Famous by Obligation

Oh the sales. Nobody cares about them. Not even SEGA.
It’s probably not really an issue if everyday consumer doesn’t care if the game he is about to buy is a bestseller or not. In fact, the normal thing to do would be to not care about what other people think and just buy it if you personally like it. I am however going to explore an issue that is about something more than just one individual consumer.

When I was chosen as an article generator for this page, I was told that this is Sonic only community. And that writing about anything else but Sonic related stuff might at first confuse people. So I think it’s OK to assume that most of the people here are Sonic nerds – people who know everything about Sonic – all the way from his origin story to what kind of toothbrush he uses. And if you do not know it, you are aspiring to know it. I take you as an expert audience. People who do not fear of any knowledge and are happy to see beyond. People who know that if they look deeper beneath the surface, they will be able to discover a new knowledge about Sonic that will excite them. Maybe even futurists who are able to predict what could happen next with the Sonic franchise or it’s story.
As such, I strongly believe that sales of Sonic games are a topic that is so much more interesting to you than to an average casual gamer. It is so because it’s saying something about the reception.
On the Internet, there is no way to tell what the real reception of Sonic games is (or reception of anything for that matter). It’s because the people who would potentially criticize it will usually be silent. They will either feel like they are not passionate enough to argue on the Internet with lunatics – or they simply give up on the whole franchise, if the content is repulsive enough.

Sales are incredible in showing us how much the franchise actually appeals to people. If we said in the Classic days that Sonic was popular gaming icon, if we were talking about how much is his name engraved into gaming history – it is because of the sales. If Sonic was not sold as much as he was, he would barely have today the historical value he has now. If his franchise was still even alive at all.

Majority of the people who play games will never visit any single online forum. But the people who are part of the franchise and enjoy the content have one thing in common. One thing that enables us to measure their interest. They buy the games. If they do not, there is a problem. We say that people vote with their wallets.
I know that at least some of you know few examples of software or hardware developing companies that wanted to screw the customers over and their decisions cost them their reputation and sales. Most of the time I have the feeling, that people on the Internet say that either the company or the customers were in the right or bad based solely on their sympathies. It’s never based on the actual facts. “Somebody I like can screw me over. That somebody deserves some wiggle room, because he will surely repay me in the future.” Or worse: “I don’t expect that he will ever repay me in the future, I am responsible for buying his products – if I do not buy those, the fault is entirely on me as I am not a loyal fan.”

Few days ago, I got to read this article:

I agree with the author. And I find the statements of Mr. Parfitt nonsensical. His speech is exactly what happens when people think that their subjective opinions on quality are the holy grail.
You see, there are people who endlessly try to quell all criticism. They think that Internet and gaming forums should be places where only every-present positivity exists. They think that people are entitled to their opinion, but if it’s negative, they simply shouldn’t voice it. And if they really don’t like what is happening, they shouldn’t buy the game and disappear.
OK then… I hope that nobody really wants to prove to me that I should be forced to buy a game I don’t like just because I happened to play some previous entires in the franchise. I hope that we can agree on that. But if this is the right mindset to have, why do we have people (whose opinions are supposed to matter for some reason) saying stuff like:

“A headline suggested by a colleague: Devil May Cry fans destroy brand out of spite. That about covers it.”

OK. Let me get the message of that statement straight: It is OK to vote with your wallet, but only as long as your votes do not affect anything! That’s a nice version of democracy.

It’s sad, really. Voting with the wallet is very problematic. It only gives us binary answer: yes and no; I like the game, I don’t like the game. That probably is not very helpful to the developers for the future considerations. They will not know how to improve the product. How about if fans could provide their critici… oh wait, they can’t. If they don’t like the product, they shouldn’t be negative about it and shouldn’t buy the game and should just go away – shuuuush. But wait, wasn’t them going away the problem in the first place?

