The cornered beast is often the fiercest…
In 2013, Sony won the console war for this generation before either the Xbox One or the PlayStation 4 had even launched. This was done not by some incredible killer app game shown off that was exclusive to the PS4, or by some killer feature that instantly caught everyone’s attention- no, it was done by Sony’s extremely savvy marketing, which managed to paint the PS4 as a powerful, simple, gamer first and gamer friendly console, with no nonsense and gimmicks attached.
The real coupe de grace for Sony came, however, thanks to Microsoft’s incessant mess ups at the time- Microsoft unveiled a machine that was more expensive than the PS4, less powerful, straddled with a gimmick that no one wanted or cared for, and riddled with anti consumer, hostile policies that made something as simple as game ownership a convoluted affair. Sony sprung on that last bit, in particular, making it a point to contrast their own gamer friendly approach to Microsoft’s in their messaging and marketing for the PS4- and in the process, they indelibly painted themselves as the pro-gamer alternative to Microsoft’s greedy, profit seeking establishment machine.
This was the perception that their marketing created, and this is the perception that stuck, and even continues to stick- in spite of all of Microsoft’s work over the last three years to undo the damage done in that one instance, popular perception still continues to work against them, anecdotally speaking. It is one of the many reasons Microsoft are going for a reset with the Xbox One S and the Xbox One Scorpio- a taint on your brand can be hard to shake off, and by that point, it’s best to just rebrand entirely (just ask Sony with the PS3, and the subsequent PS3 Slim rebranding).
"Aggressive marketing that directly calls out the competition is not even a new tactic."
This image that stuck for Sony and for Microsoft came entirely because of Sony’s aggressive marketing and messaging, that wasn’t afraid to call out the competition when the competition slipped up. Seeing Sony (rightly) call Microsoft out on their bullshit – and seeing Microsoft being unable to respond, because what Sony was saying was true after all – ultimately convinced everyone about where they should put their money (it even ended up being a net win for Microsoft and Xbox fans, who ended up getting a far better product than they would have otherwise, thanks to Microsoft working extra hard to win everybody back).
Aggressive marketing that directly calls out the competition is not even a new tactic – Apple has directly called out Microsoft and Windows PCs in its Mac advertisements before, Coke and Pepsi trade blows with each other openly, and even in the world of video games, Sega and Nintendo used to openly exchange barbs with each other back in the 16-bit heyday of gaming- anyone remember ‘Genesis does what Nintendon’t?’ Or Nintendo of America’s Howard Lincoln’s legendary press release aimed directly at Sega? Or Sony themselves directly targeting Sega and Nintendo with their first batch of PlayStation ads?
Video game ads used to be aggressive, and directly contrasted a product with the competition- in terms of features, games, power, or just the coolness factor. But some time down the line, all that stopped, and video game marketing became mostly neutered and safe. Shots at the competition were veiled, and never in any marketing facing the mainstream. It took Sony taking aim at Microsoft and the Xbox One to revive this old tradition.
Which brings us to Microsoft- in the last few weeks, Sony have slipped up a fair bit. The PS4 Pro, for instance, is a decidedly weaker product than the upcoming Xbox One Scorpio. And for a console being pushed for its 4K capabilities, it misses a vital feature by being incapable of paying 4K UHD Blu Ray discs (where even the Xbox One S can do that). Sony have raised the price of the PS Plus by $10 with no justification given, where PSN as a network continues to consistently lag behind Xbox Live, and they recently blocked mods for Fallout 4 from appearing on the PS4, making the PS4 the only platform that does not support mods for the game, and making this just one more instance of Sony arbitrarily blocking something for the players (previously, they’ve blocked EA Access, and cross platform online play).
"No one should be complaining about this- Microsoft fans get to tout areas where their system is superior, and Sony fans hopefully get a better product and more responsive company at the end of this all."
Microsoft decided to do something new here- they decided to call Sony out on this. From tweets specifically pointing out that their console could play 4K Blu Ray discs (and Fallout 4 mods), to press releases and statements very carefully noting that the Scorpio would be a more powerful console than the PS4 Pro, Microsoft made sure to call attention to the difference between themselves and Sony at the moment- because that difference works in their favor.
There are people who are actually a fair bit offended by Microsoft here, which is a) hypocritical, because where were they when Sony released that used games video back in 2013?, and b) short sighted, because in the long run, Microsoft directly calling Sony out when Sony slip up will create enough discontent with Sony that they will be forced to address areas they are lacking in and directly improve as a result- it happened with Microsoft earlier this generation, and with Nintendo with the 3DS, and with Sony with the PS3. No one should be complaining about this- Microsoft fans get to tout areas where their system is superior, and Sony fans hopefully get a better product and more responsive company at the end of this all. So I personally think that Microsoft doing what they are doing is great.
This is a move that makes sense for Microsoft, too. They are currently selling a console that has been outsold by the competition 2:1, and which has far more cachet with the audience and with third party developers than they do- in other words, they literally have their backs to the wall. In a case such as this, standing out with an aggressive marketing strategy cannot hurt them at all.
The fact that this marketing strategy is predicated on facts, and no FUD or marketing buzzwords, is what makes it all even better. Microsoft are now, perhaps tired of not being given due credit by a gaming public that is at its worst antipathetic, and at best, apathetic, tooting their own horn, and calling attention to themselves where they are doing better than Sony. In the process, they are highlighting that Sony are not infallible, that Sony are stumbling. It’s a good move for Microsoft, and it’s a good move for Sony in the long run too, who will be forced to improve. Most of all, it is good news for the gaming industry, and for us, as gamers, because with two competitive products in the market, it will be us who benefit the most in the long run.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.