Sega Hardlight has been quietly making the world’s most popular Sonic games for a long time, and it has a new title on the way. In an exclusive chat with studio director Neall Jones, we learned:
- A new game is in pre-production, and could be a Sonic game or based on another Sega IP
- The studio sees its future as multiplatform, not mobile-only
- Hardlight will outgrow its current office soon, and is eyeing up a larger space in Leamington Spa
- 2019 release Chu Chu Rocket! Universe was conceived seven years before it launched, and was first pitched as a console and mobile game before ending up on Apple Arcade
Jones says he has a team working on the new game, but it is “a year or so off yet”.
And it might not be a Sonic game. Hardlight has dabbled elsewhere in Sega’s IP catalogue before, with 2014’s Crazy Taxi: City Rush and 2019 Apple Arcade launch game ChuChu Rocket! Universe.
“There are definitely some opportunities for trying some of the well-known Sega IP on mobile, trying to find the right one is a little trickier to do,” Jones tells us. “We definitely see things moving to being more platform agnostic, and certainly for future pitches we’re looking in that direction.”
To do anything Sonic-related, including adding characters and content to its existing games, Hardlight seeks the blessing of Sonic Team boss Takashi Iizuka. Over time, Jones says Sonic Team has become more flexible with what kind of content gets added to Hardlight’s Sonic runners.
When asked about further experimentation with the beloved IP, he says: “We have some ideas spinning around for the future and you’ll have to wait and see if they materialise or not.”
It’s worth stating again: Hardlight makes the world’s most popular Sonic games. Yet the studio doesn’t get a huge amount of attention – and you get the sense that’s just how they like it. “Visibility as a studio with players can be a blessing and a curse when you are dealing with a beloved game character!” says Jones.
In September 2021 Sonic Dash passed 500 million downloads, just before its ninth anniversary. Sonic Dash 2: Sonic Boom turns seven soon and Sonic Forces is in its fifth year, and all three are successful, ongoing, regularly updated titles. Hardlight has also produced two Sonic Jump games and Sonic Racing on Apple Arcade.
“We’re amazed to see that they’re not slowing down,” Jones says of Hardlight’s Sonic runners. “What we see with Sonic, and especially Sonic Dash, is that mobile games are often the first gaming touchpoint young gamers have. They’re more likely to be given an old phone or tablet to play on from a younger age than a console or PC.”
Jones says regions where consoles aren’t so dominant, like LatAm, are big markets for its Sonic games, with Mexico and Brazil particularly strong.
It helps that there have been two hit movies lately, too. The Sonic 2 film is currently being pushed in Dash, Dash+ and Sonic Forces with new character events. “It also ties in well with featuring opportunities on the [iOS and Android] stores,” says Jones. “And that does help in terms of the number of players downloading the games.”
Hardlight has over 70 staff at HQ in Leamington Spa, most of whom work across its Sonic games. A smaller team is at work on that new game in pre-production, and another team supports other ‘Sega West’ studios like Two Point and Relic.
“We’re getting to the point that we’ll outgrow our current space in the near future,” adds Jones. “so will be looking to expand our office space, still in Leamington Spa, obviously.”