Sony PlayStation, Brand Loyalty, and the Video Game Console War

A note: The following is a personal perspective on the ongoing “console war” between the Sony PlayStation brand (and its devout proponents) and the other video game console manufacturers. The goal of this editorial is not to convince the reader to purchase a particular item, nor to avoid purchasing anything. It is more akin to a journal entry of sorts, used to organize my thoughts on the overarching concept of brand loyalty, belittling others, and how I fall into place in this wide world of technology purchasing decisions and its dramatic overtones. I respect all of our readers and their decision to play on the consoles of their choice. It is possible my current mindset is a byproduct of listening to the vocal minority and the internet’s bawling toddlers but, nevertheless, I have some feelings on the topic and have chosen this medium to sort them out. Thank you for reading.

Brand loyalty is not a new concept. Often considered the ultimate goal of a company, brand loyalty is a well-understood phenomenon achieved by the most successful competitors. One sector heavily affected by brand loyalty is technology.

I’m sure you are familiar with loyalists arguing over which is better: PC or Apple? iPhone or Android? Intel or AMD? The list could go on and on.

Over the last few years, consumers of the video game industry in particular have been rife with fervent discussion, if you would call it that, over the opposing factions involved. Sony’s PlayStation line of consoles and Microsoft’s Xbox line, and their devoted followers, have sparked some of the fiercest and, for lack of better words, irresponsibly mean diatribes I have ever seen to disgrace the internet.

Xbox and Sony have been engaged in a duel of superiority long before their latest iterations (Xbox One/S/X, PS4/Slim/Pro), but it seems that now, as social media soars towards new heights, the fanboys of either side are increasingly impossible to avoid.

Perfect Perspective

Having played and owned Xboxes for a while, I’ve often felt like I missed out on one or two pieces of the pie, so to say. I actually gamed on a PlayStation 2 during the days of the “OG” Xbox console and divided my time evenly between Sega and Nintendo consoles prior to that. I’d be hard pressed to consciously choose a favorite game developer, and until recently I could have said the same about console manufacturers.

Co-hosting a podcast and writing for a gaming website, depending on the angle of it, forces one’s hand to research and play a number of games one may not ordinarily be interested in. Fortunately, I’ve been lucky in that regard as I enjoy a great many different types of games. Most of the “important” AAA games are released on both PlayStation and Xbox, and the titles that are Sony exclusives usually get coverage by one of our contributors.

Market superiority by one party or the other is generally not of concern to me. As they say, the proof is in the pudding, and our pudding is video games. Genuinely disinterested in the Nintendo offerings of the past few years (the Wii and Wii U), I have been considering the addition of a new dust-collecting box under my living room TV: Sony’s PS4.

Horizon: Zero Dawn, the Uncharted series, Bloodborne, and several other titles exclusive to the Sony consoles began to draw my attention. Future offerings like Spider-Man, God of War, and even the weird android narrative, Detroit: Become Human piqued my interest even more. It would make sense to enjoy the best of both worlds and take my position on the fence, as it were, as a properly unbiased proponent of video gaming ought to do.

A Learning Experience

It was after this year’s E3 series of conferences that I decided I would set a little cash aside to purchase a PS4 Slim. I was thrilled by the myriad games on display by Xbox, indie and AAA alike, but no longer thought I was getting equal footing in the gaming arena with Microsoft alone.

I learned that more than twice the amount of Sony consoles have been sold during this generation as compared to Microsoft. That’s… Well, that’s a lot! What did I miss? Was I sticking with Xbox for any particular reason? Had I been brainwashed into buying an Xbox One, even after the train wreck of DRM, Kinect, and “media center” hype prior to its release?

In my quest for self-enlightenment, I came across this article by You Are Not So Smart. In an easily digestible way, it outlines some of the psychological factors behind brand loyalty and purchasing decisions. One of the more relevant terms used is “choice supportive bias,” and I’ll dig into that a little bit later. The bottom line is that I may have displayed brand loyalty in purchasing an Xbox One, and I needed to give Sony a fair chance to appeal.

Coming to understand brand loyalty, favoritism, and “fanboys” (girls, too) has simply been part of involving oneself in the growing narrative displayed on Twitter, website commentary, and forums as of late. The more I investigated, the more disgusted I got by how fellow gamers addressed one another.

“Fucking scum.” “Piece of shit.” “Typical Microsoft trash.” Did you know that Sony fanboys are referred to as Ponies by the opposition? Xbox fans are sometimes addressed as Xbots, implying they follow Microsoft’s brand as if programmed to do so. No matter where I go, malicious intent follows in the form of one nerd trying to insult another over his or her tech purchases. I use the term “nerd” endearingly.

