SONY (manuscript invited by BBC)

Games are 11% of SONY‘s sales – and currently 56% of SONY’s profits come from selling life insurance, consumer loans and financial products in Japan. Games are important, but are not going to make or break SONY at this time.

Technical specs of the next Playstation need to be fantastic. Specs alone however have not been the main focus for quite some time now. Smart phones, social games, smooth linking of all “screens” are disrupting the games sector. In Japan, the social games market is already twice the value of the traditional game console market (excluding software): in anticipation of their global success, GREE and DeNA combined have climbed to half the market cap of all of SONY.

SONY’s game business model also faces disruption by free and $.99 “snack-type” games, downloaded to mobile phones and tablets – to win in this sector SONY would have to beat Rovio’s Angry Birds brand and their galactic and Starwars games among others. Its hard for SONY to please both hardcore gamers, and the much larger audience of casual gamers looking for quick in-between low cost or free game “snacks”.

If I was CEO of SONY, another fact I would worry about is that there are currently about 800 games on Playstation, while here are about 130,000 games on iOS, and more than 100 new games submitted to Apple everyday. Now if Apple would take this enormous developer support to a next generation Apple-TV ecosystem, I would have sleepless nights about my whole game business division if I was SONY-CEO.

Personally, I like SONY’s acquisition of the cloud game platform Gaikai. It will be key for SONY to keep a great team at Gaikai. Ultimately Gaikai might become SONY’s most important game platform. Improving the specs of SONY’s Playstations is necessary for SONY to remain a console player – however for business success SONY needs to drive disruption instead of reacting to others like Apple or Rovio. Gaikai could give SONY that chance. SONY’s own studios could also be a more important weapon in the game.

SONY is often taken as a poster child for Japan’s stagnation: over the last 15 years, SONY showed essentially no revenue growth and close to zero average profits and margin. However, CANON proves that even a Japanese electronics company can deliver consistent growth and good margins, but copying CANON of course is not the way to go. SONY will need to create its own way.

More analysis in our report on Japan’s electronics sector.