At E3, Sony Gives the People What They Want

The PlayStation 4 will cost $399 when it launches this holiday season, with no new restrictions on used games.

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Jared Newman / TIME.com

Sony seemed to be going through the motions for the majority of its E3 press conference.

Sure, the company spent plenty of time talking about the PlayStation 4, showing off games like Destiny, Kingdom Hearts III and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. The company made its obligatory mentions of the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita–promising continued support for both–and gave some love to indie game developers. Details from Sony’s PS4 press conference in February were rehashed with some minor new details. It was all pretty unremarkable–even the big reveal of the actual console hardware.

But just as things seemed to be winding down, Sony dropped a few bombs:

  • The PlayStation 4 will not have any new restrictions on used, disc-based games. Players will be able to resell, trade or lend their discs to anyone.
  • Single-player PS4 games will work entirely offline. Players won’t be required to check in periodically.
  • The PlayStation 4 will cost $399 when it launches this holiday season. (Pricing outside the United States is 399 Euros and 349 British Pounds.)

Those first two points wouldn’t be such a big deal if Microsoft hadn’t recently announced major restrictions on Xbox One games. Last week, Microsoft said all Xbox One discs would be tied to a single account, effectively preventing players from loaning their games to friends. Players can still sell their used games, but only to partnering retailers with publishers’ consent. Players can transfer a game to someone else, but only one transfer per game is allowed. Presumably to enforce these policies, Xbox One systems must check in online once every 24 hours, or else games will not work.

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Jared Newman / TIME.com

The $399 price tag for the PS4–$100 cheaper than the Xbox One–was Sony’s trump card. The crowd at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena went wild. Sony had painted itself as the anti-Microsoft.

There was one bit of bad news, which Sony glossed over at the event: On the PlayStation 4, online multiplayer will require a PlayStation Plus membership. Sony has given away this service since the PlayStation 2 era, but Microsoft proved long ago that players are willing to pay for it. The fact that PlayStation Plus already includes other perks, including a rotating selection of free games, makes a the news a little easier to swallow.

The only risk for Sony is that its policies toward disc-based games could come back to haunt the company. Sony has just assured a long and healthy future for disc-based gaming on the PS4. Microsoft, meanwhile, is trying to kill discs right now, stripping them of their value by using them only to install entire games on the Xbox One hard drive. If Microsoft can get to a fully digital ecosystem first, with complete control over pricing, it may finally be able to lure gamers with the kind of attractive deals that made Steam so popular on PCs. Publishers may also be swayed toward Microsoft’s platform if it restricts or outright destroys the used game market. In a few years, Microsoft’s approach could seem a lot wiser than it does now.

Sony is just betting that the good will of gamers will be enough to cut Microsoft’s ambitions short. And Microsoft has some big ambitions, not just to be the best game console, but to serve as the central hub of all living room entertainment. It’s a gambit on Sony’s part, one that’s going to make the console wars even fiercer.

4 comments
punkska52
punkska52

Sony - knows what's up. The used game market is a vital part of gaming. Every games buys, sells, and trades used games. Get it right X-Box! As for me, I'm ditching my old stuff with Cash For Gamers.

thatdude
thatdude

Waste my money with xbox yeah right, I invest in games


KatieRoach
KatieRoach

I feel like this article left out a few very important points. Playstation+ costs FAR less monthly than xBox live does and has more perks. Sony is not forcing a peripheral that is widely considered a gimmick by most onto people. They also aren't touting privacy invasion as a feature. That disc as a format is dying is a given and I feel like Sony is aware of that, but knows the consumers better than Microsoft and would prefer to ease the transition. My biggest issue with this article however is it completely leaves out a huge factor: indie developers. Where Microsoft will fail and Sony will rise is on this point. Indie developers can self publish on Sony. They have to be published (or publish through Microsoft) to be on xBox. That's how Steam is so successful, and it's something this article missed. Sony will win by trusting its consumers and by giving indie developers a previously largely untapped market to shine.

ZacPetit
ZacPetit

I am very surprised by the obvious difference in direction between Sony and Microsoft with their new products. Which will win out? The dedicated gaming device or the home entertainment system? 

On second thought, this looks like a situation where owning both systems can be more easily justified than ever before. Sure, there are far fewer console-exclusive titles, but only the Wii has had such significantly different offerings in the past (and those differences still revolved around playing games). Owning a PS4 for my gaming and an Xbox One to control the rest of my digital entertainment doesn't sound like a terrible proposition.