SEGA in Talks for Sonic 25th Anniversary Party in LA

Following a report we brought you earlier this month from the latest issue of License Global which mentioned upcoming Sonic events, we may now know where one of them will be held. Continue reading SEGA in Talks for Sonic 25th Anniversary Party in LA

Takashi Iizuka Is In The US To Oversee New Sonic Games

Well… many suspected that there might be more to Mr Iizuka’s trip to the US than just the SXSW panel, and it seems you were right. The head of Sonic Team Takashi Iizuka is in Sega of America right now, and according to Gamasutra, he’s there overseeing development on new Sonic games. Continue reading Takashi Iizuka Is In The US To Oversee New Sonic Games

A Thank You to the SEGA of America Community Team

SOACrewWith the current relocation of SEGA of America’s HQ, we have in the past few days said goodbye to many long-standing employees of SoA, including Kellie Parker and Julian Mehlfeld from the Community Team.

One of the most vivid memories I have in dealing with the SEGA social team was during a trip out to Los Angeles for E3 and the very first Sonic Boom event back in 2011. What struck us was the dedication of the team whom over the course of the week seemed indefatigable, not only working tirelessly manning the gargantuan stand in the main convention centre, but who tangentially assembled another monster event down the street. I’m sure tired didn’t begin to describe their state during that week, yet I don’t think I remember a moment they didn’t all have huge beaming smiles across their faces, or were laughing at the end of the day with a well-earned beverage. Kellie has written a parting post on the SEGA blog where she has stated “we laughed hard, and we worked harder” – I can’t think of anything more appropriate to describe what I saw during my brief insight into the team’s operation.

This is but one of countless examples of what the community team were involved in, and similarly, I’m sure everyone who has had any interaction with the SoA social and community team over the past decade will agree that the hallmark has, and likely always will be, a penchant for excellence, and a drive to go far beyond the call of duty. An inordinate amount of what is has now become the face of the Sonic the Hedgehog community, both online and in real life, is in part of wholly due to the fantastic team that has been at SoA.

I’d love to be able to write down the extensive résumé of the team’s accomplishments to date, but I’d fear it would fail to be a comprehensive summary of the entirety of great things they have managed. Instead, we at TSS would like to invite you all to share the stories you might have of any memories of your interactions with the social team in the comments below.

You can read Julian and Kellie‘s parting blog entries on the SEGA blog.

While we sadly bid farewell to some, we welcome back others!

TSS would like to welcome back to the SoA fold Aaron Webber, who will be taking up the social media and community reins once more for our favourite hedgehog! Many of you will remember Aaron from his previous roles at SEGA, and as host of the Sonic Boom fan event from 2011 to 2014.

We wish all the community and social team members the very best in the future, and that they will always be a very special part of the Sonic the Hedgehog community.

 

The Spin: “Sega of America used Downsizing, it’s Effective”

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Disclaimer: The views in this piece may not reflect the views of TSS or other writers on the staff team. The intention of The Spin is to promote debate and discussion of an issue or something that’s happening in the fandom or the world of Sonic & Sega.

I have seen a number of comments, both on and off TSS as well as articles and forum posts both on and off TSS lately regarding the health of a certain company and a certain videogame icon. This has since increased following news regarding Sonic Booms sales figures. There seems to be an interesting if not unexpected reaction going on, it seems that if you are a member of a website or a commentator on a news site, or even a hired writer, everybody seems to have or be giving ‘their say’ on what’s going on and why it’s happening.

Well… I can do this too. But how should I do it?

Should I be like the alarmists? Write an article that says Sega is dead? That Sonic is dead? Should I do like some other websites are doing? That’s easy, just latch onto the popular opinion, say the same thing, watch how popular belief promotes the subject?

Or should I do it like those places which have an editor who hires a writer and says “Sega announces downsizing, I know you have no experience with them or their games, but write an article which somehow links one poor game to their downsizing.” Because that does happen, not just in the world of video games, but also in other journalism, editors hire freelance writers or house writers to write a story on something with a certain angle. Do they really look into the subject matter? Not really.

I could do that, it would be very easy, just take two things, link them together, make a snappy catching headline, watch the clicks come in.

Not sure that is the best way to go about it.

There have been two news stories in under a month which some people are mixing together, or somehow thinking  they can explain one by the other. I’m not sure that’s quite how it works.

Boom is the Reason why Sega is downsizing?

Go home Amy, you're drunk.
Go home Amy, you’re drunk.

Shall we get the obvious out of the way? Boom the game is terrible, it is, it’s terrible, if you think it’s not, you are wrong, don’t even bother challenging this in the comments, you are wrong even the executive producer has more or less admitted the game has problems.

