Ask the Kliq #6
Every once in a while, you will think about video games and then ask yourself a question that has no rhyme or reason. Something that just happened to pop into your head at that exact moment. In some rare instances, not even Google or Wikipedia can provide the answer you need. Sometimes you don’t even need an answer to that question.
This is where we come in.
Our panel of experts is here to take on all of your video games-related questions, no matter how serious or silly they may be. With each new edition, we will submit a question to this elite committee, which will in turn try to provide you, our beloved readers, with the most accurate answer they can come up with.
Do you have a question for us? Shoot us an e-mail at kapoutman AT hotmail.com with the subject line “Ask the Kliq”, or leave a comment below. The best questions will be featured in an upcoming column.
This Week’s Question
This week, we have a question from self-described Playstation fanboy “Darth Kratos” (Aaron, is that you?) who has been wondering about Sony and the lack of a mascot in recent years. According to our friend Darth, ever since Crash Bandicoot went multi-console, Sony has been in dire need of a new mascot to help their corporate image. He says “Nintendo has Mario, Microsoft has Master Chief, but Sony has no one and that’s why they’re last this generation”. With this in mind, here is Darth Kratos’ question:
Do you think it is a necessity for Sony to have a mascot, and if so, who would you choose to fill that role?
Mark B.: I don’t think Sony needs a mascot so much as they need to make games that people want to play. In all fairness, they have about FOUR potential mascot characters they could use to represent their console, with a fifth having potentially popped up this holiday season. You’ve got Kratos, Jax and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank, Sly Cooper, and now Sockboy ready and waiting to be the frontman for the company, but none of that is going to matter one way or the other unless the console itself has games that are both good and exclusive and right now, Sony doesn’t have that.
Let’s think about it a second. First off, all of the failed consoles that have come and gone in the past twenty-odd years failed for reasons completely unrelated to their having or not having a mascot. In fact, at least two of the consoles we as gamers could charitably call an “abysmal failure” HAD a mascot: the 3DO had Gex, and the Turbo-Grafx 16 had Bonk (and Johnny Turbo, but the less said about him the better), and that still didn’t save those consoles from sinking like a boulder into an ocean of fail. Mascots are good for interesting kids in your console, sure, but back in the 8-bit days, Sega had two notable mascots in Alex Kidd and Opa-Opa. Both of these mascots were pretty adorable and vibrant characters, but the Sega Master System pretty much tanked, so there’s no guarantee that a mascot will guarantee success.
Sony’s problem as a company at this point is that they don’t have any bargaining power to convince consumers to go out and buy their system except for the fact that they’re Sony, as if anyone cares at this point. Microsoft has been stomping Sony in the face for months now, between yanking former Sony exclusive titles onto their console, bargaining with companies to generate a huge exclusive console library, and generally behaving like they want to win the console war. I mean, they’re trying to bribe Treasure into releasing Radiant Silvergun on XBLA. RADIANT SILVERGUN. This is a game that costs upwards of two hundred dollars on Ebay to own, AND THIS IS CONSIDERED NORMAL, and Microsoft is trying to move Heaven and Earth to make this available to gamers.
A mascot is not going to save them from the unholy curb-stomping they are taking at this point. Frankly, I can’t even begin to guess what would, but a cute talking animal isn’t it. Just ask Sega about that one and I’m sure they’ll be happy to tell you about their experiences with the Dreamcast and how they lost to, oh hey, Sony, despite having a mascot people love. Well, people who aren’t us, anyway. Or maybe you could ask Nintendo about how their luck went when their beloved mascot was trotted out onto the Gamecube and went up against the mascot-less Playstation 2. I’m sure they’d love to tell you that story while they’re swimming around in their money piles and waving their Wii-motes around like lightsabers.
But hey, maybe if Sony had been nicer to Square-Enix, SNK, Atlus, Working Designs and From Software when they had the chance they wouldn’t be having these problems now, because these developers might feel a sense of loyalty to Sony instead of the almighty dollar, which would mean there WOULD be all sorts of exclusive content that people would feel the need to own. Live and learn, I guess.
