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Analysis: Confidence underlies Sony's crowd-pleasing Gamescom showing Exclusive
Analysis: Confidence underlies Sony's crowd-pleasing Gamescom showing
August 20, 2013 | By Christian Nutt

August 20, 2013 | By Christian Nutt
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    30 comments
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing, Exclusive, Gamescom, GDC Europe



At Sony's Gamescom briefing in Cologne, Germany today, the company had a few messages it wanted to convey to its customers and to the competition: We've learned our lessons, we're all about content, and PlayStation is back.

Sony took care to open its press conference by showcasing Killzone Shadow Fall in realtime -- and in the PlayStation 4 UI, demoed live on stage for the first time. If you recall the Killzone 2 debacle from the PlayStation 3 launch -- in which a rendered trailer was passed off as in-game footage -- this is a refutation of not just that kind of trickery but a message: the old, arrogant Sony of the PS3 era is permanently gone.

Then, the message: the PlayStation 4 is a "gamer's" console, and "developers are gamers" -- continuing the thread picked up when Microsoft so badly botched the Xbox One unveiling. The PlayStation 4 is a the gamer's machine of the next generation: "a game console that is by game creators for game creators," according to Mark Cerny, the system architect.

Borderlands 2 is on Vita...but then what?

The biggest announcement of a (packaged) game for the PlayStation Vita was a port of popular FPS Borderlands 2, which was interesting -- in a sort of sad way. It's hard to say what Sony's strategy for the Vita is, but two shows in a row with no big new games from first- or third-party developers (E3 was even drier) is just plain puzzling. At least it's becoming a haven for self-publishing by small developers.

The price drop to $/€199 may not make the system "irresistible," as Sony Computer president and CEO Andrew House promised, but it could (and probably should) force a price drop for both the Nintnedo 3DS and Wii U -- so that's a good thing for consumers, too.

A demo of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag streaming to the handheld from the PlayStation 4 showed another facet of the company's sorta-strategy for the handheld as an accessory for its new console. Vita streaming will be a feature that will be supported by "almost all" PS4 games.

The indie factor

Sony's commitment to indies is even bigger than we anticipated going into the conference -- and Sony spent a huge share of time on their titles, showcasing ports of games like Hotline Miami 2 and Rogue Legacy as console-exclusives for its platforms.

"Indies bring us a vital dimension," said Cerny. The company wants to capture "the passion of small teams" and "raise the presence and viability of these teams," while offering them "creative and financial control" over their games and studios.

And in fact, Sony is funding entirely new games, not just relying on getting enhanced ports of titles. While it's unclear whether some of these games will come to PC immediately, it's significant that thechineseroom's (Dear Esther) new game, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, was announced on stage at a Sony press conference, while prominent developers like Derek Yu and Mike Bithell talked about why they like developing for Sony platforms so much (Bithell's new game, Volume, is a Sony exclusive).

"A renaissance of gaming is coming on PlayStation 4," said Cerny. "We'll be returning to the creative freedom and broad content that made the early years of PlayStation so memorable."

For anybody who remembers console games from the generations prior to the PlayStation 3 era, this is rather heartening to hear. The original PlayStation, in particular, had a much broader base of subject matter and genres.

It wasn't just Cerny who talked up the indies, though -- a parade of Sony speakers, including Shahid Ahmad and Michael Denney, expressed a commitment to indies.

One fun fact: the word "social" was used just once, during the press conference, by Andrew House. Even with all of the "social" capabilities of the PlayStation 4, maybe we can consider that a dead term from Sony's perspective.

House came onto stage to rub salt in Microsoft's wounds: Not only is the company launching the system in 32 countries (right as Microsoft cuts down its spread), House pointed out Sony's "consistent" strategy, "while others have changed their stories" -- a clear jab to Microsoft's major online and publishing policy changes for Xbox One.

He also announced over 1 million preorders for the console -- and while we don't know Microsoft's numbers, the audience approved, as did the release date for the console: November 15 in North America, and November 29 in Europe.

