The once lucrative casual games market on consoles appears to have died.
The glory days of five years ago, when Just Dance, Guitar Hero and Wii dominated the market is over. Those gamers have moved onto PCs and smartphones.
But these products still boast huge brand awareness amongst a wide audience. One such title is the karaoke game SingStar – one of the original casual games hits. In its ten year history, over 26m games have been sold worldwide.
SingStar is one of our biggest licences,” says product manager Lauren Bradley. We've done loads of research on it recently, including brand awareness, and it's our second-biggest licence, behind Gran Turismo. And it's celebrating its tenth anniversary this year.”
Now Sony is back with a new entry in the SingStar series, Ultimate Party. But where the older games required the use of a microphone, this one does away with those peripherals. Fans can either use their old mics or simply download a free app to turn their smartphone into a microphone.
We're more than aware that the party games industry certainly isn't what it was, so we did a lot of work into finding out why that was,” Bradley continues. It comes back to people not wanting lots of peripherals that were attached to one particular type of game.”
We have done away with using the microphone; now your smartphone becomes one, which means you don't need any other peripherals to play it. Just the console and the game.”
"Over 1.5m Europeans downloaded the free SingStar
title on PlayStation 3. When they realised that they couldn't play
it because they needed a peripheral, they left."
Lauren Bradley, PlayStation UK
PlayStation UK PR boss David Wilson adds: We've made this game simpler. Even if you love the experience of holding the mic and getting into it, if you're in that social situation where you've all just come back from a night out and you want to play SingStar, everyone just ends up looking for the dongle or the USB mics. This gets rid of that.
It also makes the experience far more seamless in terms of setting the song list. In the old games you'd have to wait for a song to finish and then peruse the carousel and select your new song. Now you can do that via the app.”
DECLUTTERING THE GAME
Ditching peripherals this time around is, in theory, a smart move for Sony. It allows gamers to access the title without the need for pricey add-ons. And Sony has evidence that it was the need for microphones that had become a deterrent to potential gamers.
Using the app microphone is going to give it longevity and turn SingStar into more of an impulse buy as well,” Bradley says.
To give you some context on that, we put SingStar out for free on the XMB for PlayStation 3 a few years ago. Over 1.5m people across Europe downloaded it and a further 1m people went onto the store. They were genuinely interested in playing SingStar. They also downloaded the free track. It was at that point when they realised they couldn't play it because they needed some peripheral where they left it.
The numbers massively stack up, and if you take away that barrier to entry it should make it live longer.”
As mentioned earlier, the SingStar app does more than just work as a microphone. It can become a second screen to the game, and allows consumers to interact with the title by choosing the next track on the fly.
With the app you can make playlists,” Bradley says.
We have lots of editors. You can set it up so all your mics are synced with the game in one go. You can all edit the playlist.”
And there will be quite a playlist available. The business model around SingStar relies on the music available. The title is free to download, and gamers just need to buy the music to sing to. Or they can acquire the disc version, which includes some 30 tracks.
We have over 3,000 tracks on the SingStore from the PS2 and PS3 days. We're currently working on migrating those over to PS4. By launch a hell of a lot of them will be there and we're prioritising in order of how many people like those tracks.
There might be a few at the bottom of that huge list that we haven't got over yet as we need to do individual deals with individual record labels for PS4. The intention is to migrate all of those tracks over to PS4 so there will be a huge catalogue available.
In terms of what's on the disc version, we've really tried to go for all different types of genres. There's rock, modern indie, One Direction.”
LET IT GO
SingStar is more to Sony than just another lucrative game to sell; It's a means to help the firm broaden out the PlayStation 4 as a whole. And Bradley believes Sony has just the song to attract a wider, and younger, demographic.
We managed to do a deal with Disney to get Let It Go from Frozen on there, which is massively going to help us broaden this title and PlayStation as a whole,” she says.
Our core fan base for PS4 up until now has been the dedicated gamers. We have this intention to make PS4 the No.1 present this Christmas and part of that will definitely be broadening it to kids and familiy market. Having that track on there will be a really big focus for us.”
Historically, casual games have never been a reason to buy a console by themselves. Particularly a machine that costs 350. But Bradley says these titles act as an incentive to potential console buyers around the festive season.
SingStar is another reason to buy a PlayStation 4,” she explains.
I'm not going to talk SingStar down but this won't be the be-all and end-all reason to buy a PS4. There will be those that will want it for Call of Duty or FIFA, but then they buy this as a Christmas present because the entire family can enjoy it.
And while we see [fellow Q4 PlayStation release] LittleBigPlanet 3 as a core gamer's title at its heart, it's also another game that is going to appeal to kids as well. We are beginning to broaden.”
Wilson adds: SingStar has loads of traction with the PlayStation community. It's a highly recognised IP within our portfolio and we want to get back to that. It's a bit too easy to pigeonhole in terms of working for the family and kids market.
There are people who love core gaming experiences, but when they're with their mates or their girlfriends or whoever they might have a session of SingStar. It's something a bit more universal.”
He concludes: It legitimises purchase of a PS4 for core gamers who want to make the most of it w