Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Bland Brands

Video game consoles seem to have a curse over their proverbial heads when it comes to market branding.  Practically every single hardware platform has had a name that's boring at best and incomprehensible at worst.  There has also been a lot of misdirection going on from pretty early on.

Intellivision was supposed to be a contraction of "intelligent television," but (as any gamer knows) the TV is simply providing feedback on behalf of the box it's receiving signals from - no thinking involved.  Atari liked numbers such as 2600, 5200 and 7800.  Unless you are familiar with the part numbers manufactures use though it's not really obvious what these numerals represent, nor the significance of a two (or three) fold increase.

Sega had it's share of weird names for gaming platforms as well.  Why is it called the Sega Master System?  What is it master of?...certainly not the market share.  Then came the Genesis which wasn't the beginning of anything.  It's name outside the USA was the Mega Drive, which is kind of funny when you consider its initial chief competitor was the Turbo-Grafx 16.  It's as if Sega and NEC were in a competition to see who could come up with the most extreme(ly stupid) sounding name.

Sony and Microsoft both seem to be content to use the most unoriginal labels possible with PlayStation one to four and Xbox, Xbox360, followed by Xbox One.  It sound like the former trudges mindlessly ahead while the latter ended up back where it started.  The peripherals aren't any better with names like Sixaxis, Kinect, and Move. 

Nintendo sets itself apart from the above by bouncing around between silly, dull and nonsensical.  The NES (or Nintendo Entertainment System) was a pretty inauspicious start, but at least it made sense.  The Japanese name of Famicom, short for "family computer," was downright misleading.  Then came the "super" prefix for everything.  Gameboy was a bit better, but got slapped with a bunch of labels like Pocket, Light, Color, Advanced and Micro.  Eventually, the brand name was replaced with DS, or "Dual Screen," which makes sense in a really obvious kind of way.  After that it got a "3" slapped on the front, and then a "2" when players lost interest in that particular feature.  The absolute worst though has to be the Wii.  Originally it was code named the "Revolution," but someone at Nintendo though English words wouldn't get enough international recognition so they changed the name to the Wii.  Once the "U" got attached to the end it sounded like gibberish in pretty much every language with the possible exception of French.

Looking back on eight generations of console hardware though, I get the impression that branding and success are inversely proportional.  To be more specific, the better the name the worse it does sales-wise.  Jaguar, Lynx, Saturn and Dreamcast were all financial failures.  However, the reverse doesn't necessarily hold true, Ouya and CD-i both had terrible names and still sold poorly.  Interesting little facts aside, I guess the old axiom holds true, a console is only as good as the games available for it.  This is something Nintendo should really keep in mind when it comes to the Switch.  Lots of important questions are being asked about it regarding price point and battery life, but for me the big thing is region locking.  If Nintendo wants to get behind their gaming-anywhere image they shouldn't throw up a bunch of artificial barriers between countries.  They might think their fighting the threat of piracy, but all I see is slap in the face of anyone who travels abroad.  More "joy" and less "con"...know what I'm saying? 

Oh well...at least it isn't Red Dead Revengence!...then again Revolver Ocelot would fit right in...

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