There was an enormous amount of discussion recently about a Kotaku article on the future of Sonic, with Sega president and COO Mike Hayes responding to fan backlash towards Sonic Unleashed. Hardcore Sonic fans didn't like the Werehog. Sega knows that. When I spoke with Hayes last week, we picked up where that conversation left off and talked about where Sonic goes from here.
"I think there are two core parts to the Sonic strategy," he said. "The big numbers do come from that big mass market, which is the [ages] 6-12, male-female playing audience. Many, perhaps, have no reference to the original Sonic apart from what their parents tell them and therefore Sonic's pretty cool to have in the household, so that's good. But then also the Sega fanbase and Sonic loyal base is so big, it's important that we also introduce product that we think's going to delight them, as well."
How does Sega do that?
The basic solution, which Sega admitted a few weeks back, is to stop producing Sonic games to try and appeal to everyone. Sonic Unleashed included 2.5D running sections for old school Sonic fans and parts -- like the infamous Werehog -- skewed at a different demographic. Clearly, the hardcore haven't given up on Sonic or they wouldn't be complaining again and again. But Sega has options.
"So whether it's simply retro or whether it's something where we kind of do retro plus-plus or even new ideas," he said, "I think we've gotta be very clear -- we can't put it all in one game, that's just impossible. Because all we're going to do is delight some, upset others and vice versa -- well, not upset, but not deliver on what people want it to be. So I think going forward over the next three to five years, you'll begin to see that strategy coming out."
That's one thing to keep in mind. Whatever lessons Sega is taking away from Sonic Unleashed, it's not necessarily going to roll out in the next few months or even next year. While Hayes couldn't divulge specifics, Hayes three-to-five year timeline suggets other Sonic projects are already in the pipeline and the new direction wouldn't (couldn't) be implemented until those games have been finished and released. But he sounds very serious about change.
"I don't want to say that we're going to go for the mass market at the extent to the cost of our loyalists," he cautioned, "because we think that'd be highly inappropriate, but what we are gonna do is try and split out the style of game that we'll be developing. That doesn't mean we'll be bringing games out head-to-head, but it could be sort of…one holiday period it's gonna be something that's gonna go more for the traditionalist, and then the next it'll be a super-duper mass market, much more younger-oriented Sonic."
Hayes categorized Outrun Online Arcade for Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network -- which Sega considered a success, by the way -- as a "retro plus-plus" game. It's possible that Sonic could be part of a retro plus-plus game, too.
"Well, it's too early to say on Sonic, but we're kind of looking at all the options at the moment," he said.
The message is clear, though: Sonic is going to diversify.
"Let's not try to do everything in every game, we need to be far more specific," he said. "I think Sonic big enough and popular enough and famous enough to be able to do that as a company."
It might take a little time, but Hayes seems to have the right idea. What do you think?
[image credit: flickr / Pulp_Secret.com]