As a company Sony is completely different to Nintendo and Microsoft. Sony is a manufacturer of boxes containing electronics which has a strange obsession. Once upon a time they were the “in” brand with good looking kit that worked well but now they are looking a bit middle aged and have missed out on major market areas and been convincingly outperformed by newer kids on the block such as Apple, Nokia and Samsung. Sony own a lot of technology and are a fully vertically integrated manufacturer. They own everything from chip factories to retail shops.
Being a box manufacturer Sony is very welcoming of third party content, being just a box manufacturer they really desperately need to have other people make this content in order for people to want to buy their boxes. It was this emphasis on third party development that made the games industry what it is today. Sony wanted as much different content from as many different publishers and developers as it is possible to produce. It doesn’t bother them if there are (by example) four different rally games that all do the same thing, let the market decide what it wants. This policy worked amazingly well. The games software industry grew enormously and Sony walked all over Nintendo. Virtually all the major games publishers owe their current position to Sony.
Sony’s strange obsession is media formats. Gillette can make a loss selling their latest razor because they make such enormous profit on the blades that only they make for that razor. Sony try to do the same with electronics, hence their love of games consoles. Famously they lost the video recorder war between Betamax and VHS which has scarred their action and thinking ever since. In a move that they thought would give them the upper hand they invested hugely to become a major content provider (publisher) in both the record and the film industries. This investment was intended to prevent Sony media formats falling on their face ever again. It hasn’t.
When Sony designed the original Playstation they fitted it with a CD drive, a media that they had jointly developed with Philips. For PS2 they fitted a DVD drive, but this time they were a smaller player in the consortium that created the media so now they are using PS3 as a Trojan Horse for the Blueray standard which they jointly own with Panasonic. The PS3 (alongside the Sony film studios) is the front line of their battle against the HD DVD standard of their competitors. It is worth noting that the companies that have outperformed Sony at making boxes in recent years, Apple, Samsung and Nokia, have no interest whatsoever in media standards. It could be argued that their lack of such an obsession has given them clearer minds to give the customers the boxes full of electronics that they want.
I was at E3 when the PSP was launched with Sony’s latest attempt to create a new media standard, the UMD drive. Nintendo launched the DS at the same E3 and when I told some of the Codemasters directors that I thought that the DS would be the most successful of the two devices they laughed. Sony was at the height of their PS2 pomp and could do no wrong. So we wasted lots of money putting the wrong sort of games onto the PSP whilst putting nothing on the DS. A clearer understanding of the two companies may have prevented that mistake.
Sony’s obsession with media standards could end up making them come third in the current console generation war. By using an expensive Blueray drive and an expensive Cell processor (another new Sony standard) they have created a console that costs a lot more to make than it’s competitors’ consoles whilst at the same time not being appreciably better. If they had just wanted to make a good console, without any political influence from the rest of the company, Sony could have created something that was both better and cheaper to make. They really have shot themselves in the foot.
So there we have it. Sony is a manufacturer of boxes with a strange obsession. Am I right or is there more to this? Post your comments if you think so.