There’s been a lot of hang-wringing in the iPhone app development community over the latest Sony attack ad — the one where Marcus, the spunky kid on the bus, emasculates iPhone gamers over the inadequacies of the iPhone as a gaming platform when compared to Sony’s PSP.
Touch Arcade called the ad a “smear” and said Sony was getting desperate (and sparked a flame war in their own forums); TUAW said the ad was weak and likened it to a guppy trying to bite a shark; [a]list ran the video and implied this indicates Sony feels threatened; and our friends over at The APPera took the ad personally (given that they covered PSP for a brief time, and dropped it for lack of interest), going so far as to say, “stop the nonsense.”
Gentlemen … stop your engines.
Of course the ad is desperate. Sony damn well better be desperate. Sony’s answer to the iPhone, the ill-fated PSP go, was characterized by CrunchGear as “the biggest failure in recent video game history,” selling around 18,000 units in Japan during 2010. By comparison, the Nintendo DS sold over 10,000 units per day in Japan.
Sony tried (and failed) to gain ground with a new spin on the PSP, and now the situation has worsened — not only did Sony fail to blunt Apple’s growth, but now all these uncouth iPhone app buyers have swarmed over Sony’s ramparts and are threatening the PSP player base.
What everyone seems to have missed (perhaps including Sony itself) is that the Marcus PSP ads aren’t aimed at iPhone gamers. iPhone gamers regard it as a virtue that they can text their grandmothers while playing games, not a fault. They like having a multifunction device that also plays games. iPhone gamers won’t be moved by the prospect of playing some Sony driving game for $9.99 USD when they can already play Firement’s excellent Real Racing for half that price. These ads aren’t going to convince anyone to ditch their iPhone for a PSP — iPhone owners are too busy enjoying Angry Birds, snapping photos, navigating to restaurants, listening to music, reading books or video chatting with pregnant relatives.
No, my friends, Marcus is designed to keep PSP players on the reservation. These ads are playing to Sony’s base, which is in grave danger of abandoning the PSP in favor of one of Apple’s i-devices. Sony is out of ideas and has resorted to going negative by attacking the insecurity of their core fans who are considering a switch by calling them girly-men. And who can blame Sony? They’re pretty much out of options.
One picture tells the whole story:
We don’t have the figures for 2010, but Apple sold a lot more iPhones, so the situation can only be getting worse.
Sony missed the memo about the paradigm shift. Like losing generals throughout history, Sony keeps trying to fight the last war. This isn’t about one-upping Nintendo with a console game that you can play on a handheld. This current war is about reaching gamers that want a unique experience on their mobile device — games that you can play standing in line, games that use the unique technology of the iPhone like the camera (FaceFighter!), your music library (Tune Runner!), your GPS, and your ubiquitous connection to friends and family through social networks and email.
Sony has no answer to these features.
(Aside from a charismatic smack-talking kid on a bus).
So of course Sony is clinging to old tropes and claiming that modern mobile games are inferior because they don’t ape the forms of the past …
… but even that argument doesn’t hold water. For every new mobile game like Angry Birds or Paper Toss (which Sony bizarrely ridiculed in an earlier attack ad), there are plenty of more traditional console-style games on the platform. If you want to play Civilization: Revolution or Resident Evil, or Madden or Guitar Hero or The Sims, there’s an app for that. And did you see what that crazy man John Carmack rolled out at QuakeCon? Id’s Rage is running at 60fps, with Carmack categorically stating the that iPhone was more powerful and capable than the original Xbox or Playstation 2. The iPhone has plenty of chops as a game machine, and if developers aren’t taking full advantage of that, it’s not because of any deficiency in the phone, it’s because the mass market prefers simpler games — for now.
But the real reason Sony is losing this war has less to do with technology and game style than it does with … pants.
Yes, pants. It’s all about pants.
We all wear them. And they only have so many pockets. We have one pocket for our wallet, and one for our keys. We have a pocket for our phone. When the iPhone doubles so nicely as a game machine (and an MP3 player, and a GPS, and nearly any other thing you can name), then ever other gimmick gets kicked to the curb. Why should we carry a big, button-heavy PSP when we already have our phone with us everywhere and it also plays games? As software developers, we already look like tools half of the time. Are we supposed to make it worse by walking around in public with a PSP clamped to our belt? What is the point?
The iPhone is more convenient, more portable, more useful with a game library that dwarfs the PSP, and has native capabilities that are only starting to be explored by developers.
Oh yeah, we almost forgot — you can get also get a pants-load of gaming entertainment on the iPhone for the price of one “discount” $9.95 PSP title.
Sony really needs to get that PSP phone out there ASAP, because this fight is over. Right now the PSP is like a dinosaur with a bullet in the heart — it keeps charging ahead, but only because the message that it is dead hasn’t reached their hindbrain. A recent Wall Street Brand analysis included Sony with the likes of BP and Toyota in their 10 biggest brand disasters of 2010. At the beginning of the year the brand value of Sony (calculated by market cap, change in stock price compared to the S&P 500 and peers, and earnings) was $12 billion. As of June, 2010 this plunged 42 percent to $7 billion.
Wherever Marcus is going on that bus, let’s hope it makes a stop at the cluestore. As an independent developer and publisher, Appy Entertainment would welcome a viable, competitive platform from Sony. But right now, Apple is the only game in town. And to judge by Sony’s recent moves and advertising campaigns, it’s going to stay that way for the foreseeable future.Explore posts in the same categories: Apple