Gaming Tales From Indonesia

Having never been to Indonesia before, it is fascinating for me to observe the video game market here. Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world, and Java is the most densely populated island on the planet, with 150 million people in a space half the size of the UK, so clearly the potential for a thriving gaming industry is huge. Not unlike Britain, Pro Evolution Soccer/Winning Eleven, Guitar Hero and GTA are the most popular games. The market however, is different. It is rare to see a console for sale, or a shop lined with games. It is much more likely you will see one of the many gaming centers, often little more than the back room of someone's house, but sometimes huge arcades covering an entire floor of a mall. Here you will find rows of 14" TVs connected up to PS2s and PS3s. The key thing is that you will struggle to find anyone playing a Wii or 360. Indeed, many people are bemused when I begin to repeatedly shout 'Wii' and wave my arm around like a Wii-mote in their faces.

People in Indonesia love branding. Nearly all of the millions of tiny shops a myriad of logos splattered all over the front of the building. Adverts line the streets and highways, and people regularly use the name of brands instead of the word for the product, including even water. The focus on a pay-per-minute system of videogaming in Indonesia reinforces the idea of branding. The rental shops have Sony-based adverts and logos all over the walls and windows. Lots of shops that don't even sell anything to do with video games display the original PlayStation logo on their signs. The concept of branding for the sake of it is not new, but certainly has its desired effect in Indonesia. Few of these adverts are genuine promotionals, and only limited amounts of the shop owners will receive any sort of money from Sony. It is about the notion that 'Sony is cool'. Constantly seeing Sony and only hearing the word 'PlayStation' instead of 'games console' permits a feedback effect to occur, so much so that for most Indonesians, Sony has no competitor in the current generation.

In the West, Nintendo had previously hit a similar status; in the early '90s, I remember old people and non-gamers calling any old games console 'a Nintendo'. Then it moved on to 'a PlayStation', and now it's in a kind of transitional stage where Grandad doesn't know whether he should call it an Xcube or a Playbox. Nintendo, by calling the Wii such a ridiculous name and including such a novel control system, used word of mouth and the pre-existing household Nintendo name to generate huge amounts of hype. The hype was matched by sales, and now many people with only a passing interest in video games owns a Wii.

Perhaps Indonesians don't get the Wii because it's not so radical here. When compared to food and drink products with names including Sweat, Semen, Cowpis and Chitato, the Wii seems a bit tame. However, I actually think that the reason Sony is so dominant here is the extreme brand loyalty and the everyday bombardment of Sony logos. The Wii and 360 just don't have the same sort of omnipresent visibility.

Ultimately, the people that determine how successfully a console performs in terms of sales are the people that don't really take an active interest in video games. Whilst the minority of us will read reviews and compare opinions when evaluating which console to purchase, the majority of console-buying citizens will wander into a game store and ask for whatever everyone else has got. If your mate Dave has a PS2, you will probably end up with a PS2, assuming you just want to play games and not read about them. So it is vital that Sony retains its cool image and ubiquitous presence in Indonesia to profit from the lucrative gaming industry here. Although actual console sales may be lower than the US and other markets, its value cannot be dismissed as unnecessary, as many of these mid-sized markets have knock-off effects and influences upon others.

People in Indonesia play Guitar Hero on PS3 without the guitar because its cool and everyone else does, not because they prefer it to alternative options. Perhaps Sony needs to re-evaluate the Western markets and consider why the PS1 and PS2 were so popular. Sony is carving itself a niche amongst the hardcore, when it needs its semi-interested gamers (not to be confused with casual gamers) to dominate with the PS3 as it has done so successfully before, and as it continues to do today in Indonesia.

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