We now know quite a lot more about the PS4, but there are still questions. K. Stewart investigates
Is the next generation battle already over? Sony certainly did everything it could to deliver a killer assault at its 2am E3 press conference.While Xbox One’s UK price is £429, PS4 is available to pre-order now at just £349. That’s a significantly more powerful gaming box at £80 less - with Sainsbury and Asda already promoting a £20 discount if you pre-order with them. It will be available this holiday season in both the US and Europe.
There will be no new restrictions of playing games similar to what Xbox One features. So, no need to dial into a server every 24 hours as Xbox One mandates to play disc-based games. And no change to your ability to lend or resell your PS4 games - it gives some indication of how hated Microsoft’s proposals are that simply not changing your business model brings the biggest cheers of a press conference.
The design of the PS4 itself, which had been held back until E3, was finally revealed and... well, it looks like blue accented box not dissimilar to Xbox One or, indeed, the original Wii albeit with an odd parallelogram profile. The vertical stand option recalls the PS2, Sony’s previous mega-hit that defined that generation of games - so the aspiration is clear for next generation.
Sony followed Microsoft by saying original programming will be developed by Sony Pictures for its system, but there was no appearance by Steven Spielberg or similar hyping any specific TV show, nor any big reveal on 4K - any news there will likely come from the launch of Sony’s 4K streaming service later this year.
Sony courts independent developers
To court independent developers, Sony stressed that unlike Microsoft it will offer them the ability to self-publish their games. Numerous indie developers were brought on stage to reinforce this point and ease of development on PS4. Bastion developer Super Giant Games used the event to reveal its next title, Transistor, will come to PS4 first. A key part of the original PlayStation’s success was its developer outreach program. In 2013, Apple’s App Store is a lucrative option for small teams and Sony clearly wants them to be onboard for PS4.
From Sony itself, 30 PS4 titles are in development with 20 due in the first year of PS4’s life with 12 being new IP. (Microsoft’s equivalent figures for Xbox One are 15 for first year, 8 new IP.) The degree to which those studios can demonstrate PS4’s more powerful chipset will be a key factor in the upcoming battle, spearheaded no doubt by the next Killzone as a launch title.
Third-party publishers, for the moment at least, are careful to support both platforms. Activision’s Bungie showed off live gameplay for its multiplayer online epic; Destiny, while Ubisoft showed off the next Assassin’s Creed and its innovative sci-fi epic, Watch Dogs. Square Enix impressed with Kingdom Hearts 3 and Final Fantasy XV, while Warner Bros offered Mad Max.
Sony's CEO gets it
Sony’s new CEO, Kaz Hirai, came from the PlayStation division so you can be sure he gets it. While Microsoft’s Steve Balmer may see Xbox One as a means of capturing the living room, of developing a new unified UI for home and office, Sony is absolutely focused on gaming and winning back the market share dominance (and profitability) enjoyed by PS1 and PS2 as games systems first and foremost.
That said, Sony aren’t miracle workers. It now seems clear PS4 won’t ship with its equivalent of Microsoft’s Kinect, that will cost extra. Online gaming, currently free with PSVita and PS3, will become a paid service, like Xbox Gold, however Sony is going all out to sweeten that deal with some great bargains - such as a free Drive Club at launch. (If you own a PS3 now, it’s notable how hard Sony are pushing great deals to bring people into PlayStation Plus ahead of PS4’s launch.)
Overall, then a remarkably aggressive press conference from Sony that puts Microsoft in a very difficult position.