How Sony May Have Won E3 With the PlayStation 4

At its E3 2013 presser, Sony aims, shoots and scores

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No, I don’t work for Sony, thanks for asking. But just to be up-front, I’m about to type a bunch of positive things about Sony (having typed a bunch of negative things four months ago). That’s because its E3 presser resonated quite a bit more than Microsoft’s, which aired early Monday morning. E3 (and, you know, life) isn’t made of perfectly balanced events where everyone comes out equally potent. Sometimes that’s just how things roll.

For starters, what some took for a subdued performance for much of Sony’s presser — the sort of subdued where anodyne music plays and presenters actually spend time talking substantively to the audience instead of visually assaulting it — was something of a blessing, a respite from the juvenile techno-infused thump-thump-thump party vibe that tends to hang over these spectacular spectaculars like a locker-room miasma. Nintendo and Apple are masters of this let’s-treat-viewers-intelligently approach. Sony seemed to be learning how to pull that off (whereas Microsoft still has no idea how it’s done).

I was neither impressed nor unimpressed by the actual PS4 system reveal: it’s basically a trapezoidal PS2, but who cares what it looks like, really. For all intents and purposes, it’s a black brick, just like Microsoft’s black brick. For most players, it’s going to sit on a shelf, only be visible from the front and not move. If Sony withheld this reveal to give its E3 presser extra pizzazz, it hardly needed to.

Gamewise, I saw exclusives that interested me and others that didn’t — the same reaction I had to Microsoft’s no more or less engaging lineup. (I admit games predominantly about cars, guns and sports tend to live at the bottom of my play list nowadays.) Notables: The Order: 1886, KnackKingdom Hearts III, inFAMOUS: Second SonFinal Fantasy XV (née Final Fantasy Versus XIII) and every one of the demoed indie titles. Microsoft’s Xbox One indie shout-out by comparison during its event: another Minecraft port. (Update: Square Enix just revealed that KHIII and FFXV will be on Xbox One as well.)

I’m still not sure if The Dark Sorcerer is a game or a tech demo or both, but Quantic Dream’s little vignette starring a wizard, a goblin, some crazy pyrotechnics and a genius twist was a nice little kick in the ribs to grumps like me, inclined these days to associate show-off graphics with developmental laziness. In the right developmental hands, Quantic Dream’s saying, all the extra horsepower so often wasted on visual chrome has the potential to instead deepen our experience of dramatically more humanlike characters existing in rich worlds with emotional palettes as visually nuanced as our own. That said, it’s one thing to put together a clever little piece of ironic cinema and another to fold in compelling game play. Quantic Dream and Sony were just making a point. Whether developers live up to the potential or just throw all those extra processor cycles at more god-ray-light-bloom-polygonal-whatever draped over the same tired experiences remains to be seen.

But the unexpected and arguably watershed moments came toward the end, as Sony Computer Entertainment America president and CEO Jack Tretton aimed, then delivered, several full-contact body blows to Microsoft’s Xbox One. Microsoft badly — let me say that again, badly — underestimated how important these next two issues are to players.

Yes, the PS4 will play used disc-based games, said Tretton, crucially adding that Sony will impose no new restrictions on their playback — a line that drew the loudest sustained applause I’ve heard at an E3 presser since Microsoft handed out free Xbox 360 slims at E3 2010. Just to be clear, Tretton said players could trade in PS4 games at retail, sell them to another person, lend them to a friend or keep them forever. That, for reasons I’ve laid out here, was exactly the right position to take with disc-based games in 2013. Both companies plan to offer Day One digital downloads at launch, and so both companies are in that sense future-proofed. Sony’s simply letting consumers steer what’s still, by any measure, a vibrant secondhand market, instead of using its clout to shoehorn gamers into a discless, ownership-unclear, potentially corporate-domineered future.

