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Sony stays on target as E3 offers an open goal

Tuesday, 11th June 2013 07:24 GMT By Rob Fahey

E3 hasn’t officially started. The dust hasn’t settled on a heavy day of conferences. But Rob Fahey is ready to crown Sony king – and Microsoft has only itself to blame.

Today, we got to see something I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in this industry before – one opponent on the ropes, and the other lapping up the crowd’s adulation as they kept on landing the punches. For Microsoft, this was simply brutal stuff.

I’m usually deeply skeptical of people trying to proclaim “winners” and “losers” from an event like E3. It’s always more complex than that – each conference contains a balance of good and bad, after all, and judging games from brief trailers and demonstrations is just as foolish as judging platform strategy from a few carefully worded sentences from executives. The most impressive E3 conferences often break down in the months that follow as the devil emerges from the details.

I can make an exception to my skepticism, just this once. There’s a clear two-way fight right now between Sony and Microsoft – two next-gen consoles based on very similar architecture and launching within weeks of one another. Today, we got to see something I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in this industry before – one opponent on the ropes, and the other lapping up the crowd’s adulation as they kept on landing the punches. We can pick holes in Sony’s conference, certainly – there are holes to be picked – but for Microsoft, this was simply brutal stuff.

In the end, too, Sony’s triumph wasn’t actually about the games. For the past few weeks we’ve been praying that both platform holders would just focus on the games – and for the most part, both Microsoft and Sony lived up to that promise. Sony started slightly weakly, segueing from a strong commitment to continue supporting PS3 and Vita into a dull piece on movie and music content, but it quickly became apparent that the Sony Pictures exec had been wheeled out early on simply in order to get him out of the way quickly. Once Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida took the stage, it was all about games from there until the end of the conference.

Worldwide Studios is working on interesting stuff (30 PS4 titles, 20 in the first 12 months and 12 of those are brand new IP), while the roster of major third-parties supporting PS4 is as much a who’s who of development as you’d expect. Exclusives aren’t terribly thick on the ground within that roster, of course – the slightly glassy-eyed enthusiasm with which largely meaningless exclusive content (costumes, levels and so on) was announced is a testament to how cross-platform the next generation will be, just as this generation was. For exclusives, you need to look to Worldwide Studios (which, in fairness, houses some truly excellent development talent) and, perhaps even more interestingly, to Sony’s commitment to indie developers, which it spent much time and energy on re-stating.

Sony’s instructional video on how to share PlayStation 4 games. It knows exactly what it’s doing here.

In fact, Adam Boyes rapidly showcased eight games from eight different indie studios – some of them well-established creators, others entirely new teams and in at least one case, a team with no commercial releases to their name. All of them looked interesting; not all of them will be great, of course, but as a statement of intent this was remarkable. Boyes reiterated the magic words “self-publishing” and promised that PS4 would be the “most open and inclusive platform for developers”. The contrast with Microsoft’s message is stark; Phil Harrison seemed rather miffed at the suggestion that Microsoft doesn’t work with indies, yet where Sony talked up self-publishing and showed off eight interesting looking games, Microsoft’s response to indie-related criticism was to show off Minecraft – a game which had already made tens of millions of dollars before it came to Xbox. Minecraft is stupendous, don’t get me wrong, but a commitment to supporting creatively risky indie development it is not.

That being said, I’m not sure there was a lot to choose between Microsoft and Sony in terms of game software. I liked the Sony showing better, personally, but individual taste plays a big role in that. It’s telling that both companies ended with a game that essentially mixes Call of Duty with Halo – one from the makers of Call of Duty, one from the makers of Halo. Ultimately, you’ll be able to play most of the biggest hits of the next generation on either Xbox One or PS4, and whose exclusives you’ll prefer will be very much a personal choice.

So the moment when Sony “won” E3 wasn’t about games; or rather, it had everything to do with games, with your right to own and enjoy them as you see fit, with all the horrible corporate nonsense about licensing and reselling and sharing that we’ve been forced to sit through in the weeks since the Xbox One reveal. Many of us expected that Sony would announce something similar, albeit perhaps less restrictive than Microsoft’s plans. After all, Microsoft had presumably implemented this anti-sharing, anti-trade-in system at the demand of game publishers; wouldn’t Sony face the same demands?

The moment when Sony “won” E3 wasn’t about games; or rather, it had everything to do with games, with your right to own and enjoy them as you see fit, with all the horrible corporate nonsense about licensing and reselling and sharing that we’ve been forced to sit through in the weeks since the Xbox One reveal. You can forgive Jack Tretton, then, for milking the moment.

