Sony's E3 victory was a PR stunt, but PlayStation 4 is still the one to watch



May 4, 2013

The reaction was "quite extraordinary", in the words of SCEE boss Jim Ryan, and it's hard to argue with him. I've been to Sony press conferences since ECTS and I don't think I've ever seen a reception like this one. But after the swell of excitement subsided I got to thinking, if all Sony has done is stand still and watch Microsoft volley itself in the face repeatedly, then surely this victory is rather illusive? How does doing the same thing again meet the underlying challenges PlayStation faces in 2013?

Let's recap. PlayStation 4 costs what a new console often costs - £349. It has a mixture of games on discs and digital downloads. It charges a subscription for online play. This model sounds familiar! And while we've already laid into Microsoft's hoary old Xbox One line-up, Sony's first-party offering isn't that much more exciting. Take The Order: 1886 - it looked interesting for a while there, like a sort of steampunk A-Team in the days of Jack the Ripper - but then they threw open the carriage door and it was Gears of Whitechapel. Pass! (At least that's not "Online Pass", I suppose.)

Zoom out of E3 and the same challenges still face Sony and Microsoft. For one thing, you can't replicate what the PlayStation 2 did to sell 150 million units; hitching an expensive new breakthrough technology like DVD to a massive pile of exclusive games in new categories (GTA 3, God of War) or in their peak years (MGS, Final Fantasy, Gran Turismo) just isn't viable. Surely the last few months have proven this beyond doubt - Microsoft pitched us live TV in an on-demand world, while the games that both companies (and even Nintendo) are pitching as their best and brightest are plainly just variations on a theme. Five years of declining console game sales suggest that we're bored of reheated templates. Sure, Call of Duty and FIFA prop everything up, but to many of their players the role they fill is closer to that of Facebook or Twitter than anything else.

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