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Analysis: Confidence underlies Sony's crowd-pleasing Gamescom showing Exclusive

Analysis: Confidence underlies Sony's crowd-pleasing Gamescom showing
August 20, 2013 | By Christian Nutt

August 20, 2013 | By Christian Nutt
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing, Exclusive, Gamescom, GDC Europe

At Sony's Gamescom briefing in Cologne, Germany today, the company had a few messages it wanted to convey to its customers and to the competition: We've learned our lessons, we're all about content, and PlayStation is back.

Sony took care to open its press conference by showcasing Killzone Shadow Fall in realtime -- and in the PlayStation 4 UI, demoed live on stage for the first time. If you recall the Killzone 2 debacle from the PlayStation 3 launch -- in which a rendered trailer was passed off as in-game footage -- this is a refutation of not just that kind of trickery but a message: the old, arrogant Sony of the PS3 era is permanently gone.

Then, the message: the PlayStation 4 is a "gamer's" console, and "developers are gamers" -- continuing the thread picked up when Microsoft so badly botched the Xbox One unveiling. The PlayStation 4 is a the gamer's machine of the next generation: "a game console that is by game creators for game creators," according to Mark Cerny, the system architect.

Borderlands 2 is on Vita...but then what?

The biggest announcement of a (packaged) game for the PlayStation Vita was a port of popular FPS Borderlands 2, which was interesting -- in a sort of sad way. It's hard to say what Sony's strategy for the Vita is, but two shows in a row with no big new games from first- or third-party developers (E3 was even drier) is just plain puzzling. At least it's becoming a haven for self-publishing by small developers.

The price drop to $/€199 may not make the system "irresistible," as Sony Computer president and CEO Andrew House promised, but it could (and probably should) force a price drop for both the Nintnedo 3DS and Wii U -- so that's a good thing for consumers, too.

A demo of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag streaming to the handheld from the PlayStation 4 showed another facet of the company's sorta-strategy for the handheld as an accessory for its new console. Vita streaming will be a feature that will be supported by "almost all" PS4 games.

The indie factor

Sony's commitment to indies is even bigger than we anticipated going into the conference -- and Sony spent a huge share of time on their titles, showcasing ports of games like Hotline Miami 2 and Rogue Legacy as console-exclusives for its platforms.

"Indies bring us a vital dimension," said Cerny. The company wants to capture "the passion of small teams" and "raise the presence and viability of these teams," while offering them "creative and financial control" over their games and studios.

And in fact, Sony is funding entirely new games, not just relying on getting enhanced ports of titles. While it's unclear whether some of these games will come to PC immediately, it's significant that thechineseroom's (Dear Esther) new game, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, was announced on stage at a Sony press conference, while prominent developers like Derek Yu and Mike Bithell talked about why they like developing for Sony platforms so much (Bithell's new game, Volume, is a Sony exclusive).

"A renaissance of gaming is coming on PlayStation 4," said Cerny. "We'll be returning to the creative freedom and broad content that made the early years of PlayStation so memorable."

For anybody who remembers console games from the generations prior to the PlayStation 3 era, this is rather heartening to hear. The original PlayStation, in particular, had a much broader base of subject matter and genres.

It wasn't just Cerny who talked up the indies, though -- a parade of Sony speakers, including Shahid Ahmad and Michael Denney, expressed a commitment to indies.

One fun fact: the word "social" was used just once, during the press conference, by Andrew House. Even with all of the "social" capabilities of the PlayStation 4, maybe we can consider that a dead term from Sony's perspective.

House came onto stage to rub salt in Microsoft's wounds: Not only is the company launching the system in 32 countries (right as Microsoft cuts down its spread), House pointed out Sony's "consistent" strategy, "while others have changed their stories" -- a clear jab to Microsoft's major online and publishing policy changes for Xbox One.

He also announced over 1 million preorders for the console -- and while we don't know Microsoft's numbers, the audience approved, as did the release date for the console: November 15 in North America, and November 29 in Europe.

The consumer-friendliness theme continued with the announcement of a plan to let PS3 players upgrade their Watch Dogs, Assassin's Creed IV, Battlefield 4, and Call of Duty: Ghosts purchases to PS4 versions for a "significantly discounted price," albeit for "a limited time." Sony promised to get more publishers on board with that program, too, to smooth the generational transition in a way that's never really been possible (or necessary) before.

Another strong reception

The company's press conference was an extension of what we've seen before, amped up: We are a platform for gamers, they said. We deliver what consumers want. We have no clear strategy for the Vita, but we'll keep throwing ideas at it and hope that it sticks (the price drop can help). And finally, we know what we're doing with our next-gen launch when the competition obviously does not.

It's hard to say if any of the moves the company made at the conference are significant because they're so much the same as what it was doing at E3. But that may be enough: The response from the enthusiast press gathered at the conference was just as rapturous as it was then.

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