The Death of the Videogame Mascot

The concept of the videogame mascot is dying out. Learn how abandoning the need for a mascot can lead to better and more diverse console exclusives. PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo all have differing strategies, for better or worse.

The Death of the Videogame Mascot Cover

There once was a time where it seemed like it was mandatory for every videogame console to have its own mascot. An instantly recognizable character that symbolizes and represents the brand. However, in recent years this has become less of a key part of gaming as the industry has evolved and priorities have changed.

A videogame mascot is a character that features prominently in promotional material for a specific company. They are used to promote the platform and the series that they’re a part of. They are generally larger-than-life, often cartoon-y, and sometimes anthropomorphic. But in recent years they’ve become more realistic and human. Their purpose should be to create a specific image for the brand they represent and be well known beyond the games even by non-gamers.

PlayStation Studios Opening Animation

This article will focus on the three main console brands to see who has served as their mascots and how their image has persisted. Ultimately, however, it seems they aren’t needed for success and in fact, just indicates the opposite.

PlayStation

When people think about PlayStation’s videogame mascot, many would suggest Crash Bandicoot or Spyro the Dragon. Although technically the very first for PlayStation could be considered to be Polygon Man. This odd floating head featured in a few pre-release trailers for the original PlayStation but was soon abandoned. In the PS2/ PS3 era characters such as Kratos (God of War) and Nathan Drake (Uncharted) start to appear as icons amongst various others (as demonstrated in the incredible ‘Michael’ trailer).

In the PS4 generation, the huge variety of exclusives really took off, with many potential mascots. Not only were those of the past kept alive through sequels, reboots, and remakes but we were also introduced to the likes of Aloy (Horizon), Insomniac’s Spider-Man, and Jin Sakai (Ghost of Tsushima) to name just a few. Then we come to the PS5. While it may be too early to tell if a singular mascot will arise, it can be fair to assume that Sony will seek to maintain the variety that has brought them so much success. Perhaps Astro Bot will define the PS5 given the success of Astro Bot Rescue Mission and Astro’s Playroom.

When looking over the history of PlayStation it becomes clear that there are a plethora of popular and iconic characters that could fit the role. However, as we arrive at the ninth generation, PlayStation’s huge success with a wide variety of franchises has meant that not one character can stand alone as a mascot for the brand. Rather, the entire catalog of heroes, villains, and everything in between work together to define what PlayStation is. Perhaps this is why we need another PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale game. 

Long Live Play: Sony Character Commerical

Xbox

Microsoft’s line of consoles has a shorter and simpler history in regards to mascots. The most popular Xbox character is almost definitely Master Chief from the Halo series. With games in every generation, the Spartan has been a consistent figure for Xbox since the very beginning. The series itself is one of the most popular exclusives on the platform and has been a critical and commercial success. Therefore, the character has been heavily involved in promotion material as a way of selling consoles and other Xbox products.

Besides this, there are few others that could be Xbox’s representative. In the very early days, the titular character from Blinx: The Time Sweeper was considered. Microsoft wanted a child-friendly character to rival Sonic and Crash, but Blinx failed to achieve the same level of popularity. Another potential candidate was Marcus Fenix from the Gears of War series. However, he has few distinct traits to make him stand out from other gruff masculine gun-wielding videogame characters. So perhaps he has fallen into a similar role to Nathan Drake – the main man of a popular series, but not necessarily a mascot.

In recent years Xbox’s lack of a mascot, beyond those mentioned, has become somewhat of a joke in online gaming communities. For example, the Tumblr post below featuring the Xbox One packaging. Or more recently the ‘Craig’ meme based on the face of a Brute in the Halo: Infinite gameplay trailer. The head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, even jokingly confirmed Craig as their newest mascot.

https://vortex-blue.tumblr.com/post/148505973264/ah-yes-the-xbox-mascots-lara-croftmaster

Therefore, besides Master Chief, Xbox has never really had a proper mascot. But is this a bad thing? They can be useful, but the times when Microsoft has tried to force this idea it has only backfired. Singling out certain characters just highlights the lack of variety in Microsoft’s exclusives.

Nintendo

Nintendo is the company that puts the most emphasis on its videogame mascot. I think we all know that officially this is Mario. No other character has been as prominent in Nintendo’s marketing as the famous Italian plumber. His red cap, blue overalls, white gloves, and mustache creates an iconic image that is recognizable on box art and in-game as well as on t-shirts, mugs, and lunchboxes.

It’s not just Mario either. Characters like Link (Legend of Zelda), Samus Aran (Metroid), the Miis as well as the other members of the Super Mario family could also be considered mascots in certain circumstances. They have also adopted the icons from older generations of consoles, such as Sonic, as seen with the huge roster of fighters in the crossover hit Super Smash Bros series (likely the inspiration for PlayStation’s own fighting game).

Unfortunately for my argument, Nintendo has always closely incorporated a mascot into the way they market their platform. Mario defines Nintendo just as much as Nintendo defines Mario. Perhaps over the years, this has shaped the videogame industry, which is why PlayStation and Xbox felt the need to push for one of their own. However, Nintendo has always done things differently. The style of their videogames lends itself easily to the desired characteristics. They release few, if any, photorealistic action-heavy titles such as Uncharted or Halo. Meaning that mascots are just a part of the Nintendo brand whereas the other platforms don’t need them as much.

Conclusion

Videogame companies don’t really need a mascot. Yes, they can help with marketing and brand recognition but if they become forced or unearned then it just highlights a lack of variety or even causes it. The need for an icon can result in an investment in just one series to the detriment of others or something new. PlayStation’s success has in large part been due to the wide variety of successful exclusives both originals and sequels. This has meant that no single character stands out from the crowd, nor should it.

Xbox could be said to have Master Chief as a mascot but this could just be because there is no other candidate. The Halo character doesn’t possess the typical features one would expect. Therefore, despite appearing often in marketing, Master Chief isn’t a typical mascot so Microsoft haven’t made it a big part of the marketing.

Super Mario Odyssey - Game Trailer - Nintendo E3 2017

Nintendo has seen huge success with their Super Mario franchise, hence why the main character has become a videogame mascot. Although, this indicates that their other exclusives are less popular or iconic. The reliance on this means that they’ve failed to diversify. So if one title in the flagship series fails to sell well or achieve critical acclaim it could derail the entire platform’s image and future success.

So the concept of a videogame mascot is dead. While this was a big part of the industry in the past, it is no longer necessary for success. PlayStation has proved that investment in a range of exclusives is better than forcing a single character to represent the brand. That’s not to say that having a mascot, like Nintendo, means that success isn’t possible because that’s definitely not the case.

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