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E3 Analysis: Sony's Still Got It
E3 Analysis: Sony's Still Got It Exclusive
June 2, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander

[Sony had a high wall to climb to match the impact of Microsoft's E3 presentation yesterday, and in this analysis, Gamasutra's Leigh Alexander finds that the company impressed -- with a caveat.]

In contrast with the arena-style lightshow of Microsoft's presentation, Sony's was slightly more understated, preceded by an outdoor pavilion hour, finger foods and cocktails -- yes, at 10:00 AM on a muted gray morning.

"If I were Sony I'd wanna drink right now too," an attendee was overheard to murmur. The general mood resembled something like sympathy -- like a prelude to a wake -- after Microsoft's high-powered presentation yesterday. With so many early press leaks ahead of E3, many wondered if Sony had any cards left to play.

All the buzz revolved around what, exactly, the company could do to trump that dominant performance -- that is, when people weren't snarking about Nintendo's fairly by-the-books show. As the last of the Big Three to present at E3, Sony had a lot to prove.

"Thank god you guys showed up," joked SCEA President Jack Tretton as he took the stage. His self-deprecating, nervous laughter was directed at all of the company's leaks -- even Sony boss Kaz Hirai admitted the PSP Go! was "the worst-kept secret of E3."

But Sony's audience was there to applaud every stat: 364 games are coming to PlayStation platforms in the next year; the platforms generated 30 percent of total retail sales for the industry in 2008. "It's just the beginning of what we expect in 2009," Tretton said.

Starring The Games

More applause when Tretton said: "I suspect the reason some of you have bags under your eyes is because you've been playing Infamous since it came out last week." Applause, cheers -- and audible gasps -- for the frankly breathtaking Uncharted 2 footage presented by Naughty Dog's Evan Wells, who said it "sets the new gold standard in limit-pushing."

Whoops, cheers, howls, for Modern Warfare 2, Rock Band: Beatles, Ratchet & Clank Future 2 and Heavy Rain; for Metal Gear Solid Peacewalker (stressed numerous times as the franchise's "true" sequel), Gran Turismo 5 and God of War III, for new exclusive Rockstar IP Agent and shock reveal Final Fantasy XIV Online, and for the unrelenting barrage of PS3 exclusives shown on a day when nobody was expecting very many.

The audience only fell silent for the unveiling of Fumito Ueda's latest dreamlike game, confirming video footage that recently surfaced online. The long-rumored and long-awaited project was clearly the presentation's crown jewel.

The mood inside the Shrine Auditorium gradually took on an eagerness and enthusiasm not present in quite the same way during the other presentations.

Chalk it up to rooting for the underdog, perhaps, but the environment at Sony's event made it clear that when the company falls back on touting the strength of its brand and the duration of its presence in the video game marketplace, it's not entirely blowing smoke. Those who once loved PlayStation still do, and fiercely.

"'Only on PlayStation'... is not just a quantitative statement. It's also a qualitative statement," said Tretton, aiming to enforce the idea that certain types of games are only possible to develop on PlayStation 3.

Sony's Answer To Natal

After proving it could still pull exclusives and impress with software, Sony revealed that it, too, had a motion and gesture-based control solution in the works.

Microsoft's Project Natal presentation hinged on the idea that the use of a control device was a barrier to accessibility. Sony now posits that an item in hand -- with buttons -- is actually necessary to the experience of play.

The remote control-sized motion wand prototype is topped with a luminous sphere that the PlayStation Eye can track 1:1. The user can be shown holding any object in the game world, like a tennis racket, sword, gun or flashlight, and it features buttons for interaction.

"We learned from EyeToy that buttons are needed for some experiences," said the team's Dr. Richard Marks. "There's really no other way to do this without a trigger."

Even in prototype phase, the demonstration was impressive, particularly the precision of the gesture sensing -- "sub-millimeter accuracy," said Marks. The demonstration showed that, projected on screen as a knight holding a sword tapping a skeleton with varying degrees of force in different anatomical zones, users can interact with objects in extremely targeted ways.

Objects in the game world also respond with realistic physics to the user's movements -- like string tension on an archery bow, for example.

"This is the foundation for the ultimate sandbox; you could build anything in here," said Marx.