On top of that. Sega predicted 600,000 units sold, it halved those predictions to 300,000 to one month before release. Based on North American NDP data and Sega’s own financial statements, we know that a conservative estimate for the Wii U version would be somewhere around a low 200k, if even that.

So… that’s the reason why Sega of America is downsizing?

I get it, I understand how some people think it works. They think that somewhere at Sega, there is a man, or a machine which prints out how well something did, this is then taken to the CEO or someone who has absolute power and suddenly something happens.

That’s not how it works, nor has it ever worked like that. Maybe if you are an indie or small developer and this is your first game, all your money is invested into it, then this happens, but for a company like Sega, that is not how it works.

How does it work?

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This is a very rough example, my numbers might not be completely accurate and the description may vary, but in any organisation, you have a structure which looks like this.

  • Board Members = people who are thinking 5-10 years ahead.
  • Upper Management = People who are thinking 3-5 years ahead.
  • Management = People who are thinking 1-3 years ahead (if even that).

So you have guys who are making decisions and plans to affect the business 5-10 years ahead. guys making plans for 3-5 years and the rest. In an ideal business which is making money and doing well, this all works and a company can go for a long time.

Here is the problem with the thinking ‘Boom caused this.’

Boom came out in November. The downsizing announcement came end of January… barely 2 months.

Take the belief for a moment, “Booms poor reception caused Sega to downsize”

Think of this logistically, not if it’s true, but as a logistical thing… here are the steps you need to go through.

  • Collect Boom sales data.
  • Process Boom sales data.
  • Analyse/evaluate Boom sales data.
  • Estimate/evaluate future sales data
  • Draw plans based on that prediction/future sal…

Ok stop it right there. How long do you think that takes? You need to collect data, process it, then analyse it and work out what it means. You can’t do this in a day, this process takes a while. Depending on your data collect range, it can vary greatly.

So let’s do something else now, let’s say, Sega have in place a plan which they bring into effect if something happens, be it a really bad few years, a dramatic shift in consumer demand or… something, anything which would impact a company like Sega which means they need to downsize.

Whatever event that is has just happened… initiate the plan… Wait… Who seriously thinks that this would be completed in just a day?

From my understanding, if Boom is the sole reason, then this is how it works.

  • Sega Boom is released worldwide
  • Sales data is collected, processed and analysed, Boom bombs (this is your major event)
  • Sega arrange and hold several (no way is it done in one) extremely top level meetings.
  • A decision is made to cut jobs/close parts of Sega Sammy.
  • A decision is made to close SOA
  • A decision is made to re-locate SOA.
  • A decision is made on the new location for SOA
  • A decision is made on the new building for SOA

And according to some people, all this happened in two months?

All of this requires a lot of data processing, it requires a lot of business analysis, there is no way you can do all of this in two months.

Let’s just look at one part of that, Sega is going to relocate to a new premises. How long does this take just to find and pick a site. From my understanding this is probably an accurate series of events.

  • A list of sites is drafted up a based on a number of factors.
  • That list is shortened.
  • A visit to each site is conducted.
  • A that list of sites is shortened.
  • A second visit is done.
  • That list is shortened/a site is picked (depends on the business/location).
  • Dialogue opens between business and the building owner/landlord.
  • Dialogue opens with the intent to buy/rent the building.
  • Details of dialogue fed back to board/upper levels of the company.
  • Contract/agreements are drawn up.
  • Both the landlord and company send contracts/agreements to legal team.
  • Company board agrees to the terms/authorises the money to buy building/agree to the rental contract.
  • Landlords legal team agrees to the terms.

I’ll stop there shall I?

How long do you think that takes? Months is the answer, not weeks, months. Remember about two years ago when Aaron Webber and Kellie Parker went on that roadtrip and were posting tweets of Sonic in different cities in America? And everybody thought it was a game announcement? Only it turned out to be scouting for a venue for the Sonic Boom Event? That trip took a week, then the announcement came a few months later.

Think about how long it takes to find a new headquarters for a global office… that is going to take a while.

But the main delay is the negotiation with the landlord and the scrutinising of the contracts with the legal team, this process can take weeks if not months depending on the detail.

Yet some people believe that it took 2 months and Boom is responsible? And that’s without factoring in rival parties also interested in the building?

Do you start to see the point here? Do you see the problem? How can Boom be the reason when from a pure logistically standpoint, it couldn’t have been the reason. This decision was not made in two months, this decision was made long before Boom came out.

