Gamasutra's latest Question of the Week asked our esteemed audience of game industry professionals, educators and students to relay their thoughts on how Sony can turn around its arguably troubled PlayStation 3 launch and turn the six hundred dollar monster into a must-have product. Specifically, the question we asked was as follows:
Q: Given Sony's recent issues with PlayStation 3 supply/launch dates and overall negative publicity for the company, what does Sony need to do to convince developers and the public that the PS3 will be the dominant next-gen console? (Responses could include comments on developer support, pricing, network/online capabilities, PR, and any other pertinent factors.)
Responses were mixed, as expected. While many of our respondants felt that Sony's price point was a hinderance to success, many others felt that Sony has little to worry about, and that the dominating track records of both the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 will continue into the next generation. Others still argued that the PlayStation 3's software library needs to improve, and the vast majority of the replies we received seemed to perceive a strong air of arrogance on Sony's part, implying that the company is unwilling to listen to consumer demands.
On the following pages, we'll highlight a few of the more interesting responses received.
A top-down view of both PlayStation 3 models - on the left, the 20 Gigabyte $499 SKU, and on the right, the 60 Gigabyte $599 version.
All that Sony needs to do is stop acting so arrogant. People can forgive any number of faults if the company generally acts responsible for their mistakes. When the PSP came out and people complained about the square buttons getting stuck and not being as responsive as the other buttons, Sony said "There may be people that complain about its usability, but that's something which users and game software developers will have to adapt to." We have to adapt to their broken button... Comedic at best. When everyone said the price of the PS3 was rather high, Sony told everyone that "people will buy it no matter what." What do they say about PCs? "The PlayStation 3 is a computer. We do not need the PC."
To top it all off Sony said no to a Blu-Ray, HD-DVD compromise. Now they are in the very uncomfortable situation of a VHS vs. BetaMax competition. Blu-Ray would appear to be the BetaMax in this because a blue laser is just flat out better than a red laser, but the cost on the blu-ray players is extreme starting at $1000.00. How can they ship the PS3 with Blu-Ray technology for $600.00? It would seem that they'll be taking the biggest loss per unit and still be the most expensive game system on the market. So with all these factors, what can Sony do to convince everyone that they're going to be the dominant console in the years to come? Stop being so damn negative. When you insult your customers, your competitors and everyone else to make your products seem better, it's a clear indication that there is something very wrong with your product. Their arrogance has got everyone riled up, and there's a lot of people who want them to fail as a result. Microsoft (the former Borg) have become the underdog that everyone is rooting for, and it's Sony's fault. How do you like them Apples, Sony?
Dave Fried, The Collective
Although I don't agree with it, I can certainly tell where Sony's arrogance comes from. Metal Gear Solid 4, Final Fantasy XIII and other exclusives that have been known to move hardware. People have shown that they were willing to buy PS1s and PS2s for previous games in the aformentioned franchises; Sony has no reason to believe this won't be true for the PS3.
Will exclusive content like Metal Gear Solid 4 be enough to convince consumers of the PlayStation 3's viability?
Playstation 1 was the dominant console of its generation, as was the Playstation 2. Twelve months after the launch of PS3 few will care about the troubles Sony are facing right now.
Milner Nick, Aspen Technology
I really don't understand why Sony's rushing out the PS3 so quickly. The initial user base is going to be very small and it doesn't look like it's going to expand quickly. With such a low number of units given the hype, I forcast most PS3 related profits coming from scalpers rather than Sony itself. I recall that the Xbox360 was percieved as "rare" and a pain to obtain even after Microsoft got the units flowing steadily from factory to store. It seems like the PS3 wishes to experience this problem tenfold, the way they're handling things.
It's more like what can Sony do to convince us of PS3 dominance? They need to ensure unprecedented fan fair at launch but they can't, too many people are questioning the steep, dual price points. They need to match PS2 launch sales but that won't happen since the US will only receive 400,000 units (we received 500,000 PS2s in 2000). And they need to position their new console to be in every living room in the future--but how can they when it makes more sense to buy a Wii and 360 for the price of one PS3?