The next shoe — yes, there were more than two — was Tretton revealing that the PS4 won’t require an Internet connection to play games. Microsoft’s Xbox One does, demanding you connect at least once every 24 hours or forfeit access. That’s less a sales point for me — in the 21st century, the Internet’s become like electricity. But I’ll grant the symbolism, and for those remaining few who don’t yet have reliable Internet access, it’ll be a slam dunk.

The third surprise was actually a step back: you’ll need a $50-per-year PlayStation Plus subscription for online multiplayer access with PS4, effectively aping Microsoft’s current model with Xbox Live. That’s a shame, because elementary multiplayer still feels like it belongs outside pay walls. Microsoft’s made partial inroads over the years by improving Xbox Live’s multiplayer ecosystem and crafting an elegant online community. Sony, whose PS3-based PlayStation Network lags well behind Xbox Live in these areas, needs a PS4 interface that’s at least as compelling out of the gate if it wants to brush multiplayer-pay-wall criticisms aside.

The final Xbox One kick? The PS4 will cost $400 — $100 less than Microsoft’s new console. I’ve not heard gamers cheer as loudly for a price that just a few years ago would have seemed, well, unseemly — a sign, I suspect, of how perturbed many are with Microsoft for its draconian licensing and online-access requirements. Yes, Xbox One includes Kinect, and no, it’s not yet clear that’s going to matter.

Sony’s windup was long and slow and for some a little tedious, but when it finally swung — “Concepts like true consumer ownership and consumer trust are central to everything we do,” said Sony’s Andrew House in summary — just boom, out of the park. Who knows if that wins the company the war — the real competition for these systems lies elsewhere, as far as I’m concerned — but as opening moves go, Sony clearly played the better hand.

54 comments
VCP_Adam
VCP_Adam

I own a xbox 360, and i would of been looking to upgrade to the xbox one eventually. But to be honest, i think i'm going to switch to Sony and the PS4. The yes/no's swayed it for me. Yes to be able to use pre-owned software and no, you don't have to be continuously connected to the internet to play!

MNguyen88
MNguyen88

Sony has the better system overall. Xbox One has a creepy kinect eye built into it which means you cant hide your system in the back no more to take full advantage of the eye it has to be aimed in front of you.

grape_crush
grape_crush

> That’s less a sales point for me — in the 21st century, the Internet’s become like electricity.

So...taking no vacations, power or access outages, or having a life outside of tuning on your Xbox console daily and leaving it on. If those things aren't negatives for you, then I envy your life.

> “Concepts like true consumer ownership and consumer trust are central to everything we do...” 

Looks like Sony has learned from its earlier mistakes.

SotehPR
SotehPR

The problem is not buying used games... The problem is what happens if you want to trade it in or sell it to someone else or even borrowing it... I mean why should it be such a hassle to enjoy a game on a... Videogame console? Thats beyond me!

therealdude
therealdude

Looking at where Microsoft is going with the Xbox One and how the PS4 seems to be turning out, I can't help ponder why on earth anyone would buy the new Xbox One at all. The PS4 is $100 cheaper, has excellent hardware, a great selection of games and without all the intrusive BS policies Microsoft is pushing.

DylanHarris
DylanHarris

Wouldnt surprise me if you were paid by sony, these points are just off of the Sony conference, which was complete crap. It showed nothing but multiplatform games! and they are making you pay now for online. The graphics even looked worse then Microsoft's exclusives.

ill
ill

Its not the unique selling point of the second hand game market which is why people almost automatically side with Sony, its the fact that they made the conscious decision as a corporation to not touch our consumer power. Let's credit the business leaders of the Sony of America and Sony of Japan departments; we need more people to run corporations like this. It proves they understand the first rule of business, competition creates quality; solely because of consumer power to choose. this is a very, for lack of a better word, ANTI-MONOPOLY move on Sony's part. P.R. departments for either of these companies, contact me, i could use a job... lol worth a try

gkjones87
gkjones87

I've been Xbox my whole life but they can suck it! I'm going ps4 and I hope everyone else does too.

