Sony plays big league

THE 1990s have not been easy for the video games industry. After rapid growth and huge profits in the late 1980s, both Sega and Nintendo issued profit warnings in April, blaming sluggish European sales. Now Sony hopes to reverse the fortunes of the lacklustre games market with the launch of PlayStation - a video games console that the company claims will drive consumer demand into the new century.

Last week, Sony unveiled plans for a pounds 20m marketing campaign to support PlayStation's UK launch. It is adopting an aggressive strategy for its drive into the games market: pricing PlayStation at pounds 299 - pounds 100 less than rival games company Sega's latest Saturn system, which was launched last month. And no wonder. With development costs exceeding pounds 300m, PlayStation is arguably one of Sony's biggest gambles to date.

Despite the company's numerous successes, its history is dotted with technically advanced products that foundered along the way, and industry analysts say the company is now in need of a new hit. This is why Ray Maguire, managing director of Sony Computer Entertainment in the UK, describes PlayStation as "our most important launch since the Walkman".

"Interactive technology is the next logical step for Sony Corporation," he explains. "We already have a wealth of distrib- ution experience - which will be the key to future development." PlayStation is an advanced CD-based games console that is designed to fully exploit Sony's prominence in both consumer electronics and entertainment.

Mr Maguire claims the video games market is typified by consumer confusion and obsolete technology. Business is cyclical: consumers' interest peaks and plummets as they await the next generation of games consoles and increasingly sophisticated games software. There is consumer boredom because there is low creative risk: "Product innovation has gone out of the market."

The PlayStation is being positioned as a "fourth-generation" games console. Processing power is the key: previous 4-bit, 8-bit and 16-bit games consoles allowed only limited 2-D animation. But the latest 32-bit consoles, such as PlayStation, are much more powerful, allowing 3-D animation with picture quality closer to video standards. CDs are cheaper to produce and store more information than older games systems, which use cartridges.

"We want to turn video games into a mainstream product by bringing other people into the market," says Simon Jobling, marketing director at Sony Computer Entertainment. PlayStation is being aimed at a broad market: aged between 10 and 50, ranging from those discovering video games to those who last played Space Invaders 15 years ago. "Many older people have just not come back into the market - previous consoles were just not sophisticated enough," Mr Jobling says.

This sets a tall order for Sony's advertising agency, Simons Palm- er. "The tone of the campaign will have the broadest appeal," Mr Jobling says. "Previous Sega campaigns featured fast-moving graphics, Nintendo's had a celebrity - each severely limits the people with whom you can effectively communicate," he argues.

So Simons Palmer has devised a detailed strategy to target specific groups of consumers under the umbrella theme of power - the power of the PlayStation and the empowerment its use gives the player. A national print advertising campaign began in the specialist press last week, featuring an exploding head. A national television and cinema campaign will follow. Between now and then, promotions and roadshows across the UK will induce up to 150,000 people to try PlayStation before launch.

Relationships with retailers are critical, Mr Jobling says. "Lack of information in the past has certainly hampered retailers' sales." Other games manufacturers have obliged shops to overstock product, he claims. "Cartridge technology, with its longer lead times, affects the power of retailers to keep close control of stocks."

Sony pledges to change all that. It has invested in a retail staff training scheme to ensure sales staff and customers are properly informed. And in-store promotions will flag new games in the pipeline up to six months in advance. "It's about customer relations, offering added value rather than simply looking at how to get another pounds 50 off the shopper," Mr Jobling says.

Sony can expect a tough ride from Sega and Nintendo. Each is developing new products. Sega launches a pounds 3.5m advertising campaign for the Saturn next week, and Nintendo is expected to launch its new-generation Ultra 64 system next year.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
A boy holds a chick during the Russian National Agricultural Exhibition Golden Autumn 2014 in Moscow on October 9, 2014.
Life and Style
love + sex
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United 1 player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Reach Volunteering: External Finance Trustee Needed!

Voluntary post, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Would you ...

Christine McCleave: FP&A Analyst

£36,000 - £40,000: Christine McCleave: Are you looking for a new opportunity a...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot