31 Oct 2019
Tokyo Game Show Embraces E-sport Endorsements and Subscriptions
A very different 2019 Tokyo Game Show saw brands ever-more keen to burnish their e-sport credentials, while the increasing number of online subscription opportunities may transform the purchaser / vendor relationship in perpetuity.
To the general public, the Tokyo Game Show (TGS) is all about the chance to preview new game titles by their favourite creators. Underneath this veritable cornucopia of new content, however, it's often possible to discern emerging market trends, key indicators of just where the industry is heading. In this regard at least, TGS 2019 was no exception. In fact, some of the trends – and even a number of the non-trends – couldn't have been easier to spot.
One of the prime polarities in the gaming sector has long been the rift between the more "elitist" specialised products and those geared more towards the general mass market. On one side, you have the pro-gamers and classic "computer nerds", many of whom almost habitually customise their equipment. On the other side, you have a horde of tech and gaming companies, all eager to appeal to the mass market of ordinary users. At this year's TGS, a number of interesting synergies between the two sides were on show, as were several long-simmering tensions.
Once rather elitist and exclusive, for instance, e-sport branding was, this year, widely deployed for a number of distinctly mass-market products. In another egalitarian move, many games once reserved for high-end consoles appeared to have been re-platformed for the higher-performing PCs.
In another change, due to the higher capacity Solid-State Drive (SSD) cards now available, as well as the higher-speced hardware that often comes as standard, PC customisation is less de rigueur among top-end users than once it was. At the same time, the ubiquity of cloud and subscription services has also seen fewer information-centric geek users looking to tinker with the technology of their own PC terminals.
While certain technologies had clearly already been deemed passé, there was one that was keenly anticipated, despite there being few indications as to its likely impact – 5G. Although a number of companies associated with the upcoming high-speed cellular technology had large stands at the event – notably Huawei, the Shenzhen-headquartered telecoms giant, and Docomo, Japan's leading mobile-phone operator – they seemingly had little to say about the system, which is due to make its local debut sometime next spring. More forthcoming was Takayuki Baba, Senior Marketing Manager of Gree, the high-profile Tokyo-based internet and phone gaming company – and even he verged on the non-committal.
Outlining his company's somewhat pragmatic approach, he said: "We are not concerning ourselves with 5G just yet. While it's possible it will go mainstream in the game market, we will address that when and if it happens. For now, though, we are focusing more on new titles for our platform, notably One Punch Man, which we have particularly high hopes for."
Another development widely in evidence across the showfloor was the use of e-gaming as a hallmark of quality, a tactic favoured by many of the exhibiting brands. The growing co-option of gaming tournaments as marketing tools owes much to the popularity of such multi-player games as Fortnite, which have transformed many previously casual players into keenly competitive gamers.
One brand that has had a longer association with e-sports than most is the Mouse Computer Corporation, a Tokyo-headquartered PC hardware manufacturer. Maintaining that the company owes much of its success to its close ties to the e-sports sector, marketing Manager Motoi Fukushima said: "Essentially, Mouse is a group of manufacturing companies producing different components for the Mouse brand, all with the kind of high-end specs favoured by e-sports fans. Our approach is 'build to order' and 'original customise'. In line with that, we can customise a number of features as part of a basic package."
The brand is well established in Japan, but its long history tends to be more informative with regard to the how the market developed rather than offering any insights into where it's heading. For the latter, it could be more worthwhile looking to something like Lenovo's Legion brand, which has only been around for about two years.
Despite – or perhaps because of – its relative infancy, it's seen as a brand that has its finger on the pulse in terms of the future form of the high-end gaming sector. With its ubiquitously cool designs and an emphasis on top-end specs that don't need supercharging in order to deliver high-powered gaming, the brand is several steps on from the all-but compulsory customising culture that used to characterise the sector, at least according to Michio Ochi, head of consumer marketing for Legion.
Outlining the brand's niche in this still-evolving market, he said: "Only our notebook model is designed to be customised and then only for use by high-end, high-volume e-commerce vendors rather than by a typical consumer. Nowadays, pretty much every PC manufacturer offers advanced technology and considerable processing power as standard, so e-sports players no longer really need to customise their set-ups. Probably, up until at least five years ago, serious gamers felt they had to go bespoke to get the best performance and, of course, many pro-gamers still do. For the majority of PC gamers, though, it's no longer really a necessity.
"For our part, at Lenovo we have a range of brands, all of which are targeted at different kinds of consumers. As our research showed that 60% of PC game users now also use their PCs for other purposes, we set out to create a product that factored that in. The result was Legion – stylish, but low key and with all the power any discerning PC gamer might require."
Not every manufacturer, however, was equally keen to forsake customising-minded consumers. Clearly still seeing there to be something of a commercial opportunity when it came to superserving such buyers was Omen. An undeniably stylish Hewlett-Packard sub-brand, it has long targeted high-end gamers, with the scope for customisation part of its offer – an approach it has maintained with the HP Omen X, a diagonally mounted cube gaming PC.
Introducing this latest addition to its range, Brand Product Manager Tomoyuki Moriya said: "This is our flagship model and it's very easy to open. There are only six screws so it's not difficult to access the internal motherboard in order to upgrade the memory and replace the CPU or any other element you choose to personalise.
"For this new model, we have also changed the look from two colours to more of a gradient. This is in line with our view that there are many types of gamers out there. While the cliched image of e-sports enthusiasts is very narrow, we believe that just as there any many, many types of games, there are many types of gamers."
While many PC manufacturers were clearly discreetly sidling away from traditional geek culture – or, at least, subtly trying to insinuate a degree of diversify into it – another major trend was evident over at the PlayStation pavilion. This saw the Japanese gaming console giant keen to supplement its core business by pushing the uptake of its cloud-gaming subscription services.
With ever-improving connectivity, cloud platforms are becoming increasingly capable of delivering high-level gaming. It's a development, however, that has seen the relationship between the company and the consumer evolve somewhat, switching it from centring on one product-specific transaction to one characterised by the payment of regular fees and almost continuous interaction. For PlayStation – and Sony Interactive Entertainment, its Tokyo-headquartered parent company – this has proven to be a significant opportunity for it to expand its business well beyond the console market, a segment where its current high level of penetration makes the likelihood of further expansion questionable at best.
Outlining the manufacturer's future strategy, spokesperson Atsumi Maeda said: "The PS4 sold over 91.6 million units globally and we now have 94 million active users. We would, however, like more users, more users who want to play PS4 games on a daily basis and who maybe want to access the game experience in different ways. With that in mind, we have been offering a cloud-based subscription service since 2014 and have constantly tried to refine the technology and create a great user environment. Nowadays, you don't even have to buy a PS4 to share the experience. If you have a standard Windows PC and pay a US$20-a-month subscription fee – though this varies from country to country – you can access hundreds of our titles.
"Whenever you want, you can purchase a monthly ticket. During the summer holidays, when you have a lot of free time, you would maybe invest in one. Then you might skip for several months until, say, the Christmas holidays and then purchase another. Basically, our approach is to offer as many services as possible in the hope that every user will find one that suits them."
The 2019 Tokyo Game Show took place from 12-15 September at Makuhari Messe. The event attracted 262,076 visitors.
Marius Gombrich, Special Correspondent, Tokyo