Having a mascot is a fairly common practice when it comes to building a brand of any kind. Everything from restaurants to sports teams, and tech companies utilize the power of mascots, the main reason being that they are symbols and are meant to be instantly recognizable characters that we associate with a certain name brand. Just the sight of a mascot can immediately put emotions of happiness or hatred into the minds of an audience. Video game companies through the years have been one of the biggest users of mascots, especially the company that revitalized the industry when it was nearly gone: Nintendo. The big N’s Mario might have seemed like an odd choice to represent a video game company but since his first appearance Mario has become an icon not only in the gaming world but in main stream culture as well. Even people who don’t play video games know who Mario is and what company he represents, and for us gamers whenever we see the image of Mario we instantly get warm memories of our younger days. This idea of having a mascot could have very easily attributed to Nintendo’s success in it’s ability to market itself, remember before Nintendo systems like the Atari 2600 and Colecovision had no mascot, the big N was doing something no other company had done before.
Following Nintendo, Sega launched it’s system the Genesis and their own mascot Sonic in the early 90s. Originally called “Mr Needlemouse” Sonic was specifically designed to be Sega poster boy, interestingly enough the original concept for Sonic gave him fangs but Sega decided against to make Sonic more appealing to the masses. Again like Mario but to a lesser extent, Sonic through the years has become a part of main stream culture. Since the early days of Mario and Sonic a few video game companies have come and gone, one of the main companies being Microsoft. When the Xbox launched it was immediately clear who it’s mascot was: Master Chief, like mascots before him he was immediately recognizable and was always associated with his system and company. With Master Chief comes an important note that a mascot does not have to be a kid friendly character, they can take any shape or form and still appeal to a wide audience, companies in the past may have been cautious but Microsoft definitely broke the mold. However there is one company that has never seemed to have had a true mascot, and arguably hasn’t needed one: Sony. The PlayStation has been around for three console generations and has no sign of slowing down, the brand has been around for well over 10 years yet when many people hear the name no too many characters ever really come to mind. True in the past many candidates have risen to stake a claim for the title of Sony’s mascot yet for one reason or another never became the Mario or Sonic of the PlayStation. Having a mascot might not be a good thing or a bad thing for Sony now however there is an interesting story here so I’d like to talk briefly about the quest for Sony’s mascot.
As Sony was preparing to launch it’s new console and career into the video game industry a mascot for the PlayStation name was being developed by Universal Interactive Studios, they wanted to create a character that would directly compete against Mario and Sonic and create interest for Sony’s new machine. Originally named “Willy the Wombat” the character was developed to be cool, quirky and be able to show off the PlayStation’s 3D engine, eventually the name Crash was given to the character and his first game launched with the PlayStation. Unfortunately Crash wasn’t very well received by the gaming community, the game itself wasn’t necessarily bad, in fact it did a pretty good job of showing off the PlayStation’s technology however many felt the character was too much of a copy cat mascot. However Sony did use the critter to advertise its console and for awhile it was accepted that despite some hang ups Crash was the PlayStation’s mascot. However as time went on the Crash games never really became ground breaking games, although the series wasn’t bad by any means it certainly didn’t compare to Mario’s and Sonic’s. As the PlayStation’s popularity began to grow there was a noticeable shift of interest away from Crash, many other characters came into the spotlight and would eventually as a group overshadow the bandicoot. Characters like Snake and Cloud would become incredibly popular as the system went on and these character would soon be associated with the PlayStation name much more than Crash, even a character like Sweet Tooth became synonymous with the Sony name brand, of course none of these characters were ever marketed alongside the Sony name but even to this day they evoke stronger memories with the original PlayStation much more than Crash does. On a side note here’s an early commercial of Crash promoting his new game and the Playstation.
As Sony began to prepare the launch of one of the most popular consoles in history there was no mascot based game in the works. The Crash name was sold off by Naughty Dog practically ensuring the series would slowly fade away, the character that once represented the PlayStation brand had certainly lost his title now. With no mascot based game launching alongside the PS2 countless debates opened up on which game was the “flagship” title, no game was truly deemed this title. However within a short amount of time the PS2 would not only get a pair of mascot quality characters, but two pairs of them. This era was ushered in with Jak & Daxter, Naughty Dog’s foray into the next gen had actually given birth to an arguably better mascot than Crash ever was. Jak like Crash was a silent type however one major plus was his buddy Daxter, the ottsel provided much comic humor and gave the game genre a breath of fresh air, Daxter wasn’t just full of corny one liners but was a genuinely funny character which showed off Naughty Dog’s strength in putting together a good script something that will only grow as they continued to develop for Sony. Along with Jak and his companion another pair of characters found their way onto the PS2: Ratchet and Clank. With the former being a bobcat and the latter being a robot they indeed made a unique combination and were prime mascot material. This had actually started a bit of a dispute between Jak fans and Ratchet fans, both games clearly saw the other as direct competition. However despite all the talk the two franchises garnered neither of the two pairs were ever really became the poster boy for the wildly popular PS2.
Ironically around the same time talks of the PS3 started to emerge a new mascot would come into the spotlight for Sony, one that today is always associated with the Sony brand: Kratos. Like legendary characters before him Kratos had a very unique look him and his games were incredibly well received. Almost instantly Kratos had jumped to the top of the gaming worlds spotlight and from then on would be considered one of the greatest characters to grace the PS2 and in fact gaming in general. However unlike most other mascots he was the star of an M rated game and yes although Master Chief is the star of one too Kratos just has that look that isn’t easily marketable to a wide audience, the PS2 was of course targeted to everyone at this point, not just core gamers.
We now come to Sony’s 3rd generation in the console market. The PS3 was launched in November of 2006 and like it’s older sibling did it with no mascot based game, however unlike the PS2 the system had a fairly clear flagship title: Resistance: Fall of Man. The game sold well for a console with limited availability and a price tag of $599 however being an original title coupled with a relatively bland story didn’t help the game in making the main character a mascot. However a little while after the launch of the PS3 another Naughty Dog game was announced, again switching the franchise this time with Nathan Drake in Uncharted. The character of Nathan Drake is a very identifiable hero, he goes on adventures, fights the bad guys and does it all with an attitude. Today when you ask a gamer who represents the PS3 the greatest they could easily tell you Nathan Drake.
Despite Nathan’s extreme popularity there is one character however that probably trumps him. This character’s game was relatively a huge hit when released last year and although his name hasn’t reached the main stream media, he seems to be the most “mascot like” character since Crash. Sackboy debuted in the game Little Big Planet and as soon as he did many people saw the new poster boy of Sony. Sackboy embodies a lot of the characteristics that makes up a universally recognized mascot. He’s unique for one, not a lot if any video game characters look like him, he’s easily recognizable, and he’s kid friendly. The main point here is that he can appeal to everyone and in the long run that’s always Sony’s goal: to create the best gaming experience for core and casual gamers alike.
So what do you think? Is there a character that comes to mind right away when someone mentions Playstation to you? Do you still think of Crash? maybe you think of someone more recent like Sackboy? Or possibly someone completely different? Either way it seems as though Sony’s approach to all this is quite different than the other guys and as long as they churn out great games with interesting characters they won’t need to be like them.