Video Game Branding and Game Station Branding
By Tom Dougherty
The videogame console manufacturers have become inconsistent in their brand messaging and the result has led to rebranding efforts that have made them all similar rather than meaningfully different.
Videogames certainly are not a new market and this most recent generation of consoles are among the most interesting in the history of the industry. We’ve seen the meteoric rise of the casual gamer with Nintendo’s Wii, the proliferation of Blu-Ray as a new media format with the PlayStation 3, and a platform for hardcore gamers focused on perfecting the gamer experience with Xbox’s 360. (Look at a market study on the gaming and software category here)
Each brand came to the market with a subtly different brand message. Each was a rebranding of the previous generation console that upon initial release created brand differences between each system. The state that now exists in the console market is one in which the exterior product designs are different, yet no console represents anything unique from a brand perspective. Video game branding is a rudderless ship.
Nintendo’s Wii was a big departure from the previous generation’s GameCube as Nintendo attempted to capture a casual market. The Wii’s rebranding focus on the “casual gamer” and “active multiplayer” (without a headset) was consistent from all angles. It had intuitive controls, low manufacturing costs (creating a reasonable price point) and a name that symbolized a plural experience.
Take a look at the ads Nintendo had when the first released the Wii.
Wii TV spot:
The departure from traditional multiplayer gaming, in which players communicated over headset from different locations, helped the Wii dominate the console market. The problem with Nintendo’s brand now is that, with the upcoming release of the WiiU, Nintendo has mistaken the Wii’s success as being an outcome of the technology it used rather than the fact that users emotionally connected with what the brand of Wii.
Take a look at the WiiU 2011 E3 video footage below, or at the WiiU name. The name has stripped away the communal aspect of gaming entirely and made it independent. In the WiiU reveal footage, the champion is no longer an emotional intensity. It is all about technology. The controller is the hero of Nintendo’s new console.
WiiU TV spot:
The WiiU E3 video montage below, which includes clips from upcoming release titles, says it all. The Wii concentrated little on the hardcore gaming market and it did them well because of it. The visible departure from this is a sign that Nintendo sees their equity in technology not in the “experience” that the Wii brand owned. A brand creates meaning when it clearly defines who it is for but also by defining who it is not for.
When it says who it is for it creates a brand consumers can identify with. In turn, it becomes a key driver of brand preference. When brand is an emotional self-reflection of the consumer, the consumer buys, in essence, themselves and they are in capable of choosing something else. Nintendo’s focus is departing from a once defined consumer by attempting to become relevant to too many.
WiiU Game Montage:
Nintendo, however, is not the only one in a brand conundrum. Both PlayStation and Xbox share the same weakness. Just look at the similarities in imaging, sense of group and overall feel in the recent TV spots for the PlayStation Move and Xbox Kinect, both recent console additions attempting to take market share from the Wii.
If your thinking that maybe this is not a very big shift, just take a look at two original spots from around the time both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 were first released.
It remains to be seen what the next adjustments will be to the PlayStation and Xbox. (At this time only the Nintendo’s WiiU has been unveiled.) However, judging by the shift already underway, the gap between Nintendo and the other manufacturers will continue to be bridged.
The problem facing console manufacturers is that they are not consistently making their purposes important to the customer. That’s true whether the brand represents a new type of gaming that involves friends and family all together in the same room; a brand that has perfected gaming for very involved market interested in shooters, RPG’s, leveling up and earning achievement points; or a brand focused on bringing cutting edge technology to the industry to drive the most immersive and graphically intensive gameplay experiences.
The Brands are all over the place
Inconsistency is the bane of brands and often adjustments to brand based on the fear of short-term losses can prevent long-term gains. Consistency does not happen overnight and all too often the folly of a message is that it is never given the opportunity to be received fully within the market.
This is only compounded as a console’s lifecycles run their course and the impetus for manufacturers to reinvent themselves with each new iteration often overshadows the more important aspect of staying true to what equity was creating the previous time around.
In the console industry, game titles are often multiplatform. In gaming marketing the onus then is on console developers to create preference for their hardware rather than the software creating all the pull through.
As competitive offerings become more and more similar it means being forced to compete on table stakes, which is always bad for business.