The consumer-friendliness theme continued with the announcement of a plan to let PS3 players upgrade their Watch Dogs, Assassin's Creed IV, Battlefield 4, and Call of Duty: Ghosts purchases to PS4 versions for a "significantly discounted price," albeit for "a limited time." Sony promised to get more publishers on board with that program, too, to smooth the generational transition in a way that's never really been possible (or necessary) before.

Another strong reception

The company's press conference was an extension of what we've seen before, amped up: We are a platform for gamers, they said. We deliver what consumers want. We have no clear strategy for the Vita, but we'll keep throwing ideas at it and hope that it sticks (the price drop can help). And finally, we know what we're doing with our next-gen launch when the competition obviously does not.

It's hard to say if any of the moves the company made at the conference are significant because they're so much the same as what it was doing at E3. But that may be enough: The response from the enthusiast press gathered at the conference was just as rapturous as it was then.


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Comments


Matt Matthews
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While I'd like to think that Nintendo could consider a Wii U price drop, I don't see that happening so soon nor in response to the PSV price cut. I think they're still struggling to get rid of the initial stock which probably already cost them more than they can charge for it. Any cut to the price will come back to haunt them when the investors ask about that ¥100B operating profit they put as a target for this fiscal year.

As for the 3DS, it has a raft of highly-anticipated software coming out for the remainder of the year, which shields them from some price-pressure. I still favor my idea from last year of annually iterating the hardware and pushing a cheap old model down to a lower price to soak up the low-end market.

Finally, the PSV simply has no weight in the marketplace. The sales are so minuscule that no one outside of Sony really cares what the system does -- it could double its sales and still be rightly ignored by competitors. And does Sony itself care? As you note, even that is not clear.

E Zachary Knight
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I agree on the Wii U. Nintendo would rather try their hand at pushing the system based on upcoming software titles rather than drop the price. If the holiday software lineup doesn't push more units, then I could see a price drop next year.

Jarod Smiley
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I think Vita is just a testing ground for Indy's to get there feet wet before (hopefully) jumping on Ps3/PS4 as full time developers for PS products. So I do think Sony are ok with Vita being a slow burner in sales. And let's face it, there's simply nothing you can do about Mario/Pokemon, although I'm still quite confused why a port of Monster Hunter hasn't been announced yet, very strange.

Still there commitment to innovation was evident, and while Vita may not even catch PSP in LTS, PS3/PS4 are looking strong.

Joel Bennett
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It's quite possible they are keeping the more valuable IPs such as Monster Hunter for the PS4, just to ensure a few more sales. The better the foothold against Microsoft for them, the better they will be in the long run.

Ian Uniacke
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I'm assuming at this point that Nintendo money hatted Capcom for Monster Hunter exclusivity.

Salim Muhammad
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Anyone see this indie exclusive console stuff a bit antithetical to "indie?"

Matthew Calderaz
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For the most part, it sounded like the majority of 'exclusive' releases were termed in such a way that among the console releases, they would initially be exclusive to PS4; but could simultaneously be released on PC, and eventually make their way to XBL.

'Console debut exclusive' was that the wording?

Dane MacMahon
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Yeah, the press reports it as exclusive but 99% of the time it seems to actually be "console exclusive." Which is different.

Still, silly stuff either way. A true exclusive might sell a system but I think consumers are smart enough to know what a 30 day window is.

B Reg
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Well, in one instance (can't remember the name of the game), Sony clearly states that it has no clear idea of the purpose of the game and how it's developing right now, but don't mind because they have convidence in the developer. (Wasn't it the guy from Thomas Was Alone?)

So, it depends on your definition of indie:
a) Not funded by a publisher at all, or...
b) No artistic control by the publisher

Actually, I prefer definition B, since having a publisher can also mean the developer doesn't have to worry about funding and can concentrate on the game's development. It al comes down to the developer - publisher relation. I think Flower and Journey are good examples of artistic freedom 'despite' having a publisher.

