State of Gaming ’11: The Sony Brand
While the article title says “The Sony Brand”, this article will mostly focus on the PlayStation 3.
However, I shall briefly touch on the PlayStation Vita. As it stands right now, it doesn’t look like Sony has learned many lessons from the PSP’s life-time. While the Vita looks like a more promising device this turn around, I feel it deals more with the missteps that Nintendo has taken and less with what Sony is offering. I mean on paper, the PSV is launching at a similar price to the PSP, and is still promising console gaming on the go. Two conditions that really didn’t help make the PSP a household name last gen.
The key difference this time around (aside from the 3DS soft launch reception and piss poor battery) are that Sony is offering key exclusive franchises up front in LittleBigPlanet and Uncharted, and promise greater connectivity between the PSV and Ps3. However, the former may not be as note-worthy as Sony would hope, as you’ll find out throughout the course of this article.
Moving on to the PlayStation 3. I will beat around the brush with this way, no matter how the next 2-3 years turn out, the PlayStation 3 is considered a major failure. Coming off of two consoles which both sold in excess of 100 million units, to sell half of that can only be considered a step back. Not only that, but they have lost the “mind-share” associated with several key 3rd party franchises such as Grand Theft Auto, Devil May Cry and Final Fantasy.
Why share this up front? I honestly don’t want this to be seen as an article attacking Sony and the PlayStation brand, but I also won’t deny my belief that they had several miscalculations this generation. It is a simple acknowledgement that Sony is no longer the dominant brand of gaming, and that will be a theme running through the article.
First, I should note that this article is mostly a reactionary piece to Airborne Gamer (Why PS3 Games Sell than Xbox 360) article. After reading the article, I saw some merits in their reasoning, but felt they didn’t push the explanation further.
The gist of the article, though I do recommend reading it, is that Sony’s exclusives sell less because they compete amongst themselves. Sony has 3 main FPS franchises in Killzone, Resistance and MAG where as Microsoft really only has Halo. Then they have multiple TPS such as Uncharted, Warhawk and SOCOM. The idea that splitting sales potentially across multiple titles has merit, but I think there is a much deeper reasoning behind it.
To quote the Incredibles, “Everyone can be Super, and once everyone is Super… no one will be.” To me, this sums up Sony’s approach to publishing their games. Everything they release, is the next mega-hit waiting to happen. And that doesn’t need to be and shouldn’t be the case. Not every movie is billed as the 500 million dollarÂ juggernaut, not every book is a New York Times Best-seller, and not every game needs to be billed as the next great thing. Not only does it take away the focus from each game, it also divides your resources. You look at Nintendo and Microsoft, and there’s never any doubt what’s their bread and butter. You look at Sony, and it changes with the release of each game.
And I can see the cogs turning in your heads already, and I will agree. From a gaming point of view, we all would prefer Sony’s method. Who cares if one game sells 1 million and the other sells 10 million, I’m not a shareholder! I’d rather get 12 of those 1 millionÂ sellingÂ games. The problem really begins when you want more of those games. We haven’t seen a sequel to Heavenly Sword or Genji, there’s no word on a Heavy Rain sequel yet. On the flip side, Microsoft has confirmed the next 4 Halo titles (and trust me, I don’t defend it, but that’s a bridge we’ll cross in due time).
An issue that goes hand in hand with that as I mentioned is the division of resources. This comes in with the marketing push. I will say that Sony’s marketing has improved over the course of the generation. None of us want to go back to those creepy baby ads that they launched the console with!
That said, I don’t feel like the Kevin Butler marketing push has been as effective as Sony and their fans would have you believe. They have been earning for close to 2 years now (I believe they debut in Sept of 2009), and there’s little proof to show that they have helped move the games they are marketing.
Someone will point out that PlayStation 3 sales began to pick up and have improved greatly since they started to air. However, since these ads debut with a 100 dollar price drop, its hard to give credit solely to Kevin Butler for that.
Let’s use VGchartz for this next section (and I don’t really recommend it often, but only for a point, not for reliable sales figures)LittleBigPlanet 4.48 Million LittleBigPlanet 2- 1.36 Million Killzone 2- 2.66 Million Killzone 3- 1.67 Million Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction- 2.16 Million Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time- 1.38 Million
As you can see, the numbers begin to paint a picture. There’s not even proof that the ads help the franchises retain the audience it originally had on the Ps3. And in all of these cases, they are on a larger install base.
I will admit to cherry-picking the numbers for the point of this article. Uncharted 2 saw growth over the first game. And then there are key games that are hard to gauge such as Gran Turismo 5 and God of War 3 since there were no other PS3 versions to compare against.