You can forgive Jack Tretton, then, for milking the moment. Sony may have faced the same demands, but it has faced them down. The PS4 places no restrictions on ownership beyond those we already understand – you can buy games, sell games, trade games and share games just as you do on your existing console. It doesn’t require an online connection to play games. It doesn’t need to check in with the mothership every 24 hours. Tretton couldn’t stop grinning as he spoke, announcing that the PS4 would do none of the things gamers have criticised about the Xbox One in the past few weeks. He kept drumming home the points, tearing apart Xbox One’s strategy bullet point by bullet point. The rousing cheers from the crowd as Tretton essentially announced “we’re going to do the same thing we did with PS3” were partially adulation for Sony, but they were mostly condemnation for Microsoft, whose entire strategy now looks isolated, anti-consumer and downright nasty. Tretton slaughtered them; last time I saw a massacre on this scale, The Rains of Castamere was playing.

From that moment on, this conference must have been agonising to watch in Redmond. Discussing PlayStation Plus, Tretton effectively announced that subscribers are going to get some of the launch software for PS4 free – an impressive giveaway which almost but not quite masked the fact that PS Plus is now going to be required for online multiplayer, although I suspect gamers will forgive Sony for slipping in that one piece of bad news. Next came a more subtle blow at Microsoft, as Halo creators Bungie popped up for a lengthy demo of Destiny, a hugely ambitious open-world shooter that looks a lot like Microsoft’s most cherished Xbox IP. It’s not an exclusive on PS4 (although there’s an “exclusive partnership”, whatever that’s meant to mean), but its very presence there will rankle, no doubt.

Finally, Andrew House took the stage again for one final bombshell. PS4 is out this November in the US and Europe (not in Japan?), and it’s going to cost $399 / £349 – a full $100 cheaper than the Xbox One, despite higher system specifications and less restrictions on ownership. It was a killer blow; a delighted House looked like he wanted to drop the microphone and walk off stage there and then.

Sony didn’t do anything truly special. It’s Microsoft who provided an open goal – Sony just kicked the ball in a vaguely straight line and scored one of the most dramatic goals in E3’s lengthy history.

A $399 console with some decent games which doesn’t demand constant connection to the Internet and allows you to share and trade-in your games is, well, exactly what we expected and wanted from this generation. It’s not a radical departure – it’s just a solid, reasonable console business model, spiced up with some clever things like indie self-publishing and cloud gaming support. That’s, in some ways, the extraordinary thing here – Sony didn’t do anything truly special. It’s Microsoft who provided an open goal – Sony just kicked the ball in a vaguely straight line and scored one of the most dramatic goals in E3’s lengthy history. All the adulation, the cheering, the “thank god for Sony!” comments on websites and social networks – this is all a response to a company simply doing what it’s always done, in the face of a competitor making the huge, stupid mistake of treating its consumers like idiots and thieves.

It’s a long way to November and, while it will undoubtedly be embarrassing, Microsoft still has time to backtrack, while Sony still has time to mess things up. “Winning” E3 doesn’t mean a lot in the final analysis; it’s how you back up your E3 showing in the months and years that follow that actually matters. Yet, all that being said, I’ve never seen an E3 victory like this one. Winning actually wasn’t about the games, in the end. It was about something even more fundamental – showing some respect to the people who buy your products.

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29 Comments

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  1. John117

    “It’s telling that both companies ended with a game that essentially mixes Call of Duty with Halo – one from the makers of Call of Duty, one from the makers of Halo.”
    Except if I buy Xbox One I can play both though. Or if you are one of the smug PC guys since almost every game announced for the PS4 will be for PC as well :S

    #1 10 months ago
  2. El_MUERkO

    I didn’t stay up for the Sony conference but they seem to have nailed it. Pity they couldn’t manage an October release just to put the boot in, maybe in Japan.

    #2 10 months ago
  3. Phoenixblight

    “Except if I buy Xbox One I can play both though. ”

    Except the Ps4 will be getting exclusive content. THe Ps4 you just have to wait a year and TitanFall will be on that system.

    #3 10 months ago
  4. fihar

    To sum up, Sony didn’t won E3.
    Microsoft simply lost it.

    #4 10 months ago
  5. backup

    Sony won by mile
    xbots and PC pirates left crying

    #5 10 months ago
  6. machy

    couldn’t agree more .. great article

    #6 10 months ago
  7. Cobra951

    That was a terrific read. Thank you. I don’t remember a previous time in this industry when heroes and villains were this clearly defined. And my history with gaming goes all the way back to its humble beginnings.

    #7 10 months ago
  8. machy

    @1 in terms of games
    Sony:
    killzone: sf
    infamous
    drive club
    the order
    knack
    and 15 more to come all from the 1st party studious
    unlike MS most of those titles were from 3rd party which ms had to buy them to fell the hole in the 1st party .. in terms of exclusively Sony always out runs MS it’s a given fact , take a look at ps3 and 360

    the e3 actuly made it easy form me to wait a lit bit before heading to ps4 … too many hits exclusively are coming to ps3 great titles which I can’t simply mess, starting with the last of us all the way to rain

    #8 10 months ago
  9. mistermogul

    I declare Nintendo the winner! ;)

    Actually well done to Sony, you will get my money, yay!

