Gamepro currently has an interview up with Dave Krakker from Sony about the negative PR that the PS3 has received. I seems obvious to me that he just doesn’t GET IT. Gamepro calls it “The Toughest Job in Video Games” but I don’t really think it’s all that difficult. So being the helpful guru that I am I decided to make a guide for Sony executives who want to turn their consoles image from hate to elate.
Here is an excerpt from the Gamepro interview:
The PlayStation 3 has come under fire recently for its steep price. How is Sony corporate handling the criticism? Is Sony’s corporate culture changing? We posed these timely questions to Dave Karraker, director of Sony Computer Entertainment America’s corporate communications.
* Are some of those [negative] perceptions justified, assuming you feel they exist? Why or why not?
* A lot of the perceptions are not justified and seem fueled by people who don’t have all the facts or have some kind of axe to grind. I think you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t say PS3 is an amazing piece of technology. Yeah, the price of PS3 is higher than other system, but look at what you get – the Cell processor, Blu-ray Disc, built-in hard drive, HDMI 1080p, Wi-Fi, the SixAxis. That is a lot of truly cutting-edge technology in one box. It is funny how myopic people can be when a new system comes along. They seem to forget that launching a truly next-generation gaming platform is never easy and it never has been. I like to say it is like birth: “The actual labor may not be all the pretty, but the result is pretty darn amazing.”
But, as a gamer, I like to concentrate on the gee whiz factor when something new launches. No matter who’s platform it is, I look at what is truly new and exciting. I am confounded by people who say they are true gamers but all they do is look for the negatives in a system, or a company, or in the industry in general. Some media, in particular, are just too easily caught up in all the bashing. It feeds on itself, and to what end? How do you benefit the real gamer by bashing on something? These are very smart people who can see through most of the BS.
Sure, there were some perceptions on PS3 that were justified. For example, we didn’t have nearly enough hardware at launch to meet consumer demand. That was difficult for all of us and contributed to a tough climate with press and analysts. That’s behind us now, but a bit of that still lingers. Frankly, I have stopped talking to media about the launch and am now really just focused on the games.
* What is your vision for overhauling Sony’s perception in the media? Should the company be more accessible to journalists and bloggers?
* Access and education are the two things I talk about most over here. We want to be as accessible as possible and provide as much information as we can so media can properly cover our products and give the gamers all the news they want and need. That focus will never change. At launch of PS3 we gave an amazing amount of access to media. Kaz, Jack, and Peter must have done hundreds of interviews. That kind of access hasn’t stopped, and in fact, I think it has increased with the amount of contact we have on a daily basis from folks in the blogging community.
In response: Twistedsymphony’s guide for turning around the negative image of the PS3, in 8 easy steps.
Step 1: Stop lying
If people don’t trust you, it’s probably because you’ve squandered that trust a number of times in the past. I’m going to extend this one step further to include talking out of the side of your mouth in an attempt to side step a direct question. If you can’t answer a questions say “I can’t answer that” maybe even give a reason WHY you can’t answer it. If you look like you’re hiding something people will always assume the worst. If you don’t want to answer a question because it invalidates a previous lie or otherwise makes you look bad, answer it anyway and be humble (we’ll cover why in step 2). If you come clean about your mis-steps people feel like you’re making an effort to make things right. If you ignore or deny them they assume you’re either oblivious, arrogant, or just plain don’t care. None of those are things you want your customers or the media assuming.
Step 2: Be humble
Even if the truth sucks a little honesty with a warm cup of humble seasoned with humility will go a long way towards earning the respect of gamers, or anyone for that matter. Acting Big is a good strategy when you’re the little guy trying to become the big dog; however, once you ARE the big dog you have to work the other way around, otherwise you just come off as arrogant, self-centered, and tyrannical.
When a company is small and acts big it creates an underdog complex. People feel they can relate to the company and they cheer it on toward success. When a company is big and acts big it creates and image of being cold and soulless, people can’t relate and there’s a disconnect there. If you speak straight, down to earth and humble it gives people something to relate to again and they get that human connection back and feel like they’re standing behind the best company.
It’s about relating to your customers. People can’t relate to CEOs who bark jargon with a forked tongue. They CAN relate to people like Cliffy B and Miyamoto who come off like your average Joe. They speak straight and are all smiles because they feel like they’ve been given the opportunity of a life time. You see pictures of those people and you don’t think about all the money they make or the corporate meetings they attend all day. At very least your first thought is “man they seem like a cool guy. I’d like to meet them. I bet we have a lot in common.” You don’t think that about any of the people representing Sony, they act, dress and speak like they’re above their customers and that creates a vast disconnect between them and their customers. I should be clear here though, I don’t think it’s right to have these people suddenly trying to act hip (remember step 1, pretending to be something you’re not is still lying) but you should at least use people who can genuinely relate to your customers as your poster children. Keep the suits out of the public eye. Your customers can easily sniff a fake (see: alliwantforxmasisapsp.com).
Step 3: The customer is always right
One thing I see frequently with interviews with Sony execs is that they complain that the customers and media just doesn’t understand (even in the interview above). Here’s an idea: explain yourself better. If the customer doesn’t understand your message then change the message. It’s not the customers job to understand you, it’s YOUR job to connect with the customer. Not taking responsibility for your own actions is one thing, passing the blame on to the very customers you’re trying to convince is just plain ignorant. This is also a call to stop your whining, acting all aggravated and depressed because “no one understands you” might work for the Emo kids at the local middle-school but it should be very much removed from your companies PR. Playing the sympathy card wont work, no one has sympathy for a multi-million dollar conglomerate.
