Nintendo fans may try to convince you otherwise, but Sony was the first to unlock the casual game market. Its competitor may have found global success with the motion controlled Wii, but the Japanese giant had already spent several years marketing brands such as Buzz and EyeToy to a more mainstream audience by that point. However, with the PlayStation 3’s overengineered hardware losing the platform holder’s place in the space, what does the future hold for the firm’s more casual endeavours?
Those outside of Europe may not be fully aware of the SingStar franchise’s success, but within its first five years available the karaoke alternative shifted a whopping 16 million units in PAL regions across multiple releases. For a time, it was a phenomenon on the PlayStation 2, with virtually every house party sporting coloured microphones and a copy of the game running in the background. Such was its success in SCEE controlled territories that it spawned dozens of different spin-offs, with even Australian kids’ band The Wiggles putting in an appearance in 2010.
But while the organisation’s efforts in the space continued long into the PS3 era, the popularity of its casual properties really started to plummet. Brighton-based developer Relentless Software’s quiz franchise Buzz was a brand that benefitted from the low-entry point of the manufacturer’s most popular platform, only to find its market snatched away when it made the ill-advised jump onto new hardware. An exclusivity contract between the studio and SCE meant that it went on to make four additional Jason Donovan starring trivia titles – despite the sales falling off a cliff face.
Alas, aside from the hardware maker’s temporary attempt to rekindle the squandered potential of the EyeToy camera with the PlayStation Move, it feels like the firm has all but abandoned the idea of casual games in recent years. SingStar no longer exists as a retail release in most regions, with the last packaged entry – SingStar Back to the 80s – receiving a muted launch in 2011. Along with its Just Dance-inspired counterpart DanceStar, the franchise now lives on as a free-to-play application on the XMB and the PlayStation Store.
An even worse fate has befallen the likes of Buzz, with the quiz’s lasting legacy comprising a space in PlayStation Home, where avatars must dash between coloured panels in order to respond to user generated conundrums. Meanwhile, the manufacturer’s last ditch attempt to build upon the augmented reality technology of its older games with Wonderbook fell flat on its spine, with Harry Potter spin-off Book of Spells selling poorly around the globe, consigning sequels Diggs Nightcrawler and Walking with Dinosaurs to an almost silent launch.
But does that mean that the once best-selling brands are finished? Recognising the overlap between hardcore gamers and early adopters, Sony intelligently pointed all of its PlayStation 4 marketing materials at old-school fans. Its nostalgic ‘For the Players’ spot emphasised the format’s place at the heart of popular culture, while it opted to dedicate its E3 press conference to indie titles and DRM policies rather than Sports Champions and Start the Party. Even free application The Playroom wasn’t necessarily intended for public consumption until the platform holder saw the positive response to the software at various tradeshows.
However, while its philosophy has paved the way for unprecedented PS4 sales, it’s a tactic that will need to evolve over time. The hardcore audience will drive the console’s install base over the next couple of years, but there will come a point where it will need to look beyond that in order for the system to grow. The more affordable manufacturing process of the next-gen machine means that it may eventually find itself in a position where the likes of SingStar and Buzz are viable options again, but even with a much more affordable piece of hardware, it’s going to be interesting to see whether those brands still make sense.
As its competitor Nintendo’s learning with the Wii U, it’s difficult to replicate past successes on new hardware. Despite adopting slightly different models, the interest in Wii Sports Club and Wii Fit U is almost non-existent compared to the fervour surrounding their predecessors. But even if the mainstream market that once represented a bulk of console sales has moved on to play tablets and smartphones, Sony (and its peers) need to be thinking of ways to entice them back. It’s undoubtedly made all of the right noises with its next generation system thus far, but if the PS4 is to continue its sales ascension then the company will need to have new strategies in the pipeline behind closed doors.
Perhaps it’s banking on its rumoured virtual reality sensor to reignite the mainstream market in time, or maybe it intends to eventually bundle the system’s updated PlayStation Camera with the console and go head-to-head with Microsoft over the lens loving audience that its short-sightedness lost. Whatever its plans, with the likes of SingStar and Buzz lying dormant for such a long time, we suspect that the door may have closed on the former family favourites. However, there's no doubt that the platform holder still needs the mainstream market to succeed, so it’s going to be interesting to see what it creates to take their place.
Would you like to see a new SingStar or Buzz on the PS4, or do you think the ship has now sailed on the once gigantic brands? How do you think that Sony will appeal to more mainstream consumers in the future, or don’t you think that it even needs to? Hit the high notes in the comments section below.
Do you think that the family market will prove important to the PS4? (31 votes)
Yes, for the system’s success Sony will need to attract more than hardcore gamers
To be honest, I don’t really know
No, the manufacturer should continue its course and focus on hardcore gamers
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Would you like to see a new SingStar or Buzz on the next-gen console? (30 votes)
Yes, I think that there’s still enough life in both of these franchises for new entries
I'm not bothered either way
No, if Sony must pursue the mainstream market I’d prefer it tried something new
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