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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Why Pokémon National Dexers Failed But Sonic's Movie Got Redesigned

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - The right circumstances to affect change.

I just received this request from ShinyGirafarig, one of KoopaTV's long-time readers, which I'll transcribe here since our requests page is so popular that it no longer anchors to specific comments correctly:

“Is there a right way to ask for things from major companies?

Is there a respectable way for the target audience to ask for changes such as to make Sonic the Hedgehog more accurate in the movie? To add back all the Pokémon in a future game? Some other request? I keep seeing memes jokingly saying that "bullying worked" for why Sonic was fixed.

While there is always "vote with your wallet" sometimes bad products get sold because people did not know they would like a product after buying them and companies would get the wrong message. Or being able to actually boycott a product. A company can easily think they no longer like product when in reality the fandom does not like the direction it headed.” 

Some four years ago, I wrote an article—also driven by a KoopaTV fan request—called “The Effect of Fan Influence”. That article largely covers ShinyGirafarig's request, but rather than tell her I already wrote about it, I'm going to take my article's points as a framework, and expand on it using the two examples she brought up regarding how the Sonic the Hedgehog movie now has a redesigned Sonic the Hedgehog after fans demanded it to the movie's director, yet the National Dex concerns fans brought up with Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield were ultimately ignored for the final release.

Can the Company Collect Fan Input?

It's important that the request asked about major companies. Minor, erm, small companies, can be much more receptive to individual fan feedback because there's going to be less to go through. They're overall more agile and nimble. Often, smaller companies, like Chucklefish, even have established avenues where they can collect fan feedback in a fairly organised manner, and they're able to process it.

Major companies, especially for popular intellectual properties like Pokémon and Sonic the Hedgehog, often don't have the luxury of centralised feedback. They'll have someone running the social media channels, but they're just going to get a cacophony of noise with tens of thousands of new notifications every time they look. No one's going to look through that. There are tools out there that aggregate social sentiment, but they are often inaccurate and have a dubious return-on-investment. As the request alluded to, aggregate sentiment (which buckets things into positive, neutral, and negative) doesn't give you a “why”, which is quite important in a fan-based boycott. More importantly, the person looking at this won't be in an internal position where they can present their findings to those who could affect change.

Which brings me to the next part of the framework:

Does the Company Want to Use Fan Input?

The keyword in there is “want”, but sometimes, there are scenarios where it's more like, “Can” the company use fan input?

Let's consider Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield. We know that GAME FREAK was actually quite aware there was a lot of upset feelings over not bringing every Pokémon back. Junichi Masuda, the producer, made direct statements acknowledging that.

But they knew that'd happen, and designed the whole game around having a limited number of Pokémon. Going back and undoing that would delay the game by a catastrophic amount, and that would up-end Nintendo's plans for the 2019 holidays. That would also bring Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, and the Nintendo Switch consoles that would be sold with them, past the China electronics holiday tariff implementation date. That ends up raising costs.

Nintendo Switch holiday season 2019 games Ring Fit Adventure Luigi's Mansion Pokémon Sword Shield
Let's be clear: Pokémon is carrying Nintendo this holiday season, as declared by Nintendo in their financial results briefing a few weeks ago.
(Guilty self-reminder that I didn't play Ring Fit Adventure today.)

To the extent Nintendo has influence over Pokémon, and they have quite a bit of it, they wouldn't let that happen. You'd also end up delaying a lot of other things tied to the eighth generation, like anime, trading cards, merchandise, that special Nintendo Switch Lite Zacian and Zamazenta version, and stuff like that. This isn't like something relatively insignificant like delaying Metroid Prime 4 (which never got a release date anyway).

With our particular industry, videogames, there's also a non-business component to it: Artistic vision. Game developers reserve the right to ignore the fans, who usually want things to remain the same and dislike change, in favour of making bold choices that they feel are more artistically viable. This may still result in things many outspoken former-fans hate after release, however. (If you want an example, think of Paper Mario: Color Splash, which Intelligent Systems voluntarily wanted to make even after the reception from Paper Mario: Sticker Star.)

How Do You Get Across to Companies, Then?