“Well they knew Boom would Bomb so…”

You now might be thinking “Well they knew Boom would be bad, so they pre-empted their losses and made the decision then.”

Your right, they did know Boom would bomb, hence the sales prediction reduction, however if that were the case for the downsizing, how do you explain the following huge purchases being made.

  • 1: Sonic movie deal.
  • 2: TV Show/movie deal.
  • 3: Acquisition of Atlus.
  • 4: Sonic Boom.
  • 5: Plans to have an online store for Football manager merchandise
  • 6: Plans to stock that Football Manager store with merchandise specially commissioned.
  • 7: Football manager movie/documentary.
  • 8: That theme park thing which some thought was a new console.
  • 9: Acquisition of Relic.

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Some of those are very recent, all of them are expensive with some being several million.

Does this sound like a company who is in financial trouble?

On the one hand, “We have no money so must downsize” on the other “Let’s spend millions and invest into television and the film industry.” This makes absolutely no sense. You would not buy Relic, you would not be making movies/documentaries and you certainly wouldn’t be getting involved with a theme park.

So why are they downsizing?

Because the videogame industry is changing, like it or not, the industry is changed, it’s happened quite rapid and radically, but it’s changing and if you don’t think it’s time for a wakeup call.

Compare the industry today to how it was when the PS3 and Xbox 360 came out. it’s so different, most people wouldn’t believe it. We now live in a time where the mobile market has overtook the console and won’t be touched for a very long time.

How do you get games on mobiles? Digitally.

The PC era was once considered dead by the high street retailer, now there isn’t a single one which doesn’t sell Steam vouchers.

Playstation Plus subscriptions continue to expand, it’s popularity has more than shown people are more than open to digital games.

Microsoft’s Games With Gold effectively tried to copy PS+, a move unthinkable 2 years ago.

And Nintendo… … … well they’re taking the Skylanders route for now. But you can bet they’ll have some kind of digital subscription service soon, especially with the closure of their loyalty thing.

The physical retailer isn’t dead, but it’s not going to last in its current form, or it’s going to radically change.

You want proof of this? Ok. Go into any GAME, or if you live in America, whatever your major video game retailer is and just look at it. Look at what they now sell. My local store is considered a ‘flagship store’ it has huge statues of characters from Skyrim, Sonic, Fallout and Lara Croft, all positioned next to… toys. My local store, a flagship store is now full of toys and merchandise, Skylanders toys have their own huge section, videogame merch is vast, Amiibos now have double the store space of the entire Wii U game section. And digital codes have their own section too. Actual games… that floor space has shrunk, it’s still the dominant, but it has noticeably shrunk.

Think I’m wrong? Here are some stills from a random youtube video from 2013 showing a typical GAME store in the UK.

gamestoreinterior1

We start by entering the store. Notice the PS4 section on your left, the Xbox 360/One section on the right… the middle two isles? Well…

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Skylanders & Disney Infinity… Those two isles are full of toys, not videogames… but wait, what’s that slightly further down the middle isle?

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Even more Skylanders toys, with movies above them. You can just make out the video games along the left and right wall.

This is supposed to be a computer game shop, yet it’s full of toys and accessories, they take the prime space, not the games. This was late 2013, since then, we have a new Disney Infinity and I’m pretty sure Skylanders have expanded and now we have a potential amiibo space in that store too.

Who still thinks game stores only sell games? Who still think that games are given the main focal points of the store?

What does this have to do with Sega?

Let me ask you a really simple question. A question which should be very simple to answer.

Tom_Kalinskesegaofamerica

 

What does Sega of America actually do?

They make games?

Do they? Can you name me one game that Sega of America has made?  I can’t. Maybe if I went through their entire catalogue I could find one game which Sega of America have made, not published, made.

Think about those random cancelled Sega games which pop up every year, the Streets of Rage remakes, the Golden Axe reboot, even Castle of Illusion, none of them were made by SOA.

So what do they do?

If you put aside marketing for North America, they act as a publisher for physical retail titles… and that’s about it. Ok if anyone from Sega of America reads this, I don’t mean to be insulting with that, I know that there is some Q&A which goes on and lots of community work (though technically this is promotional). But if you are an outsider looking in, this does look like it’s the only thing that SOA does, publish and promote… within North America only.

They’re not making content, they’re promoting and distributing it.

Spot the problem yet?

Here we have an industry which is more focused on digital titles and distribution, which retailers are giving less and less space to physical products, yet we still have a main HQ who deals in the distribution of physical products and promotion?

