Sony Are Playing On Nostalgia, So Why Aren’t They Acting On It?

Sony’s strategy with the PS4, particularly in recent times, has taken a bit of an odd turn. Back when the PS4 was announced in February of last year, Sony were looking to the future. They were discussing the incredible new technology, sharing features, and truly next generation gaming experience on show. Throughout the year, before the box was even revealed, Sony kept pushing towards that launch, dropping titbits of new information and slowly teasing us with what the future could hold.

Sure, they announced returning game franchises and Sony’s ethos remained the same as ever, making it clear that this was all about the players, but they weren’t looking too far back. It’s a strategy that worked too, with the PlayStation 4 beating the competition upon its November release thanks to some smart marketing creating an object of desire – everyone wanted this system, and the sales figures upon release showed that.

But almost a month before release, Sony teased us with a brilliant For The Players Since 1995 video which plays on nostalgia, showing the great history of PlayStation and capturing the core essence of their systems: simply having fun. Throw in plenty of non-subtle game references, and you’ve got something that gets people excited by looking into the past.

Nostalgia can be a great thing – it often evokes a sense of love and longing like nothing else can. As a species, we like to dwell on the past, and as a modern culture we just love our in-jokes and references. As PlayStation fans, we want a new Crash Bandicoot game, and every miniscule tease, every tiny but recognisable noise in a video brings us closer to that goal. Or so we think.

Sony’s strategy took a similar approach upon the US launch of the console: a video packed with fifty easter eggs referencing old games, some of which we thought signified the return of an old favourite. In reality? It’s just a cool video, again bringing up the past to get us excited about the future. This sort of thing continued throughout the marketing – remember the obsession with Vib Ribbon, which amounted to nothing but a re-release of the PS1 Classic on PSN?

With the 20th birthday of PlayStation, it’s understandable that Sony would want to look back to the past. They’ve managed this with aplomb; a beautiful de-make of the PS4 is available in limited quantities for the lucky people who have managed to buy them, and something as simple as a PS4 theme manages to take us down memory lane. Most of these celebrations have looked to PlayStation’s history for support. And while looking back, Sony have made a crucial mistake by only referencing it: there’s no punchline and ultimately very little pay-off with this facade.

If Sony are going to play on nostalgia, they should be acting on it too – we should be seeing more than just Crash music in the background of a video, or a Vib Ribbon re-release on PSN. It’s like they’re saying “remember how cool we were?” rather than showing us how cool they still are. It leaves us longing for something which, realistically, we’re not going to get, stringing us along and leaving us with false hope.

As a marketing technique, it works, but as fan service, it goes against the For The Players mantra they’ve pushed so hard.

Look at Nintendo, for example. Criticise them all you want for doing the same thing, but they’ve just released two games – Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. – which fulfil the nostalgic requirements while feeling modern and relevant; these games have evolved and adapted to fit with the times, yet take you back to the past and satisfy fans like no offbeat reference at a conference ever could. The Legend of Zelda and Star Fox are returning too, and glimpses of gameplay have shown how these have changed for the future, rather than simply retreading old ground.

Crash-bandicoot-1

With the Doctor Who 50th anniversary episode, head writer Steven Moffat made sure to not only reference the past by bringing back David Tennant, but to look to the future of the series, laying the old to rest and opening up a brand new plot thread. Since then, there have been references – as you’d expect from a show with such lineage – but the Doctor is no longer stuck looking back, and looking to where he’s going next: the show set a goal for the protagonist, and Sony need to be setting goals with the PS4 – Project Morpheus’ integration being a clear candidate.

Imagine if the new Star Wars trailer was just a trailer – we weren’t getting The Force Awakens next year – that’s effectively what Sony are doing here.

Sony don’t seem to know where they are right now; it’s all well and good to reminisce but they’ll seriously need to shed some of their past in order to evolve beyond that, and think of the now, or even better – the future. We don’t want to be looking back on PlayStation in twenty years and simply remembering references to twenty years before that, never mind the fact that these throwbacks are nothing more than passing comments with no apparent payoff.

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30 Comments

  1. I’m not overly concerned out using nostalgia to sell the dream. I see the point and some new titles based on old franchises would have been an incredible tie-in. But I feel the fanfare over the Anniversary was simply a clever cover up of a ‘Holiday Season’ exclusive line-up that was a little thin on the ground. The 20 years push will be forgotten pretty much as 2015 starts and then the focus will hopefully shift to the very large game line-up currently on the way then. I hope #4ThePlayers will return in Feb.

