomi’s interview. Sound familiar? It all comes down to one thing in the end, though: Sega must show, not tell. Video game corporations are in the business of pleading for forgiveness for their various mistakes, promising never to do it again, and then backsliding at breakneck speed all the time. It becomes so much white noise while these businesses insult our intelligence and take our money. Nothing will really force a sincerer apology out of these companies until we stop giving them our money.
Rinse and repeat. It’s the Sega Cycle and it will not be broken with one new Sonic game. Try out that new quality thing the kiddies are raving about and then get back to us.
Sonic Cycle images from Segaforums.wikia.com.