Christopher Bowen: We still need mascots? Really? They are still relevant?
First off, what IS a mascot? Is it a character that’s drawn up specifically to be a mascot, or is it someone that gets hot and becomes the face of his company? I don’t think Nintendo thought “mascot” when they made Mario have his own game for the Famicom, or that Microsoft thought Master Chief – an otherwise boring, faceless character – was going to become a recognisable name. However, Sega sure as hell thought ahead when they created Sonic the Hedgehog to be the anti-Mario in the 90s, likewise Sony’s marketing of Naughty Dog’s Crash. Now look where those two are.
Let’s look at all the big mascots, eh?
* MARIO – A worldwide brand, Mario has still been reduced to just doing sports titles recently. The good news is that most of Mario’s games are still good – even the sports titles, which drive me up a wall, are really good games – so people keep buying them. Regardless, Mario barely counts as a true “mascot” because he became prominent as the face of his company in the 80s.
* SONIC – Sega’s former mascot has become a waste of 0s and 1s. His last really good game was on the Genesis (Sonic 3), and his last game that’s even relevant in the grand scheme was a Dreamcast launch title (Sonic Adventure). His games have become almost universally awful, and he’s become an industry laughingstock along the lines of Duke Nukem.
* CRASH BANDICOOT – Crash was really just more focus-grouped drivel that happened to have a few good games made with him in them; it wasn’t the character that took off as much as the games themselves, which really were good for their time. Still, the franchise lost steam once the quality of the games went down, and nowadays, he’s not even relevant enough to be considered a joke.
* MASTER CHIEF – Master Chief is Microsoft’s number one mascot, but in reality, it’s less because of who he is and more because he’s the star of their biggest title. Forgive me if I get this totally wrong, but doesn’t Master Chief not say or do anything but shoot? He’s your standard silent protagonist that happens to ride the coattails of a great game who’s popularity went viral. If Halo wasn’t as popular as it was, he wouldn’t even be a mascot.
* SPYRO THE DRAGON – Remember Spyro? I remember actually enjoying Spyro’s games when they first came out. They had good controls, a camera that didn’t hurt the gamer, and a nice personality make the first Spyro fun to play even today. However, the games started to go down in quality to the point where it became hard to justify purchasing the titles, and now, the only people that are into Spyro are kids too young to notice or care.
I could also go on about everyone from Bubsy to Gex, but there’s a common theme: if your game is good, your characters will become a “mascot”. Purposely creating something to market around is foolish if you don’t have the game to back it up. Every “mascot” who’s been relegated to the scrap heap has been a victim of being in poor games. Let’s not forget that Namco’s mascot is a 28 year old yellow blob who was designed around a partially eaten pizza, or that Koei’s mascots are dead Chinese people.
Under that aspect, Sony’s mascot should probably be Ratchet and Clank. They’re in good games, they’re exclusive to the system, and they have some personality to them. IfSony’s thinking of who to market behind, they’re out of luck; the kind of gamer that is playing and enjoying the PS3 and PSP nowadays doesn’t care about mascots because they are hardcore gamers that are playing Valkyria Chronicles and other exclusive titles. The gamers that do care don’t have the money for Sony’s systems and are instead buying the other two.
Quick summary: Sony needs to reduce costs and develop more first party killer apps before they worry about what bundle of code to stick on their marketing documents. Mascots are shallow husks without solid games to nourish them.
Ashe Collins: A mascot? What is this, the 90’s?
Seriously, there’s no need for mascots on any of the consoles any more. There are so few system exclusives that there’s really no need.
What would help Sony is getting the cost on the PS3 down a bit more. That is the SINGLE biggest reason I don’t have one yet. The cost. The other issue I had was the backwards compatibility, but I’ve given up on that pipe dream. Then there’s the network support which could be leaps and bounds better on the PS3.
