If you’re not sharing, you’re not part of the master plan
This year’s Gamescom provided a four-pint stein’s worth of talking points, not least thanks to Sony, which generated news stories even when it was revisiting old ground in the shape of Share Play. This PlayStation 4 feature, discussed originally in 2013, will become available via the v2.0 firmware scheduled for the autumn. When it goes live, it will allow you to invite others to play your games via PSN as if they’re sitting next to you on your sofa, making use of the Gaikai streaming tech Sony acquired as part of a $380m investment in 2012. At Gamescom, the feature was couched as being “next-gen social”, but alongside the clear consumer benefits it also represents next-gen marketing. In using Share Play, PS4 owners will be helping to promote new releases among fellow players. If you accept an invitation to help a friend tackle a particularly thorny section of Bloodborne and find the experience enormously satisfying, the leap to purchasing the game yourself suddenly becomes a smaller one. TV and YouTube ads? Such passive marketing methods feel old-fashioned and impotent against the power of experiencing something with a friend.
As a marketing tool, Share Play falls into the category of word of mouth, the most effective method of getting consumers on board. We saw its strength in action as Nintendo enjoyed the massive success of the original Wii: the system offered something unique, and the people who owned it couldn’t wait to share it with their friends, who went on to buy their own. Launching Wii U in 2012 was a more difficult task because by that point the console’s most overt innovation – its touchscreen interface – was already established technology. The result? Fewer shares and fewer sales.
Its online services may not always show it, but Nintendo has never been more conscious of how players relate to each other, and what that means for the company’s success. From the beginning, its Wii U games have been made with the group experience in mind, and in our cover story Shigeru Miyamoto explains how it will define the console’s future.