Every year for the past few years I've done a recap of E3 (the Electronic Entertainment Expo, running this week) press conferences. This year, once again, I'll be pitting Microsoft against Sony.
Microsoft came first, as it traditionally does. Their conference ran 90 minutes and it felt packed with good stuff. The old days of trotting out celebrities to awkwardly read from a teleprompter are gone (the closest to it was a new Ford GT being lowered from the ceiling and a brief intro from Henry Ford III for Forza 6) and Microsoft is content to let the games speak for themselves.
In terms of games, my biggest takeaway from the MS conference was variety. It wasn't long ago the Xbox was the console for military shooter enthusiasts and that was about it. But yesterday we saw a wide variety of games; some gritty and realistic, other whimsical with bright color palettes. It was hard not to notice there were a lot more female protagonists and secondary characters this year. Even the Gears 4 reveal had one male and one female character. It's nice to see more gender diversity in games.
Aside from the games themselves, Microsoft revealed an Xbox 360 backwards compatibility feature which won't force you to re-purchase your old games. They had a new "Elite" controller coming this Fall (for $150!), an early access program for games they're calling "Xbox One Game Preview" and a really impressive demo of playing Minecraft with HoloLens.
All in all I felt it was a really strong showing.
Sony closed off the day; their event started at 6 PM PT. In some ways that puts them at a disadvantage since we'd already seen some of the multi-system games at the Microsoft, EA or Ubisoft press events that come earlier in the day.
I expected Sony to talk at length about Project Morpheus, their VR visor, but it only got a brief mention. Ditto the Playstation Vita, their handheld gaming system that seems all but forgotten by the company. Playstation Music got a mention for doing well, and Playstation Vue, their streaming TV service, rolled out to two new cities (Los Angeles and San Francisco) last night. They also teased an a la carte channel system coming to Vue in July nationwide, but there are only 3 channels to choose from: Showtime, Machinima and a Fox Soccer channel.
Beyond that it was all about the games, including some that fans have been wanting for quite some time. The problem is that most of the titles mentioned will not be out this year. For the most part Sony's plan to tempt you to their platform in 2015 is via exclusive, or timed-exclusive, add-on content for multi-platform titles. Their other draw was 'exclusive PS4 beta' offerings that come with pre-orders. They were also very proud to be the platform to debut the new Call of Duty game for this year (Call of Duty: Black Ops III); so much so that they ran two demos for it.
But at least they had demos for Call of Duty; whereas Microsoft had a lot of gameplay demos at their press conference, Sony mostly showed canned trailers. Heck one of the 'highlights' of the conference was announcing a Kickstarter campaign to get Shenmue III made. While fans of the old Shenmue games were excited, it's an example of a game that will be out in 2017 or 2018, assuming it makes its goals (likely given the push the press conference gave it).
There're some great looking games coming to the PS4 (in particular I enjoyed the reveal of Horizon: Zero Dawn, video embedded below) but most of them won't be here until 2016 at the earliest.
To me, Microsoft easily 'won' E3 this year. They showed a lot of live gameplay, they had announcements that had immediate calls-to-action (two Xbox One Game Preview titles hit the store, for example) and they had a pretty amazing tech demo with HoloLens. They also didn't push consumer-unfriendly 'exclusives' for cross-platform titles (though those are something Microsoft invented a few years ago).
Anecdotally, a few of my PS4 owning friends were muttering about picking up an Xbox One after the Microsoft conference, but I didn't hear any of my Xbox One friends talking about shifting to PS4 after the Sony event.
So that's my take. I just think Sony is in a bit of a lull this year and that they'll be back in form for next year as more of their second wave of first-party titles get completed and ready to ship. For 2015 Sony is going to have to lean on multi-platform titles to sell its console; fortunately most multi-platform titles run at higher resolutions and/or frame rates than on the Xbox One, so that may be enough to help them keep their lead in the console race.