SEGA celebrated Sonic’s 30th birthday in the best way possible last night. The publisher hosted a two-hour live-stream which featured a live orchestra and two bands playing songs that spanned the series’ history.
It was not only an absolute delight to sit and watch with friends, but it was also a great way to relive 30 years of one of gaming's most loved mascots.
It also confirmed something I’d thought about for a long time. SEGA does a far better job of celebrating its properties than Nintendo does. In terms of fan service, SEGA does what Nintendwon’t (heh).
It’s also the birthday of another pretty big series, but you wouldn’t really know it from the little fanfare Nintendo has made. The Legend of Zelda turned 35 this year. The best nintendo could muster up was a special edition Zelda Game & Watch console (have fun scalpers) and a remaster of Skyward Sword for the Nintendo Switch.
A very (un)happy birthday
Truthfully, Nintendo’s lack of fanfare for Zelda’s 35th anniversary is emblematic of how it treats its entire catalogue of titles. This is a company which sits on some of the best games ever created. However, rather than making those games readily accessible, Nintendo continues to drip feed content at an alarmingly slow rate.
Nintendo did celebrate Zelda’s 30th with a bit more fanfare five years ago, but it primarily revolved around an Amiibo release and a live orchestra in Japan. The orchestra is available to view on YouTube thanks to fans, but it was mostly a pretty dismal way to celebrate the series. Nintendo did also release a Wi U Skyward Sword port later in the year, which makes the upcoming re-release feel even less inspired.
The Legend Of Zelda’s 35th birthday was the perfect opportunity to start rereleasing older Zelda titles on the Nintendo Switch. There’s over 30 years of games in the series, but there’s a notable number of major exceptions missing, including titles on the N64, Gamecube and Nintendo Wii. Instead, we got a port of a game Nintendo ported 5 years ago to the previous console. Skyward Sword is actually a very good game, but it clearly wasn’t what fans wanted.
Embrace the community
SEGA doesn’t always get everything right. However, it has done a fantastic job of embracing the Sonic community in recent years. Rather than forcing fans to shutter projects, SEGA embraces it. SEGA is such a fan of the community that it let one of the series' most prominent modders, Christian Whitehead, create Sonic Mania. Rather than trying to control every element of Sonic, SEGA listens to the community and embraces its ideas.
It’s understandable that Nintendo is a little more controlling over its properties. The Zelda series has fundamentally always held a higher standard of quality than Sonic. However, this doesn’t mean Nintendo can’t stand to adopt a more fan-friendly eco system. Instead of shutting down fan projects that aren’t made for profit, embrace them. Allow the community to meet the demand Nintendo clearly does not want to.
Nintendo either needs to loosen its grasp over properties, or be a little less aggressive in taking down fan projects. Ultimately, it's the community of fans that drive the hype and sales behind a title. Embracing them a bit more would enable Nintendo to manage disappointment levels during its weaker Direct showcases. It would also ensure the developer is in touch with what fans want.
Ultimately, Nintendo is going to do what it wants. It always has and it always will. However, even if Nintendo just adopted a little more of SEGA’s willingness to embrace fans, it would create a far better consumer relationship.
P.s. if you haven’t watched SEGA’s 30th Sonic Anniversary yet, I recommend giving it a watch.