Former SEGA America producer Stephen Frost has called Sonic Boom a “huge success”, thanks to the project’s cartoon and toy licensing initiatives.
In an audio interview with SEGA Nerds, the producer – who has been at the forefront of all Sonic Boom-related developments, from the video games to the cartoon and merchandising efforts – said that the animated show in particular helped broaden the audience for Sonic the Hedgehog in the US. This also encouraged an explosion of toy sales, which Frost added initially sold out in 24 hours.
Speaking of his response to the fallout from the release of the Rise of Lyric and Shattered Crystal games, Frost was positive about the effect the licensing drive had on reaching a large audience. “Obviously there are pros and cons to Sonic Boom,” he said. “As a whole… for some reason I think people still focus on the game aspect of Sonic Boom. And rightly so because Sonic’s always been a game [character]. But you also have to think about the other things we tried to do with Sonic.
“The goal of Sonic Boom, as I’ve said over the last year or so, is to reach a larger audience with Sonic – to make him relevant again. There’s a very loyal Sonic fanbase [out there], no doubt. But there’s no arguing that every year [the audience] gets smaller and smaller.”
Frost likened the dwarfing audience for Sonic the Hedgehog to other AAA video game franchises on the market. “Even if you have a [AAA budget title] every year, the install base is going to get smaller… So the attempt with Sonic Boom was to appeal to an audience that was not familiar with Sonic – or, were fans previously but weren’t anymore for whatever reason.
“I think from that standpoint it was a success. The audience for the cartoon is [healthy], the toys are selling really well. I remember hearing reports that in the early days, Sonic Boom toys at Toys R Us were selling out in 24 hours – that wasn’t just [sales] from fans, it was from people who were looking for something new.”
The reason for the interest in the toys, Frost noted, was because the “new direction” that the Sonic Boom series took allowed merchandising partners to create more interesting figures based on the new worlds, vehicles and character designs. For licensing partners, Sonic Boom presented “a breath of fresh air into their thinking process and ability to go in a [new] direction.”
Frost also added that Archie and the Sonic voice actors were also appreciative of the opportunity that Sonic Boom presented. For Archie, it offered a chance to create new stories and a new book based on the series, and for voice actors they were able to add nuance to their respective characters.
“I know of so many people who have not been interested [in the Sonic games] that now arbitrarily watch the cartoons and buy the toys, and that’s a huge success,” Frost said. “There are cases where people have come into the Sonic world for the first time, because of either the new toys, or the look of the characters (love it or not), or the cartoon. And that’s why I consider that a big success.”
Speaking about the video games themselves, Frost was pragmatic. “Could the games be better? Yes… [But] I see that we tried to do something different. I think the challenge is that – if you think about the fact that Sonic Team has been making Sonic games for 20-odd years. They understand Sonic and all the things that make a Sonic game.
“In a relatively short amount of time we had to teach new teams what Sonic is all about. But not only that — if I was to say to a team, ‘make a speed-based Sonic game’, they’d have to start from zero and catch up to 24 years of experience in one [development cycle]. Now imagine asking them to reinvent Sonic, to try something different – still capture the speed but also be different enough that when people look at it they know it’s a new experience. It’s really tough!
“We had very ambitious goals. We really wanted to deliver on something that people were excited about, that managed to capture speed but also add new gameplay components… I think that the failures of the game were [of] it being overly-ambitious initially, and the fact that not only were we trying to make a basic Sonic game but we were trying to add to it. We over-extended our grasp in some ways.”
Frost noted that there were a number of positive things that came from the development of the Sonic Boom games – for instance, the popular co-op mode, which he hopes will be a concept that Sonic Team will consider for future mainline Sonic titles.
Naturally, a lot of people have compared Sonic Boom to Sonic Team’s efforts, and Frost accepted that the project’s game development ended up being a victim of the team’s ambition. “There’s a reason why the Sonic games are relatively high quality – they’re basic in design,” he said, talking about how many Sonic titles follow a similar strand of gameplay design. “You have speed, homing attacks… but because of that [streamlined gameplay], and because Sonic Team have been doing that for so long, they can fine-tune that [with every game release].
“We were trying to add in bungee mechanics, combat, puzzles, vehicles, hopefully a more compelling story, and a bunch of different environments. It’s just a lot. And I think that’s the thing. If there’s any lesson that I’ll take forward with me, it’s that being too ambitious can be bad.”
There’s a lot more in the interview with SEGA Nerds – the discussion about Sonic Boom starts at 1:42:00.
Editor’s Note: This article originally offered a brief overview of points taken from the interview that were presented out of context. We have since rewritten the story in its entirety and removed all conjecture from the piece. We apologise for any confusion caused.