You know, this whole mindset of “gamers trying to destroy the company/franchise out of spite” has some really problematic logical flaws:
A) It assumes that fans have some other choice what they can do.
B) It completely assumes, that people who like this direction – the devs and the minority of fans who can’t support the game on their own – are logically, factually and morally in the right.

ad A) I already addressed the first fallacy – it’s impossible to vote with your wallet, not being critical and in the same time unable to refuse to buy the game (cause you would be called a hater who decided to destroy a franchise out of spite). There is just no other choice than what certain people would say: “How about starting to like it mothefaka? They made an awesome job! They are skillful people dammit! They are unique and innovative! Refusing to buy it means that you are ****!” Which brings me to the point B.

ad B) This is trying to convey that the majority of people (who do not buy the game) are idiots and the minority of people (who do buy or develop the game) are the ones who are solely supposed to decide on its quality score. They are the moral authorities. And they themselves alone fight against the evil world.

How is that making any sense? Are the developers entitled to the sales regardless if customers care for the product? Are those people who do not care about the new product anymore somehow inferior? How is it possible that majority of people are all just turds who “refuse to buy the product out of spite“? How is it possible that the select few are entirely correct in their assumptions about quality and what is a good or bad decision?

Now I should finally use some Sonic example. It’s no secret (at least I hope) that Sonic games registered a huge decline in sales after Sonic Unleashed. Each subsequent main title registered steady decline in sales. Sonic Lost World is the worst selling 3D Sonic game to date. Something is wrong here. And there is a strong propaganda that is trying to convince us that fans are to blame.

But what exactly are fans to blame for?

That they didn’t buy what they didn’t like? Yes, they are to blame for that. But… is that wrong on any possible level?

There is a huge propaganda that is trying to convey that modern Sonic games are supposed to be inherently better than the original Sonic Adventure games and games from Sonic Adventure Era. These new games are supposed to be better on some kind of moral level. There is a really loud and vocal Internet group who hates serious stories in Sonic. They hate drama, they hate emotions. They hate story. They hate the notion of grounding the story, environments and appeal of the franchise in reality. They want just simplistic colorful worlds that contain nothing but kiddified version of what Sonic used to be before. There is an anti Sonic Adventure (and especially anti Sonic Adventure 2) campaign raising only recently. It’s because those people realized that Sonic Adventure (2) was indeed dark and edgy. And because it used to be well received back then, now it needs some dirt on its reputation. It would not make sense if serious dark and edgy content was condemned now and yet it was accepted and liked in SA2 times.
The kicker is – most people actually never changed their opinion about SA2. Only the cheerful crowd needs to make it look like it’s the case. They need to create the illusion that giving a damn about the story, tone and edge is fundamentally wrong. They want to make sure that everyone believes that it’s just evil thing to care about these things.

But tell me this – If majority of people was in love with some specific content from the past, was missing this kind of content and hated to see this a different (and contradicting) new content – why is it fundamentally wrong to listen to them? Why is it necessary to try and look harder and harder for the most minuscule reasons why the current direction is not well received? Why is it OK to fix only few cosmetic things and not the fundamental issue? Why is it necessary to ignore the people who dislike or even hate this direction? You must know that the current direction is in the direct opposition to the previous one. People who are somehow OK with both are most likely just casuals who are not invested in the series too much. And those people will just come and go. Those who will stick with the franchise and claim that they like all the Sonic games most likely just lie. Ask them if they liked Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic Heroes, Shadow the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 06. You will see.

People who see that this new Sonic goes in the completely opposite direction than the direction they want can’t really do anything now. Complaining about it doesn’t do anything, because their tastes are labeled as morally wrong, not kid-friendly enough or plain nitpicky. And when they don’t buy the Sonic games to show that they really don’t care for this direction – still nothing changes. They are called stupid for not recognizing the quality, they are called haters, traitors or “not real Sonic fans” and their opinions online are still not listened to. This is the true Sonic cycle. The development process and the feedback is entirely controlled by people who are disconnected from the reality. The feedback is completely wrong. It’s like walking in the real world terrain while only seeing the world around you in your virtual reality headset. In your virtual reality headset, you are walking on a flat surface. In reality, you are walking into a giant abyss. You won’t even be able to keep balance. That is why is Sonic doing so badly today.

I know that some people are probably like… really offended at the idea of Sonic having serious story and Sonic not joking all the time. They are really offended at the idea that Sonic is part of functioning fictional world people actually care about, and not just a gameplay avatar. Those people certainly do exist. But the fanbase will not be created from those kind of people. If you are one of them, all I want from you after reading this article is for you to ask yourselves: do you really think that your version of Sonic is the real universal concept that should be cemented into everyone’s minds despite most people don’t care for it and despite the possible alternative version of Sonic would be more liked and successful?

