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Opinion: Sony's E3 showing a spiritual victory for PlayStation
Opinion: Sony's E3 showing a spiritual victory for PlayStation
June 11, 2013 | By Leigh Alexander

June 11, 2013 | By Leigh Alexander
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    31 comments
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing, E3



Sony galvanized industry-watchers with an E3 presentation that seemed to offer disillusioned consumers exactly the message they wanted to hear from the console business: A permissive policy to used games, no obligation to constant online connectivity, a long list of exciting new games, an indie-friendly ecosystem that invites devs to self-publish, and a $399 price point -- $100 less than the Xbox One's.

The stray details -- the fact that a PlayStation Plus subscription will probably be required for online play, or the suggestion that the $399 model will be "restrictively basic" -- seem less interesting to excitable consumers and video game fans in light of what's perceived to be a spiritual victory. Alongside the seemingly rushed, arguably anti-consumer brand proposition of the Xbox One, Sony's willingness to engage audience wishes and show a markedly more diverse array of games brought sentiment rushing to its side.

Rather than lingering insistently over intiatives that haven't garnered audience interest, the company knew what it had to do -- it spent little time on the Vita, except to promise greater integration for the device with the PS4. And while it touted the multimedia content offering of its Sony Pictures division, it spent little time on the repetition of "TV and movies," bemoaned by fans who zone out over words like "Redbox" and "Flixter," impatient to see new and exciting games. The company once criticized for a nearly-fatal arrogance over the last generation evinced the eager humility of a content offering -- without sacrificing a shrewd awareness of consumer expectations. That last crucial bit is rather new for Sony.

Sony also made an effort to demonstrate its commitment to courting indies across its hardware platforms goes beyond rhetoric, with a list of respected developers on offer and the important promise of a self-publishing ecosystem. But it had a refreshing palette of bigger games, too: The company's Shuhei Yoshida said that of the 20 PlayStation 4 exclusives available in the system's first year, a third of them would be brand-new IP.

The revelation of Final Fantasy XV was an appropriate hark-back to the era when the latest in Final Fantasy was a cornerstone of the PlayStation proposition, while The Order 1886 looks like it's shaping up to be... a King Arthur-themed steampunk werewolf shooter set in London? Quantic Dream's sorcerous tech demo gained some goodwill, and a lengthy Watch Dogs demo sowed cautious optimism that there may yet be plenty of untreaded ground in triple-A, or at least more to hope for than a predictable brand stable washed in lurid, Mountain Dew green.

It's interesting that a commitment to the games industry and to players should feel "new"; it takes a presentation like Sony's to remember, like waking from an ill daze, that devotion to sequels and a vague, dated concept of the core market is not all there is to the game industry. It's true an E3 presentation is about ideas and inspiration and ought not to be taken as stone-carved trajectory nor as promises of product -- but ideas and inspiration were pretty much exactly what industry-watchers were hoping to see today, the shot in the arm the ailing spirit of the commercial industry needed.

The Sony of 2013 was, for perhaps the first time in over a generation, reminiscent of the company that forged the PlayStation brand and created a long, resilient life (and massive software library) for the PS2. The company's made missteps since then, at times seeming to have lost the console war to Microsoft and Nintendo entirely. Now, though, the company's clearly back in fighting form, with content that excites the core without devolving into a numb proliferation of weaponry.

At the beginning of the last gen, industry watchers startled as Sony insisted, tone-deaf, on an arrogant brand proposition for the living room that involved an expensive Blu-ray drive, lists of media services and everything but a diverse palette of brand-new video games. Meanwhile Microsoft, with its much more affordable, gamer-friendly console, ate up the giant's marketshare.

The tables have been turned these days: While conquering a theoretical entertainment center and pushing Kinect, Microsoft has disillusioned its fanbase. Meanwhile, Sony's about to launch a consumer- and developer-friendly machine that is for playing video games.


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Comments


Kujel s
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So when neither the Xbox One nor the ps4 are moving fast and game sales are too limited to support the massive budgets we now see what will happen?

Ron Dippold
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PS4 or XBone dev costs should be a pretty minimal bump compared to PC and much *less* than PS3 unless you want to make a AAA spectacle.

I get the point that if you want to make something photorealistic that fully takes advantage of either your budget is going to be crazy, but you can certainly make something cheap for either, and the big boys have sports games, spunkgargleweewee FPSes, or assassin's creed to pay the bills. PS3 and XBox 360 games will still be be cash farms for them for a while.

This was said at the launch of the last gen, and what ended up happening is that all the /middle/ sized guys were crushed while the big ones lumbered on happily, and then the small guys came unexpectedly out of nowhere.

I'm hoping for more stylism instead, because photorealistic is just boring and disturbing.

Kyle Redd
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Yeah, I can't imagine where the budget increase will be so severe. The power of the next-gen consoles is basically equivalent to current high-end PCs, so cross-platform games shouldn't cost any more than they do now.