This can’t last. So long as the industry is moving more and more towards digital distribution, as well as console gaming becoming less dominant, a company whose primary focus is physical distribution and promotion in one region will have to radically adapt.

In fact, have you taken a look at who is affected by the downsizing?

120 people from Sega of America, primarily publishing (not the full 300 as many people are claiming).

180 from Sega of Japan (primarily the arcade side of the business).

It is not as many believe “300 people from SOA lost their job” It’s split between SOA and SOJ. What do these jobs/roles have in common? They are positions which are hard if not impossible to transfer over to a digital focused future. Why would they remain?

Think about this for a moment, Boom bombs, a SOA project… so why is the Japan side affected by this? Really isn’t a good business practice if your SOA project fails so the SOJ branch takes the bulk of the damage. Boom is never the sole or primary reason for the downsizing.

In fact, the title of this article is wrong, drop the ‘America’ from the title, focus it on just Sega, but low and behold, given fan and media reaction and ‘spinning’ of the news, everybody forgets the Japanese arcade branch, we all think those 300 jobs are from the US and due to a certain Blue Hedgehog who wears a scarf.

Have you heard the phrase “It’s nothing personal, just business?” This is it in action, if Sega was your business, you have to keep it running, you have to adapt as well as compromise as your market changes, this is that in action. Sega is changing to meet the market, a digital one, a market which goes to the game store to buy special physical editions and toys.

“But Boom is a failure!”

So maybe this should be its own edition of ‘The Spin’ but I keep seeing this being brought up when people discuss Sega’s downsizing. Boom is often being used as a scapegoat for Sega’s decision to downsize and some have said it should be completely scrapped altogether, as if that will make things all better again.

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Here is my problem with that, I’ve already explained that Boom was unlikely the reason for Sega’s decision to downsize, though I suspect it didn’t help their bottom line, take away the fact that Sonic Boom is the worst selling Sonic game ever, because shock horror, people don’t buy terrible games. You are left with the following.

  • Comic Book.
  • TV Show.
  • Merchandise.

Something strange is happening… the Comic Book is apparently selling really well and getting a lot of good feedback. The TV shows is doing remarkably well, it’s continuing to get very good ratings and viewer numbers, the drop-off is far below what is expected for a show, even the fan reaction for each episode is overwhelmingly positive, this is unheard of for a Sonic cartoon.

As for the merchandise, it’s a bit too early to say, but as a litmus test, if you take the TSS reports/tweets on stuff spotted at toy fair, again it’s positive.

Boom the game/s = Horrible in all areas.

Boom the idea/everything else = surprisingly positive/good/decent.

I would not like to be the one who tries to pitch Sonic Boom 2, especially due to the fact as a game the brand ID is poison, but as a brand, Boom is actually doing a lot better than it should be given how terrible the game was.

Why would they cancel it when based on all reception, the show, the comic and the merch,  the main pillars of the franchise are actually doing pretty good?

Edit: In order to be as up to date as possible. The time between finishing this article, formatting it for the web and posting it, new data was released which does in fact show the comics have had an audience drop off.

Make of that information what you will, though they might see a slight increase if the megaman cross over event is successful.

And what of Sonic?

I don’t understand the following…

Sega said, “We are reinforcing Sonic to generate stable profits” in other words, Sonic is getting more focus and attention in order to generate a good revenue.

So why are so many people saying “Sonic is dead” and to another extent, “No more Sonic games.” Erm… they just said the exact opposite. Sonic isn’t going anywhere, there’s nothing to suggest there won’t be any more console games or Sonic games for that matter. What that digital/PC thing is freaking out some people? Well guess what, that’s the direction this industry is going, odds are if we still have a console industry in 10 years time, the only reason you’ll go to a retailer is for a special limited edition game, or a physical toy to use Skylanders/Disney Infinity/Amiibo style with your game.

You either adapt, or you decline, Sega are starting to adapt, let’s just hope they actually follow through with their adaptations.

Sonic Boomcast Episode 7: Just Clowning Around

Join me, Lidice and new guest, Johara Finley as we discuss the recent Sonic Boom episodes, comic issues 3 and 4, the Rise of Lyric patch, Sonic Runners and the latest happenings at Sega of America. Also, we tend to ramble on other topics such as Disneyland, San Diego comic Con and the end of Club Nintendo.

SoA Community Team Member RubyEclipse Bids Farewell…

SEGA in recent years have had greater invested interest in the opinions and the involvement of the Sonic the Hedgehog fan community with many aspects to the franchise. One of their greatest assests are the people who work as the community teams, and liase with the fans; this line of communication has definitely had a hand in shaping the face of games over the past half decade.

