Who would have thought this year's E3 could have been won and lost on the policies of old media? Sony's clear message about digital rights, prices, online connection, reselling and sharing video game content brought the house down at its big PlayStation 4 reveal yesterday. In a day crammed full of new game reveals, it only took a few well-hammered statements from Sony's Jack Tretton - three minutes of bullet points shot at a rival company with a huge target painted on its ass - to become the talking point of this year's event. It's clear to consumers and the media: Sony has been listening to complaints and concerns and it's not going to follow a corporate vision over the interests of consumer taste.
"Three minutes of bullet points shot at a rival company with a huge target painted on its ass"
Microsoft had started the day with a very strong showing too. The streamlined event that just focused on games with quick and clear communication was a success, where the suits stepped back and pushed the developers forward. And the developers for the most part, both first and third party, looked to be enjoying themselves. In demo form, early trailer, concepts or near-complete games, Microsoft's line-up for the first years of the Xbox One is really very strong. New IP and old, it's the dream portfolio for the hardcore gaming audience that won the crowd back from last month's ostracising TV evangelism.
It was doing so well, with genuinely talented developers at its back, the right amount of bombast and none of the celebrity endorsement bollocks that dilutes the gaming message. But then it ripped the sticking plaster off and announced the $499 price and it crashed back to reality. Consoles are always expensive on launch day, the Xbox One will be no different. But even the price isn't what sticks in the craw. Microsoft's flat-out refusal to discuss any of the business decisions behind it's terribly misguided stance on used games, digital rights management and always online connections still remained after a positive 90 minutes. Amplified by clearly being ignored, the elephant in the room is thrashing around, tusks goring the beauty of Quantum Break, Killer Instinct, Sunset Overdrive and Below.
While at times the whooping and hollering of the rent-a-crowd in Sony's conference yesterday felt forced, the reaction to the PlayStation 4's stance on used games, DRM, sharing and online connections was genuine. It's the reaction that E3 moments are made of. The first half of Sony's presentation was slow and meandering, a chunk of the PlayStation 4 portfolio had already been revealed in February, and banging the drum about exclusive DLC snacks for multiformat games is just small fry.
Looking back, Sony's game line-up for the PlayStation 4 doesn't feel as strong although it is more varied than the Xbox One. Sony isn't embarrassed to support families and experimentation alongside it's blockbusters. Phil Harrison's insistence that Microsoft has always loved the independent developers simply didn't sound true, whereas Adam Boyes' love for Octodad, Lorne Lanning, Switchblade Monkeys and chums was genuine.
"Sony won the crowd back and left its biggest rival with a bloody nose for which it can only blame itself. Microsoft honestly looks foolish"
But despite the billions spent on trailers yesterday, the hardwork put in to live demos and the reinvigoration of the video game console market, the real crowd pleaser wasn't one title. It was clear communication that Sony will continue to treat its customers with respect and listen to their concerns. There's still a long way to go and Sony did take away some privileges with one hand (now having to pay for multiplayer gaming on PS4, for example), but Sony won the crowd back and left its biggest rival with a bloody nose for which it can only blame itself. Continuing to blank the bigger questions is just like letting the blood run down on to your new crisp white shirt. Microsoft honestly looks foolish.
And if that wasn't enough, the fact that the PlayStation 4 will launch in the US a whole $100 less than the Xbox One sealed the deal. It's still a lot of money for new hardware but the loyal gamer is used to paying for it and it looks at this point like a much better deal for those looking for their first taste of next generation console gaming.
Microsoft is so focused on the future it's alienated its players over a soulless corporate goal to own the living room. Sony has its eyes on the distance but it understands consumers don't want to give up control of their private space and what they do in it. Sony isn't actually doing anything different when it comes to DRM, second hand sales, sharing and online connections. In many ways the biggest feature of the PlayStation 4 is something that hasn't been tampered with. The PlayStation 4's greatest triumph so far is a distinctly last-gen feature.