Sonic Boom's producer blames focus groups and over-ambition for game's failure

Former Sega of America producer Stephen Frost has gone on–record to explain why Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric performed so poorly at review. Speaking on the Sega Nerdcast, Frost explained that the game "overextended our grasp, in some ways". He also lamented the fact that the team forgot that Sonic needs to be fast. The reason? Focus groups. Apparently the focus groups they spoke to said that Sonic was too fast and they couldn't control him any more, so they decided to slow him down. But then that meant the traditional fans weren't happy. He said:

"We had very ambitious goals, we really wanted to deliver on something that people were excited about that captured the speed but also added new gameplay components. The thing that we kept hearing in focus tests, all the time, 'it's all about speed all the time, it's all about speed all the time. I can't play Sonic any more, it's too fast.' So it's like, OK, well let's try to slow him down. But that pisses off people who like traditional Sonic games, right? So you try to find a middle ground."

He also went on to explain that reinventing Sonic with a brand new dev team was too much to ask and there were too many features included in the design that meant they ended up rushing to get it all done on time.

"The biggest mistake in Boom was trying to cram too much into the game. Not only were we trying to make just a really good Sonic game, we were trying to add more to it. We overextended our grasp in some ways. We're trying to add in a bungee mechanic, and we're adding combat, and we're adding puzzles, vehicles, hopefully a more compelling story and a bunch of different environments. And it's just a lot, you know? If there's any lesson for me, it's that being too ambitious can be bad."

Frost also explained that the core Sonic concept is very simple. "Only so many chaos emeralds, no vehicles…" but there's only so much that can be done with that. So reinventing Sonic as a spin-off series presented an opportunity to make a richer world that would support more ideas, for future games but also for the new Archie comic book series and the cartoon. But he also sees the fact that Sonic games are primarily a solo experience as being a problem.

"Solo Sonic games, I don't know how long that can last - there isn't enough variety to sustain it. The future of Sonic games needs to be co-op. It worked really well in Sonic Boom, community and online play, that sustains it. In general, you need to do multiplayer and add online multiplayer aspects. That will sustain and keep the franchise alive."

"We put speed on the shelf for a little too long and we focused on other stuff like co-op and things like that. In hindsight, I would have made the team focus on speed at the beginning and try to nail the feeling of that and then let that permeate into all the other gameplay features we were building, versus the other way around."

It could be concluded from this interview that Sega currently has little idea what Sonic is or what he should be, as I outlined in my editorial about how Sonic should be retired. It is worth noting, however, that Sonic Boom was developed by Big Red Button, not Sonic Team, and the next core Sonic game has yet to be announced. Sonic Team itself has been working on a mobile-only Sonic title, Sonic Runners, so exactly when the next console entry will be unveiled remains to be seen. Will it be focused around co-op, puzzle-solving and bungee lines? Probably not.