Sympathy for Sony - mbellacio Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Sympathy for Sony

 

It's been a rough set of years for Sony. While they were once the darling of the consumer electronics world, it could be argued that they have now become the awkward step-child of that industry. Out of place, struggling for attention, never truly receiving the affection they feel they deserve. Some would say that it is just desserts given Sony's past decisions. But regardless of whether one wishes to castigate Sony or embrace them, there is certainly a wide gap between their current situation, and the potential for what Sony could be doing today.

A Little Honesty Never Hurt Anyone

If I were to cast aside all of my latent (even in 2012) sadness for Sega's fall from grace, or my sometimey Nintendo fanboyism, I'd have to truly admit that I actually really like Sony. I haven't always wanted to. But I did, and do. The video game industry has always been plagued with the ups and downs that go with brand loyalty. In much the same way that some Americans might insist that old Cadillacs were the peak of automotive excellence, some modern day gamers might also insist that their favorite console maker, developer, publisher, or otherwise will never be rivaled. But we can all acknowledge that such notions are more emotional than factual.

I believe that part of Sony's "awkwardness" throughout the years has been that from a "classical gamer's" (anyone who started playing games before 1990) point of view, Sony is not of video gaming nobility. As far as some might be concerned, the rightful heirs to the video game throne should be those who started it. Sony, is the bold and improper upstart daring to challenge "royalty", the titans of gaming. But even in greek mythology, the titans fell. And in such a way, some of our sacred cows of gaming have fallen far from their lofty perches. Sony was simply bold enough to capitalize on that.

When Sony threw down the gauntlet to challenge Sega, Nintendo and 3DO in the mid nineties, I was in the grips of pure, irrational Sega fanboy delusion. I was reluctant to admit that the 32X was essentially a pathetic effort on Sega's part, I had been unwise enough to purchase a Sega CD (for $199), and I told myself that no matter what anyone said, the Saturn would always be a better console than the Playstation. Such is the peculiar blindness that sometimes accompanies brand loyalty.

The Beauty Of Pragmatism

Sony in fact, did not fail. As we all know, they did very, very, very well. They may not have been of "noble blood" by gamer's standards, but they were damned good at what they did. Like a hungry boxer out to capture a title belt, they studied their opponents and fought them accordingly. Sony was to the 32-bit era what the NES was to the 8-bit era. Riding high off of their successes with other consumer electronics, Sony seemed to have a very simple and pure vision. They simply wanted to entertain you and make you remember that it was a Sony product that gave you those good times.

 

What do these two things have in common? (Hint: It's not that they both come from Japan)

 

I didn't understand it until much later in the game. I bought my very first PS One in 2002. Well after the 32-bit wars had been essentially settled. Right away, I understood why Sony was enjoying such success. I would like to compare the PS One with a 1990's Toyota MR2. Sure, you could spend ten's of thousand's of dollars more and get a "real" sports car like a Ferrari, or even a Lotus. But, you wouldn't really need to. If zipping down highways at heady speeds in a nimble little sports car was what you craved, you would definitely get your thrills in that MR2. An MR2 is a practical man's sports car. The PS One was the practical gamer's system of choice. That was where you were going to get the most bang for your buck.

Hubris And Complacency

It seems that it doesn't take long for pride to work it's magic on even the most sober of mind. The wild success of the PS2 only solidified in the mind's of many that Sony was now king of the hill in the unending console wars. They continued many of the strategies that had worked so well with the PS One, and it truly seemed that their was no forseeable end to their domination of the market. Ironically, in the same way that Sony had studied their competition during the 32-bit era, they were also being studied by yet another unlikely "upstart". Microsoft. And much as had been done with Sony, their were the angry, offended masses who howled that Microsoft had no business sticking it's nose into a business that they most certainly did not understand. So much for nobility.

The Current State Of Affairs

For the sake of time, I will simply fast forward to the present. Sony is hurting. As of September 12th, 2012 Sony Corporations stock value has fallen 38% within the past year and roughly 82% over a five year period. Sony is literally hemorrhaging money and is badly in need of some change. Over the same five period period mentioned earlier, Sony's stock has remained well below the Nikkei Index average.

By contrast, Microsoft has taken the lead in market share and has remained there for the past 52 weeks or more. Are we seeing a pattern develop here? It seems that in one generation of consoles, the de facto "leader" can be, and quite often is dethroned.


Again, it is sad to me because I actually like Sony products. I don't like the cost often attached with Sony products, but I do like the products. The problem as I see it now is that Sony seems to suffer from a bit of denial. Like an aging, once beautiful queen, Sony seems to imagine that they can rest upon their former glory. That thinking is evident in their business strategies where they market 3DTV's, Phones, Tablets and even memory cards as premium products with extra-premium pricing. And it's all a lie. Sony is not doing anything that they're competitor's are not. In fact, their competitor's are quite fierce, quite hungry, and they are at the gates.

At this point, Sony is fighting a war of attrition. They have no reinforcements coming to save them. They can only fortify their defenses, hold the line and pray that their competitor's tire, or slip up. In the current turbulent economy, that is not out of the realm of possibillity, but it is a slim hope indeed.

Praise For What's Right

The PS Vita is a brilliant little handheld. The PS3 is still a remarkable machine. But technology is only as good as the experience it delivers. I do see aggressive moves on Sony's part to support the PS Vita, and the PS3 is poised to deliver several must-have titles in the next year or so, so that's good.

I think back to when the PS Vita was still in development. Sony held an online survey where they gave gamers the opportunity to submit extensive input on what they wanted in a handheld. They even allowed for suggestions of features that they might not have thought of. Out of all of that, we got the PS Vita. The system that we'd all hoped the PSP would have been. I praise Sony for that, and it's unfortunate that they're efforts have not seen the rewards they would have liked, but the bitter question that must be asked is, was it too little, too late?

 

Lookout Sony. Someone wants to eat you.

 

The pond that is the world of video games is teeming with hungry fish both big and small. Apple, Microsoft, tablets and Android-based consoles are all in the feeding frenzy for consumer dollars. And a simple hard fact about the world economy in 2012 is that people are spending less, and are very mindful of HOW they spend. The days of the $100 impulse buyer have even dwindled. How will Sony survive in a market like this with the most expensive hardware, electronics and memory cards? In much the same way citizens of any empire would mourn the loss of a monarch, I am not pleased by Sony's decline. But the truth is, every ruler reaches a time where they must reassert why they are rightfully King.

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