The ads do help to energize the core audience though. The problem with that is it leaves the general audience uninformed about the game as a whole. Perhaps, Sony doesn’t need to get rid of the ads, but find a way to make them more efficient tools.
The next point is something I really hate to make. Its like describing “fun” in a video game. It varies from person to person, and it has no real tangible meaning, but I think Sony games lack that “it” factor. I don’t know what “it” is nor do I know how to explain “it”, but I know “it” when I see “it”. There’s a reason millions of people still gravitate towards Mario after 25 years. There’s a reason why people clamor for more and more Halo games. There’s a certain quality about them that resonances not only withÂ enthusiasticÂ gamers, but the more recreational and mainstream ones. Its something that Sony brands have yet to be able to do. The closest probably was Crash Bandicoot back on the original PlayStation.
I’m not arguing for characters. Some of the best games of all-time lack a core character like Tetris or Pong! And obviously, Sony games have character. I think Nathan Drake is perhaps one of the most interesting characters to come out of this generation, and I think Sackboy will eventually become the Sony brand mascot. Even still, I feel like those games miss something that stops them from being mega-hits. And part of it goes back to the first point I made. If Sony treated, LittleBigPlanet and Uncharted like big deals, and only those two franchises, I feel like they could go so much further than they had. I do feel that its harder to do once you hit the 3rd and 4th installments of your game, but still a ton of potential there.
The final point, I’ll make on this subject relates to the console’s library make-up. Â Sony doesn’t create a stable ecosystem on their console. You look at Nintendo and any of their consoles, you know you’re getting family-friendly gaming for the most part. Some take issues with their colorful visuals, but it works for them. You look at Microsoft and the Xbox, and you tend to get gritty, brown-looking shooters galore. Again, some take issues with it. This goes into both companies knowing their brand well enough. When you are topped by Mario and Zelda or Halo and Gears of War, it helps other companies cater their product to your core demographic. You look at Sony, and its like a potluck of gaming. Shooters, platformers, racers, slashers, beat-em ups, whatever the hell Heavy Rain is!
Again, from a gaming perspective, it sounds heavenly (no pun intended) because you get a variety of games. Nintendo and Microsoft both put out a variety of games, Forza, Punch-out, Banjo, Wii Sports, Viva Pinata, Excitebots, etc, but it is never the focus of the system. Sony kind of needs to step up to the plate, and tell their consumers and the 3rd parties who support them, that we will be the marquee market for this type of game. Doesn’t matter if its a shooter or a racer or a platformer (though wouldn’t recommend shooter nor platformer), they just need to stake their claim somewhere and stop chasing shadows.
This also relates to them no longer being the market leader. With the PlayStation and the PlayStation 2, Sony was able to have the market cornered on nearly all genres due to the fact it received the sheer bulk of releases. That isn’t necessarily the case this generation since they share a lot of titles with the Xbox 360.
Now that should do it for discussion on the problem Sony has with selling and marketing their games, but there is one more piece of the puzzle. The PlayStation Move has been out on the market for nearly a year. And a year after release, it has let to get a single piece of compelling, must-have title.
After their e3 showing, it doesn’t appear that Sony is in any hurry to remedy that situation. It seems they are content with having Move-support in several of their key titles and some 3rd party releases. The device has a ton of potential, but Sony doesn’t appear to want to shift resources to focus on that. But this article started with a point about focusing on select titles so perhaps Sony is being wise in this scenario.
Going forward, it will be an interesting year and a half for Sony. While their die-hards were able to tout the fact they had the most exclusive games this year, so far their line-up for 2012 doesn’t look nearly as impressive. The only brands not represented this year are God of War, Gran Turismo, and I think that might be it. The Last Guardian looks promising, but thus far Team Ico’s reputation is critically acclaimed darling, commercially blah reception.
You may have noticed above that I didn’t make note of Sony’s stable of platformers (Sly, Ratchet and Jak) and that’s really because Sony hasn’t made much reference to them. Sure, we know a new Sly Cooper is in development for next year, but that’s about it. I honestly don’t even know what Jak is doing with himself, but I’ve been holding out hope for an announcement sooner or later.
3rd party support remains strong, and will continue to do so because honestly it makes no sense NOT to port to the PS3, and I do think a price drop is needed sooner rather than later.
On a positive and final note, I think as far as internal development Sony has done everything needed of them. They now output the most first/second party titles (though quality may vary), and almost all of their studios have become household names. They have a solid stable of exclusive IPs to build and grow over the next few years, and they’ve finally be smart enough to lock up the licenses as exclusives (see Spyro and Crash).
At the end of the day, I just hope Sony finishes the generation strong, and use their knowledge to fix their problems going into the next generation. Whenever that may be for them.