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Sound Off Vol. 7 – Sony press conference reactions

E3 2013Sony

Welcome, to the seventh volume of our Sound Off feature. With E3 2013 well underway, and both Microsoft’s and Sony’s consoles fully unveiled, we’ve had roundtable discussions on what we thought. Here’s our reaction to the Sony press conference from those not on the show floor.

Shane Ryan: What did everyone think of Sony’s E3 conference. Was it a clear victory?

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Tarek Robertson: Sony’s E3 conferences generally start slow and fluctuate wildly in quality throughout. This was somewhat true for E3 2013, only this time there was a fascinating payoff at the end of the somewhat mixed show. Games were shown aplenty, although many we were already aware of in some form or another, giving the whole thing a sense of déjà vu. That said, Kingdom Hearts 3 and the rebranding of Final Fantasy Versus XIII as Final Fantasy XV were genuine surprises. The indie focus was as gratifying as ever, while bits and bobs of other stuff filled the gaps, but the conference lacked a show stopping game overall.

“Sony basically undid every one of Microsoft’s anti-consumer practices”For once, however, it wasn’t even the games that caused the real excitement, it was the cheeky way in which Sony basically undid every one of Microsoft’s anti-consumer practices one by one, then topped it off with an excellent price point. I’m not someone to decry the death of console gaming, but for a while it looked as if things were going down a very dark path. Tension seemed to be building up throughout the gaming community ever since Microsoft’s hazy vision for the future of consoles awkwardly flickered into view. Sony offered some sweet release on that front, showing that Microsoft’s draconian model doesn’t need to be the only way forward.

PlayStation Plus is now required for online multiplayer, which is a little disappointing. But with a design reminiscent of the PS2, a price point that makes the PS4 entirely affordable and, most importantly, no enforced used game restrictions or always online nonsense, Sony certainly have provided a fascinating counterpoint to Microsoft’s anti-consumer shenanigans. Now here’s hoping that they can bring the software.

Jonas Jürgens: Yes, I didn’t watch the conference live – because it didn’t start until 3am here – but I’ve seen clips and have to say that I absolutely loved the way Sony commented on Microsoft’s business practices. The PS4 clearly seems the best choice at the moment, and honestly also has more interesting exclusives, which for me would be an essential factor in which console to choose.

Joseph Ford: Implicitly criticising Microsoft was interesting from a historical perspective, because Sony did something very similar at the first E3 back in 1995. After Sega had announced the surprise Saturn launch at $399, Sony had an executive walk up to the podium and say a single number: 299. No currency indicated, no elaboration – the executive went to sit back down immediately – but everyone in the room got it, and reacted in a similar way to the audience at Sony’s 2013 E3 (albeit on a smaller scale).

“A historical perspective”Will Microsoft’s fortunes mirror Sega’s following that blunder? More importantly, will Sony’s mirror their ’95 success? Calling it at this point would be ridiculous. To draw another historical contrast, however, the atmosphere following this conference is far more jubilant than the meme-riddled disaster of E3 2006.

Jonas Jurgens: A key factor in all this will of course be how they market the consoles. I mean, the majority of people buying consoles are probably not watching E3 or any other game conference. Of course, it’s always foolish to call a “winner” before the “race” has even started, but I think Sony has positioned itself in a strong position with its lower price and solid exclusives.

However, I think Microsoft has a better chance of marketing itself as an all-round multimedia console – which is what they’ve been trying to do so far – that will appeal more to families buying consoles. And that’s honestly a bigger market than “core gamers”.

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Cormac Murray: The rebranding of Final Fantasy Versus XIII to XV is a sensible one; seem to be a few too many spin-offs for my liking. Final Fantasy has produced successful sequels as each game was completely different, now since FFX-2, FXII, FFIV and FFXIII have sequels and FFVII has a plethora of spin-offs except for the remake fans actually want.

“Has restored my faith in consoles”On paper the PS4 should be the clear winner, and has restored my faith in consoles. It’s probably the gamers’ choice, but as said before, the FIFA/ Madden/CoD swilling casual gamers will have a greater impact. Microsoft’s announcement however has given Sony plenty of time to shuffle its deck, and kind of summarises what’s taken so long to see another console release. Both seemed apprehensive about announcing first, in case the competition bettered them. Just look at the Wii U, which is going to be obsolete by November.

Joseph Ford: A further thought on Sony’s implicit digs at Microsoft. As amusing (and deserved?) as they may have been, they stray awfully close to that notorious Sony arrogance that made them into a laughingstock seven years ago. The dynamics are different now, of course. Last time around, Sony were the top dog and many of their claims (such as their digs at Nintendo, their cockiness regarding the PS3’s price) came across as haughtiness from a company that had been the number 1 for too long. The ground is much more even now, and Sony is able to position themselves as the underdog, a breath of fresh air in contrast with the stuffy, out-of-touch Microsoft (which, as above, is exactly what they did at the first E3 up against Sega).

Wherever it’s directed, though, arrogance feels less than savoury. It may also backfire – if everyone piles onto Microsoft, they become the underdog, with all the marketing benefits that entails. The tone is jovial for now, but if they make these shots at their competitor a part of their marketing campaign (“Sony’s hard where Micro’soft”?) it could repel as many as it attracts.

Sean Kelley: After showing a lot of their first-party hand at the PlayStation 4 reveal back in February, and with an impressive first-party slate still coming to PS3, Sony’s Press Conference was largely devoid of the content that gets me excited about buying hardware. Sure they showed off some great indie games, highlighted by 17-Bit’s Galak-Z, but many of the games shown were already announced for PC, or in some cases already released, like Klei Entertainment’s Don’t Starve.

