PS Vita Marketing And Pricing Strategies Need To Change
Myself and about 2.7 million people own and love the PS Vita. I think it’s a powerful piece of technology that’s held back by limited marketing campaigns and expensive games. Sony knows the issues that gamers have with the system (as the company keeps recognizing and mentioning these issues), but still insists on staying the course. Granted there’s a lot of business know-how that factor into these decisions (including answering to shareholders); but Sony really needs to make some changes to their marketing and pricing strategies in order to remain competitive.
In this piece I’ll be discussing issues that have kept the handheld from success, and what Sony can do to address them.
ISSUE: Unsuccessful Marketing Campaigns
I really believe that the Vita has a lot of potential to build an audience – even more than the PSP did. However, it’s currently being left in the dust by smartphones, tablets, and the Nintendo 3DS. Missteps like the Nihilistic-developed first-person shooters (Resistance: Burning Skies and Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified), a lack of must-buy titles, and uninteresting marketing campaigns had a lot to do with that. Remember last holiday season when Sony decided to launch advertisements spotlighting Black Ops Declassified (less on gameplay and more on promises of COD-on-the-go)? Well, the game was a total bomb and it only hurt the Vita since it was the only holiday title that was advertised for the system. Sometimes even Call of Duty does not a success make.
What’s sad is that even though the handheld doesn’t have its one system-seller, it has a number of quality franchise and indie titles such as Sly Cooper: Thieves in time, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, Sine Mora, Dokuro, Persona 4 Golden, and even Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward that never got the marketing push they deserved. There’s a lot of potential to build audiences with those great titles, yet Sony has kept advertising to a minimum. There’s also potential in the recently added PlayStation Mobile store, which acts like a Google Play or App Store for the Vita, yet Joe gamer would be lucky to even be educated on the PS Mobile’s selling points. Thousands of user questions posted about the Vita on PlayStation’s Twitter and Facebook accounts usually go unanswered or ignored; not a good image for Sony as a gaming company promoting community with their game systems.
SOLUTION: Promote Community/ “The World is in Play,” / Employ (Real) Social Media
What is it about the PlayStation Vita that’s considered a major improvement over the PSP? A sense of community and easier access to content on-the-go. With the addition of apps, Skype, Party, and Near Apps, it’s much easier to game with your friends wherever you may be. The COD Vita TV ad made brief mention of it during the holiday season, unfortunately it was overshadowed by the game’s lack of quality. Truly a missed opportunity for Sony. Over in Europe Sony had a powerful message with their “The World is in Play” campaign, it was dramatic, intense, and encapsulates what the Vita promises to its user base.
On the software side, it’s great that Sony is letting everyone know of the Vita’s console-quality games for sure but everyone knows that; and many of the console-quality games out right now aren’t that interesting. Really, the PS Vita is starting to become known as a viable market for top-quality independent games. From Escape Plan, to Sound Shapes, to Retro City Rampage, some of the highest-selling PSN games are the downloadable indie titles. How about a return to the roots of the original PlayStation where it was marketed as the alternative system – the place to go for adult, and unique experiences that competing systems could not provide? A system where you’re not nickel-and-dimed in order to continue playing “me-too” endless running games?
And finally, Sony could employ a social media campaign that’s actually social. Sony has a big opportunity to educate their consumers about the unique features that the PS Vita offers through social media. Thousands of inquiries are thrown at Sony every minute about the Vita, and instead of answering each for a more personal “social experience” for the consumer, questions end up ignored. There’s opportunity to use the official PlayStation Facebook and Twitter for education, yet each channel ends up spammed with links and press releases. If Sony is promoting community as an important feature of the PS4 and PS Vita, then they should include the community in the conversation.
ISSUE: Steep Price Points
Another issue that keeps Vita titles from getting to its users is the price of each game. Most titles available on the PSN and on PS Mobile are premium-priced and are far too expensive compared to the norm for on-the-go gaming. I mean for God’s sake, I can get Plants vs. Zombies on the App Store and Google Play for $2.99, yet on the PSN, the game is priced at $10.49! It’s the same reason why PS Minis never took off; unbelievable pricing and it’s competition in Google Play and iOS (for bite-sized games on handhelds).
Then there are the ports of console games that are priced at $39.99. I can purchase these for much cheaper on the Xbox 360 and PS3. For example, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (Vita) is priced at $39.99, yet I can march into any EB Games/GameStop/Future Shop/Best Buy and pick up UMvC3 (PS3/360) for $19.99 or cheaper. Same with Supremacy MMA; granted it wasn’t that good of a game, but since I can’t have a UFC game on my Vita, I have to settle for a game that again costs $39.99. When you get it for the PS3 and 360, it’s $14.99 for THE SAME GAME minus the Vita-specific (unimportant) additions.
SOLUTION: Adopt Proven and Successful Ideas from Valve’s Steam Business Model
Valve and the publishers/studios make a bulk of their sales from Steam’s weekly sales, as well as their incredibly popular Holiday Sales where games are sold at a massive discount. Yeah it’s less money per person, but with it comes more people purchasing because of the lower price as well as the season. For example, Steam sales make up 50% to 70% of the millions of games sold on the digital storefront. If they use the Steam example and apply it to the PlayStation Store where weekly sales can be employed - certain games are temporarily marked down up to 75% – this will result in increased sales. Therefore, limited supply (in a low-price point anyway) will increase demand for the games and more importantly make the system more appealing to value-minded consumers.
These timely sales are proven to increase purchases as evidenced by Gary’s Mod’s success; proving that even independent developers can find massive success on a digital storefront. Along with a promise of self-publishing on the PSN Store, the PS Vita will attract more independent developers to port their games or even create unique software onto the system.
Sony’s PlayStation Plus subscription service is a great step towards providing great value to its consumers. However it still leaves people who don’t want to subscribe (or do not know of the service because of lack of marketing) left out in the cold. Instead of reaching a maximum of 90 to 100% installed user base, PS Plus is limiting sales down to a lower percentage of users who subscribe to the service. With the Steam business model, discounts are available to everyone on the service regardless of their membership status; therefore sales are maximized.
I truly believe that the system is a great piece of tech that has struggled because of marketing and pricing strategies. Over the last few months though, Sony has taken steps to improve the state of the PS Vita including providing more value with the PlayStation Plus service, changing their advertising agency, and even courting more indie developers to create games for the handheld. As well, the upcoming release of the PS4 promises to give the Vita a new lease on life through full remote play support and second-screen functionality.
If Sony focuses on marketing the Vita’s community functionality, the burgeoning indie and alternative games available, and educating the community through social media channels, I think they’ll be able to position the Vita as a handheld that offers what others cannot just like the PSX did. As well, if Sony adopts proven and successful Valve/Steam’s pricing strategies and sales to the PlayStation Store, I think they can improve sales in the long run.
Destructiod - Sony cuts PS Vita sales target, cites lack of penetration
Read more at http://www.destructoid.com/sony-cuts-ps-vita-sales-target-cites-lack-of-penetration-244253.phtml#AgY60cckEfy82omg.99
NowGamer – PS4 Is ‘Very Important’ To PS Vita – Sony
Read more at http://www.nowgamer.com/news/1826662/ps4_is_very_important_to_ps_vita_sony.html
VG247 - Pachter: 3DS XL “not all that compelling,” Vita “too expensive”
Read more at http://www.vg247.com/2012/07/25/pachter-3ds-xl-not-all-that-compelling-vita-too-expensive/
Forbes – The Master of Online Mayhem
Read more at http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2011/0228/technology-gabe-newell-videogames-valve-online-mayhem.html