Step 4: Sell the software
Every time I see an interview with Sony they spout off about Cell, Blu-Ray and SixAxis. Read an interview with Microsoft and they’re talking about Halo 3, Guitar Hero, and Blue Dragon. Read an interview with Nintendo and they’re talking about Mario and Zelda… do you see a pattern here? In the grand scheme of things gamers don’t care about the hardware they care about the games. Hardware simply becomes a means to an end.
[Car analogy time] It doesn’t matter how fast a car can go or how good the gas mileage is, or how safe it is; if there aren’t any roads you can drive it on, that car is completely and utterly useless. All of your expensive technology is squandered. [/Car analogy time]
Cell and BluRay are empty vessels until you have games that can use them and gamers don’t even care about those things once the games are available. All gamers need to know is that the game is good and you need a PS3 to play it. When was the last time you heard an MS exec mention Xenon? How about the last time you heard Nintendo talk about Broadway? ok now when was the last time you heard Sony talk about the Cell? How much does Karraker know about current and upcoming PS3 games? How excited is he about the games coming out this month, or next month, or next holiday, or even the games out now?
Step 5: Sell what you’ve got, not what you might have
It’s also a good idea to sell heavy on what you have and light on things to come. Lets say 80/20. If you convince someone that you have an awesome game that they can play RIGHT NOW there’s a lot of motivation to go out and get it RIGHT NOW. Selling the games in the future should ONLY be used to help convince the consumer that it will be a lasting investment beyond the immediate purchase.
If there is no reason to make the purchase now then why should anyone buy it now? Giving your consumers ample time to mull it over will eventually give them idle hands and you run a very high risk of them just spending the money elsewhere instead. Maybe not necessarily on your competitors but maybe they’ll buy something else completely. Selling promises instead of products isn’t just bad for YOU it’s bad for the industry as a whole.
Console launches are a little different but not by much. They’ll have a definite release date *cough* or at least they should *cough* which allows your customers to mentally prepare for the purchase. Selling promises after the release there is no definitive time when it will be worth it. A game here, a dashboard feature there, there is no immediacy or time line that on X date everything will be ready. Similarly with a launch you don’t want to announce things too early, you’ll wind up breaking a lot of promises and people will get bored waiting even if you do have a set date. (you can’t see my face but trust me, I’m rolling my eyes right now)
Step 6: Do on to others….
I think it’s incredibly ridiculous that any one at Sony should expect positive input from gamers and the media when they themselves use nearly every available opportunity to bash their competition (read: the rest of the industry). You get what you give. When you insult the Wii or 360 you insult the people that respect those products, people take those things personally, it puts those people on the defensive and they start hurling insults back. Considering the number of follies Sony has had recently they should know not to throw stones when you live in glass homes. While Nintendo and MS might take the occasional pot shot at Sony both of those camps laid relatively quiet about Sony at the start of this generation, and both of those camps were positive about the industry and their competition in general.
Step 7: Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin
Sony’s a big company with lots of divisions but the gaming company is like a separate entity with lots of it’s own divisions. The difference is that while the different larger divisions within Sony have a synergistic relationship and help support each other, the divisions within the gaming division are cannibalistic.
It seems that Sony’s gaming division is trying to balance maintaining PS2 sales while trying to improve PSP sales and as a result the PS3 is left to succeed on it’s own merits. The impression I get is that the efforts are spread far too thin. Games made on the PS2 take away from potential PS3 titles and the catalog suffers. The PSP gets new media and marketplace features before they arrive on the PS3; again the PS3 suffers. Whenever you see an announcement from Sony they’re only talking about 1 of their three gaming segments. They work on building up one while the other two don’t get any attention and then they switch focus.
Look at Nintendo by comparison. Whenever a new announcement is made they have equal parts Wii and DS. It’s clear that Nintendo is dedicated to both platforms and that they always have new things going on with both of them simultaneously. Nintendo seems to approach the portable and home gaming markets the same way Sony approaches the Media and TV markets. That is to say efforts are always running on both fronts and they work together creating value beyond the sum of their parts. Microsoft has taken a 1 track approach, they don’t have to worry about spreading themselves too thin because they only have one product to promote from their gaming division. The Xbox 1 was dropped almost immediately after the 360 launched.
You need to divide your efforts evenly, don’t mention one platform without mentioning all of them and if you have something new to show for one platform have something new to show for all of them. Without this customers for any one of your platforms feel like they’re being left out in the cold. PSP owners assume you care more about PS2 and PS3. PS3 owners assume you care more about PS2 and PSP, and PS2 owners assume you care more about PSP and PS3. It’s not a good position to be in.
Step 7: Sell your strengths not your diversity
Nintendo Wii = fun and easy to play, Microsoft Xbox 360 = connect and play online, Sony PS3 = ??? What’s your core message? You don’t seem to have one. The PS3 is a very capable machine but the message seems to be “we do a little bit of everything” which isn’t a good message to have. Figure out who you’re trying to market to and market to them. It doesn’t matter if you neglect 80% of your console’s capabilities to concentrate one aspect of it. What gaming aspect of your console makes it better then the competition? Once you figure that you promote the games the exemplify that aspect. Nintendo doesn’t say “look at the Wii Remote” they say “Look how easy and fun Wii Sports is to play”. Microsoft doesn’t say “Xbox Live is the greatest” they say “Millions of gamers are playing Gears of War together online”.
If the Wii is a bottle opener and the 360 is a meat cleaver then the PS3 is a swiss-army knife, it does a little bit of everything and doesn’t seem to do anything the best. If I want a good knife I’m going to buy the 360… if I want an easy to use bottle opener I’m going to buy the Wii… The PS3 might offer both but it does neither exceptionally well; or at very least that’s the impression I’ve got from Sony’s PR.
Sell your strong point and make that your message, I don’t know what that is, but it’s not my responsibility to figure it out. Once you have your message exemplify it with the games that prove you are the strongest console in that area.