The scheme was used to move RTS units, paint and write, and made a strong case that having a physical object with which to act in the game world may actually be preferable.

More significantly, although the demonstration featured only a prototype, Sony's tech is apparently not substantially far off from launch. The company promises more news "in the near future" -- and is targeting a Spring 2010 launch.

Following Up LittleBigPlanet

One of the presentation's highlights was United Front's user-generated content-based racer ModNation Racers, presented as a segue from the "play, create, share" paradigm established by LittleBigPlanet.

Like that title, the racer is compellingly cute and offers limitless customization of characters resembling vinyl Munny figurines, and the utility to create and play one's own racetrack was impressively simple and deep simultaneously.

In this way, Sony seems intent on building -- and dominating -- the user-generated sandbox play genre on consoles.

So? We've Got That Too

In terms of how it matched the luster of Microsoft's show yesterday, Sony at the very least went tit for tat -- it's got its own motion recognition solution, its own Rockstar exclusive, its own major Metal Gear title, and it's got the next-next Final Fantasy, number XIV, on lock (aside from the PC version, which was, of course, not mentioned).

God of War III, Uncharted 2, Mod Nation Racers and the new Ueda game might even tip the content scales in Sony's favor, depending on what type of consumer one is.

And the company shows it's as committed to digital media as its rivals, promising that all future PSP titles will be available both as downloads and at retail. PSP Go users can access the PlayStation Store directly from their handhelds -- "The bottom line is this: There will be more content that is easier to get onto your PSP," said Hirai.

Sony also said it's signed content partnerships with Showtime, G4, E!, HDNet, Starz TV, TNA, Magnolia Films and new anime and sports partners for its video content. Despite this, however, there's an interesting role reversal taking place this year at E3.

The New 'Media Hub'

When Sony first launched the PlayStation 3, it positioned it as less of a game console and more of a "media device," to a decidedly negative reception. It was the Xbox 360 that was the true "hardcore" console, while Sony seemed to struggle to make PlayStation 3 the all-purpose living room device it wanted it to be.

This year, though, Microsoft's presentation was most impressive for its implications for "home entertainment," while the PlayStation 3 focused solidly and largely on the games. While past Sony briefings have insisted on emphasizing the console as a "media hub" to the point of fatigue, there was none of that talk at all this year.

While no one could accuse the Xbox 360 of lacking a compelling core software lineup, to say the least, Microsoft this year nearly seemed larger than E3; Nintendo, clearly comfortable with Wii's position as a mainstream consumer product, made many question its need to present at E3 at all.

But Sony put on the kind of show reminiscent of the "old" E3, evoking more than a passing reminder of why its platforms used to dominate the industry. Audiences filed out smiling, talking excitedly about the games they'd seen as if they were much younger kids.

"We will never become complacent, despite what we've accomplished," said Tretton.

The Announcement Sony Needed To Make -- And Didn't

There was no price cut for any of Sony's platforms announced at the briefing, as just about everyone had hoped there'd be. Many eyebrows lifted at the PSP Go!'s $249 price point -- the company is making such a strong push to broaden the handheld's userbase, yet tags it so high?

With the PlayStation 3 desperately in need of a reduction -- analysts say taking any less than $100 off the sticker wouldn't even be worth it -- it raises the question: what good's all this content if no one can afford the hardware?

Sony's portfolio of content is impressive. But it's taking a big gamble on the idea that content will sufficiently drive hardware sales, when more often it's hardware sales that foretell software sales. And when the platform ultimately needs developers far more than developers need it, it'll be tough to sustain momentum.

The company's still got it; Sony was not outdone at E3 this year, and depending who you ask, it outdid, maybe even handily. By the time its press conference ended, even the sun had decided to show its face for the first time in Los Angeles since E3 kicked off.

But until price adjustments and marketing initiatives position Sony's platforms better in the market, the clouds haven't passed yet.

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Michael Dinning
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Leigh, even though you write monthly

we still miss you and your lovely writing at Kotaku!

michael meginley
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I thought they said the 364 games were on Playstation Platforms, not just the PS3?

michael meginley
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Yes, I am correct. Jack said "364 games coming to "PlayStation Platforms" this year."

Tyler Peters
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I wish the media hub took a wider variety of codecs, it's really frustrating having to re-encode nearly everything to play on it.

