Tuesday, July 29, 2008

E3 2008: Sony's First-Party Stance

Courtesy of Penny Arcade

After the rough launch of the PS3 and the slow start of the PSP, Sony soon realized that they weren't quite invincible. Boasting the infamous "10 year life cycle" for their consoles and supporting three platforms going into E3 2008, there was much speculation on what Sony could pull out that would beat out Nintendo and Microsoft. As third-party developers are starting to go multi-platform more often or straight out exclusive to the Xbox 360, Sony is starting to focus more on first-party games. Boasting some impressive sales numbers for the PS3, PS2, and PSP, they stuck with familiar territory with very few surprises. While much of their conference was retreaded announcements, they brought out a couple of impressive showings.

Sony is still carrying along the previous generation PS2, now in it's ninth year. With PS2 backwards-compatibility constantly in question with the various PS3 SKUs, they're making sure consumers hold on to their old hardware. Trying to appeal to families, they've created another PS2 bundle that includes LEGO Batman and Justice League: A New Frontier DVD for $149. And despite the low attach rate to the great sales of PSP hardware, Sony is hoping to lure more people in with another $199 Entertainment Pack that includes a silver slim PSP, Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters, a voucher for the downloadable title, Echochrome, 1GB Memory Stick, and the film, National Treasures 2: Book of Secrets on UMD. And to make sure that the PS3 doesn't feel left out, they have increased the hard drive space on the 40GB PS3 to 80GB while keeping the same $399 pricetag and same features(No PS2 BC, two USB slots, no memory card slots). They have yet to announce plans for the original 80GB PS3 that includes all those missing features. You can tell they're trying to combat the casual appeal of the Wii, the widespread popularity of the DS, and the core gamer audience of the 360, but none of these new bundles were really that impressive. They definitely have value, but not enough to take much away from the competition.

Resistance: Retribution is shaping up to be one of the bigger titles for the PSP.

The PSP's gaming forecast was looking slim, but Sony hoped to remedy that with sequels to LocoRoco, Patapon, Madden, and others. One of the biggest surprises for the handheld was the unveiling of a third-person action game called Resistance: Retribution. With the first Resistance game on the PS3 still one of the better FPS titles on the system and the sequel on the way, a PSP game was not expected. Microsoft made a very surprising steal with Final Fantasy XIII coming out on both the Xbox 360 and PC alongside the PS3 version in the US and Europe. With only a handful of third-party games exclusive to PS3, they shifted focus to internally developed titles and their new PSN downloadable games. Ratchet and Clank: Quest for Booty is a new PSN title that will be much shorter than the previous R&C but at a lower price of $14.99. That goes along with anticipated titles like PixelJunk Eden, Flower, and the impressive debut of the team-based multiplayer mayhem of Fat Princess. The official launch of their video rental/download service and of previous features such as in-game XMB menus and an achievement-like Trophy system shows that they're finally catching up to the feature set of the 360. You can even take video rentals and downloads on the road with the PSP, although you still can't directly access the store on the handheld. There still isn't a timeline on the often-delayed Home service, but it's starting to shape up into a useful community tool. And with a US line of ten Greatest Hits titles priced at $29.99, the PS3 is continuing to improve.

The upcoming PS3/PC MMO, DC Universe Online allows you to create a hero or villain and team up with the likes of Batman or the Joker.

The re-showings of exclusive titles, Resistance 2, Infamous, and the officially announced God of War III were nice, but the new details on the quirky, community title LittleBigPlanet and the epic MMO DC Universe Online were one of the higher points. While LBP isn't exactly a new title, it keeps on getting better with each showing. They constantly add new features and show how customizable and easy it is to create content and share it. The DC Universe MMO is coming on both PS3 and PC and is spearheaded by legendary comic creator Jim Lee. A longtime MMO player himself, DC Universe Online looks to discard the grinding and stereotypes of other games and feature more action-oriented gameplay and some unique premises. Almost like a mix of City of Heroes and City of Villains, Lee takes the best features of both games and makes them better with a DC coat of paint. And the ambitious title, MAG: Massive Action Game looks to set some unprecedented standards. Citing 256 human players at one time, squad-based gameplay, and a unique ranking system, MAG could be an impressive title if it can be pulled off. Sony seems to have most of their bases covered with some exclusive titles in each genre. And with a constantly improving PSN service and feature set, we'll see if it's enough to compete with the 360.

Overall, it really felt like Sony was just trying to catch up with Nintendo and Microsoft and what they already have to offer. Their conference wasn't bad, but there just wasn't much new or awe-inspiring. They're positioning all three of their platforms appropriately, and there should be something to look forward to for each one. LittleBigPlanet and DC Universe Online look to be some of the more interesting exclusive titles, and Massive Action Game could be fun if it doesn't get too hectic. Sony did a good job of boasting their first-party games, but they're going to need some real support from third-parties if they want to stay competitive.

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