Talking Heads: Social Gaming- Is the PS3 Disconnected?

In what I hope to be the first of many different formats and collaberations on this blog, I talk to fellow gamer Rockers Delight about social gaming and how the PS3 compares against the Xbox 360 in this regard.  In the following transcript Los Havros will be denoted with LH and Rockers Delight with RD.

LH: Thanks for taking time out to have a chat!  We’re going to be talking about the PS3 and its lack of social connectivity.  I have to admit, I’m a bit confused here.  I couldn’t help but notice some of your recent tweets noting that for you the PS3 user experience feels a bit ‘disconnected’, ‘unsociable’… your ‘loner console’.

I find this area of debate fascinating, but could you expand on what you mean.  Is it simply a lack of cross-game chat, or is it more?

RD: Hey, Los Havros! You are indeed right, more than once I’ve referred to the PlayStation 3 as my ‘loner console’, most recently spurred by a 360 gamer switching to PS3 and Tweeting the same thing.

Let me point out, though, that despite my feelings of solitary with my PS3, all my real life friends are in fact PS3 gamers, not 360. So, despite being new to the console, I do actually have a decent-sized friends list.

It’s difficult to know where to start, and to also refrain from sharing all my thoughts on this at once. To sum up how social a console the 360 can be, it feels like you’re missing a leg if not connected to Xbox Live. PS3, on the other hand, wouldn’t make much difference to me if I was playing online or offline.

The fact the PlayStation 3 is sold without any device for communicating is a good starting point. It shows that connectivity between gamers isn’t a priority for Sony, unlike Microsoft who box every console with a basic headset.

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Let’s talk about brands in the games industry

There have been a couple of articles that have piqued my interest recently; one from Rockers Delight (excellent blog, go read now if you haven’t already done so) and another from PS3 Fanboy.  Rather than address each point separately, I’d like to make this one big article on my thoughts about brands in the games industry.

First, Let’s start with what I’d like to call ‘the PLAYSTATION debacle’.  Now, up until the launch of the PLAYSTATION 3, Sony’s consoles were always endowed with the simple, effective and iconic branding ‘PlayStation’.

Before I knew it, I was bombarded with products and services such as the PLAYSTATION Eye, the PLAYSTATION Network, and the PLAYSTATION Store.  I got the feeling that this once simple and effective branding had started shouting at me. Why tinker with something like that?

Even PS3 Fanboy’s article is titled ‘No need to shout: PLAYSTATION = PlayStation’.  On their poll that they’ve got going, most people prefer the original, lower-case version (at the time of writing).  They say that in the latest firmware update (2.50) names have been changed to ‘PlayStation Store’ and ‘PlayStation Network’.  You’ve also got box art coming in that is saying ‘Only on PlayStation‘.  What the heck is going on?  This is creating brand confusion.

Before, ‘PlayStation’ was understated, but a sign of quality- a brand you could trust.  ‘PLAYSTATION’ makes the brand loud and clumsy.  People know that the PlayStation brand is good, why shout at them?!  I’m going to label this debacle as pointless and potentially damaging.  Tsk tsk Sony.

Now, moving on to the ‘New Xbox Experience’.  Microsoft are changing their brand in a different way- by seemingly leaving their loyal, hardcore gamers to one side, and seeking out new, more casual gamers ala the Wii.

Initially to me this seemed more of a ‘Mii too’ move by Microsoft which could potentially alienate existing 360 gamers and dilute their brand.  However I do believe now that if Microsoft does this right it could make their whole service become more cohesive (if that’s possible!  It’s pretty much amazing already, let’s admit) and expand their reach into new territories.  Done wrong however, and it could end up like Xbox does Teletubbies.  (I’ll save how I feel about Nintendo and it’s Wii for another article).  This is quite a bold and risky move from Microsoft.  Such crazy horses.  And you know what?  It might even pay off.

So what can we conclude from this brief look at gaming brands?  Risks have to be made to further brand reach and recognition, but getting it wrong can give the wrong impression to customers, and potentially alienate them if they feel their console of choice no longer cares about their needs.  It’s a case of branding done right, and branding done wrong.  I’d love some discussion on this matter.

(N.b.: I feel marketing is a different issue here.  I’ll try and deal with it in due course)