Three years ago a new member joined the crew at SEGA of America, appearing frequently on the SEGA blogs and known only as RubyEclipse. Today, after many Free Stuff Fridays and blogs (and the occasional festive fanmail reading video), Aaron Webber has become one of the most well-known community members – and with good reason. Aaron has struck a fantastic balance over three years on the community team with SEGA, between being a professional, effective representative and ambassador for SEGA, as well as being a Sonic the Hedgehog fan himself. Aaron’s enthusiasm for his work along with the rest of his team has shone through and has remained unwavered in his time at SoA.

It will therefore sadden many of you to hear that Aaron has announced he will be departing the community team, however I’m sure you will all join us in congratulating Aaron in his promotion to Associate Brand Manager at SoA. We wish him all the best in managing his first assignment of the highly anticipated Sonic Generations (and we hope we will still see him pop up occasionally on FSF vids too!). You can read his final heartfelt blog on the SEGA blogs site.

I’d like to end on my favourite Webber moments from the last few years – if you haven’t seen these before…enjoy!

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Official SEGA PR: 20 Years of Sonic the Hedgehog

After SEGA Japan’s New Year’s Day teaser/announcement, SEGA of America has today issued a similar press release regarding their plans to celebrate Sonic the Hedgehog‘s 20th Anniversary with events around the world. The publisher says we can expect details about these events throughout the year. Check the full press release out for yourself below.

SEGA® Corporation is proud to announce their company mascot will celebrate his 20th anniversary on June 23, 2011.

From the first day of the release of Sonic The Hedgehog™ back in 1991 on the SEGA Genesis™ console, Sonic the Hedgehog quickly became a popular gaming icon due to his super fast speed and his cool, edgy character. In the twenty years that the video games have been available, Sonic the Hedgehog has notched up over 70 million units sold worldwide.

As well as videogames, SEGA’s iconic blue hedgehog has enjoyed huge success in areas such as comics, apparel and toys and even starred in his own animated series.

SEGA Corporation will be celebrating this special year in style with events around the world, details of which will be released throughout the 20th anniversary year of 2011.

For more information on SEGA, please visit www.sega.com :

About SEGA® Corporation:

SEGA® Corporation is a worldwide leader in interactive entertainment both inside and outside the home, encompassing consumer business, amusement machine sales and amusement center operations. The company develops, publishes and distributes interactive entertainment software products for a variety of hardware platforms including PC, wireless devices, and those manufactured by Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. SEGA Corporation’s Web site is located at sega.jp : .

About SEGA® of America, Inc.:

SEGA® of America, Inc. is the American arm of Tokyo, Japan-based SEGA® Corporation, a worldwide leader in interactive entertainment both inside and outside the home. The company develops, publishes, and distributes interactive entertainment software products for a variety of hardware platforms including PC, wireless devices, and those manufactured by Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. SEGA of America’s web site is located at www.sega.com

Sources: PR-Inside.com and SEGA of America Blog

What kind of events would you like to see for Sonic’s 20th Anniversary? Share your ideas in the comments.

The Sonic Show #56: Live From SEGA of America

It’s time for another episode of The Sonic Show.  This time around, we hit the road and visit SEGA of America in San Francisco, California for their second annual community event.  We’ll play some PSP, talk to the employees at SOA and drop dimes on Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1.  Joining me on this trip is none other than America’s favorite doppleganger, Ben Kalough, SEGA of Antarctica’s best PR man.

For the Sonic 4 feedback session, I cut down the 30 minutes into about 10. There are moments where I started to speak and cut the camera, because I didn’t feel like rolling on what I was saying for those initial discussions about physics and level design. I spoke at length and since I gesticulate a lot, it would have been a mess. I wanted to focus on making a good, concise point instead of worrying about filming.  As a substitute, I’ve cut in abridged versions of what I said to Aaron and Ken, set to the Sonic 3 invincibility theme.

Note: they wanted feedback and we gave it to them professionally. Anybody who says, “oh my god complaiiiiniiiiing” needs a reality check.  Any comments like this one will be deleted and you will be banned.  I don’t even want to deal with the Sonic Defense Force today (or ever, really).  Sonic 4: Episode 1 has major problems, so we aired them to make Episode 2 better.  Sonic 4: Good Edition.

Enjoy the video and for a more detailed report of the event, I wrote one up this past Sunday.  Feel free to ask questions about the event and I will be more than happy to answer them for you.  Thanks again to all of the SOA employees and to all the guests who were featured in the video.  I had an absolute blast this past weekend and I think it shows!

