Sony’s PlayStation 4 will be available in North America on November 15, followed by Europe on November 29, the company confirmed at the close of its Gamescom media briefing in Cologne, Germany today. Through the holiday season, the company expects to roll the system out in 32 countries total.
Delivering information it promised to a week ago, Sony polished off roughly an hour-and-a-half of multi-platform promos to do what Microsoft didn’t: lock in next-gen launch details. By contrast, Microsoft’s event was a closed-doors affair without a live-stream, and the company kept the Xbox One’s launch details secret, perhaps hoping to generate further buzz at a future press shindig.
After a conventionally melodramatic intro during which the company fiddled with the PS4′s interface, highlighting its mechanical fluidity and features like uploading in-game screenshots to Twitter, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe president Jim Ryan took the stage to walk through a few PlayStation 3 games, including some gorgeous clips of Gran Turismo 6, looking more than ever like a PS4 game (it’s not), a new free-to-play service called LittleBigPlanet Hub, a content-creation toolset launching on PS3 later this year, and of course Grand Theft Auto V (out Sept. 17). Sony revealed that GT 6 will launch globally on December 6, then noted it’s working with Sony Pictures to turn the Gran Turismo franchise into a feature film (I can’t see that one ending well).
On the PS Vita front, the company pulled a surprise price-drop out of the bag, bringing things down from $249 to a more reasonable $199 (I’ve long argued the price was too high). Sony also promised “significant reductions” in the price of PS Vita memory cards, which could be significant, since they’re mandatory and they’ve been ridiculously overpriced compared to alternative same-sized memory formats. (Your average 32GB micro SD card goes for $20-$25 on Amazon, while Sony’s 32GB Vita memory card has sold for up to $100; I’d wait to confirm that the new memory card prices are in place and reasonable before picking up a Vita at this point, new $199 price point or no.) Sony says it now has around 900 games in its catalog for the Vita, 150 of those built from the ground up for the platform, and notes that when the PS4 arrives, you’ll be able to play nearly all of its games on the Vita using the Remote Play feature.
On the PS4 side, the company announced 15 new PS4 games, many of them indie titles, all of which Sony says will be exclusive to the system at launch. When Sony’s PlayStation lead systems architect Mark Cerny took the stage, he was quick to call the PS4 “the world’s most powerful game console” (where have we heard that before?), adding that this is Sony’s ”strongest launch lineup in PlayStation history” and “shows great breadth and diversity because the architecture has eased development,” which Cerny said makes it quicker to pull together indie titles. Much of the show was devoted to highlighting indie exclusives — another feather in Sony’s increasingly multifaceted cap: Indie in any medium has always meant “small” and “independent,” never platform-agnostic, thus Sony’s doing due diligence — something some would argue it didn’t do with the PS3 – by trying to lock up what it views as top notch indie content.
Last but not least, Sony president and group CEO Andrew House took a swing at Microsoft for shifting its position on, well, a whole bunch of Xbox One features (eliciting a chorus of “ooo’s” from the audience) and confirmed what we already knew: the 12GB flash-based PlayStation 3, previously restricted to Europe, is coming to North America for $199. And if you opt to buy a PS3 now, Sony’s offering a PS4 upgrade incentive with select publishers where, if you buy the PS3 version of a game, you can download the digital version of the PS4 version for “a significantly discounted price” (that’s not across the board at this point, and you’ll need to check with each game).
Jaundiced quips about gaming’s lopsided fascination with shooters and military-themed games aside, Sony’s showing was respectable and laser-focused on games. The company spent no time at all chatting up the PS4′s versatility as a media hub or its PlayStation Move motion control angles or really anything that wasn’t specifically gaming centered. Sony doubtless views the PS4′s launch success as contingent on early adopter enthusiasm, and those early adopters are going to be hardcore gamers, thus its attempt to woo them first, probably wisely.