Welcome to Coffee Talk! Let’s start off the day by discussing whatever is on your (nerd chic) mind. Every morning I’ll kick off a discussion and I’m counting on you to participate in it. If you’re not feelin’ my topic, feel free to start a chat with your fellow readers and see where it takes you. Whether you’re talking about videogames, getting a wisdom tooth removed without the benefits of laughing gas, getting a wisdom tooth removed without the benefits of vicodin, or the hazards of being a pedestrian in the Philippines, Coffee Talk is the place to do it.
Today’s column has been swimming in my head for a few weeks, but really came together after having coffee with my friend Joey this morning. For decades, mascots were a huge part of marketing videogame consoles. Nintendo has Mario. Sega, when it still made hardware, had Sonic. There have been so many changes to the nature of consoles and the nature of marketing, that many people believe that mascots are irrelevant…or at least not as important as they used to be. Let’s examine the issue together in today’s Coffee Talk (which was literally inspired by a talk I had over coffee).
When consoles were simply about games and boxes, iconic characters were hugely important in establishing a machine’s identity. With online gameplay, the emphasis on non-gaming services, and the rise of first-person perspective games, mascots aren’t as powerful as they used to be. Microsoft has Master Chief from Halo, who isn’t in the same league as Mario. Many people feel that Sony has been successful despite not having a mascot. It used to be that you played a game as a character, imagining that you were adventuring as him or her. There are many games where you are the character or you control the adventure in a way that’s far more personal than in older games.
Marketing and branding has also changed so that everything is about you. Social media — a huge part of…well, everything these days — has raised the bar of the brand of you. Some of the most wonderful changes to consoles in the last decade are related to personalization, both with the hardware and the games they run. It can be argued that videogame characters and sharing adventures with videogame characters have become less important than videogame experiences catered to you.
(On a side note, the whole “Brand Called You” thing had me thinking about this Fast Company article my Ziff-Davis friends and I were over the moon about back in 1997.)
So do you videogame console mascots still matter? I would understand arguments that they don’t mean much these days. I would even understand arguments that they don’t matter at all in 2013. Naturally, I want to hear your position on the topic. Fire away in the comments section (please!).