So what can they do? Wait. That's it. The one, significant part of their market strategy that remains intact is the long term approach mentioned by the Sony brass at E3 last May:
- It's a high-end product, which means it should last longer than the competiion.
- The quality of games don't reach full stride until three or so years into the product's life, by then the PS3 will be more affordable.
- The PS2 still churns out a profit so releasing a lower-end console would only compete with it.
And so we wait. It's the only thing we and Sony can do. But the problem is we, as consumers and developers, don't excactly have a reputation for patience.
Matthew Allmer, Rendered Vision
They need to start a PR campaign to include as much eye candy as possible. The ads a few years back where they showed the "PS9" as a virtual reality machine really set them apart from the competition. Right now, you see nothing. They are saving all the ammo for when the hardware is ready, but they need to start yesterday. Nintendo and Microsoft will take away some market share, but Sony does not want to lose those on the fence.
Honestly, the only company I see doing well in their launch is Nintendo, because they won't have the latest and greatest hardware and be selling the consoles at a great loss. They'll have solid titles to boot already. And lo and behold, Nintendo has this entire campaign in full steam around the Wii controller and saying that they are the ones creating the evolutionary changes. Sony, get some eye candy out there as soon as possible. Start running NFL ads. Start running college game day ads. Start running Sci Fi Channel ads. Who Wants to Be a SuperHero would have been a phenomenal opportunity to get ads that say Sony is coming...are you ready?
Scott Frost, Qwato Interactive Studios
With a price point at less than 40% of Sony's higher-end PlayStation 3 model, could Nintendo's Wii nab a significant majority of Sony's marketshare?
Sony will have to demonstrate, for a change, an interest in its target audience. They have been on top so long that they think they can get away with anything and now it's biting them in the you-know-what. They need to radically change the way they do business, which for the past couple of years has been to sell cheap crap at ludicrously inflated prices based on the strength of the Sony name (consoles as well as most of their electronics).
Sony needs to stop insulting their customers by flat-out lying about the capabilities of their console, stop trying to ram their proprietary technology down everyone's throats to reap the royalties of owning the next mass media device. Focus on the gamer: it is supposed to be a game console after all, not the next "VHS" or "DVD".
They no longer have the head start they had with PS1 and 2. They lost the lead, they've lost interest in their customers, they've lost touch with reality with their E3 2005 claims (BTW, what happened to Killzone?), they've lost all touch with humankind with their laughable marketing campaigns, they'll soon lose their exclusive 3rd-party developers, and Wii is the final nail in the coffin. What should Sony do now? Pray maybe. But I doubt even God can afford the PS3, and besides, like everyone else He'll be too busy playing the Wii by year end and using his omniscience to consider the endless new possibilities of the controller to listen.
It is too late to undo the damage done by the high pricing of the console, and Sony's arrogant "if we build it, they will buy" sense of entitlement. While it seems basic and obvious, Sony needs to begin a traditional marketing campaign based on messages that make sense and appeal to the broad market -- something they have totally failed to do. The current ads for the PSP and Sony's other recent branding attempts are an utter failure, obeying the undeclared rule that all game-related ads must be "edgy" and "k3wl" and resulting in total nonsense about dust bunnies and squirrels.
If their goal is to convince parents, by Christmas, that they need to shell out $700.00+ to ensure the future happiness of their children, they had better start to make ads that talk to parents about the advantages and technology of the PS3 and what it means for their entertainment future. Oh, and muzzle the executives and stop bickering with Microsoft execs -- since when did executives do marketing's job? Public tit-for-tat only shakes Sony's image of market dominance; why should they even acknowledge that Microsoft exists?
