The console wars are set to erupt again, and someone is going to get pwned -- but it's unlikely to be the media.
It's been seven years since Microsoft and Sony went head-to-head with new gaming consoles. Both Microsoft's Xbox 360 launch in 2005 and Sony's PlayStation 3 launch the following year were supported by strong ad budgets -- Xbox hiked its spending 21% in 2005, according to Ad Age DataCenter figures; Sony topped that with a 28% increase.
This year will differ in that the next generation of each, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, will go on sale simultaneously this fall in time for the holiday season. That sets the stage for a spending surge well above the $120 million the two spent collectively last year.
Neither company would comment on marketing plans. But Sony has already fired its initial salvo with a splashy buy on the NBA Finals with its "Greatness Awaits" spot from BBH. Microsoft, on the other hand, has lined up some high-profile alliances for its rollout: Director Steven Spielberg will turn its Halo franchise into a live-action series and Xbox has inked a partnership with the National Football League for exclusive content. In 2012, as both were winding down the current-generation boxes, Microsoft spent $64.4 million and Sony $53.6 million on media alone in 2012, according to Ad Age DataCenter.
The dynamics of the maket have changed fundamentally from the last time Microsoft and Sony battled directly. The proliferation of mobile gaming has lured users away from consoles. At the same time, consoles have become central to the entertainment experience, with non-gamers using them to access services like Netflix and Hulu, as well as video on demand.
During its press launch, not once did Microsoft refer to the Xbox as a "console" -- the discussion was about its capabilities as an entertainment device. CP&B is the Xbox ad agency.
Sony, on the other hand, is focusing on the hard-core gamer, as was evident at E3. "We really showed that we're for gamers," said CMO Guy Longworth at the event.
But is it a smart strategy? "Gamers will love PS4. But if you want to sell 80 million units, you have to appeal to non-gamers as well," said Forrester analyst James McQuivey.