It’s not about brand recognition anymore, it’s about people not being able to afford it and opting to the more affordable system. And let’s face it, PS3 owners have been getting the shaft on the non-exclusive games anyway. Fallout 3 runs terribly on the PS3 and less so on the 360 and PC. Which version would you pick up? The one that runs like crap or the one that’s going to get more updates and add-ons in the future?
That’s what it’s really come down to this generation of consoles, options and money. Sure the PS3 has all these great options, but look who’s doing most of them cheaper? At this point in the game you can’t even use the Blu-Ray player excuse as the PS3 isn’t cheaper than a Blu-Ray player anymore.
Sony got sucker-punched this time around by trying to put too much into their brand and they are lagging behind significantly because of it. Time for them to buckle down and figure out their priorities or they’re not going to have a PS4 to roll out to the public because no one will care anymore. They’ll be too busy playing their Wii 2.5 or Xbox 720’s to care about Sony’s latest expensive entertainment center warmer.
Wow. I sound bitter.
Robert Capra: I think Sony definitely needs a mascot. Having a mascot brings brand identity to a product, allows for greater recognition, and more importantly, buyer identification with your brand. You mascot has to say something about your system. So before we can decide what Sony needs, we need to look at what the others are saying.
Nintendo having Mario says, “Hey, we’re family-friendly and not very original! Perfect for your white-picket-fence/Pleasant Valley Sunday kind of world. We’re not scary!” Meanwhile, 360’s Master Chief bring across the impression of “Dude! I just shot this dude in the freakin’ head! Then this other dude shot him as he was falling. Then I shot that dude! Dude! Awesome, bro!”… or something along those lines. I try not to listen to people playing online shooters.
But where does that leave the PS3 gamer? What identity shall he be represented by? Certainly not family-friendly, or frat-boy-stereotype. And while we’ve got a lot of recognizable characters that are all toyific, I’m not certain that they truly represent the average PS3 fanboy. We’re a different breed (As evidenced by the style of games) and generally of a more technical nature (As seen in the almost HAL-like properties of the engine) so I don’t think a fuzzy plush or a butch killer can truly represent the property. Sony needs something new and innovative, something that hasn’t been done before.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you… The PS3 Otaku!
Imagine a young Japanese lad. Shy, bookish, and slightly overweight. Looking longingly at girls in school he knows he’ll never talk to, trying to avoid bullies and jocks in the hallway, walking home through the bustling crowds who ignore and brush past him. But then, he gets home, runs up to his room, and hits the PlayStation button on his controller. The familiar orchestral swell of the boot-up plays and we pull back to see a 60 inch HDTV with full surround sound dominating the wall of his room. We watch the expression on his face as he plays through all the exclusives that make the system what we know and love. He may be nothing in the real world, but on the PS3 he is a god among men.
Or is that too depressing?
ML Kennedy: No, i think a nerd cosplaying as Sailor Moon would be a good PS3 Mascot.
So long as the costume looks really expensive.
Michael O’Reilly: Sony is in last place this generation because they got cocky and believed they could manufacture and sell a machine that was too expensive. Now they are stuck with this machine and have no way of escaping the high price of the system until they can find a way to reduce the cost of manufaturing it. Until they do it will cost too much for consumers to buy and thus remain behind Nintendo and Microsoft.
So yes, Sony needs a mascot, and this mascot is named Price Reduction.
Guy Desmarais: While I don’t think that mascots are necessary in this day and age, I do like them as I have played everything from Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel to Kao the Kangaroo. Most of them sucked, and as the years passed, I noticed that mascot games are often quick cash-ins without the cash. I can’t imagine Chuck Rock making that much money for Sony, or else they would have kept him around.
As for the Playstation 3, I do think that Sackboy would do well in the “adorable” department, which is good enough as it can translate to merchandises that even girls will want to buy if done correctly. However, should Sony want something more manly to sell to their core demographic, they can always count on Kratos or that guy from Uncharted. He could easily become the next Indiana Jones if the sequels’ quality is on par with the original.