Open and Close

While the PS4 line of consoles continue to dominate sales, some of us naturally look to the underdog in the fight to reply. Microsoft came out swinging with their latest offering, the Xbox One X. A gargantuan of graphical prowess, this new box promises to deliver ultra-quality graphics on a console for the price of $499 USD (much less than a comparable PC rig).

Being without a PS4 Pro or Xbox One S, the superior product on the horizon seemed to be the obvious pick when considering a move into the realm of 4k Ultra-HD. “I’ll wait,” I thought to myself. I still wanted those PS4 games, though.

At this point in my experience however, I felt as though a line was drawn in the sand. A series of articles, interviews, and online commentary emerged that, in my eyes, appeared to expose Sony PlayStation as quite the despicable brand. I am usually slow to form opinions and even slower to demonize anybody, much less an entire company, so I’ll highlight the more interesting bits for you.

Big Heads and Bigger Mouths

First, in an interview with Time, Sony global sales chief Jim Ryan expressed at best a complete lack of interest in backwards compatibility for the PS4. At worst, he showed total disdain.

When we’ve dabbled with backwards compatibility, I can say it is one of those features that is much requested, but not actually used much… That, and I was at a Gran Turismo event recently where they had PS1, PS2, PS3 and PS4 games, and the PS1 and the PS2 games, they looked ancient, like why would anybody play this?

I am not suggesting that Xbox and PlayStation are directly at odds when it comes to backwards compatibility, or that Ryan’s comments are a reaction to Xbox’s announcement to develop backwards compatibility for OG Xbox games. There are however stark differences in how the companies take stock in the value of older games. Honoring the digital licenses for games purchased years ago is a boon in my opinion, much like unpacking old cartridges and plugging in my NES for a trip down memory lane.

Then, in a hard-hitting interview with EuroGamer’s Wesley Yin-Poole, Jim Ryan sounded a little too comfortable with the idea of community-splitting console wars. “Yeah! I think it’s good for the industry,” Ryan stated. I tend to agree, to an extent, as competition spurs on innovation. Unfortunately, the console wars have a completely different effect in social media, social circles, and in specific communities, such as Destiny’s, where Xbox and PlayStation gamers play two different versions of the game.

In addition to applauding the Xbox-versus-PlayStation ordeal, Ryan was also asked about cross-platform play. Xbox announced at E3 this year that Minecraft and Rocket League would be among the first titles included in cross-platform efforts between Microsoft platforms and the Nintendo Switch, a huge move for both manufacturers. Minecraft will be cross-platform between PC, Xbox, mobile devices, and the Switch. Rocket League will be cross-platform between PC, Xbox, and the Switch.

Rocket League currently supports cross-play between PS4 and PC, but when asked about the possibility of playing nicely with Xbox or Nintendo, Ryan seemed squeamish at the concept. He claimed that Sony does not have a “profound philosophical stance” against the idea, but would not get into details at the time.

When pressed on the topic by Yin-Poole, faced with the fact that even PlayStation owners were rather pissed at the revelation, Ryan responded:

Yeah. We’ve got to be mindful of our responsibility to our install base. Minecraft – the demographic playing that, you know as well as I do, it’s all ages but it’s also very young. We have a contract with the people who go online with us, that we look after them and they are within the PlayStation curated universe. Exposing what in many cases are children to external influences we have no ability to manage or look after, it’s something we have to think about very carefully.

Reminded that Nintendo, the company arguably the most mindful of protection for children, doesn’t seem to have a problem with the arrangement, Ryan said, “Yeah, that’s true. Everybody has to take their own decisions. We’ll do that. Like I say, we have no philosophical stance against cross-play at all.”

So, is it about the kids or isn’t it, Jim?

Adding Insult to Injury

While it’s painfully obvious that Jim Ryan is not the best spokesperson for the Sony, the fact remains that his assertions do in fact represent Sony and the PlayStation brand. Is Sony looking out for kids on their console, or are they arrogantly counting on their lead position to maintain sales superiority? It’s honestly hard to tell, but my spidey-senses are tingling on this one. I suspect that while Sony isn’t forced to play well with others, it simply won’t.

I have seen insults from both sides of the console war, but it almost seems like official sources on the Sony side of things embrace this childish behavior. It’s one thing for consumers to get unruly, but when developers or (even worse) journalists start doing it, I must take a step back and think long and hard about who I support with my dollar.

Detroit: Become Human was one of the several games Sony presented at last year’s E3 (and again this year). On June 22nd, the official game’s twitter account @Detroit_PS4 published a very obvious jab at Xbox owners.

