Sony has convinced me of two things in recent weeks. Firstly, to buy a PlayStation Vita. Secondly, to buy a PlayStation 4.
Over the last seven years my game platform of choice has been the Xbox 360. I own a Wii and PlayStation 3, but exclusive titles aside (and by gum there are some good ones) I play most games on Microsoft’s console. The reasons are simple, the 360 has a better controller, a superior on-line service (I don’t mind paying for something that’s good) and 3rd party titles tend to perform that little bit better than on PS3. The Xbox 360 experience feels more cohesive, snappier and its media and community features are complementary and non-intrusive, even if they are pay-walled.
But now a generational change has arrived and there are a range of factors to consider before deciding on my next console. In a curious way the lack of backwards compatibility on both systems has helped level the playing field. Assessments have to be made on the respective features, benefits and software of each console, not on past loyalties. And to a large degree the assessment also has to be made on the promises that each manufacturer is making about the future of their machines.
And it’s here that Sony’s has excelled.
Based on the software available at launch an immediate purchase of either next-gen system doesn’t feel entirely warranted, but Sony have done the better job at positioning the PlayStation 4 as the device that speaks to those who are a passionate about games. Their marketing approach has been clear and consistent, it’s a message that builds on the heritage of the PlayStation brand and positions the PlayStation 4 as a cool new device. PlayStation feels relevant again. Sony has clearly identified their target audience for the PS4 launch. They are focusing on the core functions of the system, those that speak to early adopters and committed gamers. In the long-term the PlayStation 4 will be much more than a games machine, but right now that is what Sony are choosing to market. They have plenty of years ahead to develop a message for the mums, dads, TV whores, and grannies who like to bowl.
The “4theplayers” campaign positions Sony on the side of the game community. This narrative builds trust in the brand and is something that Microsoft (and Nintendo with the Wii U at least) could learn from. The courtship of indie studios only enhances this, making the PS4 feels like a system designed by gamers, for gamers. It’s a console that can happily be home to the biggest blockbusters, yet also support and enable new ideas from the thriving indie scene.
But a good marketing campaign can only get you so far, you need a good product behind it. Therefore it must worry Microsoft that Sony is delivering this message backed by a system that not only has a much lower price, but is also technically superior. Microsoft has been caught in a defensive loop for months, apologising and promising that things will improve. To give them credit, they have listened. But this only draws attention to how much they fudged their announcement campaign in the first place.
Sony’s positioning has a positive effect on the PlayStation Vita. The Vita has plenty of good games that make it a worthwhile platform in itself, but the perception of the device has improved greatly by association with the PlayStation 4. My personal investment in a Vita was not only motivated by the chance to play Tearaway et al, but also because it will become a companion device with far greater uses once I purchase a PlayStation 4. Microsoft on the other hand are insistent on foisting Kinect on us, a device about which I have yet to see a universally positive response. Sony’s mutually beneficial ecosystem of consoles has far more resonance with me.
Add to this a subscription service that throws games at you, as well as services, and the PlayStation family of systems is an extremely attractive proposition.
Naturally it’s software that will make the ultimate difference, which is as it should be, and on that front Microsoft may have a long term advantage with TitanFall’s exclusivity, but right now Sony has the momentum.
And my money.
How Sony sold the PlayStation future
- Clearly defined the early adopter/game audience
- Created a narrative around the PS4 as games machine
- Emphasised the PS4s credentials by using indie developer support
- Positioned the PS4 as an gaming evolution rather than corporate led media revolution
- Offered a more full featured subscription service
- Quietly let their superior technology speak for itself
- Used brand heritage and humour to create a connection