Was Sony's PS5 price bump wise? Check back in 3 years...
It's not really a short-term issue - but it could be a longer-term one.
[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert & company founder Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]
Welcome to the post-Gamescom continuum, folks. And to think, it’s only 4 days until PAX West kicks off in Seattle - and 102 days until The Game Awards, of course. There’s always something new coming down the pike in the game biz.
Otherwise, only 8 days left on our new Plus paid sub offer - 30% off for the first year. You get an exclusive weekly ‘which games are big and why?’ game trend analysis newsletter, interactive Steam ‘Hype’ charts, eBooks, Discord access & more…
Anyhow, let’s get to the business at hand - starting off with that PS hardware surprise..
PlayStation 5’s price increase & its market effect?
Let’s face it - price increases are never amazing-feeling for brands, unless you manage to make them from a position of strength. In some ways, the PlayStation 5 has that position - high demand, low supply. Thus we have last week’s announce that, due to the “global economic environment, including high inflation rates”:
“SIE has made the difficult decision to increase the recommended retail price (RRP) of PlayStation 5 in select markets across Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), Asia-Pacific (APAC), Latin America (LATAM), as well as Canada. There will be no price increase in the United States.”
The Verge has before and after pricing, and of course, Nintendo responded saying they weren’t raising the Switch price, as did Microsoft with the Series X and Series S consoles. Some initial comments on this whole thing:
In this case, it’s likely that the U.S. market was spared a PlayStation 5 price increase partly due to the strength of the dollar vs. other currencies. Which is just fine, but that’s not really something that’s understandable to the average PS5 buyer inside or outside of those countries. So it all feels a bit arbitrary. (Another reason could be stronger U.S. competition from Xbox, of course.)
We keep seeing Sony’s pricing changes, strategically, coming from ‘the vicinity of the CFO’s office’ rather than ‘the vicinity of brand leadership'. There’s been similar comments from us on the PlayStation Plus pricing - it’s complex, literal, and upside-maximizing. But it’s just not cohesive, messaging-wise.
Some people, like former Edge editor Nathan Brown, have this move as the straw that broke the camel’s back: “So much of Sony’s conduct this generation — the higher price of software, the handling of PS4-to-PS5 game upgrades, the lukewarm overhaul of Nu-PS Plus — has felt designed around what would benefit Sony the most, rather than its users.” I sympathize - but I guess see a lot of this as executional fumbles, instead of malice or grift?
Right now, these price increases will make little difference to whether people buy a PS5 or not. As NPD’s Mat Piscatella notes, as of August 2022, the PlayStation 5 is “…still supply constrained, so won't see any potential demand impact for a while. But theoretically at some point the markets won't be constrained. Then things will get interesting.” Indeed they will!
Which brings us to our final two points. Firstly, sometimes the ‘fan response’ on the Internet is not well aligned to reality. For example, I find it fascinating that the last ‘Xbox vs. PlayStation’ generation felt like it was a 50/50 battle online, when we now know that PlayStation 4 sold more than 2x the units of the Xbox One hardware.
Secondly, I was hunting around online, and I came across a an ad world ‘making of’ for TikTok sensation Khaby Lame’s endorsement of the Xbox Series S as ‘Simply Next-Gen’. This branding is, well, absolutely fascinating - because it’s such a repudiation of the PlayStation 5’s original credo that ‘you need the hottest tech to be a cutting-edge gamer’. (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s been the history.)
And if you go to Amazon in the U.S. right now, you’ll see Sony’s short, medium and long-term issue writ large when it comes to dedicated gaming hardware. The Xbox Series X? 15,500 Amazon reviews so far, and available ‘by invitation’ only. The PlayStation 5? Around 5,600 Amazon reviews, and also ‘by invitation’ - though remember a lot of PS5s are being diverted into the PlayStation Direct program.
But the Xbox Series S? Over 21,000 reviews at 4.8/5, full availability at USD $287, and plenty of happy customers. Meanwhile, the PlayStation 4 hasn’t been discontinued, but it looks pretty difficult to find new, at pricing commensurate with the Series S.
So, two and a half years into an unseeable pandemic, Sony is being forced to increase the price - in many territories - of the only piece of gaming hardware they have out on the market. (A piece of hardware they thought would be far further along, installed-base, by now.)
And all the while, a chief rival is selling a ‘simple’ competitor alongside Game Pass, and it seems to be going down a charm. (Well, at least in the U.S., a traditionally Xbox-friendly locale.)
So the open question would be - are both Sony and Xbox treading water while the supply chain rights itself, or is one of the two pulling ahead, globally? Especially since both are moving beyond a ‘pure’ hardware approach, and going multi-platform and multi-focus. We’ll… see? (But don’t count Sony out, given the amount of players still happy with their PS4s, and their lead from the last gen!)
Steam curators: what happens if you poke ‘em!
So, we’ve covered Steam Curators a couple of times recently, most obviously in this piece on avoiding ineffective or scam interactions with ‘influencers’: “General perception I've seen on other Discords is that Steam Curators are pretty low ROI - lots of people asking for free keys [to resell], not many with a lot of followers who change their picks regularly to new games, etc.”
