The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly ---Sony's E3 Press Event

Sony came into this year’s E3 Expo riding a wave of uncertainty.

The PlayStation Network outage in late April put a bad taste in the mouth from many. For three weeks, there was a period of uneasiness among the market. No one knew what was happening, and just what information was leaked out for the world to abuse. Sony’s response to the matter has been questioned at several points, from the media down to the everyday consumers. A level of trust may have been lost, and the PlayStation brand might have taken a public relations hit that is may not be able to recover from.

The E3 Expo is the first time since the outage that Sony would have the undivided attention of the entire gaming world. Did they do what was needed to put peoples’ fears to rest over the PSN outage? Did Sony reveal enough about their upcoming year to give confidence in the PlayStation brand as a whole?

This is The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Sony’s E3 press conference.

The Good

Sony apologizes.

When Jack Tretton stepped onto stage at the Los Angeles Sports Memorial Center’s stage, he jumped right in to the “elephant in the room.”

He stood front and center on stage, without looking into any teleprompter, and delivered a true to the heart apology to the third party publishers and developers, to the retail partners, and most importantly, the consumers.

“I want to apologize both personally, and on behalf of the company, for any anxiety we caused you. I know we took you away from what you enjoy to do most, connecting and gaming with friends all over the world, and enjoying all the many entertainment options on the PlayStation Network. And it is you that causes us to be humble and amazed at the amount of dedication and support you continue to give to the PlayStation brand.”

This was the apology that consumers were looking for from the beginning. Not the usual corporate double speak and form letter like response, but a true to form apology that is sincere and to the heart.

Starting the conference off with the apology set the tone for the rest of the event, Sony’s argument on why the consumer should be invested in the PlayStation brand now, and into the future.

Nintendo has Mario. Microsoft has Halo. Sony has Uncharted.

Sony has been blessed in that have one of the most diverse line-ups of exclusives among the three console manufactures. Their library ranges from light hearted platform titles like Ratchet and Clank and Sly Cooper, to visceral sci-fi driven shooters in the form of Resistance. While Sony has had a lot of titles to hang their name on, it has been many years since someone could point to a specific series as the marquee franchise in the Sony library.

This year’s press conference just may have given us a franchise to look to.

The Uncharted series, a third person action title from Naughty Dog, has been a key franchise for the PlayStation 3 since launch. The Uncharted series has always been about pushing the system to its limits; better visuals, better sound, and better experience than anything else we can find on the Sony system.

Uncharted 3 took the stage with an on stage presentation of a level not seen before. No other game had as much time front and center during the press event, and Sony positioned the game as the centerpiece of their 2011 PlayStation 3 lineup. With stunning visuals, fluid gameplay, and the traditional atmosphere that the gaming world has become to recognize, Uncharted has become positioned as Sony’s premier franchise. What helps drive that point home is the big title announced for Sony’s new handheld, The PS Vita, is Uncharted Golden Abyss.

Uncharted looks to be the franchise that Sony will hang its hat on for the future of the brand.

Next Generation Platform comes to life.

Sony came to E3 fully ready to go head to head with Nintendo’s 3DS system. As sales of the 3DS seem to stagnate after the initial launch period, a disappointment shared by Nintendo brass, Sony took the stage to reveal the much anticipated NGP, forever now known as the PS Vita.

The Vita is bolstered by a strong lineup of software, mostly from Sony’s first party partners. The marquee title shown was Uncharted Golden Abyss, another adventure of the Nathan Drake that takes place within the Uncharted universe, but between the PS3 titles. Golden Abyss features both traditional and touch controls, which can be used simultaneously is the player chooses too.

Other titles shown on the PS Vita include a version of Street Fighter X Tekken, featuring Cole from Sony’s inFamous series, Ruin, a dungeon crawler in the same vein as Diablo and Torchlight, and traditional Sony franchises ModNation Racers and LittleBigPlanet.

The big surprise came when the price of the system was announced. Thoughts that the tech would drive the MSRP of the handheld into the many hundreds of dollars, Sony dropped the bomb that the Wi-Fi only version will cost $249, and the 3g version with cost $299. This puts the Vita in the same price range as the Nintendo 3DS, and sets up one of the interesting battles of this year’s holiday season.

Sony continues to woo the third parties.

Just like last year, EA and Sony have once again partnered to offer exclusive content on the PlayStation 3 version of select EA titles. SSX, the revival of EA’s arcade snowboarding series, will have Mt. Fuji as an exclusive mountain to play on. Need for Speed The Run will feature additional cars that will not be available on the other versions. Lastly, Battlefield 3 will come with the full version of Battlefield 1942 on the same disc, for free.

Perhaps the most shocking third party partnership came when Ken Levine, the brainchild of the BioShock franchise, took the stage to tout the advantages of the PlayStation Move controller, and how it can bring a much more immersive experience to games. On stage, he announced that BioShock Infinite will contain Move controls.

Other titles shown that will include exclusive content includes Saint’s Row 3, the previously mentioned Vita version of Street Fighter X Tekken, and NBA 2k12, with a Kobe Bryant demoed feature called “On the Move.”

These partnerships help attract the consumer to the PlayStation brand by increasing the perceived value of the system, while most of the exclusive access on the Xbox 360 revolves around early access to paid content.

The Bad

Resistance 3 comes across as lackluster.

Blame it on having to follow Uncharted 3 on stage, or perhaps just a poor choice of a level to show off, but Insomniac’s last PlayStation 3 exclusive looked rather plain when demoed on stage.

The demo sequence came across as simple sci-fi shooter fare, blow up a bunch of aliens amongst wreckage, while you merry band of underground fighter buddies take the brunt of the abuse. The action seemed choppy at times, and the overall aesthetic of the atmosphere was just terribly plain. It was not a good showing for what was once the top billed franchise for the PS3.

The Ugly

The nation’s fastest, something.

The announcement that the PS Vita will be partnering with AT&T as the systems national broadband partner brought a wave of discontent from the audience. What started as a few groans turned into a full blown wave of boos as the face of Kaz Hirai twisted in a way that made him think of E3’s of the past.

Please, everyone put on your 3d glasses, pretty please?

From a pure business standpoint, it is no surprise that Sony is pushing 3D technology. As a company, Sony has a lot to gain if 3D penetration increases, as they produce the most 3D televisions on the market. But during this year’s press event, Sony almost reached the point of begging the consumer to adapt to 3D.

The PlayStation branded monitor and glasses is a good concept. A 24” screen, glasses, cables, and the Resistance 3 title for $500 are a pretty good value for someone looking for an entry level product. The problem is that gaming has yet to have its “Avatar” moment, and until it does, Sony will continue to be unable to gain that market penetration that it wants.

Overall, Sony put together a solid press event, and a significant argument on why the PlayStation brand is worth investing in for the next 12 months. A solid and varied selection of first and third party titles, exciting new hardware with the PS Vita, and continued support to turn the PlayStation family into a truly unified brand is coming along nicely.