Makeover needed: Sony’s PlayStation


by Can we agree that Sony (NYSE: SNE) stumbled when it launched the PlayStation 3? Sales statistics can be looked at from many different angles and spun this way and that. But the bottom line, as I’m sure any Sony fan will concede, is that the PlayStation brand has suffered an agonizing defeat, at least at this point in the current console war. At the time of this writing, the PS3 has sold over 14 million units globally. Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) Xbox 360 has sold 20 million systems. And last, but most certainly not least, the Nintendo (OTC: NTDOY) Wii has moved over 29 million units across the planet.

Without a doubt, the Wii has captured the imagination of both the mainstream, casual gamer and a good chunk of the younger generation. And a good many hardcore gamers are in love with the Wii as well. Not only that, but I believe that Nintendo has been able to leverage the popularity of its DS handheld system to convert a lot of those owners into putting Wiis on their Christmas lists. It’s sort of like the phenomenon of the iPod selling Mac computers. Add to that the highly competitive pricing of the low-end model of the Xbox 360 (you can get it for $200 here in the U.S.), and you can only come to one conclusion: Sony’s PS3 needs some sort of new strategy, a makeover even, to get it back on top of the video-game heap. I’ll present a few thoughts, suggestions if you will, on how Sony’s management can turn things around.

To begin with, an entirely new advertising campaign needs to be built from the ground up. And it needs to be aggressive and attacking. Specifically, Sony needs to link the Wii to childish gaming. We all know that isn’t true, but Sony would probably benefit by trying to convey an image of superiority and maturity over its biggest rival. Imagine television ads that specifically show goofy, nerdy, unpopular kids/adults playing the Wii, and then juxtaposing such scenes with cool hardcore gamers having fun on the technically advanced PS3. Maybe an ad might show someone falling flat on their face while using the Wii Fit board. The Wii users could then be portrayed as being jealous of their PS3 counterparts. The tag line could go something like “Don’t you feel a Wii bit stupid? Be a winner. PlayStation.” If Sony can turn the Wii into a fad device that no self-respecting individual would want to own, then it might increase its console sales.

But, we can’t stop there. The makeover has to continue. And I would take a radical step with this next suggestion: ditch the Blu-ray player. I know, I know, if Sony does that, then a big chunk of its business model with the PS3 goes out the window. Management would essentially be admitting defeat on the linkage of the prized new-format paradigm and gaming. And to tell the truth, I’ve always argued that the Blu-ray functionality is an asset to be promoted to potential buyers. Yet, if Sony is to think outside of the box that it’s created, then maybe it should take Blu-ray out of the PS3 box. Come on, what else should Sony do? That would obviously allow a nice price reduction for the system, and that would mean things would heat up in terms of competition. It would give Sony a fighting chance. Plus, it would encourage Sony to focus on video games. Why let users be distracted by movies? Oh, and while I’m at it, let’s mention that huge hard drive. Do what Microsoft has done: create at least one low-end model that has no hard drive but does contain a memory unit. Sure, that will interrupt plans for domination of the living room via a multimedia hub of Sony’s design, but so what? Maybe consumers aren’t ready for their living rooms to be monopolized in such a manner.

Sony could do more things if it really wants to stay in the game. How about create an online service that would act as a killer app for the PS3? You know that one of the biggest selling points of the Xbox 360 franchise is the Xbox Live product. On an anecdotal level, hardcore players love it and use it. I don’t hear much about Sony’s online platform. Sony is, I should point out, working on the PlayStation Home experience, which is supposed to be an impressive virtual community for gamers, so perhaps the company will succeed with that, who knows (I have my doubts). Another thing the PS3 needs is its own Mario-like character. Sony does have some great, successful intellectual properties for the PlayStation universe, such as Jak & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank. But can these characters compare to trademarks such as Mario and Donkey Kong? What about Sonic? I think Sony could work on this aspect as well.

And that point naturally leads into this one: how can Sony convince parents to pony up for the PS3 instead of a Wii? Simple: make (or encourage third-party publishers to make) more games for kids! Really target the five-to-seven-year-old demographic. Make the games simple to play, don’t make the mistake that just about every software publisher makes when it programs a title that is geared, at least in part, to a kid. Seriously, how many kids have problems finishing Super Mario Galaxy? A lot. As part of any makeover, I would suggest to the powers that be that every game designed for the younger set come with an easy version that will prevent players from getting stuck (come to think of that, I myself would like that option as well, as I feel video games are, in general, too tough anyway). There is a justifiable stigma attached to both the Xbox 360 and PS3 when it comes to their kid-friendliness. Sure, both do have games that skew toward the young, but the Wii has them both beat on this count.

Sony needs to mutate, to change its video-game DNA to enhance its brand fitness so that it may once again regain its title as the champ of the entertainment console. It should attempt to reduce the price of the PS3 in any way possible, and it needs to draw a clear line of differentiation between itself and the main enemy, the Wii. It can be done. It just takes a lot of hard work and rock-solid marketing muscle. The game isn’t over yet, Sony…

UPDATE: I’ve received many comments regarding my notion of removing Blu-ray technology as part of a makeover of the Sony PlayStation brand. I would like to clarify my thoughts, as admittedly, I did a bad job in terms of being clear. In my opinion, Sony included Blu-ray as part of the PS3 system mostly for pushing that format as a new paradigm for movie-content distribution on physical media (i.e., to win over HD-DVD). I do not believe video-gaming was at the forefront of the minds of the execs (again, just my opinion). It is true that my suggestion would cause a radical technological disruption to the current PS3 strategy, but my makeover thought experiment was intended to be that — radical. I wanted to express an idea of how to change the current PlayStation paradigm almost from the bottom up.

Microsoft has gotten away with DVD media, and the Wii has gotten away with innovation over technological superiority. But I did not acknowledge the inextricable link between Blu-ray media and current PS3 design, and I should have stated that directly; and, yes, at this point, my suggestion would probably only have academic value at best, I concede. I know this addendum won’t be satisfactory to most, but I wanted to present it nevertheless to the people out there who have taken the time to read and comment on my thoughts.

Disclosure: I don’t own any company mentioned; positions can change at any time.

Does the PlayStation need a makeover? What would you suggest? Be sure to check out the other makeover posts.


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Through out my years, Sony has been a passion of mine.

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