Robert Boyd
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Although Borderlands 2 got a big cheer from the crowd, I'd say the bigger coup by far was getting Minecraft for the Vita & PS4 (Minecraft Vita wasn't mention at the conference but Notch later confirmed it). Not only does that rob Microsoft of one of its biggest console exclusives, but it means that if you want the best portable version of Minecraft, you need to buy a Vita.

Christian Nutt
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Yeah. I do wonder what happened there. Interesting, eh?

Bob Johnson
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I still think Minecraft should be on Wii U. It really fits in well with the age of Nintendo's typical customer in my mind. And the Gamepad seems made for it. Plus graphics obviously aren't a concern for the Minecraft player. And the game is fairly family friendly.

Obviously sales of the Wii U now are a rather large obstacle to this happening on Mojang's part alone. But if the sales turn around this xmas then they should do it. Nintendo should make it happen. Actually they should have already made it happen.

On the other hand ...this game has sold a ton already. And can be played on most any pc. Is it really going to be a next-gen selling point?

Dane MacMahon
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I didn't think it would be a console selling point, but it certainly ended up being one. Never underestimate how many people simply refuse to mess with PC stuff. I bet the PS and Xbox versions of Minecraft continue to sell extremely well.

Dave Long
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@ Dane - and then there's the people that don't mind PC if they have to use it (I can't get Civ, EU and other strategy titles anywhere else) but still find it's bugginess and unreliability, not to mention it's "extra work to get things to work" overhead on the nose. I game on PC if I have no other choice - but I've waited for a Minecraft announcement on console/Vita to get it (as I waited on Terraria, Thomas Was Alone, Hotline Miami and many others) - I know it was on 360, and even have one, but it was clear by the time I had a 360 it'd make it's way to Playstation, and I find a lot of MS' approach to business 'on the nose' (the four confirmations that I really, really don't want gold before I can even use the system was not the first impression I was looking for), so happily waited it out. Reckon I'll grab it on PSV, looks like a good game for a portable.

Kyle Redd
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Actually I think the best portable version would be the Android version played on an nVidia Shield, assuming Mojang implements support for the control pad sometime soon.

Edit: This was supposed to be a reply to Mr. Boyd

Maria Jayne
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You know there was a shocking difference about EA's approach to their conference and Sony's. I'm aware EA just wants to market their games and Sony has the luxury of cherry picking and marketing whatever their best platform games may be, but...

The Sony presentation came across as business like, honest and lacking bullshit. A direct contrast to EA's attempt, which had pre-scripted "fake match" play and truly cringe worthy "Murica" presenters. I'll be very interested to see how Microsoft attempts to present itself to the European crowd.

Thomas Happ
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I'm encouraged by the recent indie love shown by each of the Big 3, though I keep wondering - how long will this last? Are we the future? Or just passing fad?

Bob Johnson
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I'm sure it is here to stay. How much support you get in the future depends on how much money you make Sony etc.

Robert Green
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My working theory, as shown with the Vita, is that the recent indie love has as much to do with the quantity of games they can get on their system as it is to do with the quality. The console makers know exactly how many of the non-AAA developers have dropped out of the console market completely in the last decade. They, especially Sony and MS, also know how much it'll cost to make the AAA games they'd usually focus on at these events. So if they're smart, they know there will be plenty of weeks that there is no retail game to highlight, so they want something to fill in the gaps.
When you think about it, it's kind of the opposite problem that apple and google have - not enough games rather than too many.

B Reg
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I believe indies will last because it's a demand of the consumers. In contrast to the 3D hype which was clearly enforced to us by the producers hoping to create a new huge market. Didn't happen and now 3D is no issue anymore. Push versus pull strategy.