AdrianSloan
AdrianSloan

Sony spoiled us for many years of FREE Multiplayer, granted it was not excellent but it was FREE. If they are going to charge $50 dollars a year for the right to play Multiplayer it better be freaking awesome. 

Jeinplayerbrazil
Jeinplayerbrazil

My new console will be the PS4. XBOX 1 is too much bureaucratic.


Rio
Rio

well when i buy a new console it will be PS4.  I don't want anyone using me as advertising target with the kinnect nor do I want to"phone home" just to play a game at 4 am.   The security and privacy plus the control issues (and future monetizing) are more nails in the coffin.  And to think what could have been....

n7specops
n7specops

I definitely want the PS4 for those reasons. One thing I was thinking about, is that I was in the Navy for 5 years, and I knew bunches and bunches of fellow sailors, marines, soldiers, and airman who like myself, took our 360's with us on deployments with out little 22 inch HDTV's. Guess what... There isn't wifi or an internet connection on ships for online video games or PC gaming, duh, because of opsec and all that. If there was bad weather or it was just a slow day, myself and I know many others in the service could find themselves playing games for hours to escape from reality, and that's during a slow day, not counting when our shift might be over and we worked out and showered than wound down before sleep. So, Microsoft lost idk how many customers... like idk how many there are combined in the service that play games, easily over 1,000,000 people (1,429,995 people actively serving in all the branches according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Armed_Forces and my claim of 1,000,000 gamers isn't saying every one is a hardcore constant gamer, but probably 90% of those are. required internet check in and no used games is a joke.

seventhson74
seventhson74

No game developer is going to risk spending millions developing a game when it's 2 options are to build for PS4 and have that game resold in aftermarket (thus depriving them of revenue) or XBOX1 which will ensure their games will not be resold.  MS just won all the big developers and all the big games, but I bet you'll get a hell of an 'Angry Birds' and 'Farmville' exclusive on your PS4 - suckers......

Tocino7969
Tocino7969

The PS4 is cheaper although it is faster, has better performance/graphics and more games for launch. It also has more stuff coming with it although the price is low. The Xbox One comes with a Controller, the Console itself, and the Kinect 2.0. The PS4, however, ships with the all mighty powerful PS4 Console, the new DualShock 4 Controller, the PlayStation Eye 2.0 Camera, and a Mono Chat Headset. Overall, PS4 is my choice.

Tical
Tical

Frankly, I think Sony needs to send Microsoft a thank you note of some sort. What seemed like common sense features of the PS4 are suddenly ingenious when compared to those of the Xbox.

SwiftrightRight
SwiftrightRight

GOD what is up at MS these days?!? 1st there was the win8 debacle which was pretty well known to be a future debacle months before launch becuase MS forced all those "features" on us that we as a internet society pretty clearly did not want.

Now there is the Xbox One which feels like a personal kick to the groin to me as I have been a pretty big Xbox back since the day the original launched. The thing might as well be always on DRM. The game playing restrictions straight up absurd. And the worse thing is that every one of MS damage control measures is soft, by which I mean they not only retain the right to go totally draconian they also have the ability to do it via a daily forced software updates.

I dont know, the PS4 may just be the 1st Sony box to grace my shelf since I bought a ps1 back in 1995. Once thing is for certain, there will be NO future Xboxes 

ReverendJohnW
ReverendJohnW

@DylanHarris and you aren't a Microsoft Shill? Or are you really so stupid as to give up your Digital rights so you can play an unfun FPS like Halo? 

Lacerz
Lacerz

@DylanHarris 

Why don't you just call his mom a name.  Your retort is juvenile and factually incorrect.

