Hard to miss it, but two next-gen gaming consoles were launched just before Christmas – Microsoft’s Xbox One, and the Playstation 4.
Normally this sort of thing would pass me by (I’m not a big video game fan – they just seem like complete time vampires), but something I noticed was how interesting the two launches were as marketing exercises.
Both did very heavy outbound marketing. At the Xbox launch, you could barely turn the TV on without a slick Xbox ad being shown, the advertising was anywhere you looked, there was an extensive roadshow and they had a very heavy Twitter presence (lots of updates about features, events, sneak peeks at functionality, that sort of thing). All this was great, and the PS4 did something similar. But that wasn’t what I thought was so interesting (in fact, both campaigns felt extremely well-honed and professional, as you’d expect – but perhaps a little too predictable and dull?).
What I thought interesting, was how differently the two consoles were positioned. Or more specifically, how differently they were trying to position the two consoles in the customers’ minds. Put simply, the Xbox One is obviously trying to position the console as a unit for the family living room. Yes, it has zombie killing games, but that’s only part of it – there are fun games for the kids and the family, video and music functionality (including film hire), the Kinect (advertised as “Now can detect up to 6 people” – i.e. a family), HDMI pass-through and so on.
Look at the PS4 tagline – “This is for the Players”. They’re going straight for the hardcore gamer. They’re pushing on the processor power, the superb, but adult-focussed game range, it’s reputation as the “player’s” console and so on. There’s an equivalent to the Kinect, but it’s a bit of an afterthought (and doesn’t come in the box – hence why the PS4 is that much cheaper), and of course the PS4 can stream videos etc and play Blu-rays, but that’s barely mentioned in the ads. Additionally they’ve much more of a deal of supporting indie game shops, hoping to get more interesting and diverse a range of games.
That’s why the arguments about “Which console is best?” are rather tiresome. They’re targeted at different groups, and have different functionality to match. If you’re buying the thing so that the kids can play a dancing game on Kinect, do you care if that’s rendered at 1080p or 720p? But if you’re buying something to feel the thrill of hi-octane car chases, that frame rate really matters.
The important point I wanted to draw out here though, is that it’s not just about the marketing – it’s about the product too. If the consoles were more or less the same (and there are sooo many similarities!), then marketing them differently would just be that – fine, but perhaps not enormously impactful.
But in fact, the machines themselves are very different – Microsoft made a big decision to include the Kinect in the box, significantly increasing their launch price. Additionally, the PS4 doesn’t play music CDs in the Blu-ray player (though coming soon apparently). These are two product decisions (amongst others) that I believe would have followed on from a marketing decision about how the Microsoft and Sony wanted to position the consoles for particular markets. By making big product development decisions based on this sort of market research, you end up with a much stronger proposition for the market. It’s not just an ad telling you that the PS4 is better for gamers – this is backed up by what you’re buying. The processor is faster (in certain circumstances 😉 ).
It’s a simple example, but I think a useful one. For me, personally (not a big video game fan, has kids, wants a way of accessing decent TV through a console) the Xbox One is much more attractive. But when I mention this to the avid gamers at work, I’m laughed at – how can you even consider not buying the PS4? (NB: Microsoft’s terrible PR last year about stopping customers selling games second-hand really didn’t help..). But we’re very different customers looking for very different things.
I think both consoles will do well, but likely in the different markets – both have been positioned cleverly, but most interestingly – they’ve obviously listened to their marketing department to determine that product direction, to make sure each ends up with the best product to actually fit their respective markets.