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The wider gaming public are often badly caricatured by industry insiders and hobbyist games web sites. They are painted with a broad brush that taints all and sundry as undiscerning, even indiscriminate consumers when it comes to their games purchases. They are imagined, walking down the high street and stumbling into games shops, where upon they impulsively pick-up the first game they see and make a quick purchase. Without a second thought they throw caution to the wind and put down a large sum of money on the latest game or console that happens to mention family friendly play.
Whilst this picture of how the less informed family gamer buys video games may help hardcore gamers establish a sense of superiority over the simple man on the street, it is pretty inaccurate. Hardcore gamers obviously spend a considerable amount of time, and invest large amounts of meaning into each and every of their game purchases. They marvel at the mystery of someone casually wandering in and haphazardly making a purchase.
Whilst this view of ill-advised purchases, egged on by GAME employees, is substantiated anecdotally on various enthusiast web sites, it's not really very close to the truth. If we are to move from enthusiasts to grown-up appreciators of our media we need to readjust how we understand and respond to those outside our gaming communities. Whilst the family-gamer may not know as much about the games industry or the heritage of a particular game, they are still expert at this little thing we like to call 'consuming'.
Sony seem to think that by making their console look like the Wii, and packaging in a microphone and appropriate family-friendly game they will suddenly steal the living room gaming market from Nintendo.
Western culture, first and foremost, teaches us how to be discerning consumers. Our purchasing choices are the currency of our everyday lives; we navigate through a sea of product choices every day; we breathe at atmosphere of competing brands and intellectual ideas. If you have visited Subway recently you would have had to make at least ten distinct decisions before you got to eat your sandwich. And this doesn't even get into the various meal deals, drink and cookie options available. Let us not kid ourselves, when the public at large buy a game they bring this considerable consuming experience to bear on their decisions.
I was reminded of this again recently when I heard news of the White PS2 pack that has been announced for the upcoming holiday season. Sony seem to think that by making their console look like the Wii, and packaging in a microphone and appropriate family-friendly game they will suddenly steal the living room gaming market from Nintendo. The reality however, is that regardless of how the system is pitched and packaged, the consumer savvy families of our day will be all too aware of what is going on here. Sony has to change a lot more than the colour and packaging to make an impact on our buying habits. They need to affect what our friends say about their product. They need to carefully control how their pricing is perceived. They need to establish unique and must-have features that only they deliver. And perhaps more than all that they need to become the device that every one owns or wants to own. Not until all these aspects are addressed will there be anything like the sort of sea change they need if they are to shore up their ambitions into the next generation. This requires a lot more than a PS2 painted white.
Now, having said all that there is plenty here that Sony are doing right. The SingStar games are great to play with the family, and hook into a rising tide of popularity for home karaoke. The colour change, whilst obviously not ground breaking, does mean their diminutive console will look pretty cute next to the Wii under the TV (although I guess this isn't what they are hoping for). But in addition to all this, they are really missing out on highlighting their trump card.
Sony is the one games company who have proven themselves to be committed to giving their products a long life. They have showed time after time that the PS2 can go on selling and enjoying great new games long after the other constructors have moved onto new technology. This scores big points when it comes to the casual and family focused gamer. Parents are fed up with their kids buying into expensive fads, only for them to be replaced a year or two later. The PS2 represents a fad that lasted for a good ten years, exactly value in any primary carer's book. This is a strength they should really be playing to this Christmas, rather than fussing around with new colours.
Only time will tell how the system sales shake down in the closing months of the year, but Nintendo's unique controller and 'playing together' rhetoric look like they will prove to be more compelling to the general gaming public than you might expect. Once the Wii's have sold out, the PS2 is positioned to be an alternative present. But in consuming, if you are not the main event, you are pretty much nowhere.