This morning at E3, Microsoft did its best to assuage doubts over the Xbox One’s game-ownership and internet-connection policies by showing a strong and not entirely predictable line-up for next-generation games that put the ball squarely back in Sony’s court. This evening, Sony responded with some cool-looking games of its own
For the first hour or so, it was business as usual. Sony reiterated an enduring commitment to the PS3 with Beyond: Two Souls and The Last of Us before ambling through its next-gen line-up at a leisurely pace, positioning Vita as the ideal companion to the upcoming PlayStation 4. We got to see the box – which, to be honest, I couldn’t get enormously excited about despite the several months of build-up. It was familiar territory: Drive Club, Infamous: Second Son, Killzone, and Knack all made second appearances, alongside two new games: The Order, a steampunk-looking fantasy shooter set in 1800s London, and a new thing from Quantic Dream, The Dark Sorcerer, starring the old man with lovely eyes from February’s tech demo – although that may or may not turn out to be a game.
It was when Sony brought out a representative selection of its indie developers that things started to get more interesting, especially when compared to this morning’s Xbox One conference. Sony’s commitment to new talent is evident in the amount of time dedicated to showing these games (and their creators) off on stage, from Don’t Starve to Transistor. Self-publishing on the PlayStation 4 is going to be a huge deal for smaller developers, and the language Sony was employing – “richness”, “breadth”, “variety” – suggests that the company is well aware of that, and will continue to actively court them.
But the turning point of the conference was the first and most damaging of several body-blows to Microsoft, which came when Jack Tretton returned to stage and said without a trace of ambiguity that the PlayStation 4 will support lending, trading, reselling, and indeed playing your games on your console in pretty much the same way as we have been since they came on floppy discs. No DRM, no restrictions, no online requirements, and no authentication. If anyone still thought that this was a minor issue for gamers, the reaction to that news will surely have disavowed them of that assumption. In the conference centre, the room went madder than it would have if Naughty Dog had shown up with Uncharted 4.
From there, the attack became more and more targeted. After making it absolutely clear that you can trade, sell, and share PS4 games without restriction, Tretton added that disc-based games don’t need to be connected online or check in for authentication – not every 24 hours, not ever.
Speaking of online multiplayer, Bungie’s Destiny was a closing gameplay presentation that came across as a more serious Borderlands, a cross-platform sci-fi shooter that looks like it could give respawn’s Xbox One exclusive Titanfall a run for its money. But it did make me think: without the Xbox One’s reliance on cloud-power, PS4 games might not be able to expand to the same scale that Xbox One games might be able to in the future, if Microsoft is to be believed. The phrase “persistent world” cropped up a lot in the earlier conference.
After Destiny, though, there was the announcement of the PS4’s price – which, at the time, felt like a knock-out blow. $399, 399 euros, £349. It’s still a slightly raw deal for Europeans and Brits on the exchange rate front, but not to the same extent as Xbox One. Nobody would have expected Sony to undercut Microsoft to such an extent. God only knows what it’s going to cost them in the beginning, but the audience’s reaction to the announcement was unambiguous. It’s a hugely popular price point for a next-generation console.