Sony E3 Press Event Reaction

Most people would agree that last year Sony had the best press conference of E3. While it is too early to hand them that crown this year, their press conference was a definite crowd-pleaser. They knew their audience pretty well, and delivered exactly what would win them acclaim.

The show started with a solid cheer from the crowd as the first movie started playing and the credits came up on screen. At last, we would see more from The Last Guardian. A game that was first announced in 2009, The Last Guardian has been shrouded in mystery since. That shroud was lifted away with a game play demonstration to start the show.

This is the game that fans of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus have been waiting for, and the video delivered exactly what those fans wanted to see. More important, the assurances that the game was still under development were proven true. This type of fan service would be one of several themes for the evening.

The next game shown was a totally new IP from Guerrilla Games, the studio best known for the Killzone series. Horizon: Zero Dawn is set in the vastly distant future. Humans have been reverted to tribes slowly rediscovering technology. Nature has reclaimed much of what humans had built, and now strange creatures made of technology and looking like dinosaurs roam the land. The world is open and the bit shown was of a hunter going to collect supplies from the machine animals when a large predator chases her. The battle that follows showed an interesting variety in the weapons and tactics used to take down the threat. My guess is Horizon won’t be out until Q4 2016, but is certainly a title I will be keeping my eye on.

Sony has figured out that it is critically important to focus on the things the audience is most interested in: games. Specifically, new games we did not know about, or at the least new information about those we did. This was the case with the new Hitman game that Sony gave a first look of and Street Fighter V for which they introduced new characters.

However, by focusing so heavily on the new, you get a major distinction between the Microsoft and the Sony press conferences. Microsoft focused almost exclusively on their line-up through Q1 2016. The games they showed would be in consumer hands soon. While the Sony presser had its share of those- Batman: Arkham Knight, Star Wars Battlefront, and Call of Duty: Black Ops III chief among them- many of the games shown did not even suggest a release date. Sony’s strong present market condition gives them the luxury of focusing more long term. That, in turn, allows them to show more new IPs and focus on those fan service moments used to strengthen brand loyalty.

The presentation team put a heavy emphasis on showcasing games that were “better” on PS4 as the PS4 version would have some tangible benefit. Map packs, exclusive missions, exclusive betas, timed exclusivity, almost every game presented had some kind of benefit for playing it on PS4. This was particularly noticeable in the Activision Sony partnership. I thought it was odd the Call of Duty did not make an appearance at the Microsoft event. Now it is clear why. On top of PlayStation once again having exclusive content to the new Destiny expansion, The Taken King, the announcements about Call of Duty: Black Ops III with map packs showing up first on PS4.

It was a big night for the JRPG; from the new, intriguing World of Final Fantasy, which has a character size swap mechanic, to the two most cheered announcements of the press event. First, that Final Fantasy VII is getting a remake that will arrive on PS4 first. The crowd lost it at this point; this is a game that many gamers spent countless hours playing and shaped their gaming identity. Second, the odd announcement on the PlayStation stage about a new Kickstarter campaign for Shenmue III. People have wanted this game for thirteen years.

The Shenmue III announcement epitomizes both this idea of fan service and looking to the future. This is a game that the fans have been craving, but is hard for a studio to justify funding. Clearly Sony likes it, but not enough to fully fund it. However, they know they want it on their platform so they give it a prominent spot in their presser (and probably some technical and other marketing support, but that is speculation). It worked really well. As of this writing, less than 12 hours since the launch of the Kickstarter campaign, it has already broken its goal of two million dollars. That two million has been raised by approximately 27,000 backers- which kind of proves Sony’s point. That is not enough copies sold to justify a development budget, but the fans that want this are willing to pay more than $60. Four backers have paid $10,000 for this game. Approximately seven thousand others have paid $100 or more. Still, development is a world away. The campaign has December 2017 as a projected delivery date.

The game that personally has me most intrigued was back this year after the announcement of it at last year’s E3: No Man’s Sky. This game simply looks bonkers. An entire procedurally generated universe to explore however you want to. It is too big to really comprehend, and that is what is so exciting. The graphics look much better this year. However, we still have not seen a lot of player interaction Even so, this game looks to be special.

The other title that was a bit nebulous was the new game from Media Molecule. I do not know how to describe Dreams. I don’t get it yet. It is a collaborative tool of creation, that much I get. I’m not sure I understand much more about it. Here, just look for yourself:

Indies got a lot less attention this year than last. Devolver Digital, makers of Hotline Miami, got the spotlight showcasing four new games that will be on PlayStation platforms. Firewatch, a title that will make its console debut on PS4, also got the spotlight in the keynote (including a spot in the post show shown at the theater experience). Last year there was a much larger push for indies. My guess is this was largely a time issue.

The Vita got very little love. One sizzle reel, a couple of additional platform announcements, and that is it. It appears the Vita will continue to exist and be a largely ignored part of the PlayStation ecosystem. Project Morpheus, the VR headset, got more stage time even though the reality is the install base of Morpheus (which will cost a lot) will probably never eclipse that of the Vita this generation. Even though Morpheus was shown, not a lot of concrete information was shared. We know Guerrilla Games: Cambridge is developing an arena combat game for it, and that one headset can play with 4 other players on the console, but no real time frame or price point was given.

The only real non-game announcement was the expansion of the PlayStation television content platform Vue. It is expanding to San Francisco and Los Angeles, and they promised that soon users nationwide will have a selection of channels that they can purchase a la carte, including most Discovery and Fox channels. This could be a huge first step in a la carte cable. However, no pricing was discussed.

Star Wars made its appearance in the form of the announcement of the PlayStation exclusive starter bundle for Disney Infinity 3.0 which will include the second Star Wars play set a month before general release as well as a Boba Fett figure. I feel for the spokesman who came out after the crowd was hyped with a picture of the Death Star and the music cue got the crowd excited. The crowd in my theater booed when he started talking about Disney Infinity. After that, we did get footage of a new play mode from Star Wars Battlefront. It was a survival mode in which the two players playing co-op had to survive several waves of enemies.

The show ended with a new game play demo of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. There was a technical issue that forced a restart on the demo, which took a bit away from the impact, but it was still a showing from a studio that knows exactly how to design and execute major action set-pieces.

Overall, the presser was impressive. To me, it struck the right tone of we know we are leading this generation and let us share how we are going to stay ahead. Could it have used a little more focus on things coming out this year? Maybe, but I think the new Activision partnership will carry a lot of water with CoD: Black Ops III. Heck, CoD looked good enough to make me think about returning to the series for the first time in years. They accomplished the harder job of keeping the audience excited for the future. Overall, I give the press event a B+.