Sony recently announced the Playstation 4 at an event that streamed to approximately 3 million viewers in 7 different languages worldwide. In it Sony touted the strength of the console, showed off plenty of games, and spoke to the major problems of the Playstation 3 – social interactions and online structure, an easy to develop for architecture, and a heavy focus on instant content without the need for long downloads. Whether it makes good on these promises is anyone’s guess, the tally is about 50:50 with the Playstation 3’s promise-to-reality ratio. With Microsoft having yet to weigh in with its hardware and the WiiU all but dead in the water until Nintendo gets some strong software behind it, Sony looks on top of the world, right? Wrong. Sony has a major issue in its midst (at least in North America) that will shadow all of the great Playstation brand efforts if it isn’t critically dealt with soon: marketing.
Guy W. Longworth is the Vice President of Playstation Brand Marketing at Sony and according to the SCEA Management web site he is “responsible for all aspects of PlayStation marketing, including product marketing, brand development, PR and promotions.” This means that Mr. Longworth is responsible for any and everything that Sony handles in terms of marketing the Playstation brand and frankly he’s doing a shitty job. I know, I know, he’s not the only person who is doing the marketing, in fact his function at SCEA (Sony Computer Entertainment of America) probably has little to do these days with individual marketing campaigns and concepts, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s responsible for everything his team does. I’m sure if I were to ask him head on that he would give me some diatribe about market conditions, brand awareness, ROI (return on investment) potential, and maybe even wax a bit on the relationship between sales potential and subsequent marketing budgets. Most of us hear this “jargon” and roll our eyes or admit we don’t know much about actual high level marketing – well I have a degree in strategic communications that includes advertising plans and marketing concepts and even I don’t get it. The plain fact is that SCEA’s marketing team is selling us on the brand and little more in this country, which tells me they just don’t get it. Whether it’s Guy Longworth or his constituents something has to change and fast because Microsoft gets it (despite occasionally chasing that ball of yarn that is the Kinect). Of course it’s all here say without examples, so here we go.
Is Playstation Even Releasing Software?
God of War Ascension is coming out in a week and anyone who has been watching television probably knows about it because the commercials don’t stop coming, but are you aware that Sony first party has released six titles in only four short months: LittleBigPlanet Karting, Playstation All-Stars: Battle Royal, Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault, Killzone HD Collection, Resistance HD Collection, and Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time? You may have been aware of some of these titles but the hard fact is that for most of America it’s possible you had no idea these games released because Sony did little to no marketing on them. It’s too bad because certain titles like Sly Cooper and Ratchet & Clank, regardless of your personal opinion on them (because a marketing team cannot bring personal feeling into it), could really benefit from some marketing awareness and perhaps a television announcement of the respective $40 and $20 price tags complete with the Vita version of the game for free. This is what Sony needs to pump up its Playstation brand because everything they are currently marketing the entire world is already aware of. We know the Vita and Playstation 3 exist and if you were to ask the gamers that don’t follow enthusiast press they would probably name God of War and MLB The Show as the first Sony properties that come to mind. It’s unnecessary brand awareness that puts all your eggs in one basket, which is far from good for the development studios and games that are essentially put on the market to die. Not only that, what the hell is with the endless previews of the television show Vikings in the God of War demo, padding it to a whopping 3.7 gigs and loading it with content I don’t give a crap about? As a fan of many of the unappreciated and unmarketed titles it’s disheartening. On a side note, seeing the push of titles in that presser like Diablo 3, a new Killzone title, and several others worries me that Sony is focusing on the “what’s hot” checklist instead of sticking to its guns on what’s Sony. This is even a larger concern with the business development side’s push on indie games; if you can’t market a big budget title like Sly Cooper how in the hell are you going to inform anyone about indies?
It’s not a whole lot different on the third-party front either. I’ve had countless friends tell me they’ve seen a ton of Vita commercials and are interested in the console but they don’t know what games are available. When I say Gravity Rush, Persona 4 Golden, or even Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation they blink their eyes at me, “what are those?” C’mon Sony, the greatest hits and the single best sellers on your new console and nothing. Where’s the campaign that explains for the price of Uncharted you can get a year of PSN+ and get that game along with many others for free? Where’s the campaign about upcoming titles or even just something simple to show off that the Vita has most of the popular iPhone and Android games working with control pad support? Nothing, the Vita is just this nebulous tech device that the general public has to research in order to figure out why they want one. On the subject of third-party exclusives Sony has also left to die, where’s the ad campaign on the highly praised Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch or even the Mass Effect Trilogy featuring the original title on PS3 for the first time? None of this.
It wouldn’t be that significant were it not for Sony’s biggest competitor, Microsoft, pulling out all the punches for that stuff. Microsoft always gets its logo on games for exclusive DLC, any first party Microsoft title (of which there are far fewer) gets a marketing blitz on television like you wouldn’t believe, and any 3rd party exclusive is ushered into the market by Microsoft proudly heaving the game on its shoulders. Microsoft is damn proud of its exclusive and first party titles – almost to a fault Kinect – so in the least if a game fails then all involved can at least say they tried before they failed. I haven’t seen many Microsoft properties on the Xbox release to die. Ever.
It doesn’t even stop here. SCEE, Sony’s European branch, is doing such a strong job of marketing the PSN and digital brands – which in full disclosure are catching on much better in Europe – that I often hear podcasts and read articles on American sites touting the digital deals of the European store. This isn’t because they want us to feel bad or even to cover Europe’s PSN, it’s simply because there’s so many press releases and articles that they mistake the European update for the American one. If the coverage in Europe is so great that America accidentally picks it up because they haven’t heard dick squat from their own region, you’ve got a major communication and marketing issue.
Sony has a wall of amazing hardware and a vast library of strong software going into 2013 and continuing into the holidays with Playstation 4. Its continual focus on independent developers, strong first party properties, and focus on an easy to develop for console with social interaction right at your fingertips proves that Sony gets what is required of the next console generation. Unfortunately this pathetic lack of marketing, both in terms of brand awareness and simply informing the public of new properties, can spoil the whole batch. You can have the greatest console in the world with an amazing software library to back it up but that doesn’t mean jack shit if no one knows about it.
The views expressed in this article are solely of the writer, Fred Rojas, and do not necessarily reflect the B-Team Podcast or any of its other cohosts.