Sony and The Madonna Principle


The latest in what seems to be a never-ending assault on the very concept of common sense by those in high places at Sony Entertainment came yesterday as it was rumored by several usually reliable sources (and not denied by Sony) that the entertainment media giant is planning to restrict sales of used copies of PS3 games.

Why this seems ridiculous: It’s practically impossible unless the company were to implement severe hardware/software restrictions on how one could use any given game. In other words, they would have to require software authorization for each game, locking it to one specific console only, thereby rendering the software useless on any other machine.

Why it’s even remotely plausible: Sony owns a patent for the technology which would make this scheme a possibility.

Developers and publishers must love the idea. It would scratch an itch which has plagued them for years – the “problem” of used game sales cutting into the profit pie; which many perceive to be a limited, fragile resource. I tend to disagree, but that is irrelevant here.

What is relevant is that retailers will hate the idea, since it would essentially eliminate what is rapidly becoming the largest portion of their profits; used games having a much higher profit margin than new ones.

This particular retailer/developer cage match has been brewing for some time, with some developers taking to online distribution models as a possible refuge – essentially cutting the retailers out of the loop entirely. This possible move by Sony would be a whole other beast entirely. Hiroshima to the bombing of Dresden, in other words.

The motivation for such a move well-established, the question then becomes why Sony seems hell-bent on announcing ridiculously controversial announcement after ridiculously controversial announcement about their PS3, when, to-date, few gamers have yet to lay their hands on one. A question, which I believe, answers itself: It’s the Madonna Principle.

When one has a product to sell, one focuses one’s attention on selling that product. When one hasn’t a product to sell, one focuses on hype. And when you’re selling hype, the more outrageous the news, the better.

While Nintendo and Microsoft are busy attempting to generate interest in their actual next-gen offerings, Sony is capturing headlines with smoke and mirrors – but they’re still capturing headlines. More of them than their competitors, in fact. Following the philosophy that “there’s no such thing as bad press” Sony is currently winning the war in the hearts and minds of the folks who read newspapers, browse websites and listen to podcasts. That’s hard to ignore.

I predict that many of these so-called “flubs” will evaporate on or around the day that the damn machine is finally released, to be replaced with even louder proclamations of just how incredible the actual product finally is. At this point, it would hardly barely need to function at all to suggest an improvement on the miserable failure anticipated by some – another win for Sony.

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