When Sonic was first born, trumpets blew from the homes of gamers everywhere. A new franchise had been born on the level of Mario, and gamers celebrated by rushing to their homes to play with baby Sonic. As he grew older, he gained a friend, Miles “Tails”. Tails was a little slow, and would constantly fall behind or run straight into spikes, but gamers came to love him.
Sonic decided to experiment with fancy CD technology in a new world with cartoon intros, but despite a successful run, his tale was heard by few. Sonic decided to come back home with a new friend, Knuckles, and once again gamers rejoiced at his homecoming, and his adventures that would follow. It seemed like Sonic had hit a golden era, and would continue to rise up in the minds of gamers everywhere. When suddenly… he disappeared.
This isn’t to say he completely disappeared, but instead of going on adventures and stopping evil doers, he took a break to have some fun. He went racing with friends and enemies, dabbled in 3D, and few heard from him again. That was, at least, until he came back swinging with Sonic Adventures 1 and 2. While not his strongest times, it seemed as if he was trying to break back into the defeat-bad-guys business. His games had its strengths – any time you played as Sonic/Shadow – and its weaknesses – any time you didn’t play as Sonic/Shadow. But at least, it seemed he was starting to come back.
But, tragedy struck. Despite his adventures, Sonic went broke. He needed more rings. So, he decided to whore himself out, and start visiting other companies and systems. His heart wasn’t in it this time, and his followers slowly lost interest. He tried every gimmick he could, taking a sword with him, and even turning into a werewolf. Again, and again, nothing could bring back his glory days.
Finally, he decided to break into the modern era. After hearing about “DLC”, he decided to go on a fourth quest, with a little more heart, and found he once again had an audience.
This can summarize not only Sonic, but SEGA as a business. They took giant steps with the Genesis, only to falter. While the Saturn and Dreamcast had loyal fans, and great games, SEGA was on a downward spiral. Finally, they decided to drop out of the hardware competition, and become a software developer. The new shift allowed the dreams of gamers’ everywhere to come true when Sonic was a playable character in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. However, since becoming a software-only company, it seems that SEGA has focused on fewer and fewer games, and several receiving lower scores. Until the most recent Sonic games, that is.
So, maybe it should come as no surprise that SEGA announced yesterday it will be closing five European offices, in an effort to focus on its core brands: Sonic, Aliens, Total War, and Football Manager, along with its digital business.
Perhaps this doesn’t stray too far from SEGA’s general innovative nature. They are taking their resources, and focusing primarily on development of Android, iOS, and Steam gaming. While this business plan may (or may not) be an effective and monetary one for SEGA, it is sad to see a company once so great faltering.
While SEGA has certainly found success in digital distribution, I have to wonder how successful the once giant will be in monetizing on digital distribution. Typically, these games require a much lower risk, and lower costs, however, the rewards for even some of the most successful games are much lower. It seems like this is yet another step down for SEGA. From once making gaming consoles, to becoming a software-only company, to now primarily distributing digitally, I can only hope the company will continue to stay afloat.
The future of gaming is heading towards digital distribution, so maybe once again SEGA is in the forefront. They plan to have 50 to 75 digital releases a year, but once again, with lower risks come less rewards. Will Sonic become the Robert Downey Jr. of gaming? I have to doubt it, but we can hope for a come back.