Monday, June 10, 2013

Did Sony Just Win the Game?

      I'm a Microsoft fan. I own an extensive library of games and have been enamored with the service since the original Xbox days. I own multiple consoles though, so I do not simply sleep in one camp, I just visit it more often. This year's E3 had very few surprises for us. The few that were announced, did they make their mark on tomorrow? Or is it simply more fluff and business speak? Let's find out...

      Microsoft started out hard with "Metal Gear Solid 5" as their opener. I then watched all of the press conferences. Xbox detailed primarily that it was focused on gaming with future hits such as "Killer Instinct,"" Halo 5,"" Spark," and more. EA showed that it's continued dedication to its sports communities and Battlefield players has not faltered, with a very honorable nod to "Mirror's Edge" with a sequel. Ubisoft showed once again it is more focused on the full experience, showing that they hoped to be present on every major system and showcased their ever evolving use of UI in video games, as well as attempt to capture your children's living room. Sony was the dark horse. Sony has kept its details for it's sleeping giant shrouded in secrecy. All that has been known is that Sony would have its usual cavalcade of first party games and was aiming at the Indie scene. Through the course of Sony's event, little was said to convince the community that Sony was the company to beat. Expected were PS3's "Rain," "Beyond: Two Souls,""Gran Turismo 6"; Vita's "TearAway," "Killzone: Mercenary"; PS4's already known list of titles. Yes, there were some interesting titles, but merely in equal footing with their first party and third party competition. No, the real punches came at the end.

      Sony announced that there were no restrictions on your disc based games. The PS4 would operate in all regard as it does with the current generation of DRM. This is to mean that you can do everything Xbox One does not let you. You can trade games. You can lend your games out. You can resell your titles. There are no possible or real hold ups on this. This information came as quite a blow as many in the audience gave an uproar of vocal praise. A wave of excitement hit not only the Sony Press Conference, but the internets as well. And Sony wasn't quite done dispensing its gifts.

      Sony then announced that the console would retail for $399.99 in the U.S. This information was met with even more applause, as the Xbox One had announced earlier that day for 100 dollars more, $499.99. While Xbox One proponents might point out that the PS4 does not come with many of the integrated systems that Microsoft has included (Kinect One, full user experience integration, family sharing systems), it is hard to deny that Sony's message boasted much louder: "We are for gamers. We are cheaper." Sony ensured it did not mix up its message with Microsoft's by constantly using the word "gamer," and never the words "TV or Television." This was not accidental.

      Now it is true that this is the between the lines that is often missed by the public as a whole. Both consoles are absolutely about gaming. Microsoft is in no way attempting to claim that games take a back seat. The inclusion of titles such as "Spark" or even "Killer Instinct" should make this clear to anyone who has been paying attention the last decade. What Sony has done here is deliver its message in a way that took into account the missteps of Microsoft. Not focusing on the "look" of the console (which definitely will feel more dated in time than the Xbox One) but rather with the notion that the gaming public still believes "gamers" are treated as the minority. Adding to this was the message that Sony delivered to the Indie population. Once again, not something the average gamer will care about but it is something the average games mediators will report on. Including these different parties on stage was a great message, considering that most were at some point in bed with Microsoft. "Bastion" first appeared on Xbox. Lorne Lanning had deals with Microsoft for some of its "Oddworld Inhabitants" games after Sony birthed them. Sony then added more fuel to the fire by showing these games would even be given away as part of PS+ packages. To those who aren't informed, this gives a decent amount of money (undisclosed amount however) back to the developers of those Indie titles. Overall, Sony's message was loud and clear. "Check and Mate."

      Microsoft isn't necessarily finished. It can potentially reverse the "publisher" lock down that has irritated so many people. What is unknown in this however is if the 24 hour lock down, something I take VERY seriously, is able to be reversed. Considering that games like "Forza 5" mentioned using the cloud to create your Drivatar and that the AI was essentially other Drivatars, what happens if they magically removed the always on feature? There would be no offline mode for that game and essentially you own a useless title. Consider an online Dreamcast game at present. Fun to play back in the day but you can never go home again. Ok, maybe that analogy only works for me... but you're smart and you can get the gist. Microsoft would have to come up with a method that this system isn't hardwired into the system and is perhaps upgradable via a system software. We often forget as gamers that Microsoft's bread and butter is it's ever changing user experience.

          That knowledge brings us to what we haven't quite seen (publicly), the Sony UX (User Experience). Do we know if it will be stale? Completely redesigned or a throwback to the now nearly 10 year old XMB? Considering that the Playstation 3 has had 0 upgrades to how users navigate through its console in constrast to Xbox's minimum of 4 major upgrades, you can see that Sony still has some shoes to fill. If there is one thing Xbox still has up its sleeves is that it has always listened to gamers. This year, that message got mixed up with other entities getting a fair share, for certain, but gamers have always been on the checklist. Hopefully they did not put themselves in a hole when they thought things like 24 hour DRM and physical content lockdown were a good idea when trying to solve industry issues.

      There is still a considerable amount of time before these consoles launch sometime in November. While Sony has a drastic lead, maybe Microsoft can turn it around. I know I won't be holding my breath, but I am most certainly curious to see how they react to this news. I hope it's something more substantial than trying to convince the gaming public that the contents of Xbox One are "worth every penny." They don't want to come off sounding like Sony 2006. They need to sound like Sony 2013.

     Maybe someone can send me a magical check for a grand so I can have one hell of a Christmas. Santa just doesn't respond to my letters anymore. -Adam

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