After decades of spin, Sonic’s escape leaves Sega hoping for more | The mighty 790 KFGO
By Sam Nusey
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese company Sega Sammy Holdings Inc hopes to follow in the fast footsteps of Sonic the Hedgehog as the character enjoys a renaissance amid a global rush for entertainment content. This year sees the release of a sequel to a record-breaking Hollywood movie and a Netflix series, as well as a title that Sega hopes will revive the fortunes of the long-running Sonic game franchise after decades of turmoil. “Sonic is the face of Sega. If Sonic is fine, then Sega is also fine to some degree,” Shuji Utsumi, Sega’s co-chief operating officer, told Reuters in an interview. The blue blur became a household name in the West in a series of side-scrolling games in the 1990s on the Sega Mega Drive console, also known as Sega Genesis in North America, which overtook Nintendo’s Super NES in numerous countries. “Sonic was cool with humor and an attitude…that resonated in the West,” said Utsumi, who worked at Sony when the first PlayStation launched. Unlike Nintendo’s Mario, who starred in decades of acclaimed titles, Sonic struggled to make the transition to 3D games as Sega pulled out of the console business to become a game publisher. Now, after years of trial and error during which Sega merged with pachinko slot maker Sammy, Sonic has revived his movie star career as studios plundered corporate pantries for underutilized characters with mass appeal.
Sonic-related sales, including those of the movie, quadrupled in the five years leading up to the fiscal year that ended in March 2021. The game series has an engaged and long-suffering fan base in the West. , unlike other Sega franchises such as “Yakuza” and “Persona”, which have a large following in Japan. “It’s definitely a nostalgic love for him,” said Jacob Mills, 31, a British game level designer, referring to the hedgehog. Mills plays new versions of Sonic and describes his excitement as “a shared experience of mutual disappointment”. Initial prospects for Paramount’s first Sonic movie, which starred Jim Carrey, looked uncertain when a trailer showing the buck-toothed character was derided on social media. The studio tweaked the design, and the film eventually grossed over $300 million worldwide – becoming one of the highest-grossing video game adaptations – after its 2020 release at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” will be released in April. The franchise’s importance to Paramount was underscored in an investor presentation earlier this month outlining the company’s future and announcing a second Sonic sequel as well as an animated/live-action hybrid series about the character. of Knuckles for its streaming service. A separate anime series is set to launch on Netflix this year.
“It’s another great franchise for us and for Sega,” Paramount Pictures chief Brian Robbins told Reuters. Sonic’s investment is part of a broader commitment to franchises spanning movies and series, Paramount CEO Bob Bakish said during the presentation. Shares fell on skepticism about whether content could compete in an increasingly crowded streaming market. OPEN WORLD Sega embraced the Sonic community with the release of Sonic Mania in 2017, a widely acclaimed retro platformer that started life as a fan-made game before gaining corporate backing. A game artist later worked for Paramount on the Sonic movie, and Sega humorously interacts with fans through Sonic the Hedgehog’s Twitter account, which has 5.8 million followers. Expectations are growing for “Sonic Frontiers,” an open-world platformer slated for release this year. The format is unprecedented for the franchise, whose other games have been purchased or downloaded 1.38 billion times. Sega hasn’t shown any gameplay for the title, which has been delayed for a year, and wary fans are pointing to the “Sonic Cycle”, in which excitement and talk of a return amid the build-up of a new release are crushed by disappointment over playing the game.
The impact on earnings from Sonic-related production “is going to be tangible” in the fiscal year beginning in April, Utsumi said, without providing further details.
This month, the company raised its full-year operating profit forecast by a third to 31 billion yen ($268 million). The gaming unit was boosted by sales of titles such as the role-playing game “Shin Megami Tensei V” for the Nintendo Switch. Utsumi, who returned to Sega two years ago after founding his own games company and working at Disney and Warner Music, says the company is a “treasure island” of content that could be marketed further.
Other Japanese characters joining the rush include an upcoming Super Mario movie from “Minions” studio Illumination and Netflix’s live-action remake of cult 1990s anime Cowboy BeBop released last year. Sega has a close relationship with Xbox maker Microsoft and said in November it was exploring an alliance to develop titles using the Redmond, Washington-based company’s cloud technology. Longer term, Sega aims to create a “super game” with global appeal – perhaps part of the “metaverse”, a buzz term for a network of persistent simulated online environments. Sega, whose shares are up 16% year-to-date, has a long history in arcade and console games and across different genres, Utsumi said.
“There is no one better placed to do this than us,” he said.
($1 = 115.5800 yen)
(Reporting by Sam Nussey, Shinji Kitamura and Dawn Chmielewski; Editing by Gerry Doyle)