    #9 10 months ago
  10. tenthousandgothsonacid

    Great article – sums it up perfectly.

    #10 10 months ago
  11. BraveArse

    “this is all a response to a company simply doing what it’s always done, in the face of a competitor making the huge, stupid mistake of treating its consumers like idiots and thieves.”

    This, a million times this. I’m actually thinking of ditching Microsoft altogether including for business use. My adobe creative cloud stuff will just transfer to Mac I think, and I’m just about ready to upgrade my kit.

    #11 10 months ago
  12. polygem

    microsoft really positioned themselves there. i do not feel sorry for them. i still cannot believe they did what they did.
    let´s wait for sales though…there could be a huge market for a tv, sportsgames, shallowshooter box.

    #12 10 months ago
  13. mistermogul

    I am getting the feeling that MS will really have to re-consider their stance with 24 hour connection and used games. If they don’t then they really are arrogant.

    They’re getting so much negative press it’s crazy (though understandable and warranted).

    It really is time share holders kicked Ballmer out too. MS have been useless since he took charge and now their most successful division has lost the plot.

    #13 10 months ago
  14. BraveArse

    Totally agree re: Ballmer. He’s the archetypal corporate psychopath. Arrogant, aggressive and eventually it always becomes apparent that they’re really bad at their job, depending on having good people around them. His problem, I think, is that he drove a lot of the talent out.

    #14 10 months ago
  15. Beta

    @13 I agree. Though can they really go back on their choices? The publishers would not be happy for one.

    #15 10 months ago
  16. orakaa

    Excellent article. Thank you Rob, you took the words out of our mouths :D

    #16 10 months ago
  17. manamana

    Great read, Rob! Congrats, you perfectly summed up my feelings.

    #17 10 months ago
  18. Ge0force

    Excellent writing Rob, I really enjoyed reading it and I share your opinion completely!

    #18 10 months ago
  19. laughing-gravy

    That video, LOL!

    #19 10 months ago
  20. Telepathic.Geometry

    @15: They can. They’d have to eat humble pie, but I honestly can’t see how they can afford not to now.

    Most gaming journos I’ve been listening to or reading have all heavily implied or outright said that the success of this MS move with regard to DRM and requiring online checks will depend heavily on what Sony does. I guess everyone assumed that they would have a similar thing going on but perhaps a little stricter here, a little more lenient there…

    Now that Sony is cheaper, freer, and technologically a little ahead, MS are in a really tough spot. It’s hard to know what hardcore Xbox Live gamers – used to high quality online gaming, and with an established gaming community – will do, but I don’t see how MS could NOT backtrack, if even only a little.

    #20 10 months ago
  21. laughing-gravy

    @13 & 14 Yep MSoft’s one over-riding and massive problem just happens to be that clown Ballmer. Surely it’s time to get rid of him isn’t it?

    #21 10 months ago
  22. GwynbleiddiuM

    Excellent read Rob, thanks.

    #22 10 months ago
  23. redwood

    just don’t fuck this up sony.. just .. don’t .. fuck.. this…up!!!

    #23 10 months ago
  24. yeoung

    Great read

    #24 10 months ago
  25. The_Red

    Excellent read. Especially loved the football example about empty goal.

    Just one thing though: Am I the only one who feels the “Share instructions” vid from Sony feels cheap and low (albeit in a entertaining and fun way).

    #25 10 months ago
  26. OlderGamer

    Great read and fantastic video lol!

    #26 10 months ago
  27. Gigabomber

    Is this a comedic piece? Sony has said they will not impose fees, but they have not owned up to what the publishers will do. Sony is doing a great job of propagandizing and playing up microsoft’s mistakes, but they will introduce the same restrictive system, just you wait and keep drinking the koolaid, fanboys. I thought you Brits were more careful with grammar, this article proves me wrong, once again.

    #27 10 months ago
  28. NiceFellow

    @1 it is almost a given Titanfall is merely a timed exclusive. Respawn have already made comments it may come to other platforms later. We already know from PS3/360 gen that basically means it will definately come to other platforms.

    Also, if PS4 does sell better wordlwide (which is looking like a given unless MS eat a ton of humble pie and drop their price) you can be sure Titanfall will be heading to PS4 as soon as it contractually can.

    The only sure exclusives for either platform are those developed 1st party or where IP is owned even if developed by a 2nd/3rd party studio. Everything else is timed exclusive only – we know that from this gen.

    It’s a pity really – I enjoyed having both a 360 and PS3 this gen – but right now MS really do seem to have scored an own goal with people wanting a gaming console as the primary focus and unless they backtrack rapidly I think they’re going to pay for it.

    That damn 3rd console curse I guess.

    #28 10 months ago
  29. pacitobg

    Nice read Rob
    “Tretton slaughtered them; last time I saw a massacre on this scale, The Rains of Castamere was playing.”

    #29 10 months ago