Editorial: Sony marketing failures have caused PS3 downfall

Despite a record breaking launch, PlayStation 3 sales have since failed to accelerate to expected levels and the Japanese console has been left trailing both the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Xbox 360 by a considerable margin. Much fuss has been made about the price point of the PS3 and the dire need for a reduction, and although it is the most expensive option in the home console market it is by no means overpriced. Marketing for the £300 console has been few and far between here in the UK, where Sony has relied heavily upon brand loyalty to drive sales. This is the area where Sony has faltered, and they must acknowledge this fact before it is too late.

Going back to basics

The collective agreement amongst video game enthusiasts is that Sony is out of touch with the market. Sales numbers have been on a downward spiral for some time now, and calls for a much needed price cut have never been louder in the run up to E3 in June. The benefits of a lower price are undeniable, but more is required if Sony are to secure long term stability in the console market they once used to dominate.

Sony has starved the PlayStation 3 of appropriate, direct marketing since its launch. The "This Is Living" drive, which has accompanied the console since its introduction here in Europe, is completely extraneous and ambiguous, showing no relevance to the console whatsoever. The adverts do however reek of Sony's style and substance, further highlighting their dependence on brand allegiance within the European market and their requirement to expand. Sony needs to distance itself from this inclination, and instead look to showcase the PlayStation 3 and its strengths, something which both Microsoft and Nintendo in particular have excelled at.

We've all seen the Wii commercials which includes gamers, families and occasionally celebrities, all enjoying the console and having fun, the fundamental core of video games. The simplistic concept of filming a wide variety of people playing combined with footage of the featured game clearly drives home the desired message - that the Wii is fun for everybody. Microsoft's Xbox 360 has also profited from a targeted series of advertisements, with each one focusing on a different feature or title available on the console. The point is that both Nintendo and Microsoft have used direct, minimal and informative advertising to complement their consoles. The extent to which a credible marketing structure impacts on sales remains to be seen, but Sony's lack of marketing sure isn't helping them.

Sony must take a step back and look at the bigger picture. The PlayStation 3 is by no means a poor console, and they must acknowledge this by playing to its strengths. Make the public of aware of Blu-ray and its movie capabilities, showcase the variety of downloadable content available on the PlayStation Network Store, mention the free online gaming component (which isn't an option on Xbox 360) and finally, use their casual properties such as SingStar and Buzz! to their advantage and draw attention away from your competitors. By doing all of this, Sony is pitching the PS3 as a console that has broad appeal which packs a little something for everyone.

Market your blockbuster titles to hell and back

Sony's inability to grasp marketing was epitomised following the recent launch of the highly anticipated Killzone 2. Originally showcased at E3 in 2005, Guerilla Games' theatrical shooter is a visual masterpiece and has been praised by critics. Despite a respectable sales tally of approximately 1.4 million copies worldwide thus far, one cannot help but imagine what this figure could have been given the unprecedented scale, significance and reported budget ($60m) of the title. So what exactly went wrong? Why has Sony's blockbuster failed to capture so many gamers' imaginations?

To my surprise, the marketing push in the run up to the release of Killzone 2 was relatively tame for a title of such magnitude and importance. Like most triple A releases these days, the game was splashed across the pages of popular news and magazine publications, as well as appearing on our television screens during commercial breaks. But the marketing campaign lacked that extra ingredient a game like Killzone 2 was worthy of, and more importantly, needed. It's no secret that Sony has lost the exclusivity rights to the majority of its big hitters (namely Final Fantasy and Grand Theft Auto) from the PlayStation 2 era, so you would assume they'd be looking to prove that developing exclusively for their system is a worthwhile investment. Sony were clearly aware of the impact the game could have had in the grand scheme of things, but yet they still failed to capitalise upon the opportunity.

The Killzone series has often been touted as the PlayStation equivalent of Halo, and I'd argue that both are equally as important franchises to their respective home consoles. Whilst Halo is undeniably the more established video game series that holds a place in modern day culture, both games represent the pinnacle of the shooter genre on each system and are clearly respected and regarded throughout the industry. The direct comparison of each games sales and reception isn't entirely reasonable, but one can surely understand the similarities.

Cast your mind back to the summer of 2007, when Microsoft spent over $40m sending the world Halo crazy in the months running up to the release of the final installment to the trilogy in September. Whether it was the Covenant Slurpees, Mountain Dew Game Fuel or Halo themed Burger King meals, Microsoft had put a Halo spin on practically everything conceiving a marketing promotion like no other in video game history. The campaign was a thumping success as Halo 3 broke all previous records grossing over $170m within 24 hours of sales in the U.S. alone. By January 2008, after only 3 months on the shelves, Microsoft confirmed that 8.1 million copies of Halo 3 had been sold worldwide.

However successful it may have been for Microsoft and Halo, Sony were reluctant to take heed from Microsoft, who, almost 2 years ago, orchestrated the infamous Halo frenzy. Killzone 2 was granted a pitiful £2m advertising budget for the UK, generating little more than the television broadcasts and newspaper prints I previously referred to. This is a prime example of Sony's failure to embrace a distinct and effective marketing strategy, and is the principal reason why Killzone 2 has so far sold below expectations.

Let the product do the talking

A fair portion of the blame for the consoles below par sales must fall upon senior Sony management. Throughout the course of the PlayStation 3's lifespan, Kaz Hirai, Jack Tretton, Phil Harrison, Ken Kutaragi and numerous other Sony bosses have, at times, all been detrimental to the potential success of their console. A handful of their public comments have been misleading, inconsistent, unprofessional and hypocritical, and it is without a doubt that Sony officials have become an infamous public relations disaster, leaving a trail of bad press and mass hysteria in their wake.

Time after time Sony officials have ended up making a mockery of themselves, making outlandish remarks and comparisons. By contradicting themselves, criticising the competition unnecessarily and generally causing confusion, Sony is only fuelling further collateral damage they could do without. It is imperative that they learn to stamp out this kind of behaviour. They seem insistent on dismissing both Microsoft and Nintendo, when it is completely unnecessary. Instead Sony must adapt, learning to stick to straight facts and endorse offerings available on only their products. A direct comparison with similar products is certainly encouraged, but they must be sure not to condemn during the process.

Summary

If Sony can't afford to slash the price of their hardware, then they'll need to step up the advertising game if they are to survive. Utilise those dormant PR and marketing departments and tell gamers why they need a PlayStation 3.

If the rumours are to be believed, Sony is preparing to unveil the new PSP Go! at E3 in a little under a month's time. With the release expected to be sometime this fall, the launch provides Sony with the perfect opportunity to ride the publicity and launch a new PlayStation marketing front, incorporating both the PSP and PS3.

It's evident that Sony hasn't been the most active of companies when it's come to marketing, but all that needs to change. Peter Dille recently confided in Gamasutra, acknowledging Sony's prior marketing efforts were inadequate. Perhaps everything is about to change after all.

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