How to Design Sega’s Next Mascot
There was a time when the word “sonic” was instantly synonymous with Sega's famous blue hedgehog. Now, whenever I hear that word I either cringe at the thought of playing Sonic and the Black Knight, or I wonder how long it would take to reach the nearest Sonic Drive-In.
Mmmm, chocolate shakes.
(Ironically, Sonic Blast – one of the many Sonic titles developed for Game Gear – is also the name of a frozen treat at Sonic restaurants.)
With regard to the more pressing matter, it’s time for Sega to retire Sonic the Horrendous and produce a new mascot. And since I’m a really awesome guy, I’m going to tell the developers where to begin.
Start By Visiting The Zoo
I highly recommend that the developers visit the zoo more often because, let’s face reality guys – there just aren't enough cute, cuddly, and overly furry animals in video games.
The returning favorites are beginning to fall apart. Crash Bandicoot stopped smiling, Bubsy checked into rehab (he got caught trying to steal one of Solid Snake’s cigarettes), and Croc was put to sleep after wandering up the porch of a man’s house in Florida. Don’t even get me started on Spyro the “Dragon.” If he’s a dragon, then I’m Bigfoot.
(Actually, I could be Bigfoot. You never know.)
Regardless of their status, these guys aren’t mascots anymore. But they are masochistic. If you don’t believe me, just ask Spyro what he does with his wings when no one’s looking.
In all seriousness, I think Sega needs to examine the littlest critters of the zoo, like chipmunks, rabbits, or other animals you might find in your backyard. Then company execs can assign a brilliant new title to the series, like “Backyard Animals,” which would open the door for a spin-off with Atari’s Backyard Sports series.
And remember: nobody loves making crappy mascot/sports games more than Sega.
Plan B: Investigate The Success Of Others
What do Master Chief, Lara Croft, Sub-Zero and Scorpion, Solid Snake, Ken and Ryu, Samus Aran, and Cloud Strife have in common? They are all hugely successful game characters that Sega should investigate before developing a new mascot.
Why them instead of Mario, Kirby, and Donkey Kong? From day one, Sonic was designed to compete against Mario. He was created with mascot dreams, and Sega used him to brand every console it released. Even the Saturn (which didn’t have many Sonic games) was promoted with hedgehog hyperbole.
Meanwhile, when Nintendo created Mario, the term “mascot character” hadn’t even been coined yet. And while Solid Snake is very much the face of Konami (just as Lara Croft was once the face of Eidos), they were both produced with creativity and originality in mind. Sega needs to take a similar path when designing Sonic’s eventual replacement.
Who would you rather look at: a furry mascot or Lara Croft?
Next, Procure the Power of Product Placement
For years, Sonic has used a pair of special running shoes to speed through his levels. Similarly, he has collected rings to increase his points and health. Despite these prominent gameplay features, Sega has never taken the opportunity to exploit their true worth: advertising!
When Sonic picks up a pair of running shoes, they shouldn’t be some generic pair made by some generic kid in China. They should be a pair of Nike Air Jordans. His bland yellow rings should be replaced by onion rings from Sonic Drive-Ins. Jared, the Galleria of Jewelry, should design a fresh batch of Chaos Emeralds for Sega. Finally, PETCO should sponsor the game by having an adoption event for hedgehogs and echidnas.
These are the kinds of brilliant, money-making deals Sega needs to consider when designing its next mascot. Just look at what Chiquita bananas did for Super Monkey Ball – that game must have sold at least a dozen copies.
Sonic onion rings – delish!
Plan B: Let Gameplay Reign Supreme
Another thing that successful characters have in common is that they all belong to spectacular games. This is true for movies, books and TV as well: no one would have liked Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter or Jack Bauer if they had crappy source material.
Thus, the foundation for Sega’s next mascot must be built on great gameplay. If the game is irresistibly addictive, players will find it very easy to like the character they’re controlling. If the gameplay sucks, it won’t matter if Sega has produced the next Master Chief because we won’t play long enough to find out.
After That, Pick A Young Demographic
With the Sonic the Hedgehog series, Sega has made a point to target the youngest demographic possible: toddlers. Research shows that toddlers smile frequently while playing Sonic video games, indicating that the developers have been very successful at what they do. But alas, we can’t overlook the possibility that the babies simply had gas.
In any case, I think Sega needs to pick a younger demographic the next time around. Why go after toddlers – who might be old enough to figure out that the game they’re playing isn’t any fun – when you could go after infants?
Or better yet, why not explore the possibility of marketing your games to babies who haven’t even been conceived yet? It’s a strange concept, I know. However, 50 years ago, no one would have ever imagined that a 20-something who eats fast food and loves TV could be assigned his own demographic. But it happened.
Mark my words: it won’t be long before corporations are selling products to humans who don’t even exist. Sega should be one of them.
The Virtual Boy did so poorly, it must have been developed for people who don’t exist.
Plan B: Know Your Audience
The painful truth is that while most 20- and 30-year-olds have fond memories of Sonic the Hedgehog, today’s kids don’t give a crap about his games. Past or present, it doesn’t matter – small kids would rather play Mario Party, and big kids would rather play Halo.
Without a new generation to keep Sonic alive, Sega should have spent the last 15 years catering to the players who made the series a success. Since that didn’t happen (and clearly never will), Sega needs to make sure that its next franchise is built with the intent – sequels and all – to satisfy whatever demographic the company decides to target. Unlike Sonic, that demographic should not change with time.
Just make sure you don’t pick the fast food/TV lover. That guy’s a real pig.
Finally – Outsource, Outsource, Outsource!
There is no way that the Sonic series could get any worse by outsourcing its development to another third-party developer. But money grows on trees, so why not give it a try?
After all, it’s not as if Capcom lost millions of dollars hiring GRIN to develop a 3D remake of Bionic Commando. It’s not as if Microsoft flushed money down the toilet when it hired Krome Studios to develop Viva Piñata: Party Animals. It’s not as if the recent Silent Hill games – all made by studios other than Konami – are total garbage. And it’s not as if Krome and GRIN closed after one too many failures.
Nope, that didn’t happen.
Plan B: You Don’t Need a Mascot, Just New Games
Does Sega really need a mascot anymore? Now that the company has become a third-party developer – which it did nearly 10 years ago – I see no reason for Sega to brand itself with a silly cartoon character.
Instead, Sega needs to refocus its resources and become 100% dedicated to making the thing we want most: great games.
Louis Bedigian has been writing about games and entertainment since 1999. He joined GameZone in 2001 and has worked for Radish Creative Group as a videographer, editor and production assistant. He is also a staff writer at Benzinga.com, The Trading Idea Network.