DeadTheorem
DeadTheorem

@AdrianSloan Well, you do still get 1 free game a month, cloud saves, automatic updates, and everything else plus offers on PS3,  just now it's required to play online multiplayer.

se123
se123

@n7specops

have to agree. While not in the service anymore, there were a bunch of guys who brought there consoles out to sea. After dinner or in port, we'd have tournaments

n7specops
n7specops

Thanks for supporting the armed services Microsoft... I'm buying the PS4, all my friends are buying it, and we were avid 360 fans. Goes to show you that Microsoft is like apple, no longer open source, everything is becoming streamlined and less customization friendly, and a crappy console when they are capable of much more. Sony could have easily matched Microsoft's launch price, but they know everyone is going to buy the PS4

SotehPR
SotehPR

Whats the point on not allowing resales on a console that practically wont sell... I see no reason for a true gamer to purchase an XB1 other than being a fanboy... And even then i expect them to return that garbage once they realize they will be restricted... If theres no installed user base that is significant... Then the drm and restrictions will hurt MS and to stay competitive theyll have to throw money like crazy so developers can keep supporting that ghost town of a console...

RyanKoon
RyanKoon

Yea. Too bad most "Big" Developers are still making games for Sony. They don't care as much as you think as long as their games are selling. Most people don't sell their games for at least 3-4 months anyways and the people who actually wait that long(if not longer) to buy these games are too few to even notice. Most Developers make most of their revenue from the first month or two of release. Oh. And at least we can still lend games to friends and play offline. So if you have a company like charter providing you with Internet you will be spending a lot of your time staring at a blank tv because your Internet provider screwed up, or lightning might get your Internet.

auronlu
auronlu

@seventhson74 Microsoft did one more fail by including bonus rape jokes in its presentation.

45% of gamers are women. We noticed. SONY TAKE MY FRICKIN DOUGH.

BrotherX85
BrotherX85

@seventhson74  Sony's business model already works; if a developer releases a good game for PS4 they're almost guaranteed to make money under Sony's used game policy. Speaking of risk, its probably more risky to develop for a console whose business model hasn't been proven successful. Yeah they sold a lot of pre orders, but I think Dreamcast sold 10m units and it still went under.

MC
MC

@seventhson74 Judging by the launch title list, you seem to be wishful thinking.

MauricioMoralesK
MauricioMoralesK

@seventhson74 I get what you are saying but you really are just trying very hard to come up with a way to credit microsoft. At the end of the day what developers want is money, sure, but there are two ways of making money, fast cash, or smart cash, in this case, the fast cash would be going with MS, because it ensures more game sales but the smart cash would be going with sony, simply because it shows good company ethics for us gamers. A company saying "yeah sure, trade in your game, we don't mind" makes me want to buy from them in the future. While a company that says "no, either you buy from us or you gtfo" tend to feel the backlash later on, (just look at how samsung is gaining on apple for this very reason, this is why my last 3 phones have been galaxy phones instead of iphones)

At the end of the day, what MS is doing is bull#%t and sony has been at fault for this kind of behaviour for way longer than microsoft has but for whatever reason (probably just to spite ms) they decided to do the right thing with the PS4. If you are a real gamer, you need to support the ps4, if the xboxone succeeds, then this sort of behaviour will become the norm and the days of "hey did you finish your game already? let me try it out ill give it back in a few days" will be gone.

branashton
branashton

@seventhson74 yeah... no. And then the developers and game makers realize no one has the XBONE... Every friend I have that were loyal Xbox users said that they'd definitely be switching to Sony. 

SotehPR
SotehPR

The camera is sold separately for $60

JoeKuehn
JoeKuehn

@Tocino7969 

I don't think performance or graphics honestly matter outside of first party games.  A vast majority of the big third party offerings will be on both consoles, and they'll design games for the weaker of the two to make for easier porting.  Heck, look at Skyrim on the PS3 and 360 - even though PS3 had more power, it still looked worse, took forever to get DLC, and was unplayable after 50 hours.

We'll see better porting this generation since both consoles are built on the same architecture, and regardless of the people complaining that FFXV and KH3 will not be exclusives, I think it's best for everyone around that they only have to purchase one console to play the top games.  Whether someone chooses MS or Sony, it's the developer who will do better in the long run releasing on both consoles, which means more money for them to produce new games.  I'm all for Xbox fans getting two of the most exciting games in the future.