Michael Eilers, University of Advancing Technology
I think at this point "Developers! Developers! Developers!" should be Sony's mantra as it has to ensure a steady flow of some high-quality, exclusive games that should come to the PS3. Atleast 5-7 must-have titles should come within the first year of launch. On the PR side, periodic tech demos that show off the capabilities of the system should surface on popular sites like youtube and google video can keep the hype up. 2007 should become the "Year of the PS3" in the minds of the target audience. Another marketing approach would be to get a rebate on buying a Sony HDTV if you've bought a PS3. Sony's buoyant TV division could be used as a stepping stone for the PS3! Of course, towards the end of the first year of release, a robust online system should be in place.
"Must-Haves" like Guitar Hero have been known to increase console sales.
The majority of the negative hype has been internet based. Your average consumer likely isn't privvy to the onslaught of comments and forums discussing the price point and shipping delays. That said though, Sony has their work cut out for them, even if the Wii isn't necessarily a direct competetive threat. Here in the states, Microsoft's already gained a monster part of the next-gen market so it would behoove Sony to give more focus to the Eastern markets where previous generations of the product holds more penetration than its next gen competitors. Likely their largest stumbling block is the fact that they're offering nothing unique with their console or the services to accompany the PS3.
For roughly the price of the better PS3 package, a consumer could have 2 systems with (respectively) High definition, wireless controls, online gaming, backwards compatibility, a huge retro-library and to a certain degree, home integration. So how do they overcome it? Tout the incredibly extensive library and focus on exclusivity. That can be hard to swallow for developers, but consumers have been known to find themselves spending more on a console simply because one particular title isn't available on other systems. Guitar Hero and Katamari Damacy are good examples of this type of effect.
Christopher Kirkman, Media Geeks
[Sony needs] unique "only-on PS3" games that create a "gotta have it" response. Help developers to take full advantage of the Cell processor. Prove that PS3 isn't a year later than XBox 360 - it's years ahead!!
J. Michael Birch, Computerade
They can promise all kinds of things to developers, but until it's a solid, well established platform with the bugs worked out of its SDKs, anything they promise is basically wishful thinking. And they can price cut if they want, but they'll probably only do it for the box, since they'd be selling them at a loss anyway. The games will still be higher priced than Xbox because that's where they make the money. Cutting there will really hurt their bottom line. Last, you'd think that a company the size of Sony could marshall more resources and pump out the boxes to meet expectations, or that they could take a hit on the box sales to get back some of the market they're losing, but they don't seem to be interested. It seems to be arrogance rather than confidence. Sony's founder had confidence, that maybe sounded a little like arrogance. Now it seems that Sony has more arrogance than confidence.
By and large, the game library is the big thing that will convince the public that PS3 is a viable purchase, irrespective of any sugarcoating or any good or bad publicity in the here and now. And that is a problem that ultimately depends on developers rolling out appealing products. It's often been the case in the past that Sony's support and tools for developers has been lacking (rather unspeakably so), and while there are a number of signs that this has been improving -- the PSP's devtools, for instance, showed major steps in the right direction -- there are still several light years left to go.
The fact of the matter is that PS3 can actually be a very enjoyable platform on which to develop, but "enjoyable" for a single experienced programmer messing with SPE job queues does not equate to production-grade software development, and what Sony can do to facilitate entire teams is what matters in the end. Shortcomings on the developer side ultimately killed platforms like the Sega Saturn and the 3DO and so on because it in turn meant a library of games which was sorely lacking. While lack of developer support didn't really hurt the Playstation brand once before, and PS3 will certainly be able to ride on the heels of being "the quintessential gaming brand," such a trend is not indefinitely sustainable; especially given that their competitors are leaving them in the dust on that front.
Even if Sony succeeds without it, it will be in spite of that deficiency, not because of any other strength. If they DO change something about it, even if it means delegating to other companies like IBM and/or nVidia, that will cascade out to improvements throughout the spectrum of PS3 game SKUs. The public has a narrow enough attention span that everything up until now will be long forgotten after PS3 comes out and people have a frame of reference for what to expect from their games. If that frame of reference can be viewed in a positive light, then so much the better.
