Saturday, September 29, 2012

How Marketing Works (And How Not to Do It...)

One of my favorite phrases, as of late, has been "fanboys."  iPhone fanboys; Nintendo fanboys; XBOX fanboys.  There's a fanboy for everything to do with consumer electronics, and there's nothing funnier or more pathetic than watching them unbox their new products on video.

That having been said, I'll just get to the point of this screed - how two companies can produce vastly different products at roughly the same price point, and the one with the lower tech specs will (and already has) won the day.  These two companies are Nintendo and Sony.

If there are two companies whose consoles and gaming devices need almost no introduction, they are Nintendo and Sony Playstation.  Both companies have made consistently impressive contributions to the world of gaming, but when it comes to handheld gaming, one company just keeps getting it right, while the other continues to fail.

It is hard to argue that Nintendo has and likely always will win the day when it comes to handheld gaming devices.  Since the release of the Gameboy in the late 80s, Nintendo has consistently released products that provide an endless amount of return on consumer investment.  These devices never seem to die, barring catastrophic accidents, and the games, while not always the highest in technology, are consistently remembered as being staples of their respective generations' childhoods.  Each new handheld system brings something unique to the market - the Gameboy was the first that allowed gamers to play full games at home; the Gameboy Color brought darkened colors to life; the Gameboy Advance brought backlighting; the DS brought touchscreens, then cameras, and now 3-D.

Sony, on the other hand, has always had the more impressive technology.  The PSP could seemingly do everything; games in full, bright color, graphics capacity that made games a pleasure to play, internet connectivity via WiFi, UMD movies and games, and eventually, a fantastic catalogue of downloadable full games, both new and classic.  Unfortunately for Sony, their handheld devices have just never been that successful when compared to their lower-tech competition.  They've almost always had subtle design flaws - the original PSP was too thick; the PSP Go was too small, and uncomfortable to play; the PS Vita...well, that shit's just a mess, all around.

So, when Nintendo announced that its next "Next Gen" console system, the Wii U, would have a handheld gaming component that would allow gamers to take the game off the big screen and into their hands, it seemed like the perfect marriage of their successes - combining their more dedicated handheld gamers with their more casual Wii gamers.

Of course, every market analyst predicted that this system would be "another" massive failure - it wasn't high-tech enough, innovative enough, or dedicated to the hardcore gamer.  When they speak of this being "another" failure, they are, of course, speaking of the stumble-ridden release of the 3DS handheld system, which initially suffered from a massive dearth of games that anyone wanted (or wants, even now) to play.  What these naysayers all seem to forget is how lackluster was the release of the first Nintendo DS.  A year later, when the 3DS had by far surpassed the first-year sales of the original DS, those same market analysts had to eat a little bit of crow, as their predictions fell far short.

Luckily for their jobs, the Wii U came along to underwhelm them.  But, once again, they're going to be wrong.  In fact, they already are - every single retailer of the Wii U has sold out of the 32GB Black Wii U pre-order, and most have sold out of the 8GB White Wii U version...two months prior to its release.

When the Vita hit their hands, however, reviewers could blow enough hot air into the gamersphere, praising its fantastic resolution, innovative back-side touch screen, dual analogue sticks, and the promise of great things to come.  And it could have been all of those things (even with that still-useless back-side touch screen)...but Sony, it would seem, is not Nintendo.

Sony has yet to understand that they don't dominate the gaming market.  They continue to overestimate their popularity, hoping that an almost invisible marketing campaign will be sufficient to sell their overpriced device that can't seem to decide what it wants to be or to whom it should be geared.  

The tech specs appeal to hardcore gamers...and those capabilities have yet to even begin to be tapped.  They can't get any 3rd party developers to even touch the damn thing, since no one in Japan seems to want one, and even fewer people over here want it.  

Worse is that it STILL has yet to do what it was promised to do.  Yes, it can Skype.  It took two months, but it could do it.  And yeah, you can watch Netflix on long as you don't mind holding the damn thing and draining your battery just to get through a single episode of Sons of Anarchy.  

And that brings up the nightmare of its terrible design aesthetic.  The thing is just a nightmare to hold, because the backside has that worthless touchscreen on it.  Conveniently, Sony has placed two painful indentations on both sides of the bottom where you can hold it up on your physiologically weaker pinky fingers, while attempting to hold it with the rest of your fingers held in a claw grip to hold onto the two vagina-shaped indentations on either side of the back-side touch screen.  The design requires you to both hold it gingerly and squeeze it in the least comfortable of ways.

But, ask any market analyst, and they'll tell you all about how the PS Vita is an amazing device. was the Apple Lisa.  And anyone who knows their Apple history knows how THAT one worked out.  Actually, the Apple Newton would be a better comparison.  Or the current Maps App.

At any rate, if you want to know why Nintendo continues to win the day, all you need to do is look at their reputation for putting out devices that last, even if the novelty of their innovation wears off.  It's not always about graphics and spec techs; it's often more about appealing to the right audiences with the right kinds of disposable income.  Fanboys may love you, but you're never going to build a cottage industry if you rely on them.