June 11, 2013, 6:00 AM —
Yesterday was pre-E3 Monday, the day that the big game companies traditionally hold their press conferences. This year both Microsoft and Sony had a lot to talk about since both companies are launching new hardware this winter.
The two conferences could hardly have been more different. Microsoft's was the first big press conference of the day and Sony's was the last. In between, both EA and Ubisoft held theirs, plus there was a steady stream of gaming coverage on Spike TV/GameTrailers TV and other sites/sources.
Microsoft's conference felt highly polished, though they did have a couple of rough spots. Still, Microsoft's presenters tend to be very slick, very corporate. Microsoft got all the Xbox One's "extra" content out in the open at the reveal a few weeks ago so yesterday morning was all about the games.
The presser started with a brief segment about the Xbox 360 which included the announcement of a new Xbox 360 SKU that seems changed only cosmetically (it launched today for $299); the news that World of Tanks, a free-to-play multiplayer game, was coming to Xbox 360; and the announcement that Xbox Live Gold 360 members would start getting some free games this summer. With the old console out of the way, they dove into Xbox One and never looked back. Microsoft played to its traditional strengths with a heavy emphasis on military shooters. There was a lot of green and brown on screen for a good section of the conference.
Microsoft also announced a partnership with gaming video site Twitch.TV; you can share captured game video clips to Twitch or even livestream from you Xbox One. Microsoft also put a lot of emphasis on Smart Glass, their system of integrating your tablet or smart phone into the Xbox ecosystem.
Microsoft's big finish was TitanFall, the new game from Respawn Entertainment, the studio made up of former Infinity Ward guys, among others. I have to say it made an impression; if you like MP shooters and giant robot exoskeletons, TitanFall should make you smile. It'll be out on Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC, but not on PS4.
All in all I thought it was a decent showing, as long as you're interested in shooters. There were a few quick nods to Indie games but very little that could be construed as family friendly.
The conference ended with a price announcement: $499 US, €499 or £429.
Fast forward a bunch of hours. Sony was late getting their press conference started. Jack Tretton opened the show, and he always strikes me as very human. He started by thanking the audience for being there and some other warm and friendly talk that always feels much more casual than Microsoft's offering.
Sony spent a lot more time on the Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita than MS did on the Xbox 360, though no new hardware or price cuts were announced. The PS3 in particular has a strong lineup this year so I guess they felt they had something to crow about.
We then got an odd and vague announcement about Sony Pictures content that will be exclusive to PS3, PS4 and Vita, and a brief stint on streaming apps like Netflix and Amazon Video On Demand. Attentions started to drift, at least from what I could see on the social media.
Finally they got back to the games, where several of the demonstrations suffered through brief freeze-ups and one, for Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, had to be aborted completely. Sony spent a lot more time on Indie developers and overall showed a much wider variety of gameplay styles. One big surprise to me was that Bethesda's Elder Scrolls Online was coming to the Playstation 4.
However, they hid one bit of bad news. In talking about their Playstation Plus service they said it would translate to the PS4 (and in fact you'll get your first free game, a version of DriveClub, when the system launches) and offer all kinds of other perks, but it wouldn't be required to access any of the streaming services or play single player games. So it sounds like they 'announced by omission' the fact that Playstation Plus will be required in order to play multiplayer games. Between this and MS adding free games to Xbox Live, the two services are quite similar now.
And then the other bomb dropped. The price of the Playstation 4 at launch will be $399, €399 or £349. Now it's worth noting that the Playstation 4 doesn't ship with the Playstation Eye camera accessory, while the Xbox One does ship with (and in fact requires) Kinect. That probably accounts for most of the cost difference, but the court of social network opinion seems to have determined that people prefer to have the choice to skip the peripheral and save $100.
Sony's big finish was Bungie's Destiny which definitely has something of a Halo vibe. Maybe Halo mixed with Borderlands. It looked pretty darned fun and I'm looking forward to playing it, but it's worth noting that Destiny is not a Playstation exclusive.
It's late when I'm writing this and a lot of folks have signed off for the night, but the immediate reaction I saw on Twitter and G+ is that people were a lot more pleased with what Sony had to say today. That could change over the next few days as more and more info trickles out.
Personally I pre-ordered both consoles from Amazon, just in case. My suspicion right now is that I'll wind up canceling the Xbox One order if nothing radical changes between now and November. I like the Xbox One but I want to see a more varied library of games (and maybe a price drop) before I pick one up. I was really happy with what I saw of the Playstation 4 and that'll definitely be a day 1 purchase for me.
One last note. I mentioned that Microsoft talked a lot about Smart Glass, but in general it seems like a lot of multiplayer games are incorporating some kind of tablet play, wherein a player can drop in and aid their friends before going back to reading twitter or playing Dots or whatever. It'll be interesting to see how much use these systems get.
If you've been keeping up on these consoles, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Are either of them enticing enough to get you to pre-order or are you going to wait and see how things shake out. Please leave a comment!
Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.