Oh, ad one other thought - why not explain in the manual (or at least on a obvious weblink) all of the cool functions of the PS3? It's great hardware, but Soy is still really doing a poor job at giving good reasons fo customers to buy it...

Simon Carless
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You are correct re: 'PlayStation platforms' vs. 'PS3' for the number of releases, Michael, we've corrected the write-up - thanks!

Mike Lopez
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@ Tyler Skip the built in media streaming app and install the free TVersity client on your PC ( for console streaming. Free streaming of most any file format from your PC to your PS3 or 360. It rocks.

As for Sony I was not there but it seems like an all too familiar tune to me (like maybe every year for the past 6 years or so). Hype a Final Fantasy sequel? Check. An MGS sequel? Check. EyeToy 1.5 with glow ball wand *prototype*? Check. PSP 1.2? Check. Playstation brand as the greatest thing since since sliced bread and sure to make you more successful, better looking and more thin? Double check. They have had a great history of top franchises for 3 generations now but I don't see them doing anything new and so amazing as to turn their distant 3rd place console fate around. Price drop? No. Admitting Home is a failure and releasing new major Dashboard UI revamp with great new flow and features a 'la NXBLE? No. Newer developer tools to make it easier for developers to make more/better games? Yeah, right.

michael meginley
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No problem Simon, love the site here and glad I was able to help in a very small way.

michael meginley
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I agree Tyler, a wider variety of codecs would be great. I use my 360 to stream mostly but I have used the PS3 media extender before. The 360 seems to support xvid better as I have had files that work on the 360 not work on the PS3. Most of the stuff I have is xvid format. I'd gladly switch to .mkv as I am a HD junkie if they would add support but that is just wishful thinking I suppose.

Alan Rimkeit
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I just want Mod Nation Racers. My 9 year old daughter and I are going to have tons of fun with that game. It has instant appeal. Customizable race cars, race car drivers, and race tracks are just too cool for words.

Kirill Yarovoy
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Lol )) here the Manga explaining current situation about Sony )))

Tom Newman
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It will all come down to exclusives. Luckily Sony actually has some this year that look great. With the PSP Go!, it will be interesting to see how that pans out. Personally, I'm not about to trade in my 1st gen PSP if the new one can't play my UMD's, especially not for $250. You can get a real console or even an iPhone for that.

Peter Park
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Compared to MS conference, which I came out from a desperate hopeful to cheery, gleeful and proud owner of the console, Sony's conference was rather lackluster for me. I guess AC2 and God of War III demo wasn't as impressive as SC:Conviction (totally personal opinion), and all the other announcements felt nothing new to me. The only truly intriguing announcement was Rockstar's new IP, Agent, which they didn't even show a single screen shot of. They didn't even show any new artsy games, which I consider the best thing Sony is pursuing with their platform. (Again, my own taste)

I guess it also has to do with press leak of some of their major announcements. :P

Dave Endresak
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I think that Leigh may be a bit misleading in claiming that "more often it's hardware sales that foretell software sales." Actually, the opposite is true, historically speaking, for just about any field. Purchasing choice has always been dictated by applications, software, etc, not the other way around. For example, in console gaming, consider the PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16 CD-ROM attachment. People spent $300 for that attachment just to play the CD-ROM version of Ys Books I & II. On PCs, companies are always trying to advertise "killer apps" for you that require you to purchase certain PC hardware. If you go into other media such as music, it's pretty much the same thing. If you had a recording in stereo, you wanted a stereo system to hear the audio in stereo rather than using an old monophonic system (and by extension, today's 5.1, 7.1, or whatever audio mixing is used). The same thing for film, home video, TV, etc. Without an application that consumers want, any type of hardware is nothing but an expensive paperweight (or doorstop, depending on the size of the hardware).

That being said, I have to say that I still don't see any software content on PS3 that is compelling to me. Not that I have the money to buy one, anyway, but I don't even want one because I don't see anything I really want to play (at least nothing that isn't also on the Xbox 360). Meanwhile, there are still titles being released for PS2 that I find appealing. To be fair, there are some titles on PSP that I want but don't have the funds to buy (or time to play right now, either) but those titles are not being mentioned or heavily promoted. Then again, I tend to find excellent games that are not heavily hyped versus inferior, unappealing titles that have a ton of money put into their advertising and promotion. ^_^

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Tom Newman
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I'm 36 and love the boobs and blood. Brutal Legend is the game I am most anticipating this year, and that seems to have boobs, blood, AND outstanding art direction.

