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Sonic 4: Why we did what we did.

I didn’t want to make this post, in all honesty.

However, over the past 24 hours, there’s been a reaction from the larger Internet community who can’t seem to understand why we took the step of removing all Sonic 4 discussion on both our forums and IRC and there’s largely been a backlash. I’d like to address some of this backlash, as it seems in our silence there has been misinformation, assumption and arrogance on why we did what we did.

From the first announcement of Project Needlemouse back in September, Sonic Retro has been abuzz over this game. A teaser trailer that really told us nothing at all generated hundreds of pages of discussion. It’s been really clear that this project was in part directly aimed towards our portion of the fanbase: the older members yearning for a return to the 2D classics. The people who wrote long, scholarly topics discussing the minutiae of level design. The people who studied the physics of the Mega Drive Sonic engines so thoroughly that they now know every difference between each one. The people who felt so passionately about the superiority of these games that they took apart these games in hopes of recreating the magic themselves in a way that they could share with people, who like themselves, loved this so much.

If you’ve watched the leaked videos released over this week, it should be pretty clear to you that on multiple levels, Sonic 4 is trying to answer these pleas. In the nearly ten years I’ve been part of the Sonic fandom, I see quite a bit of things that were asked for showing up in these videos. Do not think that Sega is unaware of the things that were written over time. Sega is well aware of Retro and has been for years.

That’s why, when Sonic 4 was formally announced, Sega approached us in the hopes of working with us to help them. As they had been used to taking feedback from the site for years passively, the idea was that we would help in creating an active feedback cycle that would get the community involved in the series. When we spoke to representatives, we were looking forward to establishing a relationship that would lead to things that would ultimately help the Sonic fan community: not only would our feedback and criticism be used in a major way, we would be able to gain access to things that we cannot now get under current procedures. This was essentially a trial balloon to show that the fans who were truly passionate about Sonic would be helpful to the process rather than a hindrance.

The agreement made between Sega and Sonic Retro concerning the inevitable issue of information and asset leaks was simple: we agreed that while it would be near-impossible to stifle forum conversation (and in fact that if we did so, it would simply move elsewhere, given the nature of the Internet), we could help in minimizing leak impact by not publishing leaks on our front page. This seemed like a reasonable accommodation and we agreed. Moreover, the staff of the site privately discussed what we felt would be OK as a leak, given that said leaks, while providing valuable early feedback and whetting fan appetites, could potentially damage our relationship with Sega or even bring legal repercussions, seeing as this is not exactly a game released 16 years ago.

Because the leaks we had experienced prior to this week fell under things we felt were non-damaging and potentially helpful (early video, text of achievements, pictures, music), we took no direct action. Nearly all of these leaks also originated at Sonic Retro and this was something we did not have a problem with, as we did speak to each person who leaked these assets privately. However, throughout this past week, one of our members decided to continue leaking videos to a point where essentially the entire game was shown, and we felt that crossed a line that we could no longer morally support and pulled discussion entirely.

There have been several rebuttals to this action, and I’d like to address that now. The first is that we did not ban this member upon their leaks. The fact is that if you’re reading this on a connection, you have at least some familiarity with how discussion spreads on the Internet. If we had suppressed the links this member posted, we would look dumb: when people see something they know is valuable, they right-click-save and proceed to spread it everywhere. In fact, this is what happened with the last few leaks, as the member chose to leak in IRC rather than post. People are eager to put up mirrors and share with friends and sites, and that’s only normal. For us to clamp down on this member would simply mean that he would move to another medium or forum, and the discussion would still come back to Retro anyway. It’s better to hold the upper hand to strike when needed than to do so too soon.

The second has to do with our front page posting. If you look through our posts, you will see that barring one post by a moderator who was not fully briefed about how to handle front page posts in this situation, all our “leaked” material are relatively low-impact. Once this moderator was informed of the procedure on Sonic 4, they removed the link.

We have never in our history received a cease & desist order from Sega in spite of the things we do on this website, and that is something we are proud of. The way we try to handle the Sonic franchise is one with respect; we do not condone piracy of Sonic games and believe whatever game copying and modification should be done out of research and desire to know more about Sonic than simply skirting the law. The reason at the end of the day that we enjoy looking at prototypes is not to boost our e-credibility or because we enjoy playing buggy, half-finished games; it’s because we want to know everything about the development process and see what was left on the cutting room floor.

This is partly why I find those accusing us of being upset over having some sort of exclusivity in the works or something so ridiculous. Barring a single leak involving achievement text and a video sent anonymously to GameVideos, every single reveal about Sonic 4 has come from…Sonic Retro. If we were concerned about exclusivity, we would be actively hocking the fact that these leaks came from us–“Come to Sonic Retro, where we can even beat the press!”–and would have no reason to pull discussion at all. Indeed, the fact that we did not do this seems to upset people.

The fact of the matter is that as a staff, we respect this franchise a bit more than that. I understand in a way that very few people can that there are many people upset over this game in the same way many people are excited for this game. As an administrator, I have read over 10,000 posts (yes, every single one!) concerning the Sonic Retro membership’s feeling on Sonic 4, in addition to other forums, blogs, gaming media and sources. I can articulate every positive and negative argument about the game in painful detail, because I have had to listen to people on both poles yelling in IRC channels, chat rooms and instant messages. It’s to a point where I haven’t even bothered giving my opinion publicly because I have been accused of being a Sonic 4 cheerleader and someone determined to see the game fail within 15 minutes of each other.

Regardless of your opinion on the game, though, I want to make one thing very clear: the people you think you are one-upping or hurting when leaks happen are not the people they are hurting. The fact of the matter is that Dimps or Iizuka is not really going to feel the repercussions of your blistering critique of the reuse of the Sonic Rush engine or your mocking of Mad Gear Zone as “Rehash of a Rehash Zone”–at least, not yet, anyway. The people you ARE hurting–the members of Sega of America and Sega of Europe who have reached out to the community and its sites–are the very people who are trying to make sure that your voices do eventually get heard by the developers, and that’s the real irony of all this. It is amazing at this point that Sega has decided NOT to throw their hands in the air and ignore us.  To say “oh, well Sega deserves this” is incredibly selfish and not sticking it to the man–at all. You can’t complain that the Sonic series has been an abused workhorse–something that for the record, I agree with–and then spit in the hand of the people reaching out to try to make it NOT SUCK. This isn’t going to happen overnight, guys. Sonic 4 isn’t going to magically be everything to everyone, nor could it be in all honesty. However, it CAN be improved, and to see people turn away from that to go with emotions of hate and spite really galls me both as an administrator and a fan of Sega.

With that being said, we do have a plan for how to handle Sonic 4 in the future, and we will eventually take off the current embargo on discussion. However, that can only happen if we have the cooperation of this community, and right now there seems to be more people who believe they are “entitled” to fucking things up. Protip: you don’t. I have tried to say this in the past with multiple warnings in the Sonic 4 thread and two Shark Week suspension sprees, but it seems the message didn’t get across. I did a faux-threat that upset people but the message didn’t get across. I pull discussion altogether…and the message isn’t getting across, as surprise, I’m a member of  most of the same places this community is doing their bitching in. Understand that pulling discussion was pretty much the last thing anyone wanted to do, and we tried to take as many steps as we could to prevent it, but we felt it necessary to help minimize the impact of the video leaks.

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