Sony's E3 press conference this year was a masterstroke of PR, there's no two ways about it. Regardless of your own personal platform preferences and/or allegiances, it's hard to deny that the whole thing was beautifully-paced systematic dismantling of almost everything Microsoft had pissed people off with recently, culminating in some rather endearing playful taunting.
But Sony setting gamers' next-gen fears to rest wasn't the sole purpose of its E3 conference. There was a bunch of other interesting stuff going on too. I asked my colleagues what their favorite - and perhaps least favorite - parts were, and I'd like to ask you the same thing; any big wins for Sony here? Or did you come away skeptical of the future?
PS4 pretty much dropped a torpedo into Xbox One’s exhaust port.
Earlier in the day, Microsoft had come out swinging with an impressive array of games, and dangled almost enough shiny trinkets and baubles to make me forget about all the nonsense and brouhaha of last week. Even if I did feel a little bit of sticker shock when its $500 price point was announced, by the end of the press conference, I thought Xbox was looking pretty good…
But that changed almost the moment that Jack Tretton took to the stage to kick off Sony’s press conference. If Xbox One had come out swinging, Sony went straight for the jugular. A solid roster of first- and third-party titles was rolled out, with plenty of crowd-pleasers and franchise favorites to choose from. Then came the indies, with games like Octodad, Transistor, and Outlast showing how vibrant this sector is – and begging the question, who on earth at Microsoft thought it was a good idea to step away from it?
Then came a flurry of hits. Used games? It’s business as usual, we were told – no restrictions. That provided a big cheer, and must surely give Microsoft pause to potentially rethink its strategy. Restrictive connectivity? Nope. That’s not something a PS4 player needs to worry about either. And price? To you, sir, a full 20% below Xbox One’s MSRP.
At that point, Sony was sitting pretty. Even the (somewhat inevitable) announcement that online play will now require a subscription to PlayStation Plus, just like Microsoft charges for Xbox Live, wasn’t enough to put a dampener on things.
Of course, this is only round one, and I’m sure there will be many twists and turns ahead of us. But for now, advantage Sony.
I was pleasantly surprised by the announcements at all of today's press conferences, but Sony may have given the single most laser-guided assault I've seen in 10 years of covering the show. That two-hour presentation was a point-by-point takedown of Microsoft. What I really appreciate, though, is the way they built up to the brutality. First they showed off a bunch of big-budget games - nice, but standard fare for the industry these days. Then they moved along to a wonderful indie showcase, an area MS really appears to have dropped the ball. Only then did they rip MS's policies and strategies a new one. I don't believe in "winning" E3 - it's business, and everyone wins as long as they're making money - but if I did, this is what winning would look like.
Of course, that triumph is just for now. Sony has to make good on its promises and Gaikai's untested technology. They have to live up to the expectations they set tonight. Still, there was a confidence to Sony's presentation they haven't demonstrated since 2006. Unlike that infamous mess of a conference, though, this year's self-assurance came not from a place of arrogant misunderstanding of its customers' need but rather with the measured calm of people who know they messed up, why they messed up, and what they need to do to put things right. I'll be curious to see Microsoft's next move, but for today Sony won over a lot of gamers.
This marks my third year attending E3, and Sony's press conference today was hands down the best I've ever seen. Once the boring segment dedicated to movie streaming options was through, which oddly took up more time than showcasing new Vita games, Sony made it apparent that I'll be getting everything I want with the PlayStation 4 - a cool-looking box with which to play great games. I don't even mind that said box looks like a prototype from The Fifth Element's prop department.
My wireless started chugging when all the new PS4 games were announced, so I saw stuttering footage of The Order and Infamous: Second Son. The former looked pretty cool because steampunk, and the latter looks like I'll get to play an Infamous game as Jessie from Breaking Bad, minus the meth and frequent usage of the word "bitch." Suffice it to say I'm intrigued by both.
When they started in on self-publishing, it was clear Sony wants to be as gamer-friendly as possible. The latter half of the press conference was a bullet-point list of things people don't like about the Xbox One, and an explanation that the PlayStation 4 won't do any of those things. Except make you pay for online multiplayer, which Sony Computer Entertainment America CEO Jack Tretton said without actually saying it. Sneaky Jack Tretton.
