E3 2013: Sony Debuts The PlayStation 4

The good news: The PlayStation 4 looks a lot like the PlayStation 2, it’ll be out “this holiday season” and it’ll cost $399. The bad news: You’re getting a PlayStation Plus account if you want online multiplayer.

Jokes aside, Sony’s approach to the PlayStation brand is tellingly far different. To give you an idea of the tone, here’s Sony sticking it to their competition:

The Microsoft show focused largely on the Xbox One; Sony discussed the PS3 and Vita as well as the PS4. The Microsoft show focused on big names and big names only: Sony had live demos of indie games that were self-publishing on the platform, albeit one of the “indies” was Diablo III. And many of the games, like Kingdom Hearts 3 and Final Fantasy XIII Versus, which is now Final Fantasy XV, are for both PS3 and PS4.

Honestly, the games mentioned were fairly heavy on the role-playing, just like the Xbox One was heavy on the shooters. Bastion, Elder Scrolls Online (with a beta launching first on PS4), the aforementioned Square Enix titles…there were shooters as well, like Ready at Dawn’s The Order 1866, but the tone was different. Oh, also, did we mention that Avalanche, which you know from the Just Cause franchise, is making a Mad Max game? We also got an extended look at Destiny, which seems like a more serious Borderlands

But that’s the thing: Sony seemed a bit apathetic about exclusives for the PS4. They’re there, and they wanted us to know about them, but they’re not the key selling point for the box. Being fun to play is. It’s fairly clear Sony just didn’t care about Microsoft’s exclusives, or its console.

Also, Sony was willing to get into what Microsoft wasn’t at their presentation: No, used game sales will not be restricted. No, the console will not have to phone home to verify anything. No, you won’t be “buying a license”. And your PS Plus membership will carry over.

It’s pretty clear Sony is focused on being the best play experience. It’s also clear from the $399 price point that they’ve learned their lesson. Notice, however, that if you want online multiplayer… you’re going to need a PlayStation Plus account. So that free ride is over.

But considering how awful this could have been, that’s really the worst of the bad news. Well, for gamers, and for Sony. For Microsoft there’s a whole heaping helping of bad news.

  • First of all, the Xbox One won’t be enjoying any of that time alone on the market the Xbox 360 had; odds are pretty good the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 will be arriving in stores at roughly the same time, probably right around Thanksgiving.
  • Secondly, the Xbox One is going to arrive with an enormous goodwill deficit; it’s fairly clear that gamers are upset over the online requirements and the restrictions the console imposes.
  • Thirdly, there’s the price problem. $399 is on the high end for a game console, but it’s not sticker shock for gamers. $499 means there’s a price gap not easily addressed. This is even truer for non-US players.

Can Microsoft turn it around? Good question. “Losing” E3 is little more than a matter of bragging rights; the PS3 had the same problems and ultimately sold just as many consoles. But this illustrates a larger problem the Xbox One has that the PS3 didn’t.

Microsoft wants the Xbox One to be not just a games console but an enormous leap forward in every respect. It wants to be the Box, that from which all your entertainment flows, just like the PS3. Between now and November, Microsoft has to explain, in detail, why we should accept these restrictions it imposes, what we get in return for what we give up. And if it can’t do that, it raises the question of whether the Xbox One, like the PS3, can revert to a more modest vision and a lower price… or whether Microsoft is committed for good.