Podcast fails...becomes Blog: Are Mascots Obsolete?

So just over a week ago, I took part in your regularly scheduled Luchacast with Aurahack, GoranP, Pepsicolaboy & Pepsicolagirl. Don't remember it? That's because a technical fuck up stopped our collective screeches and bickerings from ever reaching your ears. Regardless, amidst the utter chaos came an interesting albeit unplanned discussion about the role mascots play in video-games today.

Will we ever be free of this goddamn Italian?!
At a glance, it's easy to claim that mascots are as big as they ever were. It doesn't take much effort to throw a few names out there: Sony are touting Sackboy as the most loveable little bastard of all time, Microsoft are falling back on a team of faux Master Chiefs to ramp up sales and Nintendo...well, it's been 25 years since Mario joined the family and at least over here in Britain, I don't seem to able to avoid that fact from all the marketing in increasingly obscure locations months after the key Mario game of the year was released.
Pierce through the veil of simplicity, though and it becomes quickly apparent that console sales rely less and less on specific characters as time goes on.
Sony's prioritized ad campaign for over a year now has been the 'It Only Does Everything' scheme, starring Kevin Butler and the title says it all. It's about pushing past the conceit of one system, one sales pitch and broadening the horizon. Microsofts marketing focuses more on games and a wide span of titles at that. Even pushing past that, the seemingly constant inclusion of new applications (facebook, LastFM, Netflix etc.) implies a similar willingness to expand away from the idea that relying on a single system-seller is the way to go.
Even look to Nintendo and you'll see that they're relying on Mario less than they ever have before. The Wii is not 'the Mario console', it's the family console, the mini game console and (up until recently) the motion control console. Based on the reputation they've built for themselves, even after Kinect & Move drop, they'll still probably be the motion control console.
All of this sounds distinctly anti-mascot but I assure you, it's not. Although mascots are invariably less of a surefire way to hit their mark, there is certainly still a place for them.
Cutest. Knitted. Little. Bastard. EVAR!
After all, we're still snapping up units of every Mario game that comes out, it's just not necessarily why we bought a Wii to begin with and the same probably applies to Microsoft and Sony's respective mascots. I generally have no problems with mascots, I just think their appeal has lessened somewhat over time. I couldn't say whether that appeal will continue to diminish or not.
 
I have no doubt that in another 25 years, we'll remember Mario. Like Sonic & Pacman, even if there are no more Mario games we'll still remember Mario because he's become such a mainstay of our culture. And there's always a chance that Master Chief and Sackboy will be just as memorable in that space of time. I just feel that as a sales tool, mascots fail to perform their function as well as they might have in the past. It's a different world.
 
How about you guys?
 
 --Bo17 =D
5 Comments
5 Comments
Posted by TrulyAlive

So just over a week ago, I took part in your regularly scheduled Luchacast with Aurahack, GoranP, Pepsicolaboy & Pepsicolagirl. Don't remember it? That's because a technical fuck up stopped our collective screeches and bickerings from ever reaching your ears. Regardless, amidst the utter chaos came an interesting albeit unplanned discussion about the role mascots play in video-games today.

Will we ever be free of this goddamn Italian?!
At a glance, it's easy to claim that mascots are as big as they ever were. It doesn't take much effort to throw a few names out there: Sony are touting Sackboy as the most loveable little bastard of all time, Microsoft are falling back on a team of faux Master Chiefs to ramp up sales and Nintendo...well, it's been 25 years since Mario joined the family and at least over here in Britain, I don't seem to able to avoid that fact from all the marketing in increasingly obscure locations months after the key Mario game of the year was released.
Pierce through the veil of simplicity, though and it becomes quickly apparent that console sales rely less and less on specific characters as time goes on.
Sony's prioritized ad campaign for over a year now has been the 'It Only Does Everything' scheme, starring Kevin Butler and the title says it all. It's about pushing past the conceit of one system, one sales pitch and broadening the horizon. Microsofts marketing focuses more on games and a wide span of titles at that. Even pushing past that, the seemingly constant inclusion of new applications (facebook, LastFM, Netflix etc.) implies a similar willingness to expand away from the idea that relying on a single system-seller is the way to go.
Even look to Nintendo and you'll see that they're relying on Mario less than they ever have before. The Wii is not 'the Mario console', it's the family console, the mini game console and (up until recently) the motion control console. Based on the reputation they've built for themselves, even after Kinect & Move drop, they'll still probably be the motion control console.
All of this sounds distinctly anti-mascot but I assure you, it's not. Although mascots are invariably less of a surefire way to hit their mark, there is certainly still a place for them.
Cutest. Knitted. Little. Bastard. EVAR!
After all, we're still snapping up units of every Mario game that comes out, it's just not necessarily why we bought a Wii to begin with and the same probably applies to Microsoft and Sony's respective mascots. I generally have no problems with mascots, I just think their appeal has lessened somewhat over time. I couldn't say whether that appeal will continue to diminish or not.
 
