The dawning of a new generation is upon us, and for many gamers, their minds have already been made up. In fact, their minds may have been made up a generation ago, and they’ve been defending that position ever since. To a lot of people, the fuss gamers make over the various brands involved may seem foreign, or even exclusive to the hobby, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Loyalty and fanaticism like this is present in a lot of mediums that ask you to make a choice, and invest either time or money in it. It happens with DC and Marvel. It happens with Star Wars and Star Trek. It happens with Ford and Chevy.
And the larger the investment made, the larger the emotional investment attached to it seems to be. As natural as the response seems to be, after a certain extent, the behavior goes too far, infecting the consumers, tainting fun, and evolving into a level of toxicity and blindness that can be nothing but harmful.
Naturally, this level of consumer engagement is desired by Microsoft and Sony. After all, what better way is there to market a product than to have your fans perpetuate a constant argument for you? When you see the fuel they add to the fire, it becomes readily apparent that something psychological is at play here, though we may not be able to put our finger on it.
Maybe if we can identify why we feel the ways we do about these corporate teams, we can cure ourselves. Why do we, as gamers, go well beyond being mere fans of hardware?
Well, in part, it’s because it is so expensive, and spending money can make us sad.
It seems so simple, but psychologically, shopping takes a toll on some. This toll seems to be directly related to the cost of the product one is shopping for. Consider this:
Prior to your purchase, you are in a state of power. To you, the consumer, good things are about to happen. You’re going to be positively influencing the market. You’re going to be making a choice, and that gives you a sense of agency. Will you buy a PS4? An Xbox One? A Wii U? Nothing at all? The power is yours. You also have some money to spend. All your options may even seem equally viable, and there may even be an internal debate raging on inside.
But after the purchase, all that disappears, and leaves you feeling somehow less. You are no longer in a position of control, and the desire to reaffirm your decision may become all consuming. What was once a difficult choice suddenly becomes the undisputable right one.
This shift between having control and having a world of possibilities in front you to having none and being locked into a decision is a jarring one. Sometimes, this original decision affects future ones, and yields a level of brand loyalty.
Simply put, brand loyalty is a consumer’s tendency to purchase from the same manufacture again and again and again. A majority of marketing managers find a metric of “loyalty” extremely useful. This tendency could be a result of the consumer’s need to reaffirm a prior choice.
If Sony has made a quality product that has worked in the past, then a consumer, fearful of wasting money and in need of justifying all the money they’ve already spent, may actively seek to mitigate cognitive dissonance by actually spending more on Sony products. In this way, brands can gain a level of inertia.
Sometimes, to encourage these types of consumers, brands will “reward” them through a variety of ways. Pepsi points and frequent flyer miles are two systems that spring immediately to mind. But, as diminutive as they may be, these reward systems do have a cost that cuts into profit (granted, a microscopic amount).
Last generation, Microsoft and Sony discovered a new way of rewarding consumers, not just for purchasing the console, but for purchasing games and investing time. The system is actually genius, and helps to lock player decisions in place for future generations. Almost a decade ago, Microsoft figured out how to continue its inertia with players for years to come. Sony saw the benefits and jumped on board.
I’m talking about the Achievements and Trophy systems present on the consoles. By giving players a score tied to their buying habits, and asserting that it is a reflection of skill, game companies have discovered a way to make players proud of their spending habits. It positively reinforces spending and also attaches gamers to a score that they won’t want to see disappear since it is, in many ways, a reflection of their investments. Consider, for a moment, how hard switching consoles would be to a person who valued Achievements or Trophies?
And the silliest part of it is how hard it is to actually promote your achievements to other players. Few people care about the number on your Gamercard. That number exists for you, almost exclusively.
Another element at play in the console wars is the human need for consumers to attach themselves to something “bigger” than them. It happens frequently in sports, and almost indefinitely in the Olympics. If you can find a way to identify with a team, or a distant representation of yourself, as in the Olympics, you can share in the joy of their victories and the bitter pain of their losses. It also invokes a sense of community and this feeling of being part of something.
But realistically, the accomplishments of athletes have nothing to do with their fans. And the accomplishments of Microsoft or Sony are more from preying on their fans than anything else. They don’t care who you are so long as you have a wallet with money in it.
The reality of it is that there are a lot of factors at play that can cause us to behave in ways that we’re not fully aware of. We can be mean, ignorant, selfish, and downright toxic in an endeavor to avoid some sort of cognitive dissonance. But doesn’t that make the money and time we’re investing even less valuable? Through fanboyism, we actively poison our own enjoyment of a hobby. We lose a level of objectivity, and write-off the merits of another system with the sour grapes mentality of a scorned child: another psychological response that is natural but unhealthy. We hate exclusives we haven’t played. We shut ourselves out, forfeit our ability to choose, obsess over details, stress ourselves out, and become cruel to one another. We also make it easier for writers and forum goers to flame us, which is no fun. So as we go into this next-generation, let us rationally consider all our purchases and the reasons behind them. Games are supposed to be fun, and consumerism is supposed to be about choice.