Otherwise, they could always make a Smash Bros. rip-off starring those I just named, plus Jax, Daxter, Ratchet, Clank, Sly Cooper, Sweet Tooth and other Sony regulars. Then, just watch the many Internet forums buzzing about people talking about their favourites, claiming that everybody else sucks. Once the dust settles, just pick the most popular and make him the de facto mascot.
Ian Gorrie: Gaming equipment costs too much to be dedicated kiddie appeal games anymore unless you’re Richie Rich. Additionally, most of the popular games are all carving up corpses with guns with chainsaws on them after a BOOM HEADSHOT by a jiggle physics chic with permanently erect nipples announcing themselves through skin-tight spandex upon clad EE cup hoots.
Gone are the days of harmless cartoony violence (For the most part.) and in is the new era of HD arterial spray and counting the number of pixels used to create the dimples on the HD jugs.
I, for one, welcome our hyperreal bimbo creating overlords.
Mascots used to be the best contender for the best seller of a developers product line. Square had the Final Fantasy girls. Insomniac still throws around Ratchet and Clank after 7 years. Sega still has Sonic, I guess. Nintendo, last of the holdouts of actual kiddie games, has all of the Smash Bros. favorites.
As I see it, here are the contenders for console mascots:
Sackboy – Yawn. He’s a plush toy. No one cares.
HD Tits – Everyone loves these, but they might make the kiddies hungry or confused. Also mall appearances are likely to break out in riots.
Arterial Spray – Cleanup at fan appearances is a drag.
It’s a mascot if you can make a plushy out of it. Booth babes seem to sell better than corporate furries now, so I don’t see anyone (with the possible exception of indie game developers) giving any serious attention to mascots in the future.
Mascots are loveable characters and all the big sellers involve picking the brain matter of your co-stars out of your flack jacket. I think we’re better off sticking to the gravity defying boobs for the moment.
Nathan Birch: I’m not really much of a Sony guy, but isn’t Kratos from God of War pretty much the Sony mascot these days?
Anyways, having an official “mascot” is neither here nor there; it’s just a meaningless marketing gimmick for the most part. Having strong franchises is very important though. They’re what kept Nintendo making billions of dollars even during the down years, and it’s the Final Fantasies, Resident Evils, Gran Turismos and Grand Theft Autos that made the PS1 and PS2 such sales juggernauts. It seems as though Sony was under the impression that their name was all that mattered though, and have let one once exclusive series after another slip through their fingers. They’re paying for it now.
So do they need a new mascot? Not really, but they do desperately need some new exclusive hit series and they’re trying hard with games like Resistance, Little Big Planet and Uncharted, but they’ve yet to strike on that breakthrough hit to replace lost exclusives like GTA or Final Fantasy.
A.J. Hess: Wow. Darth Kratos, I’m impressed with the submission, but I found your lack of logic to be disturbing. I really do like the basis of the question though. It goes much deeper than just Should They and If So, Who. What exactly does a mascot mean, especially to a video game company? This question got brought up in the last generation also, and it is very interesting.
Microsoft, to be frank, does not have Master Chief as their mascot. As much as they might want him, you can’t have a gun-toting cyborg from the future as your mascot unless your name is Skynet. It doesn’t work for the same reason that Microsoft releases games that aren’t just Halo. Sure, that series might be the Xbox’s signature title, but there’s a lot of other stuff being released. Some of it isn’t even a FPS. And I would argue that Mario is a mascot for Mario games specifically, not Nintendo in general. Look, a mascot is two things for your company: Salesman and Spokesman. Microsoft has gotten a lot of use out of Major Nelson in that role. The fact that he speaks pretty much directly to the Xbox 360 community via email, forum, and podcast makes him ideal for MS. With Nintendo, sure they use Mario to sell Mario Kart, Mario Galaxy, and Mario Ad Infinitum, but they also use Pikachu to sell their Pokemon wares. Personally, the Nintendo Mascot, at least in this generation, is those two lower-case I’s in Wii. When they bow, Nintendo bows. The ad campaign of the two guys taking the Wii around and playing games, then merging into the logo, is the mascot. Think of McDonalds. Sure, the clown is in charge, but it’s more about the Golden Arches than Ronald. Nintendo and Microsoft are doing the same thing-individual franchises get a mascot, but the overarching brand gets a symbol. Sony does the same thing. Snake is the MGS mascot. Daxter and Clank are their franchise mascots. Really Fast and Shiny Car is the Gran Turismo mascot.