I used to read opinions like “SA fans are selfish, because they want the games to be according to them and those ideas go against what Sonic fans want from Sonic.” Yet who is the selfish one now? There are only two reasons I can think of that enable minority’s opinion to rule over majority’s opinion:
– It’s either because the minority doesn’t want to lose power, so they are doing this only for themselves and they of course don’t care about Sonic fans.
– Or it’s because they somehow truly believe that the ideas introduced by early 3D Sonic games (and even Classic Sonic games) are just crossing the line of a good taste and as such are morally reprehensible. Why I think that this argument has no value is a huge topic for another day.

Long running franchises most of the time want to create a deep story and engaging context for themselves. This is in reality what is drawing more people in – contrary to SEGA’s popular believe that disregarding past events and starting all over in every game is bringing new people in.

Yes, people may get confused when they enter new franchise in the middle of a huge story arc. But if the game has appeal, they are going to be more than happy to learn all about it. I know it for myself – I started practically all the franchises I love in the middle. And I loved them so much that I educated myself about their history. The story or environments create a context that is keeping people in the franchise. It makes them involved. It assures them that what they love about the franchise will be present with the next entry. That is in fact a sole reason why “fan” as a concept exists. You can’t be fan of some franchise when in scope of few games everything changes. Your initial reasons for becoming a fan are voided because the new content doesn’t support those reasons. If you are supposed to ignore the logic and stay a “fan” regardless, you are nothing but a slave.

Today, Sonic games are being made for outsiders only. Developers and publishers think that they don’t need to give Sonic fans anything that makes them feel familiar with the universe. They take the Sonic fans buying the games for granted. They only focus on new audience. But the new audience is also repulsed both by the nature of the content and the fact that they know that the content will keep fluctuating. They know that the next time they will buy a Sonic game, it will be something completely different. This is not how you get new fans in. When new fans see how old fans are treated – why should those new fans feel secure? When the developers were claiming that they were aiming to attract new audiences… were they also thinking about how will they keep those new audiences interested?

And what is with this mindset that the game’s content in certain Sonic games is just too crazy for normal people to get into? I am sure that shows like Doctor Who or Star Trek could be less crazy and cheesy than they are. But would fans really like it? Would new audience only like it this way? We see SEGA (and BRB) saying that they want new fans, yet all they are doing is sterilizing the content and only making sarcastic and detached version of Sonic that mocks the original material. Is that such an impossible notion to have: that some people actually love B-movie styled sci-fi action fantasy with super-powered characters that is played straight in a world that believes in itself? Take Bayonetta for example – a super-powered heroine who fights ridiculously powerful and grotesque monsters in the most crazy Japanese style. Do you think that a good thing to do to open this franchise to more people would be to tone the power aspect and crazy visuals down? Would it be reasonable to shift Bayonetta’s powers and story more towards Lara Croft to gain new audiences? I doubt they think that the current content just cannot find a new audience. So why is it suddenly impossible for anyone to see that the content Sonic had in Adventure Era was good when it was selling more? Why is it normal to think that this kind of content is what is keeping new people from entering the franchise? Why is it normal to think that this kind of content is something that existing fans never want to see again?

Sonic used to build an image on that content. And fans accepted it with their wallets. Now, these very fans refuse the new content. But media is trying to tell us that it is all good. We need to believe now that Sonic’s reputation is finally fixed. And people who say it is not are just the ones who ruined it in the past and they still refuse to shut up today. This is nice story really. But the facts go against it.

Sonic is famous only by obligation today. People are in masses obliged to like this new version of Sonic just because the original version of Sonic once got naturally famous with masses.

So,… why should we care about sales? We are Sonic nerds here. Not caring about sales means not caring about what other people think about Sonic. That means that we both don’t care about what the general public thinks about Sonic and what other Sonic fans think about Sonic. According to the current numbers, the people who are dissatisfied today are likely to be more credible than the people who are satisfied.
We can really choose to not care about these things. We can isolate ourselves in our little worlds where everything is always positive. But if you want to be isolated and only care about what you enjoy – why did you read this article? If you don’t care about what other people enjoy about Sonic, why should other people care about what you enjoy about Sonic?