Hype is one of the most powerful drugs. It can make you feel great at the time and can lead to disastrous consequences that leave you feeling empty. As I look at how the PS5 is being overly hyped without also providing basic information to support that hype, I think Sony is risking more than it realizes. Won’t you join me for a little armchair corporate marketing?
So, how does this accusation of empty hype apply to the PS5? To get the obvious out of the way, we don’t know the console price, release date, or even what the back looks like. We don’t know how the cooling system works. All of these things don’t necessarily matter if you intend to buy it anyway, but it’s a strange way to sell a console that should launch in two months.
Here’s how the information starved hype backlash leads to problems. Ubisoft spilt the beans on the PS5’s backward compatibility or the lack of it on a support page. People were incensed that the PS5 will seemingly only support PS4 games. People are upset, because they believed we might see PS2 or PS1 games run on the PS5. Sony could have already clarified this message with consumers when they had to correct backward compatibility info from the GDC presentation earlier this year.
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They still haven’t been 100% clear about it, and that’s the problem. Since they’ve chosen not to address it, people filled in the blanks with rumors and what they hoped would be true, leading to a more negative response than if they were simply told how it’s going to be. I don’t care about console wars, but, if I’m Sony, this gives Microsoft the chance to once again trumpet their market differentiation in backward compatibility and puts a damper on Sony’s overall marketing message.
The information vacuum has lead to a ton of rumors, and you don’t want people piecing together expectations from rumors. Sony can choose how to reveal the details about the PS5, but the closer we get to the launch, the harder that becomes with leaks. Sony loses the advantage and must then go on the defensive as the public forces them to confirm or clarify something. It’s even worse when they remain silent.
The other problem with endless hype is that a person’s emotional reservoir is not infinite. A drip marketing campaign only works as long as you have something to give. Human beings can’t maintain ultra-high hype levels for long periods. There has to be some meat on that bone.
It can even make them actively disinterested, because they don’t care or start negatively filling in the blanks. If people start finding bad in a product, their minds might start looking for more bad things. By keeping all the info so close, you are creating a PR minefield. Rumors of hardware failure, an accidental or careless slip of the tongue by someone in marketing, or any number of launch snafus that might normally be forgiven if they are alone can have a multiplier effect if too close together. This can result in a backlash.
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It seems impossible to believe that Sony won’t continue to be the next-gen leader, but Sony is playing a dangerous game. Outside of negligence or incompetence, I think this information starvation is an effort to keep interest high, but it could blow up in the company’s face. It’s important to remember the crowd who cheers you today could be the angry mob tomorrow. Empty hype in which consumers believe a shifting series of rumors can damage your brand and cause a lot of headaches.
I know PS5s will fly off the shelves, but your diehard consumers are projecting their expectations onto next-gen without a solid foundation of confirmed information. This could all be alleviated by some pre-recorded videos on YouTube or an article and some pictures on the PlayStation Blog. I know it’s not a glamorous press event, but it’s not like it will be ignored.
The weird thing about all of this is that Sony knows the answers to all of these questions and has likely known for a while. They are even asking people to register for the chance to pre-order without revealing any of these details. I could see the strategy of not addressing pricing to make sure they are competitive with Microsoft, but we could have already had direct information about details such as backward compatibility, inputs and outputs, and a release date.
If the PS5 is delayed into 2021, it’s going to be an even bigger issue. COVID-19 is the ultimate get out of jail free card, but Sony has repeatedly said it will be coming out in 2020 every time this question has been asked. The closer they get to the expected November release date, the harder a delay announcement will hit. It’s a little tinfoil hat for now, but it starts to seem more likely with every passing week.
With Sony’s lack of communication, the extreme hype is the only thing we can be sure about the PS5. Until they give us something concrete, rumors will continue to run wild, false expectations will lead to future disappointment, and we’ll learn more through leaks than official releases from Sony. If there is bad news in the future, there will be a backlash, and it could have easily been prevented with less hype and more communication.
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Jason became terminally addicted to videogames after receiving the NES at an early age. This addiction grew to include PC gaming and was cemented with the launch of the PS2. From then on, he was afflicted with epic RPGs, tense shooters, and deep strategy games, never becoming skillful, but never able to quit. He continues to play games (poorly) and share his passion for them to anyone willing to listen.