In the early 90s, Sega found itself in second place. It's competitor, Nintendo, was a force to be reckoned with in the game industry. Coupled with the success of Nintendo's Nintendo Entertainment system and its mascot Mario, any competition had an uphill battle making a splash against the giant.
Sega did have its own mascot, Alex Kidd, but the character didn't exactly catch on. Sega needed something better, something that could not only compete with Mario and Nintendo but surpass it. It needed something that would be iconic, that would have a long lifespan. The company's answer would come in the form of a blue hedgehog named Sonic.
Early on in development, Sega decided it wanted a character that could deal damage by curling up like a ball and rolling around the level, former Sega employees gameplay designer Hirokazu Yasuhara and artist Naoto Ohshima revealed at GDC during a postmortem for the original Sonic The Hedgehog. Internally, the company came up with a few different ideas for a main character for its new game: a hedgehog, armadillo, porcupine, a dog and on "old man with a mustache."
But it was a trip to America from Japan for Ohshima that would ultimately decide what Sega's new mascot would be.
"I planned a trip to New York while this discussion was going on internally," Ohshima said. "And so, the company [was] talking and they said 'You know what, we definitely want to see something like an old guy with a mustache. We also want to see something that's spiky like a porcupine, and then we also want to see a dog.' So I drew these on a board and I went to the middle of Central Park -- this is a true story -- and I'm showing people these [boards]. I'm taking a survey and the result was that the hedgehog was the most popular over the [others]. ...
For Ohshima, the majority of people picking the hedgehog meant it was a character that would transcend race, genders and ethnicities. It was a ubiquitous mascot, and it was a massive success. That seemingly guerilla method of focus testing ended up creating a character and franchise that -- for a while, at least -- beat out Nintendo and Mario in the game industry. Since the character's introduction in 1991, Sonic's become a staple of the industry, starring in movies, dozens of games and multiple television shows. Birthed in Central Park, the series has now gone on to sell more than 360 million copies.
And if you're wondering why Sonic is blue, the answer is simple: Sega's logo is blue.