Things have changed - Halo can't sell a system alone anymore, nor can Uncharted or God of War.  Zelda, Mario, or Super Smash may still hold that appeal, but the Wii U isn't really even in this competition anymore.  Hardware means a lot more than it used to.  Sony's a step ahead, but launch is a few months away and a LOT can change in that time.  That said, my preorder for the PS4 is already in.

lucaspetrini
lucaspetrini

@Tocino7969how do you know PS4 will ship with PS Eye?? As far as I know it's 399 without the camera. Plus, taken what I saw in the conferences, it seems to me Xbox One has slightly better graphics. Anyway, I'll wait some months to see how it all will end up.

ReverendJohnW
ReverendJohnW

@Tical Since the XBOX One uses Blu Ray Sony gets a cut of the profit from people dumb enough to buy an XBOX One.

n7specops
n7specops

@phil_ So that means the poor souls in Australia and abroad with strict ratings and sensorship can buy a PS4 at home and then buy the games on Amazon and they'll work. NICE!

Lacerz
Lacerz

@DeadTheorem @AdrianSloan 

PS+ typically gives you four games a month, with one or two being Vita titles or cross-plays.  It also appears that they'll be rotating out their staples once a year (Little Big Planet 2, inFamous 2 and a few others that have been in the Instant Game Collection for the past year just got replaced with Uncharted 3, Little Big Planet Karting and XCOM Enemy Unknown).

Lambda101
Lambda101

@MauricioMoralesK @seventhson74I don't quite understand why the whole used games thing is such a huge selling point... we're heading down the road that eventually most of our content won't be physical - I mean you could make the argument that for many people, it's already happening. I understand people love and support the used-game industry, but it really can hurt developers. Why shouldn't they be entitled to a bit of money if a second owner wants to use the content they put time and effort into creating? 

Sometimes I think people forget that the value of the game isn't the physical nature of the product, but the value of the content that it holds. I will say that I think Microsoft's main issue is that if they want to have all this licensing and digital content like Steam, they should be selling their games at $40 or $50 - then it may seem more worth it.

I think in essence a lot of what Microsoft is doing is going to become universal anyway in the coming years - they've just come in too early, and pissed a lot of people off. That's a huge error, not listening to what the community wants, and it will cost them this next console generation unless they seriously reconsider some of their policies. 

Melkor
Melkor

@SotehPR Does anybody care? Nobody wants the PS Eye, and Sony is not forcing us to buy it or to use it. Unlike Microsoft who makes a system with Kinect (which nobody wants), makes everybody pay for it, and the Xbone won't even function unless it's attached.

auronlu
auronlu

@n7specops @phil_ Yeppers. 

Sony missed one item in its instructional demo on how to share games.

1. Hand game to friend.

2. Apply burn cream to MS. 

I'm sure MS can figure it out, though, being so clever and all. 

Lambda101
Lambda101

@SotehPR Fair point, except the "fun" you have is based off developers getting healthy rewards for their efforts. Still I agree the restrictions only work against the consumers. Just a point though - Sony's DRM free attitude only applies to their first-party games - they've said third-party can do whatever they want in terms of DRM, so both consoles will be copping restrictions. Admittedly Microsoft's is applying DRM to everything. Oh well, I would actually not care as much about the restrictions if they actually made the games cheaper - like Steam. 

SotehPR
SotehPR

I dont care about developers i care abaout having fun restriction free and my wallet... ;)

Lambda101
Lambda101

@tilehero @lucaspetrini @Tocino7969 They are essentially on par, Sony's system has slightly better parts, but in the long run, both fall short of gaming PCs. Also, I'll also say that graphics are not the instant-win button when it comes to making popular/good games. Just look at the Wii - best selling console of the last generation. From E3, as far as I can see, in terms of raw graphics, both systems are pretty similar anyway.