Sony is banking on the inauspiciously named star of its new video game, "LittleBigPlanet," to boost sales of its PlayStation 3 console this fall -- and the homemade-looking Sackboy just might pull it off. Not only has "LittleBigPlanet" garnered lots of positive reviews, it cuts a broad demographic swath beyond traditional gamers and is a "first-party" game that can be played only on PS3. First-party games are extremely important to console makers because there are only a few of them -- and the best ones drive hardware sales.
"We want 'LittleBigPlanet' to lead the charge into a new genre of gaming and turn Sackboy into the next emblematic character for the PS3," Mark Valledor, product marketing manager for the game at Sony Computer Entertainment America, said in an e-mail interview. "We have coined 2008 'the year of the PS3' and are confident that with the launch of "LittleBigPlanet," we will continue to see the momentum build throughout the end of this year and on to the next. ... This is a very big title for us."
As such, Sackboy's getting a big marketing push -- and a little help from his friends. Sony is partnering with retailers to offer two presale-only, downloadable Sackboy characters from a couple of Sony's other popular first-party games: Kratos from "God of War" and Nariko from "Heavenly Sword." Each retailer will have only one of the characters, so consumers will get different voucher codes depending on where they preorder. The incentive to prepurchase is that neither of characters will appear in the final version of the game.
"Leveraging some of our hottest properties as preorder items will only help us increase visibility with the consumers early and gain credibility with retailers to help prolong the marketing push well into the holidays," Mr. Valledor said.
Sony also plans to create about 1,000 "LittleBig billboards" -- about the size of a small yard sign -- to stick in the ground in and around San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. Unlike typical cardboard yard signs, however, the minibillboards will feature working lights and ladders and other high-end art and design. The idea came from the game's agency, Deutsch. While the size of the boards almost ensures that at least a few will be stolen, that's OK with Sony. A spokeswoman said some pilfered signs posted on eBay may even add to the hype.
Analysts seem to think Sackboy has a good shot at lifting PS3. According to NPD Group, through June, PS3 -- which got a later start than chief rival Xbox 360 -- had sold 4.9 million units vs. Xbox 360's 10.5 million and Wii's 10.9 million since their introductions.
"A compelling, family-friendly, puzzle-type game that also is quite innovative and gets a big marketing push is exactly the kind of game that can help take this platform to a new level," said NPD analyst Anita Frazier in an e-mail interview. "I do believe it will stimulate additional PS3 hardware purchases."
Michael Zenke, lead blogger on gaming site Massively, also said "LittleBigPlanet" will move consoles. "It's definitely the game the PS3 really needs. ... It's extremely easy-to-make content, so that's going to be accessible to casual gamers and even nongamers," Mr. Zenke said. "But they've also made it clear that the higher levels are pretty challenging and meant to put the skills of gamers to the test."
David Cole, an analyst with DFC Intelligence, said a key benefit of the game is that it helps diversify the PS3 lineup.
"PlayStation and PlayStation 2 were successful not because of any one title but because there was a lot of diversity with the platforms and a lot of products for everyone," he said. "We've said all along that the PS3 will start to come on strong in 2009. This is the beginning of it."