Has game advertising gone soft?

With new Sony and Microsoft ad campaigns out, CR explores whether game advertising has lost its edge, and what the future holds for console makers operating in a more complicated market than ever before

In recent months both Sony and Microsoft have released new ad campaigns, ahead of the launch of the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X and S later this year. Both ads are epic, beautifully crafted celebrations of gaming’s ability to transport us into new worlds – something which has been a lifeline for many people while stuck in lockdown.

But while the ads are undoubtedly skilfully made, there’s a lingering sense of something missing. Perhaps it’s the generic taglines – Power Your Dreams and Play Has No Limits. Or maybe it’s that they feel so similar, both leaning heavily on CGI spectacle to create that feeling of escapism. Possibly it’s because neither of them are even immediately recognisable as belonging to a particular brand. Whatever it is, the two campaigns feel surprisingly bland.

“I think weirdly enough they reflect the relatively strange situation that consoles have found themselves in,” says writer and consultant Alex Wiltshire, who’s written extensively about games, design and technology. “I agree that they are pretty bland. They’re very much following an escape from reality [narrative]. The games industry has been peddling that idea, but with much more visually and intellectually exciting advertising in the past. It’s strange that a new generation of technology is coming through, and the imagination with which that is being communicated has gone down.”

While, in the past, a new console would have meant a leap forward in terms of graphics and power, Wiltshire points out that companies such as Sony and Microsoft are now finding themselves in a world of “diminishing returns”. Technology is no longer improving exponentially, meaning consoles can rely less on boasting about the hardware itself. What a console stands for is becoming a much more nebulous concept.