Sony & The Last Word Complex
“This is how you share games on PS4.”
With these seven words, at E3 2013 Sony prompted a grand response of applause, laughs and cheers during their annual press conference. At the time, it seemed as if this was a publisher which could reduce its competitor’s policies to a near-farcical representation, a publisher which to some critics seemed the natural candidate to rally behind. Sure enough, across a range of publications headlines such as “Why The Only Option Right Now Is PS4” and “Round One- Sony Wins” began to emerge in the successive days after the conference, and to many this seemed like the natural viewpoint to take in the impending next-generation console war.
It’s funny, then, to witness how just two short months can so extensively change our outlook on a situation such as this. Far from the DRM-focused criticisms of their May and E3 conferences, on Tuesday August 20th Microsoft were able to step out onto the Gamescom stage with plenty of confidence and genuinely surprising video game announcements. Fable Legends, The Fighter Within, timed exclusive content from EA Games and of course the pre-order bundle of FIFA 14 with Xbox One have been well received by a large degree of industry followers in the days that have followed since the showcase.
“Microsoft were able to step out onto the Gamescom stage with plenty of confidence and genuinely surprising video game announcements”Of course, Sony didn’t come to Gamescom lacking, either: the digital retail upgrade system between multi-generational PS3 and PS4 titles is an impressive publisher collaboration; new announced projects including Shadow of the Beast are showing plenty of promise and the PS3/Vita price cuts are long-awaited developments. Nevertheless, much as critics of the Xbox One will attempt to derail Microsoft’s marketing strategy, based on the events of the Cologne convention, to this writer Sony’s own campaign no longer appears as infallible as was once the perception of the community.
The first step in unravelling the cracks beneath the surface comes with that aforementioned crowd-pleasing stab the studio took at Microsoft back in E3. One of the common criticisms levelled at Microsoft’s own conference in fact regarded the publisher’s omission of direct announcements regarding their DRM policies (e.g. Family Share and pre-owned titles). In contrast, Sony’s showcase at the event was lauded for dealing with the PlayStation 4’s policies on such matters right from the off, their statement above regarding how to share games preceding a video where two developers simply exchanged a retail game between each other with no further restrictions.
It would be arguable in both instances, though, that those critics assessing the two conferences neglected to review perhaps the most crucial aspect of any new console announcement: the games themselves. Regardless of the various policy adaptations made by Microsoft since E3, or indeed the deals Sony have unveiled at Gamescom, many players simply want to know which console will offer them the strongest range of quality titles from the outset. It is impossible to claim that every gamer purchases a console on the basis of its launch line-up, yet the situation with the Nintendo WiiU’s dismal initial sales figures certainly provides evidence for the view that a console’s launch has a major impact on its later success.
When this assertion is applied to the situation, it becomes apparent that far from actually attempting to gain the upper hand from Microsoft through exclusive titles and superior features, at present Sony are merely trying to have the ‘last word’. Again, this rather petty approach to the next-generation competition can be witnessed as far back as E3- Microsoft’s announcements of Halo Xbox One, Dead Rising 3 and Project Spark were all applauded, yet were overshadowed by lingering DRM criticisms. Sony’s decision? Emphasise their superiority in the areas where Microsoft were flailing, while showcasing underwhelming first-party titles and plenty of projects coming to other platforms.
Like it or not, at this stage the prospect of playing Forza Motorsport 5, Dead Rising 3, Ryse: Son of Rome and versions of both Call of Duty: Ghostsand Battlefield 4 with exclusive content may prove to be a far more enticing one for most players than that of experiencing Knack, Killzone: Shadow Fall and Driveclub. Sony have unequivocally proven with Uncharted and The Last of Us that they can often save their best exclusives for later in the generation, but it wouldn’t have hurt to put one more staple franchise- an upgraded Gran Turismo 6, for example- in their premiere line-up for the PlayStation 4. The publisher’s attempts to have the last word in their public debate with Microsoft may have seemed valiant before the ‘Xbox One Eighty’ reversal, but now with both launch line-ups revealed, the playing field has changed immensely.
Or perhaps in this case, the more apt phrasing would be that the playing pitch has changed immensely. By incorporating FIFA 14 as a free incentive in their pre-order bundle, Microsoft has offered a major additional lure to a large proportion of European mainstream players. We’ve yet to learn of their deals outside the UK and Europe, but it seems safe to assume that either the next Madden title or Battlefield 4 will slot into place in these other bundles given EA Games’ clear support of the Xbox team. Once again, Sony’s last word complex cropped up in their announcement of an AR title, The Play Room, set to ship free with the PS4, but in hindsight this reveal came off as more of an after-thought that didn’t steal much of Microsoft’s thunder for the day.
“Entering this generation, Sony have already lost Metal Gear Solid, Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy from their exclusive roster”The situation for Sony doesn’t need to be viewed in a wholly negative light. Indeed, right now it’s significant to note that the publisher still has the upper hand in terms of pricing, and fans of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs franchises will get an hour’s worth of exclusive content for their latest iterations on PS3 and PS4. It just bears equal significance that entering this generation, Sony have already lost Metal Gear Solid, Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy from their exclusive roster, and that regardless of exclusive content on either PS4 or Xbox One, Ubisoft’s franchises remain firm multi-platform prospects.
There’s little doubt right now that what with both publishers offering multiplayer subscription fees, pre-order bundles, gameplay recording software and motion devices, players can enter the next generation knowing that neither the Xbox One or the PlayStation 4 will leave them feeling short-changed or inferior to their colleagues. What is important to recognise at this stage, though, is that the score is no longer ‘Advantage Sony’. As long as the PlayStation marketing team focus on simply trying to outwit their competitors with carefully-timed announcements rather than focusing on unique branding and features of their own, they cannot claim a definitive victory in the next-generation race.