I have no doubt that in another 25 years, we'll remember Mario. Like Sonic & Pacman, even if there are no more Mario games we'll still remember Mario because he's become such a mainstay of our culture. And there's always a chance that Master Chief and Sackboy will be just as memorable in that space of time. I just feel that as a sales tool, mascots fail to perform their function as well as they might have in the past. It's a different world.
 
How about you guys?
 
 --Bo17 =D
Posted by LtColJaxson

Well written... I agree with this.
 
It seems like a mascot for systems is less important than it used to be in the past - especially reflecting on Mario as your brought up, Crash Bandicoot, Kratos....
 
I felt as the PS2 went to Kratos - from then on it just wasn't really the same. It kinda died out with Crash on PS2... and from there I didn't really feel the PS3 had much of a mascot - a few they try to promote to different audiences but definitely less of an emphasis in promoting these characters.

Posted by Deathpooky

I think mascots have, for the most part, been replaced by actual characters.  Back in the day because of technical limitations you could have entirely abstract and undefined things like Pac-Man sell a game, or a mascot-type like Mario or Sonic that had little story behind him and could be plugged into any game or setting you wanted to sell.
 
But now games just can't have mascots anymore as their primary characters.  If you put something into a game, in order to be properly adopted it has to be a well-defined character with voice, emotion, and serious characterization.  Even fantastical or abstract characters (Rachet & Clank, 'Splosion Man, Maw) still have enough definition in them that they mostly only make sense in their game or a similar setting.
 
People love some Master Chief or some Nathan Drake, but you can't take those characters out of their settings and place them out of context to sell something.  I want to play another Uncharted game because Nathan Drake is awesome, but I don't want to play as Nathan Drake in Nathan Drake's Kart Racing.  You can't have Master Chief Tennis.
 
Mario and all endure because of nostalgia and the fact that they've been established as mascots.  But I don't think you'll have many more, if any, be established and have the same power.

Posted by Claude

Very nice blog. 
 
I like these guys from a Norwegian commercial for Move. 
 
Move Men  
 


 
 
 
 
 
 
Here's the commercial.

 
  

  
 

Posted by DragonBloodthirsty

I think the role of a mascot is to personify the system it represents.  Sonic was a bit of a bad-ass, while Mario was a lovable Italian average-Joe (It's harder to be more average-Joe than a plumber, though a good plumber is like an angel sent from heaven in times of need).

Pro-sports also has mascots, and I think they fall into a similar role.  They're supposed to symbolize something about the team.  There's a reason we have Dallas Cowboys and not Dallas Showgirls or Dallas Prairie Dogs playing football.  They're also easily recognized.  

I think that the mascots were never really all that important.  The original role seemed to be to star in the first-party launch titles, and it worked fine.

I do think that Mario will fade from public consciousness if he doesn't appear in any more games long enough.  Nothing is eternal, and the only reason Mario gets to be a cultural icon now is because people are still around who remember him.  I don't think mascots are "failing to perform their function" at all.  For Nintendo, the Gamecube was a socially oriented console (as in "the same room with friends" rather than "online with strangers you never speak to again"), and the Wii has just emphasized that even more.  Mario is still a friendly guy.  Master Chief, an icon for the Halo-box, embodies a different kind of personality that links up with Microsoft's strategy (closer to faceless competition).