With so many recent rumors flying around the internet about Sony announcing the PS3 Slim at next week’s Cologne Gamescom, it’s hard not to sit up and pay attention. According to a deluge of “industry insiders”, the new compact system will finally usher in the oh-so-important price cut that everyone has been screaming for.
The general consensus seems to be that a lower price point is exactly what Sony needs to reinvigorate the system and bring in more sales, but I think these people are missing the big picture.
This generation’s console war has been going on for almost three years and the behemoth that was the Playstation brand is still sitting in last place. Sony’s fortune does not appear to be changing as everyone thought it would, and I believe they will need more than a cheaper and slimmer PS3 to turn the tide of this battle. If they want to win the console war, Sony needs to completely reinvent the Playstation image.
Do you remember when the Playstation brand was the all-mighty hand of God in the video game industry? Back during those “good old” days of the PS1 and PS2, if Sony told its developers to jump, they would say “how high?”. When told to run, they would ask “how far?!” Sony had so many developers eating out of their hands back then that they didn’t have anything to worry about from the competition. I bet all the company executives would just sit back in their comfy leather chairs and laugh when Nintendo or Microsoft would try to make a move on them. Sony simply couldn’t be touched back in the late 90’s and early part of this century.
Well things aren’t how they used to be. Nintendo isn’t the “little company that could” and Microsoft’s Xbox brand isn’t some pet project of Bill Gates anymore. The competition has gotten serious. Nintendo is constantly leading the sales charts and Microsoft is revolutionizing the online console space. While all of this happened, Sony has continued to sit back in their ignorance and proclaim they are the leader in the industry. Unfortunately, the once great and powerful Sony isn’t the leader of anything anymore.
Developers aren’t eating out of the hands of Sony like they used to. Square Enix has moved on and is now bringing Final Fantasy XIII to the XBOX360. Konami will also be delivering the next big Metal Gear Solid game to the 360 and Electronic Arts has shifted a great deal of its focus from the PS3 to the Wii. The days of the third party exclusive are gone and Sony can no longer rely on others to do their work. They need to change their game plan and they need to use the PS3 slim to do so.
Many people are excited that if the rumored system is real it would mean a price cut, which would surely boost sales and bring people back the Playstation brand. What everyone is forgetting is that in the end, price really doesn’t matter. It’s the perception of an item’s worth in comparison to its price that really makes the difference.
For example, I know plenty of people who complain that the $400 PS3 is too expensive. Those same people will go out and spend $500 on a brand new wake board, or $700 on a new mountain bike, both of which they will probably only use six to seven times a year. It completely boggles my mind, yet this happens all the time, even to me. People’s perception of what they think something is worth will completely affect how much money they spend on it.
The lesson to be learned from this is that people still perceive the PS3 as not worth $400. If this is the case, and I will strongly argue that it is, are consumers really going to change their minds if the system drops to $300? I don’t think they will. There is still just too much competition out there from companies that have a clear mindset about what their product is, and what value it brings to its customers. Right now, Sony doesn’t know what the PS3 is, because it’s trying to be everything to everyone.
I mean seriously, what is the PS3? Is it a cheap Blu-ray player? Is it a photo viewer? Is it an internet browser? Sony says it’s all of those things “and” a video game console: an all-in-one entertainment device. This is exactly the image the company has used to market the system with for the past 3 years. Well Blu-ray players are now under $200, so Sony can’t use the “cheap Blu-ray player” selling point anymore. Most people do their internet browsing and photo viewing on their computers, so no one really cares about those features. What Sony really has to sell here is the “video game system” part of their shiny black box. Who would have ever imagined that?
I don’t want to linger too long on the “what is Sony doing wrong” argument, because I’m not here to talk about the PS3’s past. I’m here to talk about its future, and its future is the PS3 Slim. The problem is, Sony cannot simply release the PS3 Slim at a lower price point and hope its enough to sell more systems. Industry data shows that a price drop is the best way to get a quick surge in sales, but it’s not enough to sustain that increase for the long term. To do that, Sony needs to use the PS3 Slim to reinvent the image of the Playstation brand.
When the new system launches, assuming it does, Sony needs to treat it like the launch of a completely new device, with a whole new marketing campaign, and a whole new outlook on the future. They need to essentially forget about the original PS3 and act like it never existed. The PS3 Slim needs to be the new face of the Playstation “gaming brand”, with no mention of the Blu-ray player, the internet browser, or any of the other “non-video game related” features. Sony needs to concentrate on what people have come to expect from them: a great gaming system.
Right now, the 2009/2010 first-party game lineup for the PS3 is absolutely incredible. There are great titles like Uncharted 2, God of War 3, Gran Turismo 5, and The Last Guardian, which all bring something special and unique to the system that no other competitor can offer. Sony needs to buckle down and concentrate on marketing the PS3 as the “only place” to get these exclusive games. Sure the system has great games from 3rd party publishers like EA, Ubisoft, and Activision, just like their competitors. What those “other guys” don’t have is a 1st party line up of games the likes of which the world has never seen. Sony needs to push this selling point hard and make customers understand the great gaming value the PS3 has to offer.
Once Sony has changed their marketing campaign, they need to get the word out on the street in the loudest way possible. They need to think big, and starting in September one of the biggest stages in the world will be the National Football League. The company should buy exclusive rights to have the PS3 brand be one of the NFL sponsors. Notice I did not say the Sony brand. I specifically said the PS3 brand. Imagine there being a commercial for a new and exciting PS3 game every 20 minutes during a 3 hour game. Everyone who watches football would constantly get a chance to see how incredible the system is.
Of course the NFL is predominantly popular in only America, so Sony would need to branch out and sponsor other global sporting events as well. They could sponsor football leagues in Europe and South America (soccer), and possibly even Formula F1. The possibilities are endless, as long as the company is willing to get serious about marketing the system properly.
Besides a whole new marketing strategy, Sony also needs to completely overhaul their online gaming model as well. While they might gloat that they have a “free” online service, it is not stopping millions of people from paying $50 a year for Xbox Live (XBL). These people obviously think it’s worth the money to pay for the services Microsoft has to offer, or they would switch to the PS3 and it’s free online community. There are just too many things missing from the Playstation Network that keeps driving customers to pay for XBL.
Maybe people don’t like the Playstation Network because it doesn’t have the same type of party system Xbox Live subscribers love to use, or maybe it’s the fact that people have been complaining for years for the company to add cross-game voice chat and still their cries have gone unanswered. It could possibly be because Sony still does not package a headset in all of their systems like Microsoft does. No matter what it is, something keeps people from accepting that the PS3 is on the same level as the Xbox 360 when it comes to online services. Sony needs to change that, and the best time to do it is with the launch of a whole new system.
This all brings me back to my original point, that if Sony wants to once again reclaim its position as the industry leader, it needs to completely reinvent its image with the launch of the PS3 Slim. Forget about all of the other features the system has to offer, and concentrate on marketing it as a video game machine. Use the new slick look of the system to show that this is a “whole new Sony” who is serious about gaming. Then amaze people with all the new exclusive 1st party titles coming out for it. Finally, put the nail in the coffin with the new $300 price tag, to drive the point home that this is the system for the “every man”. Let’s face it, it’s time for Sony to get back in the game, and the PS3 Slim is their ticket to do just that.