Ben Rice
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Seems like a lot of anti Sony sentiment here. I fully agree with the article, they at least went per for par with Microsoft's Keynote.

I'm also really looking forward to the new Team Ico offering. There didn't seem to be an equivalent 360 offering, which tips it for me. All in all, it just seems to me there is slightly more innovation taking place with Sony.

warren blyth
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I thought gameplay from Uncharted2 was INCREDIBLE. the mod kart racer also won me over a little (though i'd rather play than make games). GOW3 gameplay looked like the same old, but i guess the same old is good enough to ensure sales on that one.

But I couldn't be more bored by goddamned pre-rendered videos. Seems like every year sony takes the same approach of "here's a bunch of random clips to overwhelm you!". when I'd much rather see games being played.

Thought their me too Dr.Marx eyetoy demo was a joke. "people don't care about the precision of the Wii, so we've made a wiimote that is more precise. and looks goofy as hell". MS's Natal was much better in saying "We have our own unique vision for the future of interaction."

Still, could have been a lot worse. Tretton strikes me as the most loveable of the three big companies.

Eddie Vertigo
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Rumor has it that once God of War III is good to go, it will be bundled with the PS3, which will finally have the price-drop everyone's been waiting for. As for the overall presentation, I was pretty impressed, and I'm glad the big three consoles are competing so hard for our love & devotion!

Victor Boone
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Drop the price $100.00 bucks and I'll buy one just to round out my console collection, but wait too long and I'll just save the money and put it towards a 720. Just keepin' it real

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Olivier B. Deland
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What about Fumito Ueda's game? It looked amazing and it's not blood and boobs. It looks way more interesting than any game Microsoft presented (From my point of view). Also, having viewed the way Microsoft tries to push Facebook and Twitter, I wonder why Sony didn't simply mentionned that you can actually visit those Web sites on a PS3, as well as any other web site if you feel like it...

Arwin van Arum
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Some of the more impressive things of these conferences is what you don't see.

In regards to that: I don't believe the Playstation's Motion Controller is primarily vision based. While the article suggests it, the patents for this device posted months ago (and no coincidence that a whole bunch of developers also got their hands on the controller months ago) suggest that an important part of the motion tracking is ultrasonic. (I'm sure you'll be able to find the pictures that go along with the patent if you hit google. ;) ) And that makes a lot of sense, as this technology has proven in the past to be capable of some impressive precision.

There have been suggestions that the leds help to determine it's orientation and rotation, but if I'm reading the patent picture right, the leds are used for basic x/y movement, while the ultrasound provides the depth perception. Additionally, in a two-controller situation the two controllers also sense each other through ultrasound providing triangulation. I think this is what enables the additional precision, but I'm not sure yet. I wonder if the second controller may even be used when you're just putting it down, not sure. I'm still figuring this out (have to look at the full patent text)

The leds in the ball may in some uses even end up being mostly auxiliary, helping to identify the right controller in multi-player or multi-controller scenarios (like the sword and shield example), or even purely ambi-light type functionality (my 'sword' starts to glow when orcs come in the neighbourhood type stuff). Will be interesting to learn more about the technology in the future.

It is interesting that Koller (I think?) mentioned that Sony is very familiar with Microsofts technology (which would make sense as they've played with a prototype using Israelian technology somewhere in 2003? there's some info out there on the web that I've recently read, I can find the link again if someone wants it), but that they think particularly depth accuracy is an issue. Especially considering that they went for ultrasound technology in their controller specifically for depth perception, they do seem to base that statement on something. Elsewhere I've also heard that z-depth precision for Natal is 1,5cm - which would probably still be good for most uses considering they use a 30fps updated skeleton in which the joints come with vectors on direction, speed and confidence, the latter suggesting that there's some clever software working in the background on filling in the blanks and enhancing the precision.

Arwin van Arum
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Or then again, maybe I'm wrong ... I just came across this:

where it mentions that Kaz said that ultrasound was ultimately left on the table and the tech now just uses measuring the size of the ball for depth.