Two years have now passed since the ‘eighth generation’ console war begun, with the launch of the Sony PlayStation 4 (PS4) and Microsoft Xbox One. Few product launches have been as heavily debated and hotly competitive as this head-to-head clash of the titans, but the outcome of the first few rounds has clearly put Sony on top. For now at least, the PS4 remains the best-selling next-gen (current-gen?) console, having sold 22.3 million compared to Xbox One sales of a mere 11.6.
With both units packing similar hardware and sharing a range of near-identical features, it would be foolish to deny the importance of Sony Corp’s communications strategy in shaping the fate of its latest gaming machine. So, just how did Sony manage to turn around their fortunes?
Firstly, Sony focused on just that, GAMING. Sony realised that they needed to align themselves with their core audience and made sure that gaming was the centre of all of their promotional activities. Microsoft, on the other hand, had a very different vision and positioned the Xbox One as an all-in-one entertainment centre, focusing heavily on media set-top box features. This strategy back-fired, alienating the brand’s original fans and sending hard-core gamers in Sony’s direction.
Next, Sony opted for a media launch strategy that would sandwich the Xbox One launch. With the Xbox set to be released one week before the PS4 in November 2013, Sony designed a stunt that would assert media dominance and make sure that any Xbox coverage would have to reference the Sony console…
On the 14th of November, the London OXO Tower underwent a unique makeover. As darkness crept over London’s South Bank, 72 neon lights shone bright to reveal the iconic PlayStation circle, cross, square and triangle button symbols. Buzz on social channels went wild, but the games had only just begun. The OXO Tower then played host to an exclusive preview event for celebrities and lifestyle media as Sony secured key influencers; presenting popular figures from Jonathan Ross to Dizzee Rascal as PS4 fans.
Sony also focused on something that Microsoft couldn’t match, no matter the budget – heritage. The PlayStation brand was first introduced in 1994 and is a veteran compared to that of the Xbox, launched in 2001. This allowed Sony to tap into a pool of nostalgia and iconic gaming culture that was used to capture the hearts of gamers around the world. Not only was this done via the stunt and various visuals, it was reinforced through a clever strapline – #4theplayers. The stunt and hashtag combination helped to generate 36.5 million Twitter impressions within 24 hours and over 60 pieces of media coverage. The PS4 launch was inescapable.
Though Sony seems to have won the battle so far, it might be short-sighted to say that it’s already won the war. On the 14th of May this month, Microsoft announced that it had “the best-selling console in the U.S. in April”, perhaps suggesting a change in momentum as E3 draws closer. Both parties will be looking to impress and Microsoft will be keen to show off its latest exclusive blockbuster games against Sony’s new indie wild cards.
The outcome of this next skirmish is anyone’s guess, one thing’s for sure – we’re set for another interesting year as the two gaming titans face off once again.
Kayne Gocheekit, Intern, Technology Team
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February 21, 2024