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Full House: Sega of America’s 2010 Community Event

Friday in San Francisco was one of my favorite days of 2010.  Considering all that has been happening on my end, that’s saying something (I graduated college this year, for starters).  I’ve wanted to go to a SEGA sponsored event since I was a little kid, but never got the opportunity.  Friday was the day.

I was wondering what kind of mental shape I’d be in going into this weekend.  This past week, I’ve been in 2 cities on independent gigs and the long hours of work and flight time started to wear on me.  Yeah, you sit on a chair in the sky for hours on end, but it still takes a lot out of you.  San Francisco would be my third city of a four city tour.  Frustrations were compounded when my flight was delayed six hours for maintenance.  I could have driven from L.A. to San Francisco in that time.  To kill it off, I beat Sonic CD 100% by skipping the special stages and instead destroyed every Roboticizer.  I had never done that before and it ate up so much time.  That, and I was talking to Kev and Aaron via Twitter every so often.

Luckily, the parent company of U.S. Airways also owns United Airlines and they transferred me to a 2:19 PM flight.  An hour later, I was in San Francisco.

San Francisco is a beautiful place and I immediately felt more relaxed when gazing upon the cityscape.  Upon arriving at the Holiday Inn, the bell boy, Mike, welcomed me and got me squared away.  I changed, showered and got my tech ready for the event.  Mike waved down a cab and offered me some delicious gum.  We traded phone numbers and took me to a local diner for breakfast Saturday morning.  He is one cool dude.

Once the elevator doors opened on the 4th floor of the building, I was instantly greeted by a massive Sonic statue and a pair of gaming kiosks.  I was beaming and I felt stupid standing by myself away from the groups of people smiling.  People were checking in and Aaron Webber, SOA’s Community Manager, was flying in and out, making sure everything was ready.  He grouped us all together and put us in a conference room for us to mingle before we got started.

Aaron walked back in a few minutes later to greet us and lay down the itinerary for the night.  Dinner was provided, a hearty helping of gourmet sandwiches and Coke products.  They were tasty as hell.  Delicious!  Then, I met the only person I “knew” (quotes for the fact that I only know him through the Internet) at the event, Moonshadow Caz (real name Skyler).  He came in character as Ben Kalough, PR from SEGA of Antarctica.  What I thought was great is that, right away, we talked to each other like we’ve been real life buds for years, continuing our normal discourse from the forums and chat rooms.  It definitely brought my comfort level up.

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In this video: Ben Kalough reviews Sonic 4.  Warning: sarcasm.

While eating, Aaron and SEGA’s customer service rep Robert Miles handed out PSPs and copies of Valkyria Chronicles and Phantasy Star Portable 2 to those who didn’t have any.  I have never touched a PSP or played a Valkyria/PSO game, so tonight would be another first.  My PSP was glitter pink and therefore totally ruled all other PSPs.  Hannah Montana stickers on the back would have been the icing on the cake.

I continued to screw around with these games when, all of a sudden, Ken Balough, Sonic 4’s Brand Manger, walked into the room.  He is a huge fan of Skyler’s Ben Kalough videos.  They shook hands, shared some laughs and posed for some pictures.  Aaron asked Skyler what he thought of that moment and replied, “You know that one part in Chrono Trigger where time stops?”  “Yeah, that one time,” said Aaron.  “It was like that.”  Truly the encounter as we imagined it.

Ken Balough meets Ben Kalough!

Ben Kalough and I interviewed the guests during the PSP tournaments, asking them where they were from, why they were here, what they thought so far and assorted stupid, obvious-troll questions for kicks (“So, sir, what do you think of Sonic’s green eyes?”) that were met with laughter.  For real… Skyler is a funny dude.

The PSP tournaments continued and I basically gave up on learning how to play.  I was having illegal amounts of fun talking to everybody and getting their games captured on film.  Networking with people is a valuable skill and it’s something I enjoy doing (it’s also how I survive in my industry).  It was also cool to see strangers getting together to duke it out in the same room.

(Sweet side-note: everybody got to keep their copies of Valkyria Chronicles and Phantasy Star Portable 2.)

Ken and I started talking for a while during the tournaments as well.  I was asking him about his job, what difficulties he has had and SEGA’s new marketing strategy for Sonic, where they appeal to each side of the fanbase.  We both felt that it was about time SEGA recognized the generational gap that was created with Sonic Adventure and, hopefully, down the road, SEGA is able to capitalize on it.

