It’s been a long time since E3 has had the kind of instant and undeniable impact that E3 2013 has had.The annual trade show has struggled to stay relevant in recent years with many of its big names, including its power three, focussing their attentions on hardware accessories, motion control gimmicks, social integration, turning your console into an all-in-one media center and basically everything except what E3 was always supposed to be about; the games. This year has seen all the major players revert almost entirely to showing nothing but games, most of which look incredible, helped to no end by the fact that both Microsoft and Sony will be launching new consoles this year. If you were to pay much attention to social media at all you’ll probably be aware that Sony have won themselves more than a handful of former Xbox fans with some of the announcements made at their press event yesterday. The Playstation 4 seems like it’s going to be the next gen horse to bet on and there are, quite frankly, a fuck-ton of reasons why.
At the PS4 reveal event in February, Sony showed a commitment to games, games and more games. We saw people like Alex Evans and David Cage on-stage to talk about why they love the playstation 4 and how Sony have included developers in the creation of their console and how that will make it a platform that creators and innovators will gravitate to.
In contrast to this, at the Xbox One reveal, we were shown how the Xbox One has the capabilities to be an all-in-one entertainment unit. We were shown its ability to show live television and to switch from television to Netflix with one command. We were shown that while watching a film you can open bing in split screen to look up facts about the film and book tickets to go see its sequel. We were not shown, more crucially, why anyone would ever fucking want to do any of this and, perhaps more crucially, we weren’t shown very much in the way of games.
This was for some, and should have been for many more, the first alarm bell. I heard the defenses, ‘wait ’til E3, they’re gonna show off their games at E3′ etc. Even at the time though, this didn’t wash with me. Maybe they were going to show a ton of games at E3. Goody Gumdrops. Not exactly a bold move; showing games at a fucking GAME trade show. Their initial reveal was the event with which they would inevitably set the tone for their future plans. The first thing we ever saw of the follow up to the 360 wasn’t Titanfall, a game that could be to the Xbox One what Halo: Combat Evolved was to Xbox, a new Halo or even MGSV. It was ESPN. The tone had been set. Games were not priority number one.
But what of Microsofts E3 presentation? Did they come good on their promise? Well yes and no. Yes in the sense that they showed quite a lot of stuff and a handful of pretty decent exclusives. Yes in the sense that they only mentioned television once. Yes in the sense that Killer Instinct is getting a long overdue reboot and Sunset Overdrive and Titanfall both look great. But also no. No in the sense that less than 12 hours later Sony dominated them in almost every imaginable way.
Microsoft have taken the Ivory Tower approach to the Xbox One. It’s DRM is restrictive, forcing users to check in online at least once a day and putting all kinds of strange road blocks in the way of lending, trading and purchasing used games, something which, as any gamestop employee will attest, is still a thriving business model. It smacks of self-congratulatory arrogance; “we know you’ll buy it anyway so just deal with it” type stuff. Alarm bell the second. Their stance on indie devs was also cause for concern. Some of the finest games of this generation (Fez, Braid, Super Meat Boy, Journey) have been indie releases and the lack of vocal support for that scene was the third alarm bell. The last and most cutting of all was that price. 500 dollars. Only 100 dollars less than the monstrous 600 dollar price tag that held the PS3 back in its early years. It seemed as if for every step they took forward, impressive demos of Titanfall and Project Spark, they took another two back. The feeling afterwards wasn’t one of excitement, more like moderate relief that things were at least a little better coming out than they’d seemed going in.
In stark contrast to that was Sonys event but the brilliance of Sonys marketing here can’t be nailed down to simply showing good games or exclusives. Sony re-discovered who they really are and in turn, who we, their audience are. It’s undeniable that the 360/PS3 generation has brought in hoards of newcomers to the genre who’s interests fall solely between the last Call of Duty and the latest Call of Duty. It has seemed at times that the excitement and exuberance of previous generations has given way to year after year of grey/brown shooters. By showing Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts 3, Sony showed the oldest of playstation fans that they still matter and haven’t been forgotten about. By devoting an entire segment of the show to Indie developers, Sony showed once again that they are unparalleled in their support for new and innovative ideas. By openly confirming that the PS4 will support used games, allow for lending and trading and will not require an internet connection, they proved that they have listened to their audience and by coming in under 400 dollars at retail, they dealt the final blow to Microsofts next gen aspirations. Sony have pledged to deliver a console with equal power to their competitor, less restrictions and at 100 dollars cheaper. Aside from specific exclusive titles and stubborn fanboy posturing, there is literally no reason to go with Xbox One over PS4.
In the hours immediately following the Sony conference the internet lit up with people declaring the Xbox One dead on arrival and pre-orders for the PS4 via amazon skyrocketed. It’s an interesting turn of events, not just for E3 but also for the industry as a whole. For the first time in gaming history, the console contest may have been decided not by games, but by DRM. People are promising to vote with their wallets not just for what they want, but what they are and aren’t willing to accept. It’s a sign that gamers are finally maturing alongside the creators and a sign that great things are yet to come.
Thankfully one of those things is Mirrors Edge 2 so we can all breathe a huge sigh of relief and momentarily accept that there can occasionally be justice in the world.
Come at me, Generation 8. I’m ready for you.