With a high-octane sizzle reel, Sony took its rivals head-on at its Gamasutra-attended E3 press conference in Los Angeles: among the footage of products from Eye Pet
to Gran Turismo 5
, irreverent advertising spokesman Kevin Butler declared, "who wants to pretend their hand is a gun? What is this, third grade?"
"No need for ponchos, we're going to do it natural," quipped SCEA's Jack Tretton, taking the stage with a lampoon of Microsoft's Cirque de Soleil-decorated Kinect unveiling. He revisited Sony's vision of a "future proof" and "constantly evolving" device, and its aim to be an "interactive networked entertainment company", highlighting the "something for every member of the family" goal for which it's currently competing for living room mindshare with Microsoft.
"We're not simply focused on introducing great new games and hardware technology, consumers can enjoy virtually any form of entertainment on the PlayStation 3 and the PlayStation network," said Tretton.
The presentation showed a far-changed Sony -- there was an energy that hasn't been present in recent years, and a smart, sharp competitiveness that recalled earlier days of intense console rivalries and one-upmanship.
The entire presentation was clever and on-point -- if, characteristically, a bit long -- and its goal seemed as much to be presenting the company's offering for the year as it was proving the company's cool factor. Judging by the audience reception, Sony's succeeding.
The Big 3D Push
PlayStation boss Kaz Hirai came out of the gate discussing 3D: "In the next year PlayStation will take both its innovation as well as its content to a completely new level," he said. "Sony is the undisputed leader in 3D... What PlayStation did for Blu-ray, we're now ready to do it for 3D as well."
And Sony proved how important 3D is to its product strategy with an impressive live demo of Killzone 3
in 3D, complete with jet packs, flying machines and fast-paced battles. Herman Hulst with developer Guerrilla called the game "a technical showpiece with truly cinematic moments," promising the game will also have full compatibility with Move functionality at launch.
"We have enabled every PlayStation 3 through a system software update to be your 3D entertainment hub and to drive your 3D entertainment," he said, promising 38 titles created natively in 3D by March 2011. Gran Turismo 5
will also be in 3D, as will Crysis 2, Mortal Kombat, Shaun White Skateboarding, Ghost Recon Future Soldier, Tron Evolution
and NBA 2K11
. And there are further titles, like EyePet
, prepped for motion control: "When you pair 3D with the upcoming PlayStation Move, the experience is unlike anything you've ever seen before," said Hirai. "It's the closest thing you will ever experience to being physically in the game itself."
Again and again the company pressed for immersion and realism, a theme that continued when it presented PlayStation Move -- alongside with another continuing theme: buttons are better.
A reel presented developers from Sony's own studios placing their vote of confidence behind the accuracy and depth perception of Move's 1:1 tracking and precision. Snarky pitchman Kevin Butler continued clever slags on Kinect -- much to audience laughter, applause and cheers -- pointing out the gameplay experiences that are more satisfying with buttons instead of gestures, and that offer more depth and sincerity than "catching a big red ball."
Buttons are "critical to precision," said the company's Peter Dille. "We're really not trying to stir the pot here, but we think it's an important distinction... in 3D, you'll start to appreciate that precision even more."
Promising not to retread previously-announced titles, Sony unveiled spring 2011's Sorcery
, a title developed for Move with "a total sense of immersion" in mind. It tasks a young wizard with stopping "the Nightmare Queen", and its glowing wand-based gameplay seemed designed to provide the ideal demonstration of Move's body tracking and depth perception. It also showed the fashion in which the Move's glowing ball changes color in according to the gameplay -- when the character on screen selected a green potion, Move's sphere took on the same hue.
Dille called Sorcery
a "sneak peek into how we think next-generation motion gaming will look," and introduced EA Sports' worldwide development head Andrew Wilson to show how the experience would apply to sports gaming with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11
-- the golf club swing appears to be a natural fit for PlayStation Move, judging by Wilson's demo. Finally, the company demonstrated Heroes on the Move
(working title), a Move oriented title starring heroes from Sony mascot brands like Jak and Daxter
, Ratchet and Clank
and Sly Cooper
, to show that Move will offer games for a broad variety of audiences.
The Marketing Swagger
The company will make a major marketing push behind Move in partnership with Coca Cola -- more than 130 million Coca Cola packages will highlight PlayStation Move and PlayStation 3. "This is going to be one of the biggest brand partnerships we've ever had," according to Dille.
Kevin Butler cemented his status as Sony's popular mascot and figurehead of the console rivalry by appearing on stage -- his appearance had been widely rumored and requested by diehard PlayStation fans, but "you can't trust everything you read on the internet," he snarked, a reference to one of his first appearances in PlayStation commercials.
Playing at "interrupting" Dille, he delivered a passionate and well-humored speech on bringing the focus from the motion control battle to the games: "I know everyone's got their eye on this motion control battle like it was Olivia Munn in a Lara Croft outfit, but I say it's time we focus on what really matters: The games," he declared grandly. "Who's with me?" His sharp routine was met with an enormously positive reception from the audience.
