More bad news for Sony.

When sales figures are interesting, they are very interesting. We all know that the Nintendo 3DS has been humiliating the PS Vita in terms of sales for over a year now, but latest reports suggest that at the PlayStation awards in Japan, not a single entry achieved a million sales units. That’s worrying.

 

Since 1995, the PlayStation Awards have been a routine fixture – if perhaps not as known a commodity as you’d expect.

Usually it’s a self-congratulatory sort of affair heralding the successes of the platform but not this year; as for the first time, it would appear that not a single game mentioned sold in excess of a million units. To put this into some perspective, in October it was reported that Resident Evil 6 had outsold lifetime Japanese sales of Resident Evil 5 – Resident Evil 5 selling 644,381 in its first week across the X-Box 360 and PS3 to Resident Evil 6’s 672,411 (although admittedly, the RE5 sales numbers do not take into account the Gold editions sold later on).

The games that won the Gold Award – for selling between 500,000 and a million copies were as follows;
ONE PIECE Pirate Warriors (NAMCO BANDAI Games)
World Soccer Winning Eleven 2012 (Konami)
Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme VS (NAMCO BANDAI Games)
Final Fantasy 13-2 (Square-Enix)
Resident Evil 6 (Capcom)

Arguably stuff that usually does quite well in Japan but it would appear this year simply hasn’t been quite enough to shift units for the PlayStation – making this the first time in its seventeen year history that not a single title on any of its platforms sold a million units. Now, I won’t knock Sony any more than I did when I discussed if it’s worth calling Sony “junk” in light of its credit rating fall, but importantly this is an indicator that when it comes to actual games sales, the PlayStation isn’t where the action is happening and that is a real problem for Sony, who clearly need all the money they can get right now.

Of course, it’s worth noting the big “winner” this year did appear to be Final Fantasy 13-2, with Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 picking up a Users Choice International Award. But it’s sadly yet again more evidence that not all is well within the Sony world, and that the PlayStation brand appears to be a lot weaker than most of us gave it credit for.

Various sites are also asking if this is down to the rise in Smartphone gaming but it would appear that the 3DS and its healthy sales in Japan do much to quash this theory; the 3DS from the week ending on Nov. 24th, the 3DS sold a total of 162,117 units. You want perspective right? Here goes (courtesy of vgchartz.com);

Nintendo 3DS Sales – 162,117
Sony PS3 Sales – 34,558
Sony PSP Sales  – 16,723
Sony PS Vita Sales – 9,706

Not only did Nintendo manage to outsell Sony in its entirety, but it managed to sell on the 3DS alone more than any other system combined in that week, which kind of suggests that the 3DS has a huge market in Japan right now that smartphones have yet to really impact. And the Nintendo Wii-U is not even released in Japan yet, it will be very interesting to see how well that console will go down when it released there.

If none of this is a wake-up call for Sony then I really do personally fear for the future of the PlayStation brand. Up until now we at least all had the illusion that it was still supported and liked and doing alright, but it is becoming slowly more apparent that in fact the situation is a little more numerically dire than we thought. It’s second quarter net loss was ¥15.5 billion (Approximately $200 million), revising their outlook for 2013 to a ¥90 billion loss ($1.1 billion), compared to its ¥60 billion predicted profit. This will make it the fifth straight year that Sony have failed to see a profit (via BBC News).

Some may think I want Sony to fail but I’ve said it before, I genuinely do not want to see Sony fail. It’s not in the best interests of anyone to see Sony fall from the market, but part of loving something is to sit down and take some stock of reality; all the numbers indicate that Sony are in genuine trouble and as gamers, the PlayStation brand is comparatively weak in Japan. Remember that Japan has traditionally been the heart of the PlayStation brand, and that its noticeable decline is a symptom of many ills in the last few years. If we love it, we need to be prepared for a harsh reality boys and girls; that Sony does not appear to be getting better. If anything, it’s going to get a lot worse.

With the Wii-U due out this weekend in Japan, Sony’s sales figures will only appear more troubled than ever. This isn’t to say that Sony are being beaten by Nintendo – because once upon a time, the two were equals. No, many of the problems right now are nothing to do with Nintendo or their releases; Sony is hurting Sony. With the Vita lacking in software, the PS3 in its last throes and the PSP doggedly refusing to die off, Sony are themselves unable to get a true grasp of the gravity of the position that they find themselves in. Like Sega before it, Sony seem to be looking around desperately trying to plug all the leaks. But I’d say the ship looks like it is sinking.

Of course, next year Sony might be able to turn things around. It is still reshuffling itself, working out what can be ditched and what needs to stay. Kaz Hirai is clearly a proud man and the PlayStation brand was his baby, so yeah, I admit it’s unlikely he’s going to casually discard it even if it is dead weight. Plus they will likely pin a lot on a successful reveal of the PS4/Orbis, although it is unlikely to be called a PS4 (something to do with the number 4 sounding like the word for death in Japan). But even from here it looks like a long shot, a wing and a prayer. It very much looks like how Sega viewed the Dreamcast, betting everything they had and could get their hands on on the machine. Sure, the Dreamcast was amazing but Sega still killed it. Sony will need the PS4 to be cheap, technically sound and be able to make sensible profits without too much effort (the days of being willing to lose a couple hundred dollars on a console for Sony are very much over!). This means, in my opinion, the Orbis cannot really be a huge step up from the Wii-U. Nintendo have shown people can and will get excited over new ideas as much as new tech. I can’t see Sony pushing its old ideals, willing to lose money just to grab a chunk of the market. It has no money to lose.

Basically, my point here is Sony need to stop looking at pushing the technical boundaries and limitations and focus for now on making money. They need to make a profit. If they cannot, then I do fear that whatever they do, they will fail. That’s the bad news. The good news? Nintendo more than anyone right now is showing that making money IS possible, even with loss-leading, if you’re sensible about it. Sony have arguably a source of inspiration, one they have tried for years to emulate. Now it’s time to stop emulating and start really paying attention to the specifics. Sony is a business and a business needs to make money first and foremost otherwise there is nothing to experiment with.

Sony will still have to decide what happens with the struggling Vita (I don’t see it surviving myself. It’s an expensive liability…). But for the moment, there is a glimmer of hope in the future that Sony might just be able of getting itself out of this very deep hole. It just means cutting back and thinking of clever new ways of bundling cheaper technology. We don’t need or want 3D, and digital downloads and streaming will eventually render the Blu-ray format obsolete. It’s time Sony realised everything it has done in the past few years has largely been an expensive waste of time. They bet the farm on incremental stop-gaps, rather than truly innovative solutions. And they have suffered terribly for it. If it can take all that on board, and start competing again on price and ideas, then Sony is certainly capable of rescuing itself. It is a lot of humiliating lessons to learn from, but that’s just it – they have to be learned from.

If they can, then I can see the Orbis being something quite special. But it will be on its unveiling that we will discover if they have taken any lessons to heart, or simply paid them lip service.

I am rooting for you Sony. Remember – make money first. We can talk crazy ideas when you’re back in the black.

  • Image used via official Sony advertisement. But seriously, “everything”? Man, I’d be regretting that tagline…
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