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Opinion: Sony's E3 showing a spiritual victory for PlayStation

Opinion: Sony's E3 showing a spiritual victory for PlayStation

June 11, 2013 | By Leigh Alexander

June 11, 2013 | By Leigh Alexander
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing, E3

Sony galvanized industry-watchers with an E3 presentation that seemed to offer disillusioned consumers exactly the message they wanted to hear from the console business: A permissive policy to used games, no obligation to constant online connectivity, a long list of exciting new games, an indie-friendly ecosystem that invites devs to self-publish, and a $399 price point -- $100 less than the Xbox One's.

The stray details -- the fact that a PlayStation Plus subscription will probably be required for online play, or the suggestion that the $399 model will be "restrictively basic" -- seem less interesting to excitable consumers and video game fans in light of what's perceived to be a spiritual victory. Alongside the seemingly rushed, arguably anti-consumer brand proposition of the Xbox One, Sony's willingness to engage audience wishes and show a markedly more diverse array of games brought sentiment rushing to its side.

Rather than lingering insistently over intiatives that haven't garnered audience interest, the company knew what it had to do -- it spent little time on the Vita, except to promise greater integration for the device with the PS4. And while it touted the multimedia content offering of its Sony Pictures division, it spent little time on the repetition of "TV and movies," bemoaned by fans who zone out over words like "Redbox" and "Flixter," impatient to see new and exciting games. The company once criticized for a nearly-fatal arrogance over the last generation evinced the eager humility of a content offering -- without sacrificing a shrewd awareness of consumer expectations. That last crucial bit is rather new for Sony.

Sony also made an effort to demonstrate its commitment to courting indies across its hardware platforms goes beyond rhetoric, with a list of respected developers on offer and the important promise of a self-publishing ecosystem. But it had a refreshing palette of bigger games, too: The company's Shuhei Yoshida said that of the 20 PlayStation 4 exclusives available in the system's first year, a third of them would be brand-new IP.

The revelation of Final Fantasy XV was an appropriate hark-back to the era when the latest in Final Fantasy was a cornerstone of the PlayStation proposition, while The Order 1886 looks like it's shaping up to be... a King Arthur-themed steampunk werewolf shooter set in London? Quantic Dream's sorcerous tech demo gained some goodwill, and a lengthy Watch Dogs demo sowed cautious optimism that there may yet be plenty of untreaded ground in triple-A, or at least more to hope for than a predictable brand stable washed in lurid, Mountain Dew green.

It's interesting that a commitment to the games industry and to players should feel "new"; it takes a presentation like Sony's to remember, like waking from an ill daze, that devotion to sequels and a vague, dated concept of the core market is not all there is to the game industry. It's true an E3 presentation is about ideas and inspiration and ought not to be taken as stone-carved trajectory nor as promises of product -- but ideas and inspiration were pretty much exactly what industry-watchers were hoping to see today, the shot in the arm the ailing spirit of the commercial industry needed.

The Sony of 2013 was, for perhaps the first time in over a generation, reminiscent of the company that forged the PlayStation brand and created a long, resilient life (and massive software library) for the PS2. The company's made missteps since then, at times seeming to have lost the console war to Microsoft and Nintendo entirely. Now, though, the company's clearly back in fighting form, with content that excites the core without devolving into a numb proliferation of weaponry.

At the beginning of the last gen, industry watchers startled as Sony insisted, tone-deaf, on an arrogant brand proposition for the living room that involved an expensive Blu-ray drive, lists of media services and everything but a diverse palette of brand-new video games. Meanwhile Microsoft, with its much more affordable, gamer-friendly console, ate up the giant's marketshare.

The tables have been turned these days: While conquering a theoretical entertainment center and pushing Kinect, Microsoft has disillusioned its fanbase. Meanwhile, Sony's about to launch a consumer- and developer-friendly machine that is for playing video games.

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