"When we said the PS3 only does everything, we meant it," he continued. The presentation that aimed to prove that Move is not only accessible and all-inclusive but also hip and relevant to the core audience concluded with the announcement of its price point: $49.99, plus a number of bundles. 15-20 Move titles will be available at launch and more than 40 titles will be available over the holiday.
PSP and Home
Sony's largest challenge is perhaps aligning a strong strategy for the flagging PSP -- the company's kicking off a "huge new campaign," according to Tretton, to support the device, aiming to position it as a genuine portable console experience. The ad spots bring in "Marcus", a bright-red sneakered, aggressive kid who arrives to help Kevin Butler reform people's portable gaming habits and stress the depth of games on offer.
A parade of PSP exclusives, from Peace Walker
to God of War: Ghost of Sparta
and UFC Unleashed 2010
were trotted out to show off that aim -- Ghost of Sparta
's trailer, the first showing thereof, was impressively epic, and a hefty holiday lineup for the holiday season seemed to show that Sony's far from backing off its oft-challenged portable platform.
Speaking of challenges, the company hasn't backed off of Home, either -- revealing that PlayStation Home owners can visit a replica of Sony's E3 booth in the virtual world and see the displays on offer.
PlayStation Network And Exclusive Content
"If you look back for the past 15 years, we've designed the PlayStation ecosystem to benefit all of our partners," said Tretton, moving on to discuss content. "There is one title that truly embodies that mentality," he said, pointing to Little Big Planet
and the "Play Create Share" vision embodied by the title and by ModNation Racers
Media Molecule's Alex Evans presented a demonstration of Little Big Planet 2
, "massively expanding" character enhancements and creative features introduced in the original title. "All of this just comes down to one thing: Making fun games, and now you can make any kind," he promised, showcasing in new genres and competitive features.
PlayStation Network continues to be free, but Sony will now offer PlayStation Plus, which offers "options to expand and enhance [the] gaming experience." Users get features and content like year-long value credits, exclusive content from Sony and its partners, early demos and beta invitations, and discounts on full games. The service will launch later this month, and a full-year subscription will cost $49.99, with a three-month free promotion to kick off the offering.
Next, EA's John Schappert and Medal of Honor
executive producer John Goodrich took the stage to show the game, and unveiled its limited-edition PS3 version, which comes exclusively packaged with Medal of Honor: Frontline
for the same retail price. They also showed off Dead Space 2
, which also receives a limited edition PlayStation 3 version that includes Dead Space: Extraction
with Move support.
Valve's Vote Of Confidence
The audience was appropriately surprised by GLaDOS suddenly co-opting the presentation to deploy the "emergency surprise system," and Valve boss -- and outspoken past PS3 critic -- Gabe Newell took the stage. "As an industry we're going through a transition from entertainment as a product from entertainment as a service, and because of that the needs of game players and game developers are evolving," he began.
According to Newell, games are about "giving gamers a complete social connected experience," he said, praising PS3's "open approach" to these challenges -- and announcing that Portal 2
will be coming to PlayStation 3. He stated that the PS3 version will be "the best version on any console."
Next up, the first trailer for PS3 MMO Final Fantasy XIV
, and one for 2K Games' Mafia II
-- the latter will also have PlayStation 3-exclusive day-one content. Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
will also offer a PS3-exclusive mission pack, and its multiplayer beta will also be PS3-exclusive.
"Exclusive has become my new favorite word," said Tretton. In 2010 "our publishing partners will prove time and time again that PlayStation 3 and PSP are their platforms of choice." To that end, trailers of exclusives Gran Turismo 5
and Infamous 2
were shown to audience applause.
As a final surprise, the theater dimmed for a debut video revealing a brand-new Twisted Metal
game -- the auditorium erupted in wild cheers when the franchise's iconic evil ice cream truck drove onstage to escort Eat Sleep Play founders David Jaffe and Scott Campbell, who emerged to announce the PlayStation 3 exclusive for 2011 and to show off Team Deathmatch online gameplay. It's being created by the same key team that created the original series.
Sony's message overall? It's got the bases covered for every single audience, it asserts, placing special emphasis on the gap it seems to see between Kinect and the core audience, and between Wii and the high-tech consumer. The angle of the presentation is that between PSP, PlayStation 3, Move and the immersion of 3D, Sony wants not only to thoroughly serve all facets of the gaming audience to the same extent, but to do it with panache.
Since the former market-leading company slipped into the third place in the console war, it's been rare to see such glitz and confidence from Sony -- its 2010 E3 presser is the first sign that the company feels it's got its groove back.
Since the launch of the PlayStation 3, many industry watchers have understood the brand's value proposition, but criticized the company's communications, marketing and positioning. In fact, perhaps the marketing tone was the biggest thing Sony had to get right this year, and it appears to have met with success.