Sega President on ‘Saving’ Sega, Sonic the Hedgehog ‘Comeback’

Sonic the Hedgehog” fans have at least one person in their corner when it comes to ensuring the franchise gets quality games going forward: The president and COO of Sega Sammy.

Sega Sammy Holdings president Haruki Satomi sat down for an interview with CNBC during the recent YPO summit out of Vancouver, British Columbia. Satomi, a member of Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), was on hand to discuss the video game industry, his role in Sega Sammy’s turnaround following 2004’s Sega and Sammy merger, and business plans for mobile releases going forward.

In addition to questions about how he envisions Sega Sammy in the next five years and how he got his start in the business, Satomi also fielded inquiries about what occurred prior to 2004 that made “saving” Sega so difficult as it continued to essentially hemorrhage fans (and money). According to Satomi, the company “disappointed” fans, leading to dissatisfaction from a loyal customer base and internal issues further down the line.

“Several years ago when we launched a ‘Sonic’ game, the reception was very bad. There was a site called Metacritic that aggregates the critics and scores games from 1-100, and at that time the ‘Sonic’ game got 30 out of 100,” Satomi said. “[We] did not meet those expectations for the big fan base we have. So after I took the lead, [I said] it will never happen again and I told our development team or even sales team that we should not release a game unless we 100% agree with and are confident of the quality.”

Satomi is referring to 2006’s “Sonic the Hedgehog,” which debuted to abysmal critical and consumer reviews. It now holds a 46% Metascore, though disdain for the entry is a near-universal sentiment that gamers and “Sonic the Hedgehog” fans share. The games have been on something of a roller coaster when it comes to quality, with a mixed bag of decent or serviceable titles.

The series hasn’t yet made the kind of comeback fans have been hoping for, but newer games featuring the hedgehog have been promising. Satomi is looking to take the feedback and lessons learned during the difficult time following “Sonic the Hedgehog’s” debut on Xbox 360 to make Sega Sammy as prosperous as it can be going forward.

“Many people send email or Facebook messages asking me to make this kind of game, or please bring back this title again, or please improve the quality of this title again, so I try to answer those questions and requests,” he said.

The retro-tinged “Sonic Mania” has proven to be something of a turning point for the series, with Satomi crediting the game as one of the company’s better-performing titles in terms of critical success.

“One of the answers I gave was the latest two titles, which we launched last year, ‘Sonic Mania’ and ‘Sonic Forces’ — especially ‘Sonic Mania,’ which got an 80-85ish Metacritic score. Fans are excited about this game, and people really love it. Actual sales were very strong.” He also mentioned the animated “Sonic Mania” series, which has been generating a fair amount of buzz since its YouTube debut. While it hasn’t yet reached, say, “Mario” levels of hype, the age-old rivalry between the plumber and hedgehog seems to have subsided, at least in Satomi’s eyes.

When asked about the possibility of Sonic “beating” Mario, Satomi was instead keen on playing up Mario and Sonic’s partnerships seen in the “Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games,” with the most recent entry released in 2016. The way he sees it, Mario (Nintendo) and Sonic (Sega) are now friends, and they’ve partnered to make even better products. “We’re teaming up to entertain our fans,” he clarified.

In terms of creating content that fans can have fun with, Sega Sammy is also working to spread its roots in other kinds of products. Specifically, the company is looking to beef up its digital sales numbers by focusing more on quality than quantity.

“Simply the competition in the smartphone game has been very high, and [getting] higher and higher, so we decided not to release too many titles over the last two years. Instead we developed more quality games to be more competitive in the market. This year we will keep these new titles so our digital sales will grow again,” Satomi said. The company is hoping to release more than 10 titles this year, though Satomi didn’t offer any details as to what those may entail.

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