E3 is a time when companies often fall flat on their faces. Some embarrassing demos of giant enemy crabs or presentations led by excessively caffeinated guest hosts come to mind. This kind of thing is frequent enough that the gaming community almost looks forward to the flubs, in a perverse sort of way. But those frequent fails also make it even more astounding when one company gets everything right.
Last night, Sony may have been as far away from failing as any E3 presenter has ever been.
This was a company possessed, one that moved quickly, decisively, and loudly. Sony knew that gamers felt it would either “save” the industry from Microsoft’s draconian DRM and used game policies or put the final nail in the coffin itself, and it acted accordingly. It did nothing less than openly taunt its rivals from Redmond for their follies. The term “console war” is justifiably derided by many, but last night Sony came ready for battle. Shots were fired, and right now Microsoft could use a nurse.
Sony doubled down again on a promise it had already doubled down on in February, which is making a gaming console that’s focused on games. The PS4 is not an entertainment box meant to unite all of its company’s services. It isn’t the Xbox One. It’s a gaming console, and Sony made it clear that its games come first. In a world where some pundit claims every other week that “consoles are dead,” Sony is going for broke in the opposite direction, at least when compared to its primary competitor.
(Oh, by the way, it also showed the physical console. It was a black box. Are we all happy now?)
The PS4 appears to have an honest-to-goodness variety of games on the way. There are the gritty blockbusters, because there are always the gritty blockbusters. Destiny, Watch Dogs, and Assassin’s Creed IV all continue to look impressive. Exclusives like Killzone: Shadow Fall and inFamous: Second Son still don’t appear to be doing anything groundbreaking, but are both far from unwanted and have great track records. They should be fun. Ready At Dawn’s The Order: 1886 and Avalanche’s Mad Max have that intriguing new IP smell too.
But Sony avoided that all-too-familiar trap of focusing too heavily on the gunplay and bloodshed by actually attempting to give more-than-fleeting attention to other kinds of games. It’s been said for months now, but Sony is really positioning itself as the next-gen console for indies, and giving time for charming and promising titles like Octodad: Dadliest Catch, Don’t Starve, Transistor and a half dozen other titles from smaller studios went a long way in furthering that message. Letting indies self-publish doesn’t hurt either, of course.
They almost assuredly won’t be exclusive titles, but the reveals of Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III were long-awaited bombshells. Quantic Dream’s tech demo did what Quantic Dream normally does by being entertaining and looking good while doing so. MMO lovers can get The Elder Scrolls Online or Final Fantasy XIV. Knack, Diablo III and Driveclub will serve their niches. Even sports gamers were thrown a bone with an NBA 2K14 teaser. The Walking Dead’s new episode got a shoutout for Vita, and the still-impressive lineup of titles coming to PlayStation 3 wasn’t forgotten either.
There was more variety than we’re used to seeing at an E3 event, indeed, but many of these games are still going to be available on Xbox One too. Where Sony is landing its deepest blows against Microsoft, and where it emerged “victorious” last night, is in its mission statement.
Sony’s Jack Tretton basked in the applause when he announced that, unlike the Xbox One, the PS4 would have no used game restrictions or online check-in requirements. The audience filled the Los Angeles Sports Arena with noise upon hearing this, slowed it down, and then, almost as if it couldn’t fully comprehend what it just heard, started roaring again. They then did almost the same thing when Sony’s Andrew House revealed that the console would cost $399, which is a full $100 less than the Xbox One.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. Sony had been wise to let Microsoft wade through the mess it created, but the assumption was always that the PS4 wouldn’t be much different than the Xbox One when it came to next-gen requirements. People begged and pleaded and made Twitter hashtags requesting Sony to forbid DRM and always-online tech, but even then there was always this hint of desperate sadness, as if the future was inevitable, and the average gamer’s destiny was one of being distrusted. So when Sony made its news, these core gamers didn’t just feel relieved, they felt saved.
Here’s the funny part, though: Nothing Sony is doing with the PS4 is special. Allowing used games, not requiring an internet connection, pricing the machine attractively, adding a wider variety of developer support, not region-locking the console…none of that is new or original or groundbreaking. It’s just common sense. The internet exploded with anger upon seeing what Microsoft wants to do, so Sony is not doing that. This is the power of logic.
The PS4 is an iteration of the PS3, full stop. It isn’t a revolution in gaming, like those commercials drowning in dubstep will have you believe this Christmas. It integrates some still-to-be-seen cloud tech from Gaikai, has an increased focus on indie support, adds a fee for playing multiplayer, will have some sort of original entertainment programming sometime, and will make its games look and sound prettier. That’s about it so far. And yet, Sony’s competition has been so dunderheaded lately that it has only needed to do what’s rational.
Yes, in many ways, Microsoft has been Sony’s biggest friend over the past month. Its follies have given Sony an opening to simply, if you believe its claims, do what it always planned on doing. Even when it revealed that the PS4’s multiplayer will now require a $60 yearly subscription to PS Plus, the E3 audience was too happy to care. And now, Sony can take a victory lap as it reaps the rewards of not doing much. Business as usual has never felt so welcome. That’s all anyone really wants at this point anyway — plus lots of good games.
The gaming community’s shocked, joyous response to the PS4’s policies should dishearten a lot of game companies out there. Consumers don’t expect much of them these days. They expect their interests to play second fiddle to those of the bottom line. They expect to be forced to deal with it. They expect companies like Sony, EA or Microsoft to fall flat on their faces as result. But when one of them actually listens to the people, that bottom line may look better than expected. Everyone impulsively pre-ordering their PlayStation 4 right now can attest to that.