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Daily Reaction: Can Wonderbook Stop Sony’s Casual Demise?

September 7, 2012 Written by Sebastian Moss

Daily Reaction is a PSLS exclusive feature where Sebastian Moss & Dan Oravasaari discuss today’s most hard-hitting topics every single weekday.

With casual titles like the Wonderbook platform and Sports Champions 2, as well as cross-demographic games such as PlayStation All Stars and LittleBigPlanet Karting set to release this holiday, along with a rumored slimmer PS3 and price cut, it’s clear that Sony is aiming at adding more casual gamers to the PlayStation family. But will they be successful? Daily Reaction discusses.

Seb: Every time Sony’s console generation comes to a close, they make a push for casual gamers, and now they’re doing it again. And the great thing is that they don’t end up doing what MS has done, and drop the ball with the core audience also, leaving us games like The Last of Us and Beyond: Two Souls to look forward to. Sadly, despite Sony’s ability to make games for everyone, this holiday is painfully sparse for core gamers, as I think they originally planned for TLOU to be out by Christmas.

During the PS1 and PS2 generations, Sony was the market leader of both the hardcore and core market, and they branched out as the gen came to a close. With the PS2 in particular, they had great success at expanding the market and selling to younger demographics and EyeToy fans. But with the PS3, things have been a little different – they tried continuing games like Buzz! when the market wasn’t there, and developed EyePet as a complete knee-jerk reaction to the Wii, later continuing that with the Move, which they rushed out before they could build up decent support. Basically, Sony tried a few half-assed attempts at appealing to casuals before the price of the PS3 was right.

The question is, are things better now? If Sony does indeed cut the price ahead of Black Friday/Christmas and releases a new model, they’ll obviously have a large increase in sales, but things are still very different from the PS2 era. Casuals have Wiis, and they want to buy Kinects, iPads, Kindles, iPhones, Samsungs and the like, and the PS3 isn’t the king of the core market. It’s a much, much more uphill battle now, and it’s a shame they haven’t been able to go full guns blazing with a Buzz! title and some Singstar this holiday. But their ace up their sleeves is undoubtedly Wonderbook, which has the power of JK Rowling behind it, which really cannot be understated – although I’ve noticed that each trailer seems to state her level of input as less and less, from originally being hands on with the game, to more recent ads saying she has contributed a little. With the right marketing, and price, Wonderbook could be a big hit amongst youngsters (I just wish someone else was doing the marketing for them).

As a side note, did anyone else notice that none of the Wonderbook PS3 bundle announcement pics showed what the PS3 looks like? I wonder what that could mean…

Dan: It’s absolutely true, Sony has in the past attempted to make an end of lifecycle push for the more casual or younger audience – this is a tactic that had made perfect sense, as most of that audience was not willing to pay for a product that required a second job. The biggest issue with this though, is that during the PS2 and PS1 era, the competition was not inundated with technology that would allow mobile gaming to the extent we have today – as Sony is now left standing at a much higher price than its competition. For the price of just a few hundred dollars at the most, the casual market has dozens of high quality products that are more than just a gaming device, they are personal computers. The price of entry for a PS3 plus peripherals is something nearly double that of its competition, just in hardware alone. So for Sony to try and compete in this budding market, with such a high barrier of entry they are going to need some serious ammunition.

Exclusivity is exactly the method Sony will need to use to achieve a high enough level of market saturation, that will truly turn the PS3 into a competitor for many of the products currently being used by the casual gamer, much like the PS2 was able to push consoles into almost every home by simply having titles that people simply needed to own. Wonderbook is a great concept, and does have J.K. Rowling as the tip of the spear for its launch. The problem though is still the high buy in cost, people might buy the required hardware and that single title, but they are not going to revisit once the initial reaction dies down. Sony needs another author or franchise like Twilight to bring in the younger reader market, or even bring in Oprah’s book club. Sony cannot look at the Wonderbook as a video game, they need to capture the “me-too” crowd and push the latest trends immediately for it to succeed.

Seb: Oh yeah, Sony absolutely needs to expand on their Wonderbook offering, and I’m a bit worried we haven’t seen anything concrete outside of Book of Spells and Diggs, although Disney being involved is always great. The rest of their non-Wonderbook casual offering is also a bit on the weak side, I just don’t see how Sports Champions 2 will be able to emulate the relative success of the original, as that was lucky enough to be bundled with the Move when it was given its first push. I guess if Sony does make a strong enough move to sell their motion controller it will be a success, but let’s all be honest – they won’t.

I’m also worried that even with a price cut, the Wonderbook system is rather expensive – PS3, Move, Wonderbook’s physical book and Wonderbook the game. And it’s not as if there aren’t iPad apps for interactive books (including some from WB supporters Disney and the BBC). Sony really, really needs to advertise this properly, once and for all. And maybe try and get JK Rowling to leave her money tower and get some free press from all the big newspapers ahead of the Christmas sales.

Dan: Yeah, the biggest issue beside the pricing hurdle Sony is going to have to handle is, simply, no one cares about any of the products that Sony is releasing. PSASBR is going to be a cool platform brawler, but is filled with characters no one outside of the hardcore is going to care about. LittleBigPlanet Karting is a laughable comparison to Mario Kart, especially when we consider how poorly ModNation Racer sold. Lastly leaving Sports Champion 2 – a title that is just an HD Wii Sports, and everyone who wanted to enter that gaming field left years ago when they tired of it on the Wii. Sony is just pushing products that cannot succeed, the markets are too small, and they are not trying hard enough to win over the uninitiated – simply put, unless Sony makes a big name for Wonderbook, they are dead in the casual market.

Has Sony got what it takes to crack into the lucrative casual market? Or do you just not care as long as you get more great games? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to find out how hardcore Seb and Dan can get by following us online.