Christian Nutt
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On reflection, while I think the emphasis on this talent is genuine (Sony's not faking enthusiasm) it also helps cover up a relatively weak launch lineup for PS4. PS4 has a lot of goodwill due to MS' screwups, and because Sony is pushing a consumer-focused message (and reality, in many ways) but in the end if you compare the two consoles, there are fewer exclusives ready to go on PS4. Spending so much time bigging up indies takes the spotlight off this issue.

kevin wright
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I'd say it will stay as long as they need it to make $. That's all they ever care about in the end. I suspect things will tighten if saturation goals are met/exceeded.

Jonathan Murphy
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I predicted 3-4 million units sold for the Wii U for the first year. It's currently at 3.61 million. I'll factor in fan devotion, advertising against the economy... PS4 5-6 million year one, Xbone 2.4 million year one. I'd like to be horribly wrong and see higher numbers. But those price points worry me a lot.

Nooh Ha
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"PlayStation is back"?
Did it ever go away?

Maurício Gomes
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I think it refers to the spirit of PlayStation 1 and 2... That had a wide range of genres and were more developer friendly.

PS3 was kinda sad, it was the sort of stuff that Sega used to do late on their life as hardware manufacturers.

Scott Lavigne
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Yes, and they obviously agree.

kevin wright
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"While others have shifted their message and changed their story, we were consistent in maintaining policies..."

Um..., it wasn't that long ago when Sony pulled pretty much the same crap Msft did during the launch of PS3 and lost all the loyalty/developer equity they fostered over the years- did House forget that?!? And yes, Msft now has a moment in history they wish they could undo, Here is the big difference- it took Sony YEARS to undo the damage. Msft may actually pull it off in months.

Comments like this are grandstanding, and make it seem that Sony has only changed on the surface (after all this was directly from SCE president). And if they've learned from their mistakes as claimed, I say act like it (i.e., get a spokesperson that represents that philosophy, instead of a not owning Sony's own history, much less the industry's). I'm all for competitive banter- but, sorry House, your dig was not honest.

All the BS above and aside, the incubator program they have created (Sony Pub Fund) is a step in the right direction. It has some great incentives for those it selects, but the funding is limited (20 mil) and there is no self publishing intent expressed. Unfortunately it will need to change dramatically if they want it to be as far reaching as many other options for indies out there like Kickstarter, Ouya, Google and even Msft's ID@xBox

Jarod Smiley
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I thought the jab was light in tone and honest IMO. It was the closer to PR speech, and well true. Sony's PR message and story hasn't changed a bit, while MS has been turning everything around dramatically. They shouldn't get a "thumbs up" just because they noticed there competition leading and decided to change up there policies, and I don't knock Sony for calling them out for it, especially when trying to sell there own product.

And Cerny has interviewed and given speeches on Sony's position and internal thought process for PS3. How they wanted to compete with 3rd parties in pushing the PS3 instead of welcoming the community like with PS1. Sony's philosophy was embedded in there hardware, and thus took a long time to turn around. But they have absolutely given value back to consumers over the course of PS3's life, and there WWS churns out great experiences.

Still have a ways to go, but the new Sony seems to be focused, and I don't think the change is surface deep at all, Cerny seems passionate enough about PS4 going back to its roots, and Kaz is determined to return the company to profitability and growth. I think we're going to see a very different and nimble Sony in the future.

Dave Bellinger
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Not like it's a great point, but I think Sony's statement still holds true.

PS3 launch was no doubt as disastrous as the X-Box One appeared that it is (or was, at one point) going to be, but I don't really remember many changes and policies or 180s from Sony during that time. Things were bungled, tasks were dropped, and the launch was ultimately horrible, but I don't remember them changing their vision and direction until a significant time after PS3 had been in homes, where they were able to get a reality check.

Again, don't get me wrong, Microsoft is doing the much smarter thing, but I don't think makes Sony's "jab" any less honest, for better or worse.

kevin wright
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Jarod-

you didn't refute my point about Sony's position on OS3 launch. You just solidified it old boy.

Hardware choice or not, the decision was made not by hardware but by Sony. so the dig was a cheap shot PR at best, and therefore NOT honest, and is nothing more than calling the kettle black. the Sony product is good enough to stand on its own merits - and House should know better by now.


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