E3 2013 / Games

Sony at E3 2013: I’m Sold

As I continue my coverage of this year’s E3 event, I move onto the Sony press conference. As the second of the night’s two biggest conferences, and with a lot riding on their back after the backlash against Microsoft’s draconian restrictions on the Xbox One, the weight was very much piled high upon their shoulders. It’s fortunate, then, that they weren’t crippled by that but instead, rose tall to give their strongest E3 for years, and easily demonstrated how much more attractive setting up home with them will be next-gen.

The Order: 1866

First up, we have one of the new IPs Sony announced during the conference: The Order: 1866, developed by Ready at Dawn Studios and exclusive to the Playstation 4.

From watching the trailer they unveiled, I’ll say that it looked promising. It has a unique, if strange, blend of modern and old, with technology familiar to this time period being available for use in Victorian-Era London. It was hard to get a true read on the game, however, as the trailer didn’t really show anything besides a basic introduction as what the game would be. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on it, but I hope it won’t be just another FPS to throw onto the already gargantuan pile.

More games

If I’m being completely honest, the exclusive games that Sony unveiled during their press conference weren’t really as interesting as I would’ve hoped. Don’t get me wrong, there were some stellar, exciting titles that they announced or spoke at length about–The Dark Sorcerer, inFamous: Second Son, Kingdom Hearts 3, Destiny (it’s not exclusive, but it was one of the stronger demonstrations) etc.–but compared to the line-up that Microsoft detailed in their conference, it was a little pale. That being said, I do generally find some of the Playstation-exclusive franchises, such as Uncharted, to be stronger than anything the Xbox has to offer, but they weren’t present at this year’s E3, unfortunately. But I’m holding out hope that there will be several titles in development behind the scenes that just weren’t ready to be talked about at this stage.

sonye3-image-03Nevertheless, Sony did talk about some of the titles that will be launching with the system later this year, specifically Killzone: Shadowfall, Knack, and DriveClub. In regards to the first, it’s Killzone, so I think we should probably know what to expect by now. As for Knack, I’m not fully aware of what the game will actually be, so I can’t really give comment–and for DriveClub, it has already been announced to be given away for free to Playstation Plus subscribers , and it looks interesting to boot. Honestly, as launch titles, I think that they leave a lot to be desired, and I’m probably going to be looking towards third-party titles upon my purchase of the system.

Elsewhere in the conference, one of the biggest titles Sony had to show off was Bungie’s Destiny. While the debut gameplay demonstration they displayed was fairly slow and played by somebody with no sense of precision in regards to their aim, the game itself showed a LOT of promise. Dropping in and out of games seemed to be a completely seamless process and with no noticeable interruptions, and it felt like a strong blend of Borderlands with slight tinges of Halo to remind me that this is being made by the same guys behind the franchise. Still, I was already enthusiastic about the game but now it’s leaped higher on my ‘must have now’ list.

There were some other announcements concerning other games during the event, such as Elder Scrolls Online hitting the system in 2014 and an exclusive Grand Theft Auto 5 PS3 bundle arriving in September, but there wasn’t as big of a focus on video games on Sony’s part as there was from Microsoft. A lot of concentration was honed in on capitalising on the backlash against Microsoft, which I’ll get to shortly, and using it to work in their favour–and it worked. It really worked. But they did try to sneak something by…

Playstation Plus now required for online play

sonye3-image-04

Yep, it finally happened. After an entire generation of having free online multiplayer across the system, Sony have confirmed that with the Playstation 4, players will be required to subscribe to the PS+ service in order to play any title online. Think of it as a system-wide online pass. It was inevitable that this would happen when you really think about it, but is it really that big of a problem? No, it is not.

I’ve seen many people complaining about PS+ being a necessity since it was confirmed, but drawing comparisons between this and Xbox Live is unfair. For example, while Xbox Live hides services you already pay for behind a paywall (such as Netflix), PS+ on the PS4 will be solely for playing titles online. Even with a subscription, you’ll still be able to watch on-demand services and play games offline, and after being frustrated with how this works on the Xbox 360 for such a long time, I am infinitely glad that Sony won’t be doing the same thing.

Also, let’s not forget here that Playstation Plus has significantly more value for your money than Xbox Live. For a small monthly fee, you get early access to betas, offers on marketplace content that nobody else will get, and the biggest draw of all–free games every month to play to your heart’s content. (Sony has already announced that DriveClub will be given to PS+ members for free in the first year.) And we’re not talking half-a-decade-old games, either. (I’m looking at you, Microsoft.) Granted, you lose access to all this the instant your membership expires, but to be honest, anybody that subscribes would be unlikely to let that happen anyway with such benefits to be reaped. The service is widely regarded as being extremely good value for money, and it’s because of this that I have no qualms at all about it being required for the Playstation 4.