    • This. I like that they’ve not overly cached in on the nostalgia and instead celebrated it.

    • GAHHHHHHHH! You said ‘Holiday season’, agggh. Please don’t start using these phrases, like, whatever.

      • Haha, I don’t like it either :) Hence my little ”

  2. Seems odd they keep bringing Crash Bandicoot up but there are no signs of anyone doing anything with it.
    Wipeout has been mentioned a few times as well, but Sony closed down the Wipeout team a few months back.

    It’s strange as you say.

  3. The (PlayStation) past is a very cheap and easy way to have us all glossy-eyed and thinking of all the wonderful gaming moments we’ve had with any given PlayStation. However, when it comes to old franchises, Sony are treading lightly around the fact that a particular franchise really might not be a shrewd financial investment (or simply impossible for legal reasons).

    There’s no nice way to say “I’ve taken that thing you loved, strolled out to the back garden and unloaded a few rounds from the shotgun into it”. So, Sony remain vague wherever possible but still want to say “hey, hey… remember when {insert moment here}” as it flicks the old halcyon light switch on in everyone’s noggin’.

    My personal opinion on Nintendo’s platform is for a different crowd in many ways… or at least people who might want a particular sort of service from that platform. Ninty churn out the same handful of franchises again and again over decades! For me, it’s the worst thing ever but for the people who want their best-loved games refined to within an inch of their lives and (hopefully) pushed forward a smidge without alienating the fan-base, it’s perfect.

    You have to remember at all times that there are moments when Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft have to say “no” over things. However, 95% of those negative occasions will be disguised heavily in chicanery and misdirection because they really don’t want to tell us that something is dead and buried and never to return again.

  4. With the amount of blocky 8-bit looking retro tripe that’s being pushed onto all currently supported consoles, I think it’s fitting that Sony’s looking in the hind mirror in their ads.

    “See? Even our first console had more graphical detail than what you’re getting these days”

    Sorry. Rant over.

    • Why do you care? If you don’t like games like that, you don’t have to play them, or even pay any attention to them at all.

      • I could be wrong, but I got the distinct impression from what was said that he was referring to plus offerings up until now.

        I may be reading too much into it though. :S

      • I think Scavenga was just venting. Nothing more than that. :-)

      • forrest_01 and Buninomike both got it right :)

        To those whose toes I’ve stepped on, I humbly apologise and I will now go down into the cellar to repent.

    • yep I agree here, I’m even sure why I subbed for another year? Oh yeah I remember, because I’m forced to.

    • Of the 26 PS4 games which have been released on PS+ so far, only 8 (if I stretch the definition) have been pixel-art games (Mercenary Kings, Towerfall, Fez, Sportsfriends, Spelunky, Pix the Cat, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth and Titan Attacks).

      Also among the 26 are some visually stunning games: Injustice, Outlast, Contrast, Trine 2, Resogun, Strider, Dust and Escape Plan.

      Getting really tired of people winging about the graphical quality of PS+ games as if it means something, the best game by a mile is Towerfall, which doesn’t need to look pretty to disguise any flaws in gameplay.

  5. To be honest, I’m not too worried about old games not being revived. That’s another reason why I never cared much about Nintendo. There’s plenty of fresh ideas in new games, especially by independent developers, that interests me much more.
    But, having started playing games in the 70s, maybe I’m not the main audience for references to the not so long ‘history’ of Playstation.

  6. The thing is, Nintendo’s biggest criticism is that they seem to only stick to nostalgia for their games, they rarely do something new.

    Sony looking back is just smart marketing, and while perhaps if they had released a new game from an old franchise it would have sold well, you can hardly say they’ve lost track of their identity. Especially after Playstation Experience, which highlighted that more of the same is coming from Sony- some great AAAs are on the way, and the Indie collection is growing.

    We all want more Crash though (and throw us some Spyro too!). How the hell were Activision allowed to end up with those licenses?

    • Splatoon, Hyrule Warriors, Bayonetta 2, Wonderful 101, Nintendo Land, Wii Fit, Wii Sports, 3D World, Dillons Rolling Western, Pushmo, Captain Toad, Xenoblade, The Last Story, Pandoras Tower, Tomodachi Life, Motion Controlled Skyward Sword, Rustys Baseball, Kid Icarus Uprising, Steel Wars, Project STEAM…

      No, you’re right, Nintendo never does anything new!

