21 February 2013

Sony did Exactly What They Needed to Last Night

Sony's conference to reveal the PlayStation 4 was, largely, flat and yet it showed a company that appears to have transformed beyond the wildest expectations of many into a platform maker both optimistic and well placed to capitalise on shifting realities within the industry.

Granted the actual console was a no show. This, contrary to the hysteria on many parts of the internet, is not an especially big deal even if it is a novel way to unveil a console, something Sony's chief rival was more than happy to point out.

However as Shuhei Yoshida noted a console "is just a box", the purpose of last night's event was twofold. Firstly Sony needed to espouse the PlayStation 4's philosophy, a device eminently more suited to the needs of developers as well as gamers than its predecessor.

Updates will download in the background, the option to self publish games will be available and with the aid of Gaikai they hope to transform PlayStation Network on PS4 into "the fastest and most secure" games platform on the planet. All of these are ambitious goals, and not all of them may be realised yet what the PS4 purports to do is make for an easier and more enjoyable gaming experience. Sony have, to some degree at least, learnt from their mistakes with the PS3.

More importantly the PlayStation 4 looks set to be infinitely easier to develop for. With nearly 170 developers confirmed to be working on titles for the console it appears there should be no software drought similar to what the PS3 suffered in the early period and while some of the games shown off last night are cross generational it's important to note that before the console launches we'll have E3, gamescom, TGS and more.

In other words there's every reason to suspect Sony had plenty more up its sleeve, we know, for example, that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will be developed for the platform, the first game in the series to arrive on a Sony console. While there was no shortage of developers heaping praise on the platform, Double Fine's Tim Schafer, Ninja Theory's Tameemi Antoniades, and Gearbox's Randy Pitchford (let's hope his studio a next-gen Aliens: Colonial Marines debacle).

Industry group TIGA also declared their love of the system with the organisation's CEO Dr. Richard Wilson stating: "there is much potential for innovation with the PS4. It's certainly great for developers.

"Developers will be able [to] foster close communities around their games, gain loyalty, and benefit from and benefit from word-of-mouth promotion."

EPIC Games Mark Rein hailed the console's technical specifications saying: "I am really excited. 8GB of super-fast RAM - holy cow!"

Does that mean we'll finally see Gears of War on PlayStation? Who knows (Microsoft do not in face own the IP, EPIC does) but there was a demonstration of the company's Unreal Engine 4 suggesting that at the very least EPIC are committed to the PS4 to some degree. Of course the Engine is likely to make its way to all platforms but the fact it was shown off yesterday may hint at bigger things in store.

Regardless the scale of the system's memory was a surprise to many (pre-conference speculation had put it at 4GB).

It seems then, that Sony have taken to heart the interests of developers and fully rectified the mistakes they made when designing the PS3 and how games for that platform were, and are, developed.

Sony also demonstrated impressive partnerships with Activision, firstly Blizzard announced a special partnership that would see both the PS3 and PS4 receiving Diablo III. This was followed by the revelation that Bungie's Destiny will come with exclusive content for Sony's platforms, pretty impressive coming from a studio that was formerly part of Microsoft.

Will these deals with Activision rival the significance of Xbox's DLC bonuses for Call of Duty this generation? Only time will tell, nevertheless you can't fault Sony for trying. Ultimately we should expect more partnerships at E3 and the other industry events throughout the year.

The important thing last night was not to reveal too much. This applies most to the console (deciding to withhold the system may benefit Sony in the long term by giving gamers something to be excited for at E3), the software - keeping in mind there are 170 studios working on the system - and specifics regarding the release date and price.

By outing a tentative Holiday 2013 date Sony can change the launch schedule more easily if they need to while it would likely have done more harm than good to reveal the price, that is, if they've even decided on it yet. Revealing a price tag of $500 dollars so far ahead of the system's launch could harm momentum and the decision to withhold that information will allow them more time to asses the market and see what strategy Microsoft select.

Last night Sony outed the PlayStation 4's philosophy of enhanced inter-connectivity and social interaction - while maintaining the possibility of opting out of these features - and giving developers the freedom to make games richer and more immersive than they've ever been on PlayStation.

Not everything Sony did during their conference worked, particularly repeating a nine month old tech demo from E3 last year, but they did what they needed to even without showing off the system and it will be fascinating to see how Microsoft combat it with their eventual reveal of the Xbox 720.

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