It only happens every few years -- when the planets align and the secret cabal of developers, publishers, manufacturers, and retailers convening in ancient, forgotten depths to speak to life a new generation of console gaming. We all knew this day was coming, as Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony riled up the throbbing mob of gamers to draw lines in the sand and choose or perish. We learned tons of new and interesting stuff about the Xbox One and PS4 and got to see a bit of the big three's gaming line-up for the upcoming months. That said, there were plenty surprises, disappointments, and confusion about where exactly are these console makers going.
But that doesn't really matter because if the mass of gamers are anything, they're passionately blind about their fangirl/boy-ism for which ever corporation they feel speaks to them on an intimate level. Naming a winner of E3 can have massive blowback if the company declared "victor" can't deliver but -- for now -- there's definitely one black box that everyone has their eye on.
The officially, unofficial winner of E3 is Sony.
The looming threat of DRM for sharing and reselling used game weighed heavily in the air this E3. After Microsoft confirmed a few weeks ago that you'll need an online check every 24 hours, it seems that the leash has been pulled tighter in hopes of curbing pirating and creating an insular market that limits user's resalability. Given the massive online blowback, this decision obviously has not gone over well with the gaming public. As the days drew closer, gamers fretted over how Sony would answer. Many claimed that Sony would be their Golden God -- delivering them from the evil DRM of the Xbox One -- while others seemed cautious about the hype, expecting Sony to follow suit.
Worse for Microsoft, few questions about the particular ins and outs of how the always one DRM would work were answered Monday morning at their E3 presentation. Instead, they chose to focus on the games, and honestly, it was a fairly solid presentation for the games they showed. "Titanfall" and "Quantum Break" looked absolutely gorgeous and seemed to hit many of the points that MS wanted to deliver -- intense, unique, and fun gameplay secured as exclusives. Additionally, there was a brief glimpse of "Halo" -- which could be anything but probably ties into Spielberg’s project and that Windows 8 game. But despite the bombastic trailers and demos, they were silent about anything on the benefits of emptying their wallets for a new Xbox that didn't seem like a punishment to honest customers.
MS's disconnect can be summed up with a brief interview after their E3 presentation. Speaking with Gametrailers, the President of the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft, Don Mattrick seemed to snuff at the notion of offline. When asked by Geoff Keighley about gamers who can't or won't connect to the internet Mattrick says, "Fortunately, we have a product for people who aren't able to get some form of connectivity. It's called Xbox 360." Yikes!
Here is where Sony decided to strike. Almost from the get-go, their presentation calmed all the fears that MS started. Sony proudly claimed that there is no harsh DRM, online checks, and they just wanted a strong focus on games. Confirming no restrictive DRM and the ability to buy, sell, and trade used games was so well received, that the tough pill of paid online access was swallowed without incident. They even got a bit snarky with that famous "How To Share Games" video that I'm sure was simply created to kick sand in the eyes of Microsoft. Yes, you have to have a "PSN Pass" -- just like XBL -- but this would be PSN+ with all the benefits inherited, such as a suite of free monthly games. I would theorize that we want see the most popular games, now that it's required, but if the past is any indication you'll have a great backlog of fantastic smaller titles and plenty of future discounts.
The only disappointment -- if you can really say that -- was the game demos. We saw some of the upcoming titles revealed back in February, so their impact wouldn't be felt as much at E3. "Killzone: Shadow Falls" and "Knack" we debuted previously with only a few moments of new gameplay. "Beyond: Two Souls" -- Quantum Dreams' weird psychic soldier tale starring Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe certainly was more fleshed out. We also saw "Infamous: Second Son" and "The Order: 1886" but nothing really all that drool-worthy. Bungie's "Destiny" seemed to really blow away the audience but it's not an exclusive.
What's more interesting is Sony's continuing vision of fostering Indie Devs. By freely opening the floodgates and granting small devs and publishers access to PSN's system, we bound to see a plethora of amazing bite-sized titles. With "Journey" killing it last year and topping many best of 2012 lists, Sony is positioning itself as the go-to place for break out indie titles on consoles. "Transistor", "Outlast", "Don't Starve", and "Ray's the Dead" are all announced for Sony's system and many more are being promised. Ironically, it seems that small team, indie titles, missing triple A budgets are what will tip the scale for many gamers.
The final twist of the knife was the announcement of the price. Retailing a full 100 bucks cheaper than Xbox One, the PS4 can be yours for only a paltry $399. That's a huge deal come holiday time and little Timmy and Sarah just "got to have" the newest game machine.
But did Sony "win" E3 simply because they're just doing what gamers have been used to over the last 7 years? In many ways, yes. By delivering a system that only improves hardware and online services, while shunning backwards DRM that seems to screw over customers, they threw MS for a loop quickly turning the table on their old rival. MS banked on a connected future -- but a connectivity that they would control. Sony, instead, gauged the market, kept their horse on track, and relieved gamers' fears over their rights as consumers. They won with a lateral move as MS and, to a degree, Nintendo failed to deliver a solid and innovative future.
Last generation was owned by Microsoft, but it seems 2013 is finally the year of Sony.