“Required to have PlayStation Plus to play online”Ready at Dawn’s first original console title was unveiled in a cinematic trailer, as The Order: 1886. As a new IP from the highly talented developers of God of War: Ghost of Sparta, by far the best God of War title in my own opinion, The Order will probably turn out to be an awesome experience. However, given the nature of the trailer, it’s entirely possible it’s just an alternate history game where you shoot ghoulies with friends in Victorian England instead of a modern city or the bayou.

The concept of “winning E3” has always been a silly notion, but if you were to look anywhere on the Internet it’s obvious that people have claimed Sony as their victor – and Lord and Savior. The revelations of no additional DRM, traditional game sharing and a $399 price point are all huge reliefs, but they don’t get me excited to buy a PlayStation 4. All of that is stuff we should expect as a consumer and the only reason they are big deals is because we were conditioned by Microsoft’s plans to expect the worst; that doesn’t necessarily make it a win.

In all likelihood I will buy a PlayStation 4, at some point. But I’m not excited that I’m now required to have PlayStation Plus to play online; I’m not excited Gaikai streaming won’t be available at launch (and also sceptical Gaikai features won’t be an additional premium on top of Plus); and I don’t care, in the slightest, that a new Kingdown Hearts game is “in development” – I’m still waiting on Rockstar’s long forgotten PS3 exclusive, Agent.

Oh yeah, and people are excited that a Final Fantasy game they should have been able to buy on hardware they already own is now a PlayStation 4 game – and realistically also an Xbox One game. Oh how soon we forget; show us something shiny and we’ll come running.

Jonas Jürgens: I’m pretty sure The Agency was cancelled, sadly.

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Sean Kelley: It was. Kind of my point.

Jonas Jürgens: But Rockstar’s Agent still lives, no?

Sean Kelley: laughs

Jonas Jürgens: You can still hope, yes?

Sean Kelley: You can. I guess I still have some hope in the deepest depths of my heart, but really, that game must be canceled at this point. I can’t even remember how many E3s ago it was announced. 2009?

I mean yes, Rockstar is as secretive as Valve is, but I just don’t see that game manifesting itself, especially not as a PlayStation (3) exclusive.

Joseph Ford: Consider Red Dead Redemption, though. First it appeared at E3 2005, before disappearing for almost four years, and then resurfacing in early 2009. Exclusivity seems unlikely, but there’s precedent for the project still existing behind closed doors.

Calvin Kemph: (Back to the conference – Ed) Sony’s reveal is the most competitive I’ve seen them. They had a counterpoint for everything Microsoft did and invalidated their competitor’s entire consumer strategy in the span of a few minutes.

Their showings were more tempered and less bombastic but they just did all of the good, necessary things that are expected from a console and have clearly learned since their last reveal and even from the Vita. This fierce, hungry Sony is encouraging for the future of consoles and how videogame companies will come to treat consumers.

Shane Ryan: Due to time differences I missed the original broadcast. Catching up via trailers and snip-bits of information in the following morning, the ‘used games, yay!’ message appeared a smokescreen for the lack of any real new content. However, there is always importance in gaining a proper understanding through context. By catching up with the presentation itself, the announcement of their polices and price was given time due its importance; which could be audibly heard by a cheering crowd.

“Both are aiming for the same inevitable goal” For further context: Sony had a pipe dream when the PS3 launched that the next hardware would be disc drive-free and entirely digital. They’ve understood that the best way to build a digital future is by subversion of your audience. Build a fair and convenient digital store – where used games don’t exist – and the consumer will do the work for you. It is by telling their consumers what to do that Microsoft tripped themselves up. Sony has been the most intelligent in this debate, even when both are aiming for the same inevitable goal.

That aside, Sony gave me no reason to consider their console at launch in terms of pure software. Indie games that will also be on PC, and no doubt supported for longer and cheaper, do not warrant a brand new investment. It’s a shame that the long list of first-party developments is mostly remaining secret. Perhaps at Eurogamer 2013 I’ll have a chance to get hands-on with the titles themselves and opinions could change.

An announcement missing was a revamped controller where the analogue sticks aren’t in-line. One can dream.

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Richard Wakeling: If Microsoft’s press conference was all about the games Sony’s was all about sticking it to their competitor. They “won” E3 by essentially continuing to do what they did last time out; that’s how badly Microsoft screwed the pooch with this one. Putting aside DRM, online check-ins and price points, however, Microsoft still came out with a more impressive line-up of software.

“Phenomenal visual fidelity”Sony’s commitment and the considerable stage time given to indie titles was certainly admirable, but as Shane said, these are still experiences we’ll find on PC. Infamous: Second Son continued the E3 2013 theme of open-world games with phenomenal visual fidelity. The new powers are striking and certainly pack a punch, and the stark contrast between colourful woodland areas and the sterile structures of this seedy corporation leaves an impression. With Sucker Punch still at the reigns this is easily one of my most anticipated Sony exclusives.

Elsewhere The Order: 1886 is certainly interesting, but it’s hard to glean too much from a CG trailer. I share Sean’s sentiments towards Ready at Dawn, though, and wouldn’t be surprised if it’s awesome. Other than that Sony’s press conference was enjoyable purely because of the crowd’s excitement for Sony’s pro-consumer stance, but in terms of software it left a lot to be desired. Destiny looked fantastic but is obviously multiplatform – although some Sony exclusivity with DLC, or whatever else they’re going to do with that game, should be a nice advantage for them. But this was still a press conference for Sony to provide a counter-point to Microsoft’s out-of-touch policies. Knowing me I’ll eventually pick up both machines, because video games.

You can read Philip Morton’s thoughts direct from E3 here.

The author of this fine article

is the Deputy Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in December 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @shaneryantb.

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