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Sega is putting all of its chips on the table with Sonic Frontiers

Back in May, I wrote about how Sonic Frontiers miraculously avoided the controversial Sonic Cycle by keeping updates dry between its first teaser trailer and its official announcement trailer at The Game Awards last year. Now the game is less than two months away from release, and with the reveal of four more trailers, two alternative rock songs taking us back to 2007 (Vandalize by One OK Rock and I’m Here by To Octavia’s Merry Kirk-Holmes), and Super Sonic making his triumphant return at the Tokyo Game Show, Sega seems confident that it will be a big deal for the franchise. Hell, I’m feeling more confident about this game than I ever felt for some of its predecessors. And that’s saying something.

In fact, Sega is so sure about Sonic Frontiers that it’s pricing the game at $60 — or in the case of the Digital Deluxe Edition, $70 — and putting it in direct competition with God of War: Ragnarok and Pokemon Scarlet and Violet in November. It’s a big gamble to go all in on, but also a sore point for some Sonic fans. Most current-gen AAA games are priced between $60 and $70 due to enhanced graphics, controls, and the engines they run on, but some have balked at Frontiers’ price tag not only because it’s “too expensive,” but because they can’t remember the last time a Sonic game cost that much.

The price tag deviates from the cost of past Sonic games, and that’s another sign that Sega believes Frontiers has the scope of a full-sized Sonic game — especially since it’s the first open-world game in Sonic’s history. That’s consistent with the rest of the game’s marketing cycle, which shows that Sega is more confident about the series than it has been in years.

Sonic’s way past cool marketing

In some ways, Sonic Frontiers‘ aggressive marketing push is a return to the early 2000s. Take the hype cycle around Sonic Adventure 2, the 10th-anniversary title for the series, for instance. The game was featured on the cover of several magazines, contests were run for a chance to win the game along with some Sonic 10th Anniversary merchandise, and a giant poster of Shadow the Hedgehog with the caption “Unleashed” draped the Los Angeles Convention Center like the American flag at E3 2001.

The amount of gameplay content Sega packed into Sonic Adventure 2 — story campaigns from the Hero and Dark perspectives, side missions, and the beloved Chao Garden — was enough to give fans enough bang for their buck. It was so popular that when the Dreamcast was put to pasture, Sega ported it over to the Nintendo GameCube under Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, which introduced a multiplayer battle mode (hence the title).

In 2003, Sega went similarly hard with the marketing for Sonic Heroes. It was the first Sonic game to go multi-platform, releasing not only on the GameCube, but on PS2, Xbox, and PC as well in an attempt to introduce younger audiences to the Blue Blur. Sega went so far as to dub it the Year of Sonic, releasing Sonic X onto the American airwaves and McDonald’s Happy Meal toys to tie into the game (even though those toys came out several months after its release, oddly enough), as well as airing wacky commercials. With team-based gameplay, four storylines, level designs tailored to each team (not to mention the return of Team Chaotix), and graphics that were a huge improvement from the Sonic Adventure games, Sonic Heroes proved to be commercially successful.

It seems clear that Sega might be anticipating a repeat of that success with Frontiers … or at least that it hopes for one.

Finding the right advertising balance

That’s not to say that big marketing pushes have always paid off for Sega. Sonic ’06 is an infamous example. It was developed exclusively as a launch title for the PS3 and Xbox 360, but the final product didn’t live up to the heavy marketing resulting from the series’ 15th anniversary.  That was due to various factors, including crunch issues and the development team being split in half.

Fast forward to 2017, and Sega’s marketing strategy for Sonic Forces involved releasing a heavy stream of trailers on YouTube every week and collaborating with Hooters in Japan. Yes, you read that correctly — Hooters. In the end, the game was a commercial failure due to a lackluster avatar creator system, sloppy writing (save for Episode Shadow), stiff animation, dull lighting, and some antagonists being falsely advertised as boss fights. It was the only mainline console Sonic game to cost $40 at launch — a price tag that perhaps foreshadowed a lack of confidence in the final product. I still have the Sonic Forces PS4 controller skin that came with my GameStop pre-order to prove it, and I’ve come to regret it.

Promotional skin of Sonic Forces on PS4 controller.
Cristina Alexander/Digital Trends

Frontiers is a completely different story, though. There was radio silence from Sega about the game between the teaser trailer on the May 2021 Sonic Central stream and its announcement trailer at The Game Awards seven months later. With a more cautious approach, Sega would wait for a more coordinated content blowout with previews on IGN First and a public demo at Gamescom 2022. That was followed up by the announcement of a full-priced release and a very competitive holiday launch date. Unlike Sonic Forces, Sega seems confident it has a hit on its hands here.

While the game has gotten some mixed buzz (we weren’t sure what to make of it when we played it at Summer Game Fest), Sega’s marketing campaign is sending a strong message to fans. This isn’t a throwaway installment of the series; it’s a big, important one you won’t want to miss. 

It’s not clear if that gamble will pay off. At one point, Sega was successful in releasing mainline Sonic titles during the busy holiday months, but that gamble has not paid off in 20 years. While it did see some level of success with Heroes, Unleashed, and even Colors, ’06 and Forces fell extremely short of the promises their respective marketing cycles gave.

This year, Sega is going big time in betting on Sonic Frontiers against Skull and Bones, God of War: Ragnarok, and Pokemon Scarlet and Violet. The last two games will be sales behemoths, so Frontiers is going up against titans. While Director Morio Kishimoto said in a recent interview that Frontiers underwent internal playtesting once every three to four months throughout its development until July, and the game just won an award for Best Upcoming Game at the Tokyo Game Show — a first for the series — the game’s ultimate fate remains up in the air. Still, don’t count Sega out of the fight. Its marketing decisions may be bold, but that could signal that Sonic Frontiers is in very good shape.

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