June 10, 2014, 6:01 AM —
E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, officially starts today, but yesterday was where the real news was. As is tradition, the day before E3 was when the big press conferences happened.
Last year it was widely accepted that Sony "won" E3, and the Playstation 4 has been outselling the Xbox One pretty consistently since the two consoles launched last November. Microsoft needed a strong press conference to win back support this year around. So did Sony win again or did Microsoft pull off an upset? Let's look at how each company did.
When Phil Spencer took over the Xbox division he promised a renewed focus on games. In the past few weeks there's been news about new streaming apps, Xbox Originals, the new Xbox One SKU that comes without connect, and other items that made it seem like maybe Spencer was just placating the audience.
Not so. Microsoft delivered a simple, clean press conference yesterday. Spencer spoke for about 5 minutes at the start and end of the show, and the rest of the 90 minutes was devoted to showing off game after game after game. It was organized well, too. First they talked about games we'll be playing in 2014 (though they stretched that a bit; some of the titles will only be running a beta this year), then they broke to talk briefly about their Indie Game program (ID@Xbox), and then they looked at titles coming out in 2015 or later.
When the Xbox press conference started off with a Call of Duty trailer I thought we were in for more of the same. Xbox has long been known as being a shooter-heavy platform, featuring lots of games with brown and olive green palettes. It didn't take long to disabuse me of that fear; Microsoft featured Dragon Age: Inquisitor, Forza Horizons 2, Rise of a Tomb Raider, a remake of Phantom Dust, Assassin's Creed: Unity, Project Overdrive and a lot of other games, culminating in a technicolor trailer for a new Crackdown game.
I was really impressed with the variety of titles and was super-stoked to be an Xbox One owner by the end of the press conference. What was really odd was that there was no mention of a Gears of War game and Halo was only featured in the Halo: The Master Chief Collection. This title gathers the first four 'main' Halo games (no ODST or Reach) and also includes Halo:Nightfall which is a live action series produced by Ridley Scott, and access to the Halo 5 beta, all for $60. You can't beat that price but I was hoping to see some kind of info on Halo 5. Next year, I guess.
Even though Spencer didn't say a lot, what he did say I thought struck a good tone. Without going into details he acknowledged all the changes the Xbox One has gone through and attributed them to 'listening to the fans.' He wasn't exactly humble, but he wasn't arrogant either, and generally Spencer comes off as pretty arrogant. All in all, I really felt that Microsoft redeemed themselves this year. Nice job.
Sony, on the other hand... First of all, Jack Tretton is no longer with Sony and he was really missed. Tretton is a personable speaker and over the past years when he's hosted these press conferences it's all felt very intimate and friendly. This year Sony's Andrew House was the main speaker but he handed off duties a number of times; the problem is no one really came across as genuine as Tretton always did.
Overall Sony's press conference was a lot more 'traditional.' We were fed stats that we don't care about ("the share button has been pressed 42 bajillion times, woo!") and talk about "Playstation Originals" (a TV show based on the Powers graphic novels, and a Ratchet & Clank movie). We did learn that YouTube integration is coming to the PS4; you'll be able to share your videos directly to YouTube (finally).
And one of my personal wishes came true: Sony announced that Playstation Vita TV is coming to the North America & Europe, rebranded as Playstation TV, this Fall. It'll cost $100 and will support remote streaming from your PS4, the new Playstation Now streaming game service, and of course most Vita games. That $100 doesn't appear to include a controller so if you don't have a spare around you might be interested in the $139 package that includes Playstation TV, a DualShock 3 (leading me to wonder if the DualShock 4 that comes with the PS4 will be supported), an HDMI cable, an 8 GB memory card and a digital copy of the Lego: The Movie game.
But what about the games? Well, there were a lot of them but they all kind of blended together. Sony's presser was really gory. Lots of zombies, blood, disembowelments and death. Little Big Planet 3 was the one truly family-friendly "big" title shown. If you want a game with a color other than charred flesh black or blood red, you're going to be playing LBP3 or some of the upcoming indie titles, at least based on what we saw at the press conference.
There was The Order: 1886 (footage of which featured a ghoul eating a corpse), then Dead Island 2 (zombies), Mortal Kombat X (with lots of fatality demonstrations), Suda51's Let it Die, a new IP called BloodBorne from From Software (the Demons/Dark Souls people) and a trailer for Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain that featured Solid Snake covered in blood and/or human ashes.
Sony talked a LOT about remakes too. The Last of Us, and GTA V are both getting the PS3 to PS4 upgrade. The original Ratchet and Clank is getting re-released on PS4. Classic Tim Schafer adventure Grim Fandango is being re-released on the PS4.
There were some highlights. The show opened with some backstory for Destiny and news that the beta will begin on July 17th on PS3 & PS4, and a 3-day alpha will open this Thursday for some lucky individuals. Far Cry 4 was shown along with the news that on the PS3 & PS4 a friend can join you in online play even if they haven't purchased the game (this feature is exclusive to the Sony platforms). No Man's Sky is a procedurally generated space/planet exploration game from a small indie studio that looks fantastic. Abzu is a game of underwater exploration. We got a good look at Batman: Arkham Knight and the show ended with a brief teaser for Uncharted 4: A Thief's End.
Overall I felt like the Sony press conference was just OK. Oddly they didn't show Drive Club and they mostly shied away from EA and Ubisoft games which had been shown earlier in the day. If my only knowledge of upcoming PS4 games was from the press conference I'd be worried.
So this year I'm giving the win to Microsoft, at least in terms of press conferences. I really liked their focus on a variety of game styles and their complete elimination of marketing stats that no one watching cares about (save those for press releases).
In between Microsoft and Sony were the EA and Ubisoft press conferences and overall I thought they were both pretty good. None of the companies trotted out a 'big name celebrity' to stand there reading awkwardly from a teleprompter and there wasn't a lot of song & dance. For Microsoft, EA and Ubisoft, the focus was squarely on the games. I'm hoping Sony learns from them and follows suit next time around. We don't need the theatrics, Sony. Just the games.
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.