Sony also confirmed that PS+ subscriptions from the PS3 will carry over and be universal across multiple devices (including the Vita), so current subscribers won’t have to worry about that come launch day.

Strong indie support for the PS4

On top of the bigger titles, Sony also announced their intentions to form a strong relationship with Indie developers with the Playstation 4. With many titles already confirmed to be hitting the system from a wide variety of different developers–you can find a list here–it’s evident that for an Indie developer, the PS4 will be the go-to destination next-gen. Combined with the promise of allowing self-publishing, the Indie scene on the PS4 is sure to be vast and varied, and that’s a good thing considering the sheer amount of creativity that can sometimes emerge that fits in nicely amongst the often repetitive triple-A titles from bigger developers.

No pre-owned restrictions; no online check-ins

Yes, against popular belief, Sony announced–to raucous applause–that the Playstation 4 would have no restrictions against trading/selling/lending games bought at retail, and would be DRM-free. Also, there will be no checks for an internet connection every twenty-four hours like on the Xbox One, which, as you may have already guessed, went down just as well with the E3 audience.

Obviously, the decision to not opt for the same draconian measures that Microsoft have employed with the Xbox One is worth applauding, though it is sad that we’ve come to a point where we’re cheering a company on for doing what should have been done in the first place. Microsoft’s utter failures in these areas were the perfect opportunity for Sony to use to their advantage in order to win the PR war, and the look on Jack Tretton’s face as he’s announcing their plans says all that needs to be said about their success.

Speaking of Jack Tretton, since Sony’s E3 conference, there was a bit of controversy that stemmed from Tretton making comments to GTTV that indicated a similar stance to third-party DRM as Microsoft have employed. It has since been clarified, however, that the situation regarding third-party DRM is pretty much exactly how it is right now with the PS3 and the Xbox 360: third-party publishers can implement features like online passes on their titles, or they can choose not to, but trading and selling discs is unequivocally allowed. And unlike Microsoft, Sony acted quickly to answer a question that had arisen in a clear and concise way, once again winning out over their competitors.

sonye3-image-01As much as I welcome Sony’s approach to DRM with the PS4, I find it difficult to believe that this was always their plan for pre-owned games. It’s more likely that they always intended on employing similar measures as Microsoft but rescinded those plans once they witnessed the uproar that was generated towards their competitors. I’m perhaps being cynical and distrusting, but there you go.

Sony also decided to stick the boot into Microsoft one step further by releasing a thirtysecond video that basically pointed, laughed and dismissed the Xbox One’s restrictions on doing anything with a game disc beyond having it sit on a shelf. Their ability at using the frustration towards the Xbox One to their own gain was masterful, but in all honesty, Microsoft only allowed themselves to be mocked so easily with how they’ve gone about doing things in all the wrong ways in recent weeks.

The price

And we come towards the end of this post with the confirmation that the Playstation 4 will be launching in the Christmas period later this year, with a price tag of $399/€399/£349.

sonye3-image-02It doesn’t require a degree in economics to deduce that the price of both systems is going to be a heavy determining factor in which console people are going to opt for. It’ll be even more of an importance considering they’re both launching towards the Christmas period, and wallets will be thinned and perhaps less capable of being emptied to the tune of £429 for an Xbox One. Sony have a major advantage in that the Playstation 4 has less restrictions, an arguably stronger design, a more confident approach, and all for a significantly lower price. (Seriously, who expected Sony to be the one with a cheaper console? Anyone?) It’s certainly a more competitive price than what Microsoft are offering, and I’d be surprised if it didn’t prove to be a major factor in how the two consoles fare against each other later this year.

Overall thoughts

In summary, I think that Sony had a very strong E3 this year. It’s arguable that their game line-up wasn’t as strong as Microsoft’s, but their approach to the Playstation 4–and to the consumers–was more confident and less questionable. At this stage, the PS4 is looking to be a massively more attractive investment than the Xbox One, and Sony did their best to sell me towards their brand and succeeded in their efforts. I was a Playstation gamer last gen, and I was firmly on Microsoft’s side this time around and assumed I would be for the next–but with the oncoming approaching of the next-gen, I will be going back from whence I came.

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