No one said Sony would have it easy at E3 2017. On Sunday, Microsoft unveiled its powerful new 4K console, the Xbox One X, and Nintendo teased its fans with potential Super Mario Odyssey details well ahead of the show. Honestly it was going to be hard for the PS4 creator to go bigger and better than the rest.
But Sony's biggest opposition on Monday night wasn't Microsoft or Nintendo – Sony turned out to be its own worst enemy.
At E3 2016 it showed up with Spider-Man and God of War. In 2015 it had Final Fantasy VII Remake, Shenmue and The Last Guardian.
This year's Sony showed up with one or two new, exciting titles. But most of what we saw on stage Monday night were the greatest hits from last year.
So where did it fall apart this year? Perhaps the problem was Sony's approach.
We’re used to huge, crowd-rousing and borderline boastful introductions from big company representatives at these events – often to talk up a new piece of hardware or a new feature to excite the fans. Instead, Sony kept the preamble to a minimum, going straight into the show with footage of the highly anticipated Uncharted: The Lost Legacy.
Usually, we wouldn't complain about an event jam-packed with new trailers. But the trailers kept coming ... and coming ... and coming ... only broken twice by Sony Interactive Entertainment America’s CEO Shawn Layden who certainly didn’t overstay his welcome on stage. I almost wanted to grab the edges of his suit and beg him to stay and tell me more about the games we were seeing.
It was clear that Sony wanted its trailers to do the talking. The problem was they weren’t really loud enough and it just drew attention to the silence from elsewhere in the development chain.
Style hiding substance
There’s no denying Sony knows how to put on a show. While Microsoft stands stiffly behind technologies like 4K HDR and Dolby Atmos, Sony usually manages to make attendees at its conference feel immersed in what they're seeing through aural and environmental effects that ranged from flames to fake snow.
But at a certain point it felt like spectacle over substance.
Where were the developers gushing about their projects and allowing us to feed on their excitement and pride? Where were the interestingly-explained game play trailers to make us look forward to the upcoming games as games, rather than watching them as cinematic experiences?
That’s not to say the games Sony displayed weren’t good. PlayStation has an extremely exciting slate of first-party games to look forward to, from Detroit Become Human, to God of War, to Spider-Man. Don't even get us started on that Shadow of the Colossus announcement. It’s also managed to secure some exclusive third-party content in blockbuster titles like Destiny 2.
Compared to Microsoft, Sony arguably has much better and more interesting first-party exclusives to offer its players.
It’s incredible, then, that it managed to make feel watching them kind of boring. Like watching the reel of trailers – some of which you saw 12 months ago – while you wait for the feature film. Sony has several titles that have the potential to be the feature film of its show, too, it just didn’t make it feel that way.
Perhaps the bigger problem was we had already seen most of them before.
It didn't help that while Microsoft was boasting about its true 4K gaming console, Sony barely acknowledged the fact that it, too, is able to offer 4K gaming experiences. Did we dream the PS4 Pro?
Even in the one area where Sony had the biggest opportunity to stand apart from Microsoft and Nintendo, virtual reality, it barely made a peep. It had five new trailers to show, sure, but none of them were systems sellers.
It's coming up for the eight month anniversary of the PlayStation VR headset’s release and though sales have been good (it’s the most successful high-end headset out there) Sony really had to show its commitment to the platform this year to mark it out as more than a flash-in-the-pan fad.
Unfortunately, it didn't.
Sony’s the only console manufacturer with a relatively affordable VR headset at the moment. We know Microsoft intends to support VR on Xbox One X in the future, but it wasn’t showing that this year so Sony had a clear space to push the idea that when it comes to console VR, PlayStation is the best possible option.
All they needed was someone, anyone, to make that point on stage. But no one came to the rescue.
The five new PSVR games Sony showed all looked like incredibly diverse experiences ranging from a puzzling platformer, to a shooter, to a horror game, to a Skyrim, which is very much its own entity at this point (increasingly it feels like if your platform doesn’t have Skyrim then it’s not worth looking at).
All of these games look like they have the potential to be incredible experiences that you’ll only be able to get on PlayStation but Sony didn’t linger on them long enough for me to get a sense that they’re a big deal.
Shawn Layden was quite clear in his short presentation that Sony was at the “forefront” of innovation, having released PSVR and PlayStation 4 Pro just before VR and 4K became cool, but at a certain point ‘we did it first’ isn’t enough. You did it first and yes now you can make it “all about the games” but you also have to take the time to explain what you’re doing with all the extra time you’ve had.
Too bad Sony didn’t take the time to do that.
With a little more conversation and a similar level of action, Sony could've had a great show. It could have puffed out its chest and postured about its exciting lineup of games. Instead it played the cool silent type and undersold itself.
It's easy to feel dismayed. But there's still hope: Sony took the time to reveal details for its PSX event scheduled to take place later this year. It's possible that this is a sign the company is considering moving away from E3 to put more into its own branded fan events in the future. Only time will tell if this is the case.
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