Gaming Companies, Like Much of High Tech, Often Don't Understand Customers

Last Updated Oct 27, 2010 4:09 PM EDT

So, Sony (SNE) has finally released its long-rumored PlayStation phone. My BNET colleague Damon Brown thinks that Sony has a chance to carve out some mobile market share with a premium device that targets hard core gamers. And it might be.

But in discussing the new product with Damon, it became clear that the console companies seem to misunderstand some of the basic ways gamers use equipment, and that's bad. Substitute the word "customer" for gamer and you have a typical high tech issue. Executives and designers assume that they know how people go about their business, but often they haven't a clue.

In this case, I had made a joke about the phone making it easier for a gamer to talk to friends while playing. As I've learned from watching teenage gamers, they often use headsets to talk with friends while playing games like Halo. What produced my double-take is when Damon told me that only home consoles allow headset communications while in-game, and that this is impossible with mobile systems.

Given how long wireless communications have been available, this should have been a natural extension. It may be that Sony will allow in-game talk and that Microsoft (MSFT) and Nintendo will follow suit, but why did it have to take so long for this to happen?

Then again, why does it often take so long for high tech companies to do anything that would make clear sense to customers? Why did Microsoft ever release Vista, as obviously flawed as it was once you used it, or even make arrangements with the music studios before Steve Jobs and Apple (AAPL) got in there first? Why didn't Apple add multitasking to the iPhone earlier than it did? Why did Dell (DELL) make its first smartphone a device that started by lagging the competition in speed and features?

Why don't high tech executives get their customers? This would be like a top automobile executive not understanding what it was like to drive in traffic. Oh, wait, they have drivers so they don't. Instead, say that it would be like Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz strictly being a milk man and not having a notion how people might react to the way coffee is roasted.

If you're going to sell to people, it helps to understand their expectations and how they approach the world and your products. Any time what should have been obvious for years comes thundering in as a complete surprise, it's time to step back and consider whether you're ignoring one of the most important duties an executive has.

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Image: Engadget
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.