We gathered back in the conference room, a white board now sitting at the front.  It was time for the Sonic 4: Episode 1 feedback session.  Aaron set the stage for criticism when he asked everybody in the room, which was about 50-60 people, if they liked the game.  One guy kind-of raised his hand.  That’s it.  “Fair enough,” said Aaron with a smile.

The first thing he wrote on the board, to our chuckles, was “physics.”  Were you expecting something else?  (If you did, I’m disappointed in you.)  The discussion about the game engine went for about 10-12 minutes, about half of the time allotted for the meeting.  We talked about level design, level-specific gimmicks, bottomless pits, homing attack, music… everything, really.  All the guys from SOA were awesome and open to it.

Feedback was mostly coming from about five people with a few other people throwing in their two cents.  There was a guy in one back corner of the room, a guy near the front and the “Sonic Retro Contingent” in the back corner, consisting of myself, Skyler and Sammybeany (Carl).  I don’t know if people were shy or hadn’t played the game, but that’s just how it was.  Us Retro dudes had the most to say (again, what did you expect?) and I thought everything was articulated by everybody involved exceedingly well and, in Carl’s case, passionate.  People are riding Carl like a rodeo show right now for his comments on the event, but there were people who were shaking his hand and liking what he had said back there.  If he was being unruly, he would have been tossed.  If you weren’t there to see him, please shut up.  That’s how he feels, so let him feel it.  He’s a fun guy to hang out with.

I, too, would have liked to see the feedback session go on a bit longer.  There’s not much left to say about the game, but we did spill over the allotted time a few minutes with more on the table, so I think another half hour would have been beneficial.  With the meeting’s brevity and all of what we said already online in the form of reviews and forum topics, I prepared myself for being as concise as possible.  I managed to touch base on everything with succinct points.  I had so much time to think about what I was going to say in the airport and on the plane.  A lot of people expected me to go in guns-a-blazing and tear the house down without restraint, like it were the old Slingerland’s Corner on The Sonic Show.  Well, that’d be really stupid.  I know when I’m putting on a show and when I’m not.  That’s not the approach you take into an atmosphere like this one.

Sleep well with Sonic plushies (and Ben Kalough).

For those 30 minutes, being there made me feel like I was a part of the game development.  In the grand scheme, I was an extremely small part, but a part nonetheless.  If anybody knows of my fangaming exploits, then you know that I’m big into game creation in my spare time, especially the classic Sonic experience.  The fangaming/ROM hacking communities were (and I guess, depending on your perception of Sonic 4, you could say still are) the only place keeping that experience alive.  Now that SEGA is back into it, I want them to be as successful with it as possible, because, as success with the Retro-Sonic, Sonic XG, Sonic Nexus and Sonic Fan Remix demos have illustrated (Ken did mention SFR during the meeting), it’s a formula that is still wildly appealing with a fanbase all its own.  A fanbase that they deeply want back.

My reasoning behind getting into fangaming mid-way through the last decade and creating a game with a high level of authenticity and professionalism was because SEGA stopped making those games and has struggled with Sonic since then.  It was something I wanted to see again.  I sought to impart any knowledge that I could to help the next episode be something that would take that monkey off my back to see that 2D Sonic magic return full-time.  Honestly, when I get time (which isn’t often anymore with my constant traveling), it has been tough to fangame with Sonic 4 out there.

We were all looking at something. No idea what Aaron is doing...

Interaction with people was another plus.  I’m not sure if you have noticed this trend in the last couple of years, but a fair share of the community are batshit crazy on negative opinions over anything Sonic-related.  They sniff it out, they find it and they bitch in comment boxes about how the author is a “retrofag,” “unpleaseable,” or how he’s “raging”/bitching himself, regardless of how well he/she presents his/her points.

At this meeting, everybody was chill, nobody raised their voice to an intolerable volume or tone and nobody involved with the game got defensive about anything said.  It was like the exact opposite of reading the comment boxes at any of the fansites.  Svend refers to it as the “Summer of Sonic Effect.”  I wish more people would act more like everybody did at the feedback session on the forums.  It’d make all of our jobs as writers and moderators more tolerable and we’d all have a better time.  It was so refreshing to talk about this game in a group and not be attacked day and night for it.  Binky and his armchair were done proud.

In short, to close this section out, the feedback session was just what has been said over and over the past few months, but I think it was great for SEGA to see those reactions coming from actual mouths.  How a person presents a point and illustrates it for the other helps the validity of said point, I believe.  Having that instant discourse, as opposed to delayed over a forum or messages, between developers (in this case, brand manager) and players helps, too.

Skyler won big. Aaron agrees.