Competition is healthy, but insulting potential customers is not.

Another more recent example of public shaming by an official outlet is from IGN. While many have lost faith in IGN as a transparent outlet over the years, they’re still one of the largest gaming news sites around. IGN’s Daemon Hatfield, while wearing a PlayStation shirt, explains in the below video how Xbox will “force” Xbox One X users to download 4K patches for games even if they do not have a 4K TV.

Nevermind the facts that 4K compatible textures and graphics will still look better on a 1080p display, or that people who buy an Xbox One X want the 4k graphics they are being “forced” to download. This clear and obvious bias by a major outlet was the final straw for me. While I do not listen to IGN-produced podcasts, friends and contributors frequently update me on their antics. Anti-Xbox sentiment seems to be “in,” and it’s no use hiding that when emotional appeals embolden (empower?) PlayStation owners and infuriate Xbox owners. It’s like the audio version of click bait, and I can’t stand that. Keep in mind, I do not listen to these podcasts so my account of them is hearsay. Check them out for yourself and let me know what you think.

Don’t Psychoanalyze Me, Bro

In the formative months during the launch of the PS4 and Xbox One, Microsoft was reeling from negative feedback regarding the DRM, Kinect requirement, and focus on becoming a “media center.” The PlayStation 4 was advertised as a true gamer’s console, not bothered with the extra (and expensive) bells and whistles. I personally believe that the launch of Destiny, combined with excessive Sony-exclusive content, helped a lot of PS4s fly off the shelves as well. Sony took the lead, but what keeps gamers in their relative corner of the ring?

Consumers suffer from choice-supportive bias, a psychological tendency to retroactively ascribe positive attributes to an option one has selected. Thanks Wikipedia. What this means is that people spend money, usually lots of money, on technological goods and take to the internet, defending their purchase because they have made up reasons for their choice being more correct than yours.

Spending money and time on an object, like a game console, actually affects our self image. The car you drive, the house you buy, or even the brand of modem you choose to buy… All of these things contribute to our greater sense of self. We define ourselves, in part, by the things we buy. Challenge that perception, and people become enraged and fanboy wars ensue.

Okay, so consumers almost have an excuse, but what is the condition from which game developers and major news outlets suffer? I would have to guess it is a form of pandering, in the latter case, and boasting in the former. IGN may benefit by reinforcing a popular bias held by the majority of console owners, whether it is “good reporting” or not. Whoever manages the Detroit: Become Human Twitter account is probably just a dick. Sorry, not sorry.

Console Wars: Nintendo Strikes Back

Faced with the moral conundrum of refusing to support a brand and image I do not fully endorse versus giving in to enjoy PlayStation games, I actually tend to choose the third option: Nintendo. Yes, yes, I know… I’m probably reading too much into it. Here’s the thing, though: I am entrenched in video game culture and I don’t see that changing any time soon. So long as I have to continue to see ridiculous interview responses from Sony executives, erroneous click-bait by Sony fanboys in the ranks of news outlets, and developers tweeting anti-Xbox propaganda (only to delete it hours later), I think I will just wash my hands of it all.

The Nintendo Switch and the Nintendo brand offer a few things that are looking very attractive to me lately: Friendliness, cooperation, family appeal, and plain old fun. Hell, Metroid is coming back. There’s a new Mario game, a new Yoshi, a new Kirby, and a new “core RPG” Pokemon game headed to the Switch. Zelda is apparently freaking fantastic, as I have often heard from our Switch-owning contributors. Tenuous as it may be, the relationship that Xbox and Nintendo share is at least one of willful coexistence and some cooperation. I respect that.

It’s not always necessary to make a this-or-that decision. Some people have all three major consoles, and that’s great. I wish I could be one of them. I have friends who refuse to shop at Wal-Mart, citing moral or political reasons. Also, I know people who will not shop at GameStop, many for the same reasons. Now, you know someone who will not buy a PS4. Will that ever change? Maybe. I would like to think I’m a creature of rational thought as well as emotions. For now, I’ll answer that question by echoing Jim Ryan’s response to the possibility of enabling cross-platform play between PS4, Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch.

“I don’t think anything is ever a done deal. Anybody who is dogmatic in that manner is typically a fool. That said, to my knowledge, there is no live conversation ongoing at the moment.” -Jim Ryan

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Previously a touring and recording musician, Alex now uses his audio wizardry in the name of peace and video games. He's intrigued by the social sciences, astronomy, and everything strange the universe has to offer. He lives in Northeast Texas with two women, two cats, and seven generations of game consoles.