Merc Hoffner
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The budget increases don't have to be large to make it wipe out the industry; they already seem to be a stochastic killer - any increase can only make the situation worse, and porting was both a smallish slice of costs in the last generation and not going away either (unless the industry collectively decides to kill Xbox One in the cradle just as it did Wii U).

The middle guys were killed or bought last gen. The big guys were hurt. EA can afford to lose +$2 billion on $40 million games. They can't afford to lose +$4 billion on $80 million games. And as much money as they'll continue to 'rake' in on PS3/360, they used to rake in more on PS2 in the last cycle.

Moreover, if the leaps are pretty minimal (and thinking about previous exponential gains, to me they're microscopic), and that's all the real evolution to the experience they're offering, will people feel a real impetus to 'upgrade' at all? There was a gigantic visual leap between PS2 and PS3 and it still struggled. I'm not seeing that leap here. Differentiators are supposed to give us new purpose, but neither made good use of their extra-curricular features - Sony's camera (and Move) aren't even bundled, and social integration is both the norm and something users expect to be handled server side. Are they seriously telling us we have to spend another +$400 to play the same games plus Youtube streaming? Sony won this show, hands down. Is the prize that great?

Glenn Sturgeon
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In theory it may be possible to port from pc to both of the consoles with great results, cheaper than it was to port anything to the ps3 alone.

Ron Dippold
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It is certainly very rare when almost the entire internet seems to agree on something.

And yes, it's very sad when the things everyone cheered the most about were 'Hey people, we're giving you the same rights as last gen,' since that was a relative victory.

Jonathan Gilmore
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I haven't actually watched either presser, but all of the points of this post seem about spot on. MS has made some weird choices and are a little too high on their position in the market right now. Leigh Alexander is basically just boiling down the internets reaction to the events, but I can't help but agree with her, despite having owned an XBOX and XBOX 360.

Arnaud Clermonté
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I'm surprised that nobody cares that MS is restricting gamers's "rights" for a reason in the first place. It's not like they just wanted to be evil for the sake of it.
What will Sony do when the console gets cracked?
The freedom they announced only applied to "disk-based" games.
So I guess they'll just have to publish digitally only when the piracy level gets too high.
They can inpose any security measure they want on non- "disk based" games.

Ron Dippold
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@Arnaud: MS isn't trying to be evil to be evil, because that's pointless and makes them no money.

XBox One reasoning is very clear and practical: The rights, conveniences, and profit of corporations need to take strong precedence over the rights, conveniences, and wallets of consumers. We've got a business to run here, and you are there to be sold to and consume. Every time you sell a used game, or every time you go more than 24 hours without checking in for curfew and downloading more dashboard ads, that's less money for our shareholders. And of course a lot of us work for those corporations.

On the other hand, sending that message so nakedly makes non-corporate people very angry. If MS had ever had more grace than a rhino suffering from St. Vitus's dance, they could have eased it in in a much less tone-deaf manner, like Sony is doing. Yes, this all becomes moot when we go all digital, but that makes it even more transparently petty and grasping to be doing this for disk based games.

Arnaud Clermonté
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Seems that you misread my post... You're telling me things I already know.

Chris Nash
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I'll put my money on Xbone getting cracked before PS4. The hackers love a hard challenge and come crashing down on big companies that try to diss the public. Like when Sony removed "Other OS" support from PS3 and then, bang, a week later the PS3 was cracked.

Jason Hawreliak
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Great article. Sony did everything right and avoided everything MS did wrong. I don't see how any console player can go with Xbox over PS now. I expect MS to do some serious backtracking after this, but who knows.

Jed Hubic
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This industry is a giant feel good circle jerk. MS has their first event, without much info on games and its a travesty, now their e3 was all about games and game supporting features, yet they somehow still lost. I watched both, will buy both, and prob half ass try to develop on both because I'm a sucker, but I tend to enjoy consoles based on the games and the community features, not for how fuzzy their moral stance on a non issue makes me feel on the inside. Judging by this e3, the Xbox had a way better showing for games. My thoughts anyways. This whole next gen just seems like a bizarro world.

Jonathan Gilmore
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I think Sony "won" just by not having some of the most unpopular "features" of the XBone. That, and being $100 cheaper. The E3 reaction has generally been irrelevant (remember how people said the 360 would be "dreamcasted" and that Kinect would flop hard?) but I can't umagine a way that the PS4 doesn't get off to a much stronger start. MS should have priced it at $400 and used Kinect as a strong differentiator and a selling point. Now the Kinect just makes it $100 more than a system that seems more inviting to consumers anyway.

Jed Hubic
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@Tony pretty much everything shown in the conference in MS's made me way more excited, even the stuff that may be cross platform, still had a strong showing at MS. MGS3, Spark, Ryse, Forza (cloud AI sounds extremely exciting), Titanfall. Even the World of Tanks announcement for 360. Not to mention they're giving free games to gold members on 360 (whether you own them already or not it's a nice move). As a jaded PC gamer for the most part, the Xbox presentation actually made me want a console. The PS4 presentation made me think of my PS3, and how I never touch, and then how I'll likely never touch the PS4 either.