So it was fascinating to see the creator of point & click game Brok the InvestiGator deciding to go and ‘feed the trolls’. This can be seen by this long Twitter thread, in which he reveals that he’s been targeted for negative recommendations by a group of Steam curators asking for free Steam keys from him.
Why? He explains: “In order to separate the few legit [key requests with] the fake ones, I started sending them free Prologue keys instead of full versions… AFAIK for Steam keys it is impossible to distinguish them before activating the key onto an account. So I figured the legit ones would come back to me asking why they were sent a Prologue key.”
In fact, he got hardly any replies at all - but then, suddenly negative reviews from a bunch of Curators. He says: “My theory is that those scammers started selling those keys on grey sites like Kinguin, Gamivo, G2A etc and are now getting angry clients coming back at them!” Probably true! And now the Twitter thread’s gained interest, all the negative curator reviews flipped to Positive again. What a turn of events!
Streamer CaseyExplosion made a separate thread about the issues here, pointing out: “It's coming as a surprise to many people that curators don't need to have played or own a game to create a review, even if the game isn't out yet. There are no restrictions whatsoever. For example, I could just create a review for Silksong if I wanted.”
This somewhat makes sense for big outlets who don’t have a single Steam account. But it looks like it’s contributing to a lot of ‘cloned’ Steam Curator accounts with semi-copied recommendations. In short: it’s a bit of a mess. (Though we like the freedom of Steam’s systems a lot more, compared to more locked-down options.)
Anyhow, there’s a feature called Curator Connect where you can send access directly to a Curator. So if you do anything with Steam Curators, please use this - not what the alligator game dev did.
The game discovery news round-up..
And let’s finish off today’s newsletter with a cavalcade of interesting info and data, shall we? Here’s what we’ve got from our scan of the top platform & discovery news:
PlayStation has bought Savage Game Studios, headed by Deconstructor Of Fun’s Michail Katkoff, to work “on a new unannounced AAA mobile live service action game” - presumably using a big Sony IP. Sony’s Hermen Hulst also repeats: “Our efforts beyond console in no way diminish our commitment to the PlayStation community, nor our passion to keep making amazing single-player, narrative-driven experiences.” So there.
Still seeing Chinese investment in Western game companies and markets ratcheting up? A new Wall Street Journal piece underlines why, including this killer quote from a dev who recently moved to Singapore: “You never know when your title will be [government] approved in China. Maybe tomorrow, maybe in five years. But in five years, the company is probably dead already.”
What’s this, Xbox? “A leak of potential branding for Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox Game Pass family subscription suggests you’ll be able to share a subscription with friends, too…” So for about 70% more $ compared to Game Pass Ultimate, you can share Game Pass with up to three other people’s Xbox accounts, as long as they are in the same country as you. Y’know what - that’s smart.
Meta’s moves? The vice president of Meta’s Horizon social media virtual reality software, Vivek Sharma, is leaving the company; ‘Why Fortnite, not Meta, is winning the metaverse’; Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast revealed that “the company is releasing its next headset in October, which likely means Cambria/Quest Pro is right around the corner.”
While some first-party Nintendo games are now adding DLC, it’s interesting to see Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope, its Ubisoft collab, announce a $90 ‘game & season pass’ bundle before launch. One NintendoLife commenter even says: “DLC is an amazing positive addition to video games. It distributes the costs to the people willing to get every last bit out of a game's potential.” We agree!
Microlinks: there’s a rumor/report that Sony will integrate Discord voice chat “in the coming months”, Genshin Impact’s anti-cheat tech on PC is being abused by ransomware to kill anti-virus programs; 52% of Europeans between the ages of 6 and 64 played video games in 2021.
Google Play Games “will allow users to play [Android games in the monthly subscription service.] natively on their PCs” in select Asian countries. An interesting move into the PC space from Google - wonder if they’ll keep it to Android titles, long-term? As per the FAQ: “Google Play Games is a PC application that lets you browse, download, and play select mobile games on a Windows desktop or laptop.”
Did you know that Steam ‘takeover’ banners, which many of you see on the front page (above), can also appear on subpages too? We’ve seen several, including one for Apex Legends on the F2P ‘hub’ page. It’s obviously only worth it for highly trafficked subpages, though. (They’re not paid, and awarded at Steam’s discretion.) But the fact these exist is underdiscussed.
Microlinks: Netflix tests ‘game handles’ in select mobile titles amid development of social gaming; dug this long-form Polygon opinion on GaaS titles dealing with both newbies and veterans well; the latest MIX Next showcase is open for submissions until September 16th.
Finally, it’s been almost exactly 30 years (!) since Super Mario Kart was released on the Super Nintendo. And - as spotted by Attract Mode - a really nice, clean copy of the original Japanese TV commercial for the title just surfaced on Twitter:
[We’re GameDiscoverCo, an agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? We run the newsletter you’re reading, and provide consulting services for publishers, funds, and other smart game industry folks.]