Brand Power — Helping You Buy Better?
We as gamers are a very brand-conscious bunch. We care about the things we pay money for and we tend to consider ourselves fans of this, that or the other. Nowadays I’ve gained quite an appreciation for anything with the BioWare logo on the box. Once upon a time, I would play anything with the Blizzard Entertainment logo on it. A lot of you are quite the same, and as any fashionista would tell you, it’s absolutely fair to demand a certain quality only delivered by a particular brand.
And as it so happens, gaming is becoming more and more haute couture.
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Nowadays we don’t so much see singular games as we do potential franchises, with the likes of BioShock: Infinite throwing up an ambiguous war that then justifies the boardgame that releases later for it, or Assassin’s Creed games omitting parts of story to be covered as separate books; prequels, spinoffs, expansions and so on. Licenses? Or brands, with their very own brand power.
As South Africans, I’ve noticed that there are particular brands we favour over everything else. Let’s use gaming examples. Here, we’re not the biggest fans of Madden NFL but copies of FIFA will fly off the shelves, with a small
hipster contingent favouring the PES brand instead. You will find people arguing over which is better, between PES and FIFA revisions. Not realising that neither really does that much new to justify its asking price.
Likewise, you will find people who favour either Call of Duty or Battlefield, or people who would immediately turn down the latest Need for Speed title in favour of Forza or Gran Turismo. These preferences for gaming licenses exist throughout the genres and show that we as gamers have particular tastes and favour particular experiences.
But what if the thing we favour is slightly more far-reaching than just a specific game?
In my experience of speaking to other South African gamers, hardcore and casual alike, with the exception of the PC Master Race — of which I was once a proud member — a lot of gamers are preferable to Sony’s PlayStation over Microsoft’s Xbox. In fact, a lot of people have very little faith in Microsoft’s ability to produce anything resembling quality, citing such examples as Windows Vista, Microsoft Office and the RROD saga of the Xbox 360, but conveniently leaving out the sales charts for the Xbox 360, and Windows 7.
I’ve spoken to a lot of gamers who bought their PlayStation 3 because they either had a PSOne or a Playstation 2, and they were proud to have the console even when there were no games out for it, or it too heated up, or after a few years it gave out. They were okay, even, with having to purchase replacement models or perform the necessary firmware updates each time they purchased a new game. They didn’t even mind that even with the XMB dashboard software, the PS3 is a clunky and awkward device to navigate when not playing a game.
My immediate thought when speaking to people like these is, “Wow, they really do not understand how much they’ve missed out on.” See, at the risk of turning this into a mini console war article, when I first acquired my Xbox 360 (spoiler: I won it) I was still very much a PC gamer, but at the time I was hooked onto DotA and so, played very little else. Then I started to discover the ease of use of the Xbox 360’s then-brand-new NXE dashboard, as well as how easy matchmaking was. Then I discovered achievements which rewarded me for doing cool things in games, as if to validate the idea that I wasn’t actually wasting my life away in front of a monitor. Finally, I discovered the absolute ease of being able to put a game into my drive and play it without any large firmware updates or installations required. And this is to say nothing of when I finally braved the online experience and started engaging in party chats with at-the-time strangers who have remained my friends up until today — for the most part.
Now we’re in a new generation and my first thought is, “The smart person would go where the win is.” But where is the win, right now? Sony’s PS4 is out but Microsoft’s Xbox One is not yet available locally. Does that mean Sony automatically wins? So why then are a bunch of people (including me) waiting for Microsoft to release the Xbox One, rather than just getting PS4s? And how many people getting PS4s actually want it because of how good it is as a console rather than how much they value the Sony logo?
Does brand loyalty factor into this at all?
Now I’m the last person to speak of brand loyalty given my aforementioned predisposition towards BioWare titles, as well as the fact that I have a wardrobe which contains every issue of NAG Magazine released between March 2003 and July 2011, and then a bit more afterwards, even though I had long decided that the magazine was no longer worth my time since I only ever bought it to read Tarryn’s last-page columns.
And yet I know deep down that while brand power is important, brand loyalty is a silly concept. Sure enough there is a certain level of quality that you can come to expect from a particular brand but if you’ve always played your games on PlayStations then you’ve missed out on the amazing online experience only available on Xbox LIVE. Likewise, if you’ve only ever played Call of Duty games, how would you know what it’s like to be on a team and achieve objectives as part of a squad while piloting a jet into a tank just because you can? Further, if you’ve played two parts of a trilogy and have come to believe that the third part is not worth your time, you are not obligated to acquire and experience that third part unless you’re a completionist like me, or incapable of moving on without closure.
You don’t owe anyone anything, and so you don’t have to indulge in something just because you’ve indulged in similar somethings before.
The question then becomes, is it actually brand loyalty with regards to blinding ourselves to other potentially better offerings, or are we just playing it safe because our money is precious and we’d rather go with something we trust?
What do you think? Ignorance or safety?
Share your thoughts in the comments and let’s see where popular opinion lies.