Jed Hubic
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@Jonathan Sony only announced one of multiple SKUs and no details yet, so I'll wait to see the price strategy. Too be honest Sony I used to think highly of Sony, now their tactics just seem sad and pathetic to me, and I'm surprised how easy they're pulling the wool over people's eyes by playing up MS faults, but nothing about games really (IMO). $499 has an easy value proposition for me based of what it does more than a PS4 and how I'll likely be using it more.

Jeremy Reaban
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Maybe for the console side of things, but Sony all but threw in the towel when it came to the Vita.

It's funny, after complaints last year of the Vita not getting any mention, they devoted even less time to it this year. And yes, they wanted to push the PS4, but they spent a lot of time on the PS3.

James Yee
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I agree. I was hoping Vita would get a Price Drop since they wanted to tout how much it'd "link in" with the PS4. I like that it was mentioned as planning to work with Gaikai but other than that nothing really. :|

Steven Stadnicki
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I think it is, for better or for worse, wholly appropriate for Sony to throw in the towel on the Vita. The market of 'gamers who want a portable game-playing device and won't 'settle' for the experiences they can get on an iOS device' isn't non-existent, but it's not big enough to support much more than a niche market. I was a dedicated GBA and DS gamer for a fair while, and since I got my iPad my DS usage has just withered up and died; the gaming experiences that the touch interface provides aren't necessarily better, but they're not substantially worse either, just -different-. Combine that with the broader utility of the PDA-style devices and the sheer vastness of the mobile marketplace, and carrying around a Vita just wasn't a winning proposition for me; and I imagine that a substantial chunk of what would have been the Vita's market seven or eight years ago has decided the same.

Bob Johnson
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We'll see how long this "win" stays in place. MS could change some of its policies in response. MS could drop their pricepoint.

And in the longer run it is about the games. Who is going to have that must play exclusive?

Kujel s
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As far as exclusives go it was MS first Nintnedo in a close second and sony way behind the others.

daniel birchal
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I totally agree with Leight.
Microsoft HAS disillusioned its fanbase, and the "stain" on its reputation may never entirelly "cleaned" even with a backtrack.

I speak can for myself on this! As a gamer that supported MS from the original Xbox, I'll be buying the first PS of my life this time arround!

Ron Dippold
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MS will change its policies to be more consumer friendly if and only if it is losing badly. This has always been the case.

Conversely, if Sony is the runaway winner this time they will almost certainly clamp down like they did with Other OS on the PS3.

Arnaud Clermonté
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I suspect it's Sony who will change their policy once the ps4 gets cracked...

Dave Smith
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Microsoft will definitely have to dump the drm and make Kinect optional now. I don't think the xbox one is a viable console right now.

exclusives aren't a big deal. both consoles will have great examples of both. the sheer number of f die hard halo fans willing to jump ship right now should be terrifying for MS.

Jonathan Gilmore
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Some exclusives are a big deal, like Halo and GTA when it was exclusive, but Sony learned that Killer App exclusives are very rare this gen.

I think MS just has to take a loss and get the price to match the PS4 while keeping Kinect as part of the bundle. If anything is going to let MS come out ahead its going to be innovative uses for the Kinect, which I still haven't seen.

Glenn Sturgeon
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Hitting them where the investors are.
Be sure to hit the very short video on the page. As a gamer you'll love it.
Oh yeah also be sure to return to Gamasutra, as the last thing i want to do is drive traffic away from here.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2013/06/11/playstation-4s-
price-and-policies-humiliate-microsofts-xbox-one-at-e3/

Jonathan Gilmore
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I read this too. The content is basically the same as what you can find here, just with a much more clickworthy heading and more overt embrace of "console war" terminology.

The bottom line is that MS kicked sand on the "core" a few weeks ago, never addressed it again, and got called out on everything by Sony at its presser. Oh, and the price.

Glenn Sturgeon
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After the current gen i don't see exclusives as staying exclusive unless its MS, Nin or Sony that publishes the game.
Also exclusive to a console dosen't mean it won't be on pc. If dead rising 3 comes out on pc that'll be great. That was the only "must have" game i saw at e3 for me. I'll just keep my money, buy an occulus rift and get the consoles later.
Note imo silliest part of e3 (streamed) the metal gear video when the guy says "you'll use these binoculars alot" to a guy with an eye patch...

Slo Bu
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I see them playing up the comparative lack of consumer restrictions with the PS4. Sadly, the PS3 started with Linux, full backwards compatibility and less consumer antagonistic EULAs. I see nothing to reassure me history will not repeat itself here.

Heng Yoeung
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A spiritual victory might not translate to business victory. And the bottom line is business. The Vietnamese won the moral victory, but how many people died in the process? A whole lot more than the US, no comparison. If MS walks away with the dough, so what Sony?


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