Thursday, June 14, 2012

Turning Around the PS Vita

Since the introduction of the original PlayStation, Sony has fundamentally changed the gaming market. They dominated the home console world with the PlayStation and the PlayStation 2, and the PlayStation Portable is the most successful non-Nintendo portable console in the gaming world. As a successor to the high-selling PlayStation Portable, the PlayStation Vita was bound for success: it had a gorgeous screen, powerful graphics, control improvements, and a portable medium that did not consume battery life. With a tepid presentation at the Electronic Entertainment Expo and faltering sales that is putting the console behind Dreamcast in certain markets, the console is currently on the wrong track. It is still early in the game, and the PS Vita can still succeed if Sony is willing to make a proper course correction to improve the image of the console.

I do not currently work for any gaming company, nor do I have any experience working in the gaming industry, but I observe a couple of issues with the PS Vita. The first issue I notice is a lack of branding focus with the PS Vita. In North America, Sony is marketing the portable console as an extension of the home console, yet they are pushing the portable capabilities of 3G internet and augmented reality experiences. A lack of strong branding focus is hurting the image of the console since Sony is having issues trying to aim the console at a demographic that will buy their console. The second issue I notice is a slow adoption to the changes in the marketplace. Apple and Android have changed the gaming market forever; they have changed expectations of pricing and portability. Sony needs to start adapting to the changing market, or the market will adapt to a world without Sony. The third issue is a release lineup that is missing key games. In the first couple of months of a console’s life, the most important thing that a company can do is to fill up software holes with games.

For all of the issues I see, I believe that all of them are easily fixable. If Sony can start adapting these fixes, then the console can start turning around. To fix the issue of branding focus, Sony should first consider what the strength of the PS Vita is. Instead of focusing and branding the hardware in seemingly contradictory terms, they should focus on a consistent brand. If the PS Vita is branded as a portable version of the PS3, then consistently use that image in its marketing. They should display demo reels of game experiences that are not possible on iOS, 3DS, and Android. They should emphasize why the PS Vita is exceptional, not ordinary. The second issue is a structural problem that is endemic in organizations with divisions that compete with each other, as opposed to working in conjunction for a common goal. Fixing an organization takes time, but they can start by bringing people together. Have committees from various divisions work together so that they can start pooling their strengths for a common goal. As for the issue of the changing market, Sony can start by better utilizing its digital resources. They can start by selling the digital copies of PSP games to impulse buy level, or they can start having occasional sales to improve customer awareness of the product. The last issue is an issue with developer relations, as we have seen with Nintendo, relationships between a core company and a third party can drastically affect the quality of software and the level of support. Sony should take away uncertainty by first having its top teams work on the hardware. Unlike Nintendo, Sony’s top developers are console exclusive, they treat portable consoles as a secondary thought. If Sony can start fixing this mindset, companies would be more likely to be less risk-averse.

The problem with Sony is that changing strategy on the PS Vita is time sensitive. Unless they are willing to show to the general market that they are willing to change and adapt, the console will only be a footnote in history. Even if the Sony does not pull the plug on the console, if they are satisfied with the status quo, the PS Vita will ultimately hurt the PlayStation brand name and Sony’s brand equity. This is not acceptable for a company that has changed the gaming world. The Electronic Entertainment Expo was the first chance for Sony to show an exciting new strategy to push the console into the market, and Sony blew that chance. There are still other venues to do it, and with the ubiquity of social media and video streaming services, they have more options than ever. The problem is time; they do not have time on their side, especially when the market starts focusing on the next generation of home consoles.

Kris Zoleta started working in Anime Expo as a staffer in Manga Library. He worked in Staff Service in Anime Expo 2006 and became the manager of Manga Lounge from Anime Expo 2007-2010. He is currently serving on the Board of Directors for the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, the 501(c)(6) non-profit behind Anime Expo and is one of the most recognized cosplay photographers in the West Coast.

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