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E3 WEEK: Sony Twists The Knife

Here is the second of my special E3-related blogs, this time focusing on the second major conference of the 10th, the one led by Sony around the PlayStation 4.

Sony presented a strong conference on Monday. They were confident, and they had a reasonable selection of games to show off. Again, much like Microsoft, not much that was particularly earth-shattering, but at least there was a little more variety on show.

First of all, the PS4 was shown…and it was a black box. No real surprise there. Well, OK, they shook it up a bit by making it a trapezoid, but it still looks very boxy in the angles it’s shot in for the promotional pictures. I can’t honestly say I was that concerned that the console wasn’t shown at the reveal back in February, but it was nice to finally see it. I just don’t have much to say about it. It’s a black trapezoid. It looks decent. It doesn’t look like a VCR. Whoop-dee-doo!

Games-wise, there was a decent selection. It was good to see a little more of Infamous: Second Son and Knack, the two games that interested me most at the reveal, and I’m kind of curious about SCE Santa Monica and Ready At Dawn’s new title The Order: 1886, which looks to be a bizarre steampunk supernatural thing, although, DAMN IT, I really wish games would get announced with actual gameplay footage for once!

Ubisoft’s section of the show was a little underwhelming, truth be told. I do like the Assassin’s Creed franchise, but I don’t really feel too excited about Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag for whatever reason. I think I may just wish the series could take a break for a while. Was good to see more of Watch Dogs, but it still wasn’t a brand new game.

Squeenix won over their 12 remaining fans with the announcement that the infamous Final Fantasy Versus XIII is now Final Fantasy XV, and also by announcing Kingdom Hearts 3. I do intend on paying attention to FFXV, but I’m wary due to the fact that I haven’t really enjoyed a main series Final Fantasy since X-2. Yes, I like X-2, there’s no shame in this. Anyway, it certainly looks like they’re working hard on making XV a visual spectacle as always, but I want to know if the gameplay and plot are going to hold up or if we have another XIII on our hands. Only news out of Squeenix that would get me genuinely excited would be the next Tomb Raider, and that’s a little soon to announce so never mind.

But the main thing I was happy to see in Sony’s conference that won me over to the PS4 was the strong focus on indie gaming. The indie market is huge right now, and Sony’s strong support is telling. Sure, it’s unlikely to sell the console on its own, but having the indie market strongly represented on the console is going to keep the library more varied than just more big-men-with-big-guns. Plus, you know, Octodad. Any console with Octodad automatically wins.

But of course, the big news of the night was Sony directly attacking Microsoft’s restrictive practices. I didn’t discuss them yesterday in the midst of my dissection of the sexism on stage, but let’s pull MS’s attitude towards consumers for the next gen into sharp focus, and why they’re a severe issue.

Xbox One is going to require a permanent Internet connection. It doesn’t need to be on all the time, but it does require an authentication check every 24 hours. Yes, even if you only play single player games offline. MS haven’t explained why this is necessary, but it is an issue when you factor in that issues can occasionally happen with Internet connections. Sometimes servers go down, sometimes signal is lost, sometimes glitches can happen and you can lose Internet connection for a few days. These things do happen, and often through no fault of anyone. MS seem willing to ignore this.

Bundle this with the fact that MS’s camera, the Kinect, is also required to turn the console on, essentially meaning you have a long-range camera with a built-in mic and an Internet connection attached to your console at all times, and the console starts looking like an Orwellian nightmare.

There are also restrictions on used games, although I’m still confused over what exactly those restrictions are. Microsoft are being painfully vague about them.

None of these additions to the Xbox One have been met with much positive reaction. So, imagine the cheering that resulted from Sony announcing that they would be doing the opposite: no DRM, the ability to play used games, PS Eye entirely optional, Internet connection not required for single player games. Oh wait, you don’t need to imagine, because here’s a video:

This was followed by an incredibly confident (yet somehow simultaneously modest) interview between Sony CEO Jack Tretton and GameTrailers, where he calmly explains that the focus of the PS4 is on what gamers want, and they’re putting the consumer first. Consumer choice over shoving gimmicks down people’s throats seems to be the mantra for the PS4, and it is paying off excellently so far for Sony.

What’s more, Sony essentially beating Microsoft at E3 despite showing off fewer new game announcements shows how much a big deal this is for gamers. Allowing used games also allows people to share and lend games with their friends, and allows them to resell if they want to. Requiring an Internet connection only for services that require an Internet connection (e.g. online multiplayer games) is a no-brainer. Giving people choice and freedom to do whatever they want with the things they spent money on is what companies should be doing.

And they openly mocked Microsoft for taking an anti-choice stance through an instructional video on how to share PS4 games with friends. Take a look for yourself:

What’s more, Sony continued to twist the knife by announcing the price as being $100 cheaper, and being region-free to boot.

It’s difficult to see what Microsoft can pull off at this point in time. Checkmate to Sony, I’d say.

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