Unfortunately, major consumer-oriented companies don't see their gatekeepers as the fanbase. They see the gatekeepers as the mainstream media, investors, and if applicable, the government. If the business-to-business realm, a supplier may have some business customers that represent a significant chunk of revenue for that supplier. Those major customers have a lot of market power over them and can influence decisions and get special impact into the supplier's activity. But mass-market companies, where every individual customer has a pretty similar (individually low) customer lifetime value, sees a disgruntled customer being negated by a new customer. That's clear to GAME FREAK for Pokémon. But they'll listen to the media—unless changing course is impossible, as described in the previous section—because they see the media as having a lot of consolidated influence. A media report could have the effect of a hundred thousand fans. And these major companies do keep track of media/press relations and investor relations. They have teams dedicated to that, and those teams have the ear of executives, unlike the social media team.

In the case of the Sonic the Hedgehog movie, other stakeholders, like the intellectual property holders at SEGA, may end up having a say that's different than those at Paramount Pictures, and they could absolutely overrule whatever Paramount's vision was. This theoretically could've been from SEGA seeing the media reports on Sonic the Hedgehog and thinking the negative reception could be a threat to the brand's value.

There's a new journalism trend (which will be hampered by YouTube eliminating much of its comments section in 2020) where lazy writers have articles like, “The Internet is SHOCKED by...” or “Twitter is OUTRAGED Over...” and the like. This is a way for normal fans seeking change to get acknowledged by the media. ...Though I'd also hope media relations teams don't consider those kinds of articles a legitimate source of information. Actually, major companies might see those articles as the opposite of the narrative they're trying to portray, that a desperate outlet is just fishing for click-bait by citing a vocal minority, like the mainstream media recently did with their media-manufactured (FAKE NEWS) story about a White House petition to have Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield barred from stores.

In conclusion, is there a “right”, surefire way? No. Sometimes circumstances make it impossible to get what the fans want. Often, what the fans want would actually be detrimental, and companies feel like they know better than the fans. I still suggest voting with your wallet. That also means you should never pre-order games and wait and see how they turn out. At least that's one benefit of digital distribution—there's no print runs where the game will be forever out-of-stock if you wait to see what others think of it.

Ludwig encourages you to fill out requests like ShinyGirafarig did, as well as fill out KoopaTV's Feedback Forms (and Quizzes)! That way, you can get your fan thoughts to KoopaTV's staff, since KoopaTV benefits from being a small and nimble organisation.


  1. Hey now, Color Splash was a major step in the right direction from Sticker Star. It was good enough for me to play through it 3 times, which is more than Paper Jam can say. At least it had humor, even if they were still reusing the Toad sprites too much. Paper Jam was just blaaaaaah all the way through in every category, but particularly in the gameplay. It had so much padding...I had an analogy involving an episode of the Fairly Oddparents but I can't find a good video reference for that scene so I'll just say it had a looooot of content padding.

    1. “This may still result in things many outspoken former-fans hate after release, however.”

      I'll note that I don't include myself in that category, since I wrote very positive things about Color Splash in my review and even before that. The Paper Mario sub-Reddit was actually very angry about the article that's hyperlinked off this article, because it was defending Color Splash after E3 2016. That place is incredibly bitter.

    2. ...Well at least you gave me a chance to elucidate on what I consider Color Splash's virtues again. And to bash Paper Jam. I don't think I'm going to get tired of bashing Paper Jam.

    3. I think I dislike Paper Jam at a below-average rate because I'm in it and have good dialogue.

  2. You really are learning from the pro, Phoenix Wright. It's amazing how your assumptions on what happened behind the scenes of the Sonic Movie were right:

    "Major #SonicMovie redesign details from the Schneider interview:
    - Paramount pushed for a realistic Sonic. They knew fans wouldn't like it, but believed it was going to be generally accepted.
    - Facing backlash, a meeting with SEGA was held and they decided to delay. "

    They managed to interview an employee working on the film:

    1. Me being right all the time is a good reason to come to KoopaTV!

      So yes, very different dynamic going on with that Sonic movie versus Pokémon, because the power players (SEGA vs. Nintendo) were on different sides of the issue.


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