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
Sport
footballHe started just four months ago
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Equity | New York

Not specified: Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Global Equity | New Yor...

Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation

Not specified: Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation This top tiered investment...

Selby Jennings: Oil Operations

Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect