In the world of shoes, there are several strata of consumer and many price ranges from the £20 discount pair all the way up to the £1,000 pair to be found in exclusive stores of New York, Paris and London. These products, essentially two strands of the same idea, serve very different markets.
The reason that both markets exist is because of the story that each projects. Stories are very important in sales, none more so than in shoes. The £20 shoe is a story of convenience and value. It's the person who just needs something on their feet. Maybe something that fits their general sense of style (like a pair of All Stars) or something functional. They project a story of good value and common sense. People who buy £20 shoes would never consider buying £1,000 shoes even if they had easy access to that kind of money.†
The £1,000 shoes have a different story. They project the story of style, quality and individuality. They are bought precisely because they are exclusive, because the importance of the conveyance of image far outweighs the material of the shoe itself. The designer, the fabrics and the perfect cut are all a part of the story of the shoe.†
The same distinction exists in many areas. Cars are separated along several strata with story splits between value, pragmatism, professionalism or sexual appeal. Restaurants split between fast, comfortable, exclusivity, quality. In fact it is very hard to see any area of business that doesn't at some level segment its stories in this way.
Which leads me to thinking about games. Arguably there are two broad stories throughout the gaming sphere: The casual game and the hardcore game. The casual game is cheap, fun, family entertainment. Unthreatening training for your brain, fitness programs or a bit of light sports. The hardcore game's story is more of a male-oriented skill-test. Hardcore gaming is deep, involving, interesting.
What I'm wondering lately is whether there is room for super-premium games? By this I mean game machines that cost £1,000, perfectly scultpted joypads and games that cost £500 a piece. This sounds insane, but if it works for shoes then why not for games? It's all in the story.†
For many years the hardcore games industry has relied on the teenage boy syndrome. These guys think big but they tend to be poor. They're dedicated but they're often paying for games with their rent or food money. They're students, schoolkids, etc. Whatever is built has to meet their needs first and foremost. Hence the consoles tend to have a sort of weirdly fake youthful image that you don't see in other electronics. In televisions or Blu-Ray players, the premium story is much older, more class. In games it's, for the want of a better word, various shades of L33T.†
So what this leads me to is thinking did Sony screw it up in the wrong direction. With PS3 everyone believed that they pitched too high ($599! $599! $599! as Kaz Hirai was memory mocked on Youtube). And since backtracking they have had to try and salvage 3rd place. What if Sony just didn't go far enough though? What if, rather than a somewhat mangled message of old classics and new rejuvenations and Cell processors, they pitched for the ceiling and brought the thunder with them. Sell the PS3 at $2,000 and bring the most ridiculously awesome games to match. Sell it as a piece of cool, exclusive tech, with the story that this is a game machine for men rather than teenagers.†
Basically be classy. Be bold. Develop outrageously expensive and individual work of art games, games that cost £500 a pop and radiate quality. It doesn't have to be Sony. It's just an idea for a segment and a business that might soon exist.
What do you think?
(@tadhgk on Twitter)