Going into E3, I was worried that Sony was the benefactor of inaction, that the company looked better and better not because it knew what it was doing, but because Microsoft had simply been mishandling the Xbox One so horrendously that the simple act of not doing anything made Sony look great by comparison. After all, Sony hadn't said anything about restricting used game sales. It hadn't said anything about always-online DRM. And even its indie gaming push could have been seen as a product of simply not discouraging developers more so than any active support for the indie community. So the big question I had going into the Sony briefing was recent perceptions of the company as being decidedly more pro-gamer than Microsoft had any substance to them.
Monday's media briefings showed that was more than just a handy narrative in the media, as Sony seized the opportunity to differentiate the PS4 from the Xbox One with a pro-consumer approach to digital rights and pricing. Of course, it's more than a little sad that maintaining the status quo would be seen as a victory for consumers' rights. Just as it's more than a little sad that a $399 price tag is perceived as a consumer-friendly price point. But when Microsoft offers consumers a more restricted experience and demands more money for it, it's easy for Sony to play the saint. I mean, the press conference also contained an on-the-sly announcement that online multiplayer for PS4 would require a PlayStation Plus subscription (currently, PS3 online play is free), and there's essentially no outrage over that because Microsoft already pioneered that scheme more than a decade ago and the Plus service actually provides decent value for the dollar (unlike Xbox Live Gold).
Assuming Microsoft doesn't get spooked and drop its price or policies, this year's console wars have just become infinitely more fascinating. Given the similarity in the two system's catalogues (In different parts of the briefing, Jack Tretton said there were nearly 40 exclusive PS4 games on the way and Shuhei Yoshida said Sony Worldwide Studios was working on 40 PS4 games), this generation's console wars are ripe to be viewed as a referendum on consumer rights. Just how many gamers actually care enough about these issues to influence their purchase decisions? Assuming retailers like GameStop and rental services like GameFly or Redbox push the PS4 prominently, can they move the needle? Will angry gamers say one thing on message boards in June, then buy an Xbox One in November because Halo or Ryse just looks cool? I've always been of the mind that if a business treats its customers with respect and offers them a fair deal for their money, that will be recognized and they will be rewarded moreso than those who do neither. This holiday season might just put that notion to the test.
After three press events today, with quickly diminishing excitement as each one passed, Sony stepped on stage and absolutely destroyed Microsoft with an impressive haymaker. Games that were of equal caliber to what Microsoft was showing, a $399 retail price, no restrictions on used games, and no always-online connection required. We all knew what Sony needed to do to walk away with the next-generation crown and they delivered on every point. The only stumbling block was PS4 online multiplayer being gated behind PlayStation Plus, but fans are probably too elated by the rest to care.
Even on just the games, Sony provided a compelling case for players to pre-order a PS4. First-party titles like Killzone: Shadow Fall, Infamous: Second Son, Knack, and The Order: 1886. A compelling slate of indie games like Transistor, Mercenary Kings, Octodad: Dadliest Catch, Outlast, and Galaxy. The long-awaited Final Fantasy Versus XIII under its new moniker, Final Fantasy XV. Kingdom Hearts III finally being announced. All that alongside the multi-platform games you've come to expect from the big two: Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Watch Dogs, Mad Max, and Destiny.
People are rushing to pre-order the PlayStation 4 tonight because Sony went out and made the Xbox One look like child's play. They offered a monkey-stomping, when some were expecting the company to limp into obscurity. Bravo, Sony. Don't mess it up.
It's honestly difficult to articulate exactly what a good job Sony did with this press conference without coming across as some sort of hideous squeeing fanboy, but I'll try anyway.
Sony absolutely knocked it out of the park with this one, and left Xbox One with a seriously bloody nose.
After the controversy arose over Xbox One's online and used game restrictions, a friend of mine quite rightly noted on Twitter that people would be naïve to assume that Sony wouldn't be doing something similar. And it's true; if Sony had chosen to go the same route as Microsoft with its heavy focus on cloud computing and taking much firmer control of the user experience, there would have been relatively little to choose between the Xbox One and PS4.
As it stands, though, Sony has aptly proven the key difference between the Sony of 2013 and the Microsoft of 2013: the former listens, then does what its customers think is best; the latter takes charge and does what it thinks is best for its customers - or, perhaps more accurately, its business partners.
Couple this strong performance with the region-free nature of the console and the promise of a lot of my favorite obscure JRPG developers being on board - Gust, Compile Heart, NIS America and the like - and, speaking personally as a consumer, I am well and truly in for PS4; Microsoft, meanwhile, still has a very long way to go to convince me.