  7. Remember when I said stuff about how great it is to be a “PlayStation fan right now”? Well, ftom month to month it’s getting harder to be honest. They have awoken my nostalgia for good and now it’s getting annoyed be letdowns. PS Experience and the 20th anniversary without even one PS icon coming back? No plans for past series moving into the future? I really love the Playstation from deep in my heart, but I don’t know how many justifications for actions can I tell myself :(

  8. I don’t really agree with this article.

    “We don’t want to be looking back on PlayStation in twenty years and simply remembering references to twenty years before that” –
    Surely all the young and new generation of players in 20 years will be looking back nostalgically at Uncharted, Killzone, DC and plenty of other new IP’s Sony have in the pipeline right now.

    Sony are well in their right to use nostalgia, it’s great marketing, plus they’re obviously proud of what they’ve achieved and implying they’re capable of achieving more from having such a rich (in games) history.
    That and the fact this is also based around the same time as their 20th birthday.
    I certainly didn’t buy a PS4 expecting Crash Bandicoot or several other PS1 or 2 titles (although a new Wipeout would be nice).

    • Agreed. Onwards and upwards. Sure, the odd (old) franchise might make a comeback but I’m not here for that. I’m here for progression, evolution and digital tits. Sorry…. I meant great stories. :-P

      • I have a feeling there will be ‘great stories’ in the next edition of Dead or Alive 5 on the PS4. ;)

  9. Would have to disagree with the point of this article. Sony are showing how cool they are with present franchises and icons such as Uncharted, The Last Of Us, The Order etc. Granted their history is rich-no one else has quite delivered like they have over the past 20 years.

    Nintendo do have a solid first party line up but however I don’t know why people don’t pick up on the fact Nintendo do recycle a lot and I mean a lot of their content. If anyone is being cool its Sony. If anyone has their head stuck in the past its Nintendo.

  10. I’m ok with the nostalgia trip to be honest – A lot of companies do the same kind of thing when they hit an anniversary of some sort. I feel the problem is that the internetz tend to read too much into things these days & any sight of a beloved character is deemed to be guaranteed clarification of a new entry in the series. Fact is simply that Crash was a system seller back in the day & deserves his place in the history vids etc that have been doing the rounds, but would the games be relevant today? Maybe (& there are still a ton of people that would pick it up without a second thought), but I don’t think they would be classed as ‘system sellers’ anymore.

    Also: “Imagine if the new Star Wars trailer was just a trailer – we weren’t getting The Force Awakens next year – that’s effectively what Sony are doing here.”

    Sorry to call you out on this one bit, but It isn’t what they are doing here at all. The Force Awakens is coming next year, so a trailer has been released to build hype & excitement for that. Pretty much the same as any other movie really. What Sony are doing would be more akin to LucasArts releasing a trailer of the first 3 Star Wars episodes on the anniversary to celebrate the series for nostalgia purposes. Which may well happen when that rolls around.

    • Sorry, more likely LucasFilm then LucasArts I suppose! :/

    • Yeah, I could be wrong here but I’m not too sure Crash would be a system seller now. I never did play the game but due to the art style I think I’d be too old to jump on the band wagon nowadays if they did release a new version. Plus, a lot of the younger newer generation might only know of the image and never have played the games, so it may not appeal to them either.

      I was actually wandering whether Street Fighter (V) still has a big following? I get the impression it will be big in Japan but I’m not sure what the average age of the target audience will be in the rest of the world. Surely a lot of the original players from 20 years back will have moved on. Christ, it doesn’t look like its changed that much since it was first in the arcades or I played it on my Amiga.

      • Well on the SF front, I did buy SFIV a couple of times (once on initial release & then one other time when a new fangled ‘ultra hyper wave your dangly bits in the air’ edition was reduced) & I have to say that whilst the initial enjoyment was good & took me back to me yoof, I have found no urge to go back to either game since.

        This may however have something to do with my ‘not being as good as I remember being’ syndrome.

      • A game doesn’t need to be a system seller to warrant its existence. Very, VERY few games are system sellers, and most of them that are are usually multiplatform anyway. Crash could still make a nice profit whilst not being a system seller.

        There’s still the problem of Activision owning the license and all that though.

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