Heading into E3, Sony has more to prove with the PlayStation 4 (PS4) than its console-making competition., in its quest to take over your living room, the Xbox One will offer more than just upgraded graphics and a new controller. And for good or ill (ill, for now), Microsoft's used games and always-on plans are on the table and it can now mostly concentrate on wowing the public with games. Assuming it has public-wowable games, of course.
Sony, on the other hand, has yet to show what the system looks like and has not announced how it will deal with used games. Furthermore, it's yet to excite the mainstream nongaming public with any cool nongaming features. And, to be honest, Sony hasn't really shown many compelling games that won't also be available on the Xbox One.
However, there's an inherent advantage in entering the fray as a largely unknown quantity. With its main opponent's hand largely revealed, Sony has a huge opportunity to use Microsoft's announcements against it and its own silence to its advantage. Here's how I expect it'll do that.
Showcase the PS4's superior power
By most accounts, the PS4 has at least 33 percent more internal graphical horsepower than the Xbox One, thanks to higher-bandwidth RAM and a faster GPU.
Expect to see this native superiority endlessly touted at Sony's press conference and exemplified in its first-party game demos. Sony will want to demonstrate that the PS4 is capable of doing things with images the Xbox One can only dream of.
I'd actually like to see Sony make evident that this higher level of graphical fidelity can actually benefit storytelling, creating more immersive experiences. That's something Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima has been chasing for years and has maybe finally found.
Third-party games scheduled for release on both systems will likely look pretty much the same.
This is all assuming, of course, that the PS4 is that much more demonstrably powerful than the Xbox One and that the One's cloud-computing offloading doesn't actually benefit it more than Sony's speedy RAM and killer GPU.
As always, however, at the end of the day, it will be how fun the games are (and how well they're marketed), not how pretty they are, that will determine each system's success.
'We love games!'
At the PlayStation 4 unveil in February, it was necessary for Sony to double down on games and appease the hard-core base, having squandered much of its gaming cred -- garnered over the life of the PS1 and PS2 -- during the PS3's early life, with its high initial price and services that couldn't match what Microsoft was offering.
With some gamers now doubting Microsoft's gaming commitment, Sony has an opportunity here to reiterate that the PS4 will play tons of cool games. Mainstream games, new, innovative games, indie games, and especially games exclusive to the PS4.
Sony announced that it'll be showcasing 40 new games across PS4, PS3, and Vita at E3. How many of those will actually be PS4 games remains to be seen; but, that number does signify a huge commitment that Sony is coming to E3 to play. And all that that implies.
Sony will attempt to communicate that if all you want to do is play games, you totally can do that and rest assured that you're getting the best possible gaming experience anywhere, and will have services (profiles, achievements, a way to easily share gaming footage, etc.) that support gamers in ways Microsoft doesn't. Whether that turns out to be true is another matter entirely, but I expect that kind of messaging.
'We love nongame things, too!'
Hard-core gamers made a big stink about what they interpreted as Microsoft sucking up to the mainstream at its Xbox One reveal. However, do not doubt for a second that Sony wants your living room just as much as Microsoft does and understands that games alone won't cut it.
We (as a whole) don't just game on our consoles anymore, and most of us understand that these systems can be fantastic gaming machines and still cater to people that have absolutely no interest in ever picking up a controller. Many mainstream viewers liked what they saw of the Xbox One with its Live TV support and commitment to heavily integrating American sports into its DNA. I highly doubt Sony will be willing to lose this demographic without a fight.
While the PS4 won't have live TV features comparable with the Xbox One, the PS4 will have support for video streaming and other nongaming features. Likely, many more than what the PS3 supports.
If Sony intends to sell to more than the 74 million customers who bought a PS3, communicating that your PS4 can be your one-stop shop for all your living room entertainment needs will be paramount.
The PS4 may be the best reason to buy a Vita
I don't currently own a Vita and had no plans on buying one, until the rumor that all PS4 games can be streamed directly to a Vita surfaced. Now that is appealing.
Especially for single-TV households like my own. If I'm in the middle of a particularly exciting Destiny match. but my wife wants to watch Netflix on our PS4, I can forgo doing something actually productive (that could result in an additional TV or possibly a larger house) and instead continue playing Destiny on my Vita.
This is similar to what the Wii U offers with its GamePad; however, although Nintendo uses standard 802.11n Wi-Fi to stream video to its controller, the signal seems particularly vulnerable to walls. Hopefully, Sony would use a stronger solution that offers longer range and more flexibility.
I've been looking for a reason to buy a Vita since its release, and the PS4 is by far the most compelling reason yet.
Used games and always on
Microsoft has finally its plans for dealing with used games on the Xbox One and addressed the long-standing always-on rumors. After a careful analysis of everything Microsoft has said, I'm still really confused and more than a bit disappointed.
Sony should capitalize on this. I expect Sony's used and borrowed games rules to be quite similar to Microsoft's (or it would have officially laid them out by now, right?). However, it's already gone on record that the PS4 will not require any kind of "you must be connected to the Internet once every 24 hours to play games on our system" draconian decree. Sony should be quick to tout this difference and point out the disadvantages an always on connection entails. If nothing else, Microsoft's Internet connection requirements do elicit hard questions about what true ownership means in an increasingly digital reality.Sony's thankfully going in a different direction with Internet connection requirements, but as a gamer, who routinely sells his games on eBay after use, I for one hope it decides on a more pro-consumer approach for used games. However, as a pragmatic and realistic observer, I understand that the likelihood Sony's policies will mirror Microsoft's are extremely high.
As I said before, Sony is headed into E3 having more to prove than any other major console maker. Sony has to satisfy not only gamers, but also get the attention of the mainstream press as well.
It can't just market to the same people who bought the PS3. That's not growing the market and the market indeed needs to grow. Despite some dumb missteps in its messaging, Microsoft seems to understand this. Hopefully, Sony does as well.