The other thing to worry about here is how you would introduce that mascot. Disregarding everything I just said above, let’s call Mario the Nintendo Mascot for argument’s sake. How did this come to be? Organically, over time. Not just a series of game releases that made him a household name, but also the aging of gamers who had Mario with them for a long, long chunk of their lives. If Sony tried to roll out a mascot now, brand new, they’d be lucky if the worst they got was Poochy the Rockin’ Dog. I can see them gathering a design committee, building some needs-to-be-put-down conglomerate entity, and having a press conference. In Home. That no one cares about.
Yes, I’m giving Sony a hard time, but they deserve it. The (continued, and justified) success of the PS2 meant that they had no sense of urgency or message for this generation of consoles. A new mascot isn’t going to help get them out of third place. There are three things that will:
1. Price Drop.
2. Better software, both to run the games and the actual games themselves
3. A competent online component. Call it Sony Live if you have to, but the service that Microsoft brings to the table is better in almost every way. Do I mind paying 4 bucks a month? Not when I get what I pay for.
If Sony takes those three things to heart, they can start to correct some of the problems that the PS3 is having. The message that Sony is putting out now, however, is, “We already have a mascot. It’s a big, black box that puts out a beam of light, a beautiful, super detailed, beam of blue light, that drains the money out of whatever it touches.”
To be fair, I’ll take a shot at MS as well. They have a mascot I haven’t mentioned either. The Dark Lord Sauron-a giant eye, lidless, and wreathed in flame-who forged the Red Ring in the fires of Mount Doom, and now waits to gaze out of his portal onto the living room floor of thousands of Xbox 360 owners.
Matt Yaeger: Most of my friends are of the non-gaming variety. If I ask them what they associate with the Xbox, they’ll answer Halo. They have no idea who Major Nelson even is. I’d assume the question is directed more toward certain characters that people identify with the brand, in this case Master Chief is a good example.
Sony however does have mascots in that sense that are easily identifiable. Ratchet and Clank. Solid Snake. The LBP Sackboy. Hell, just watch one of the Sony commercials, they’re all in there.
The question should be whether these mascots are really doing as much for brand recognition as they where back in the day. Mario might be a great mascot, but it didn’t get people to buy Gamecubes. The motion sensing tech is Wii’s way of differentiating their brand. For Microsoft it’s next gen graphics for the cheapest price. For Sony it’s Blu-Ray.
Crash vs Mario is ancient history. Now it’s Graphics vs Gimmick.
Adam Powell: I thought they had one. That one sneaky guy with the mullet.
Bryan Berg: Sony’s mascot should be a giant fucking dollar sign with arms and legs that move. Because really, the PS3 was just Sony’s bargaining chip in winning the Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD war. The gaming aspect of the machine was secondary; they know they have a brand name and even if this system sucks, people will still buy the PS4 (or even a reduced-priced PS3) because it’s Sony. This is why they’ll never make a PS3 without Blu-Ray, and this is why they don’t care that their system fucking blows.
This answering session was brutal in its honesty, but I think that it hits the nail right on the head. In the end, Sony needs more than a mascot to come back in the race for console supremacy. Still, you can’t deny that Sackboy is a cute little guy. I would probably buy a Sackboy plushy if I could find one and spoon with it at night.
Do you have a question of your own which you want our experts to answer? Take Tony’s example and send an e-mail to kapoutman AT hotmail.com with the subject line “Ask the Kliq”, or leave a comment below. We’ll put our team right on it.