Parashar Krishnamachari, Crystal Dynamics
I fear the PS3's market share will be so small with its pricing and delays that from a business sense this platform would not be a logical choice. In conjunciton with the difficulties of programming on the PS3, my project managers will be saying, "The XBox 360 and Wii have a larger unit base (and are a dream to program for), let's drop the PS3 verison." Therefore, Sony needs to lower it's console price and quit talking about $100 game prices to make us feel comfortable that there will be enough units out there to make it a viable console. (That being said, maybe in a few years it might be worth it.)
Karren Willard, Saffire Corp.
Sony needs to delay the console by a year. Of course, they can't likely do that without paying all manner of penalties, such as to the retailers that have laid in pre-orders and the like, but that is still what they need to do. It is crystal clear that the product is not ready, they are not ready, the production methods are not ready, the support is not ready, the launch titles certainly are not ready and even the movie format is touch-and-go. They're just not ready.
Regarding pricing...I don't know if they can save face (I'm sure they'll find a way), but I got really tired of Sony saying that the PS3 is good value for the price. Yeah, so is a new Lamborghini under $100,000, but it's still REALLY expensive.
The biggest thing Sony must do to save their representation is to have the developers working on PS3 titles tell how the workflows and such are easier to do with the PS3 than they are with other next gen consoles. I think Sony is digging their own fate by keeping everything shut down. They have some great launch titles, but so far from what I've seen with demos, they arent any better than the Xbox 360. Xbox Live will kill them if they dont have an online gaming service. They need to get their reputation back so they can populate the world with the best game console out there.
While I think the price is high, I do believe you are getting a lot for the money. A Blu-Ray player for $600 is a steal. What I think they need to do, though, is promote how awesome their games are. The games not only HAVE to be beautiful (for a $600 system and $60 per game i would expect nothing less than flawless visuals really), the games also have to be fun. They make a lot of money on their franchise games and that's great but they need to focus more on original games as well. They need some fresh ideas for new games that open up opportunities for new franchise games. Also, they really have to show off the power of the Cell processor. They need to show developers how to efficiently develop for their platform by making some great games. The games are really all that matters. They just need to promote how great their games are and if they are truly great they will do fine.
Dennis Dionne, Self
Sony really need to justify that $600 price tag with more then saying it underpriced because of the Blu-Ray player. I'm willing to bet anything that a good majority of the general public doen't know everything that the PS3 can do, espically being a center of a multimedia hub.
Unfortunately Sony has a real uphill battle here. The pricing of games, accessories and the system put it out of most casual users' grasps and the lack of any killer app really leaves little incentive for any but the most hardcore player. A difficult development process only adds insult to injury. I don't think any amount of press is going to overcome these factors. A significant price decrease and greater availability if they CAN create demand is essential. At this point, delay the launch until March, get some killer, POLISHED apps together, expand their online service, get there manufacturing together and drop the price by $100. Finally, issue a press in the next two weeks release explaining that they don't feel that they have done justice to the fans or developers of the system. In order to make sure they give the experience players expect and the value consumers want they are delaying the launch. Accept guaranteed, numbered pre-orders now for the system (and get that money before it goes into Nintendo's pockets) which includes a free DVD showing the quality of upcoming titles.
Chris McDonough, White Wolf, Inc.
Sony needs to stop trying to make the worlds next super-computer and focus on making a videogame machine. Every week I read news about something wrong with the chips, Blu-Ray, manufacturing, developers leaving, etc. They are trying to force feed everyone the Blu-Ray disc format by adding it to the PS3 which results in overpriced hardware.
I think at this point Sony just needs to take the bullet in the finance department. First off they need to announce a price that will compete with the other two companies. Second they need to provide wide open support for developers. Giving incentives to work on projects for there system, low-cost dev kits, easy access to support, and lot checks that make sense and are stuck too. Then they can hope to make their money back on the number of games they sell. After all, this is not going to make/break them as a company, they have lots of other things to fall back on for profit.