With the feedback session winding down, Aaron started wheeling out boxes of prizes for a raffle.  The champions of the PSP tournaments were literally crowned before people walked away with a Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing slot car game, a clock, a variety of figurines or posters.  Skyler actually walked away with the biggest prize of the night.  As was the status quo for the evening, everybody was ogling while I stood there not knowing a thing about it.  It was a large Valkyria Chronicles figure that has not been released yet and it was more expensive than the game itself to boot!  I didn’t win anything, but at least I got a goodie-bag.  I didn’t really care.  I was just happy to be there.  I wouldn’t know how to get it back home anyway because I only came with carry-ons!

With the event officially over, people stuck around and talked to each other for about another half hour or so.  I was talking to Robert, Ken, Julian, Kellie, Kareem and Aaron and I exchanged business cards or contact info with most of them.  Ken then took Skyler, Carl and I to his cubicle where we took pictures of Ben Kalough at work.  We chatted some more on a few things and Skyler and Carl said their goodbyes.

I stuck around the latest and, as a result, was without the free shuttle service back to the hotel or a cab.  Ken gave me a ride back to the Holiday Inn and that was super cool of him.  I know that I’ve already left you a thank you voicemail but I just want to reiterate my thanks to you, Ken, for the lift and the opportunity to speak with you at length.  Everybody else at SOA was great, too.  You guys are respectful, extraordinarily friendly, down-to-Earth people.  Guests, including myself, made jokes at SEGA’s expense in front of everybody (hell, Ben Kalough was a walking punch-line) and you laughed with us.  You guys are the kind of people I enjoy being around.

PLAYING FAVORITES?!?!?!?!

It also helped that we all had a bond between us going into Friday.  I don’t think I have to mention specifically what that bond is, but it involves an angry young man in a dark corner of the Sonic community.  We’re all card-carrying “Club” members.  😉

SEGA is a much different company than they have been over the past decade.  Not only do they open their doors to the public, but they’re in our fan forums, providing us with some exclusive content and exposure and understand the professionalism and perspective that is necessary at their position.  That includes dealing with the opinions and occasional mockery from people like me and then saying, “Hey, you wanna go get a beer sometime?”  Beer rules.  SOA rules.

Also, thank you to all the guests.  All of you were really cool and thanks again for talking to the camera for me.

To the people that made my trip possible: thank you.  Nuckles87 paid for my trip.  How cool of him is that?  Very.  Very effing cool.  Also, it was Jason’s idea to send me there and represent this site.  I thank him for his vote of confidence in me to voice my opinion on Sonic 4.  Finally, thanks to a pair Food Network producers who re-scheduled Friday into a B-roll day so that they could cut their sound guy loose to go talk about blue hedgehog games.

My adventure in San Francisco was awesome and I hope they hold another event soon.  I will have contests up this week because I have a lot of SEGA swag to give away, ranging from buttons to t-shirts.  Stay tuned for that, as well as a video of the whole community event on The Sonic Show.

To those who were following me on Twitter, I was so wrapped up in the event (and filming it) that I forgot to tweet more.  I only took a handful of photos.  I had a laptop and a webcam there, too, so that I could live-stream the meeting, but the stream quality was so piss-poor that it wasn’t worth the trouble.  So, it’s all in the video!

I really want to go to Summer of Sonic now.  After meeting some people here, I can only imagine that SoS would be absolutely insane.  Svend and I would brofist so hard, we’d make Big Ben run backwards.

If any Stadium readers in Toronto are free, I’ve got some gigs there starting next Saturday.  We’re playing pond hockey in Sonic Colors hats.  That is all.

(Skyler is all up in this article.  If you want to read his report, check it out here.)

TSS Hits the Golden Coast, SEGA of America This Friday

Ah, California.  Land of sunshine, economic instability and Katy Perry’s mysterious boobs.  It’s also the home of SEGA of America.  They will be hosting a community event this Friday and I will be there.

The Sonic Stadium continues its whirlwind tour of events with this stop at SOA HQ to take part in gaming tournaments and a Sonic 4: Episode 1 feedback session.  I will be taking it all in, ask some questions, meet some people and drop some notes on what they can do to make Sonic 4: Episode 2 a game that I don’t make a glitch-exposing contest over.  Who knows what’s going to happen?  You’ll have to be here to find out.

I will be blogging my trip via Twitter.  You can either follow my profile (@bradflick55) or the event’s hashtag (#TSSatSOA).  You don’t need an account to see what I’m up to, but if you want to ask me questions at the event, you’ll need to get one.  When it’s all said and done, check here over the weekend for a feature with an event recap, photos and a video of what went down.