When you're at the top of an industry, there's only one place you can go…
I think Sony saw “a vision of the future” at E3 this year and it wasn't an enticing sales pitch for their newest console. No, it was a legion of confused and agitated gamers shying away from the Playstation 3 as their ho-hum conference ended with a bombshell of a price announcement. $499 for the 20gig pack? $599 for the 60gig pack? Some post-conference internet sleuthing revealed that the size of the hard drive wasn't the only difference, though. The 20gig SKU is coming less an HDMI slot, WiFi, and memory card ports. Besides the HDMI (which would actually take advantage of Blu-Ray functionality and therefore seems essential to any PS3 package), it isn't that big of a deal, but any way you slice it, Sony couldn't have bungled things any worse.
The whirlwind is ripe for reaping. As I blatantly hinted at the top of this article, Sony can longer rise in the industry. After lording over the land of video game milk and honey for two generations, the inertia of its two chief rivals was sure to catch up. Microsoft has learned quite a bit since the release of the original Xbox and Nintendo's at least throwing something besides a conventional game system out there, which seems to be their forte. It's like a defending army being attacked from two fronts and Sony has proven they don't have what it takes to hold the line.
Though they potentially could have if it wasn't for the atrocious and poorly-planned conference. The first of the big three to go, they could've set the standard, the feel, the atmosphere for the ensuing week – but they didn't. For a good part of the conference, we were treated to pie charts and stats and numbers which may be important, but don't impact the visual senses like some good-looking games would. Let's face it, graphs might be great fodder for the stockholders, but graph ics provide the wow factor for game journos. It's very much about showmanship and as shallow as that might seem, these kinds of conferences should be about rallying the fanbase and attracting new sheep to the fold. Nintendo's presentation began with Shigeru Miyamoto trotting out on stage in a conductor's outfit, waving the Wii's remote around like a baton while little Wiiple (read: Wii people) played instruments on the screen. Immediately, they set the tone and let the audience know what they were in for.
After the long list of figures and empty platitudes was rattled off, the audience was treated to 15 minutes of Gran Turismo HD – Gran Turismo 4 in High Def. Even if the crowd was brimming with GT fans, I have a strong feeling that they would long to see something new. Instead filling that monstrous amount of space with old hat, why not give us a longer PSP presentation? Metal Gear Solid: Mobile Ops would've been nice. Where the hell was Killzone for that matter? Arbitrary teasers would've filled that time even better than GT HD would have.
It just seems like Sony wasn't at all prepared. Kaz Hirai, president of SCEA, bumbled around on stage like a fool. He wasn't energetic or inspiring and the whole charade became pathetic when he tried to introduce the original Ridge Racer running on the PSP's PSOne emulator.
“Let's see if you guys can guess which game this is by the intro!”
“Oh yeahhh, it's RIIIDDDGGEEE RAAACCERRR. You guys remember that game?!”
As if we hadn't been exposed to two different iterations in the past year (one being on the PSP, no less!), with another in the pipe for the Playstation 3. It's like Kaz was stuck in a time capsule from 1994, which might begin to explain his relative detachment from what really mattered to the show-goers.
Then there was the revelation of the PS3 controller's final secret. I knew what it before the words were uttered and not because I'm privy to inside information or that I'm psychic, but because you could've seen it coming from a mile away. Sony may have been working on the tilt-control tech since before Nintendo announced the Wii and, fundamentally, they are different technologies, but there was no doubt it was a blatant attempt to steal the big N's thunder. The end result was quite opposite and, as they had done all evening thus far, they presented the control with a guilt-induced hesitance in their speech. How are we supposed to get excited about it if they can't? Oh, I know, bring someone up on stage and have them demonstrate the capabilities of the new control system by moving the controller around wildly! We wouldn't want to instill any doubts about the tilt's responsiveness would we?
The price announcement was the nail in the coffin. They could've excused everything else by dropping a nice surprise on gamers, but they decided to hold a gun to their wallets instead. Even if Nintendo and MS has played it safe the rest of E3, the sticker shock induced by the PS3 price point would ensure that they remained golden.
But what a shame to let a ruinous conference overshadow a good showing on the expo floor. Don't yet lose your hope Playstation faithful as, distanced from the foul smell of the conference room, Sony's booth performances was met with great aplomb. PS3 playables like Heavenly Sword continued to wow gamers, while a cabal of auxiliary titles like Metal Gear Solid 4 and final Fantasy XIII demonstrated that Sony isn't just going to roll over and give up anytime soon. Not to mention hands-on experience with Warhawk revealed that the tilt-sensor in the controller responded quite smoothly. The PS2 also shined with positive impressions for God of War 2 and Guitar Hero 2 amongst others. The PSP also got its fair share of love with Metal Gear: Portable Ops, Loco Roco, Ultimate Ghouls and Ghosts, and Silent Hill: Original Sin. This is a mere sampling of the titles that received acclaim.
When all is said and done, it's not so much that Sony had a bad show as it is they went about presenting their wares in the worst fashion possible. As a result, I fear that bad word of mouth has stunted the company's chances of winning next-gen. When people discuss the PS3, it won't be about individual impressions from the booth, but the bombshells of last Monday's conference. At the very least, this generation is shaping up to be a photo finish.
So what about that price tag? It depends on whether or not you want to digest what Sony is feeding you. $600 is expensive for a modern console, but you've got to consider that you're getting a lot of bang for your buck providing you can afford it. You're getting a Blu-Ray player with Linux built in and extensive media capabilities. Top-of-the-line technology means that the PS3 could theoretically last around 8 years, more than you'd get for other $600 products, like a cheap computer (which, at that price, would probably be outmoded already). Standalone Blu-Ray machines will likely cost as much, if not more, than the Playstation 3 once they're released.
If you still thinks games should just be games, it's going to be a tough sell – though there's no doubting the PS3 will be home to many great titles. But if you believe in Sony's vision of a machine that can do much more, the price will no doubt be that much easier to swallow. Considering the technology, it's a veritable bargain and, keeping this in mind, it's unlikely that it can be sold for much less. Sony has been reliant upon the Playstation brand as the central pillar of its business and losing even more on each unit than they already are could be disastrous. On the other hand, they run the risk of alienating frugal gamers which could build up a healthy base for actual game sales.
In the end, it's unlikely that the conference will have enough of a lasting effect to prevent the first few batches of the console from selling out during the holiday rush. That's always a big time for any new hardware, good or bad. Their real task is following up and getting the real gems out there fast enough for consumers to be convinced that the machine is worth the money they paid. Keep the faith though, Sonyphiles. Save up some cash over the next few months, plunk down a big fat pre-order, and keep a lookout for lots of new details an announcements in the coming months.