One of the developers interviewed in the video that appeared before the Sony PlayStation 4 press event at E3 this year said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that what Sony is looking to do isn’t necessarily about hardcore players in a clan but people sharing and creating together.
In contrast to the Xbox One event, which seemed at best to be a rehashing of the same old Xbox titles aimed at teenage boys and young adults who are interested in only the most violent of games, Sony attempted to set the stage for a more family-friendly press event. How did that pan out? Read on to find out.
The press event began with a discussion of Sony’s newest handheld system, the PlayStation Vita. With 125 games so far, the Playstation Vita is nipping at the heels of the Nintendo 3DS, which to date boasts 136 games in America. Jack Tretton, President and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America, began by highlighting new titles coming soon, including a new episode of The Walking Dead coming this summer.
Interestingly, 60% of all Vita purchases made through the Playstation Store online, showing the power of online distribution, though obviously the system is lagging seriously behind mobile platforms like iOS and Android in terms of number of games available and pure sales numbers. While more serious gamers no doubt remain excited about Sony’s prospects with the Vita, the movement to more casual games that began with the iPhone shows no signs of slowing and I’d be surprised if we remember the Vita as anything more than an (expensive) drop in Sony’s bucket.
To begin his discussion of upcoming content for the PlayStation 3, Tretton took a look at upcoming titles for that platform, highlighting another zombie title, The Last of Us. From there, however, Sony began to show signs of keeping up with its promises, showing the more family-friendly new titles Puppeteer, Rain, and Gran Turismo 6.
They closed out the presentation on PS3 games with an extensive trailer for ultra-violent new Batman title on display, Batman: Arkham Origins. The lesson here is that, while Sony may be positioning themselves as more family-friendly company, it’s important for parents to keep in mind that even once family-friendly franchises like Batman are now much more gruesome universes that are not appropriate for younger children and that all games need to be reviewed and checked before blindly purchasing them for kids, no matter what system your family owns.
What everyone came to this press event expecting, and were not disappointed by, was huge amounts of new information concerning Sony’s upcoming major new console, the PlayStation 4. While the initial launch back in February did little to satiate those wondering exactly what the PS4 would be about, many of those questions have now been answered.
What Does It Look Like?
First up was the actual PlayStation 4 product design, introduced by executive Andrew House. Much like the Xbox One, the design of the PlayStation 4 is a large, black, and mostly rectangular box. On a day where Apple showed off an amazing-looking, miniaturized, and made-in-the-USA cylindrically-shaped Mac Pro desktop machine, it was disappointing to see that largely the new consoles are going to be identical, boring, big black boxes.
A Connected Device
Drawing on their extensive music and movie properties, Sony Music and Sony Pictures respectively, as well as the other products and services they own, including television shows like Breaking Bad and the online video channel Crackle, Sony is able to leverage a ton of exclusive content on their platform, all of which is coming to PlayStation 4. However, the big announcement was the new, original, and cutting-edge gaming related content will also be coming to the PlayStation 4, though specific announcements about that will be coming at a later date.
Sony also announced that their Video Unlimited service, which offers 150,000 movies and TV shows to rent and own, will be available from day one on the console. Music Unlimited, offering a catalog of more than 20 million songs, will similarly be available on launch day. Some third party content was announced as well, with Redbox Instant’s 7,000 movies are coming to the console. Flixster, one of the world’s most popular movie discovery services, will be coming to PS4 as well.
Added to a first-rate Netflix experience, this should all combine to offer parents and their kids alike a large variety of entertainment to choose from on their PlayStation 4. Of course, much like the Xbox One, the status of any parental controls on any of this content has yet to be announced. Hopefully we’ll be finding out more about what these controls will look like, and if they will satisfy parent’s needs in a world where often these devices are being used unsupervised.
“Breakthrough Gaming Experiences”
And of course, that brings us to the games. The first of which, The Order 1886, an exclusive title for PlayStation 4, showed little to differentiate Sony from the Xbox in terms of what will excite parents. Rather, The Order seemed to be about riding horses and blowing up monsters with big guns.
“The PlayStation 4 will allow us to show a much wider and deeper expression of emotions… subtle and lighter emotions”
– Shu Yoshida, President of Sony’s Worldwide Studios
While the Dark Sorcerer demo showed was certainly… well, dark and full of black magic and orcs… it was not the same violence-obsessed show already becoming associated with the Xbox name. Rather, Sony was showing a funny and light-hearted technical demo which became apparent when the background of the “game” dropped away showing the characters in front of green-screens pretending to act out a scene in a videogame title.
Independently Developed Games on PlayStation 4
“As a platform, cultivating a wide variety of experiences is crucial”
– Adam Boyes, VP
Sony then introduced Supergiant Games, the brains behind the epic indie title Bastion who are showing off their latest work, Transistor, which will be making its console debut on the PlayStation 4. Though seemingly a hack-and-slash game, Transitor featured a colorful cartoony style and promised a fun, much more family-friendly experience for gamers.
The Indie section of the PlayStation store is designed to try and include more developers of what Sony VP Adam Boyes called “beautiful, challenging, and fantastic experiences” to bring titles to their console.
Retro-styled shooters, goofy titles like Octodad: Deadliest Catch, a cartoony title about raising a zombie army, and a new Oddworld title rounded out their selection of smaller titles which will be coming to their platform. Spending this much time highlighting not just these independent titles, but titles that eschew the blood and gore of so many modern titles for fun, colorful graphics and challenging gameplay.
Compared to Microsoft’s event, this is a breath of fresh air for parents everywhere, indicating that the next generation of consoles won’t be controlled completely by the shooters of yesteryear.
While a look at these independent titles was more than enough to satisfy me, it wouldn’t be a major E3 press event without a look at the blockbuster titles that make or break console releases. Many of these were, as one might expect, significantly less family-friendly than what had been shown so far.
A designer from legendary Japanese game-development company Square Enix (Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior) then introduced the latest role-playing game (RPG) coming to PlayStation 4, Final Fantasy XV. An action-adventure title featuring a futuristic universe, sword-slashing, and apparently a lot of family drama, it will be interesting to see how this new title does in the United States which as of late has drawn away from these sorts of epic Japanese titles towards American RPGs including Mass Effect, the Fallout series, the Elder Scrolls, and Red Dead Redemption.
That wasn’t the only title Square Enix had to show off. Kingdom Hearts III, fan favorite series, which combines elements of both more traditional Japanese role-playing games with the Disney animated universe, was also shown off.
A live demo of Ubisoft’s upcoming Assasin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, which takes the stealth action series into a world of “rum… swashbuckling… and beards.” was then shown off and was about what fans of the series would expect. A lot of sneaking around, killing enemies while hidden and by jumping from high ledges, and shooting primitive guns at one another. The big new addition to the series to expect this time around is battling pirate warships blasting away at one another.
WATCH_DOGS, another Ubisoft title aimed at an older audience which promises open gameplay where you can solve problems any way you please, was also shown off. From hacking ATMs, cell phones and surveillance cameras to evading the cops in unique ways, Watch Dogs looked to be a very unique title though obivously not one intended for younger audiences.
A segment highlighting NBA 2K14 and a real-life LeBron James talking to a digital LeBron on the PS4 followed, though didn’t get much more in-depth beyond the initial gag.
Elder Scrolls Online was the next title Sony showed off, the next step in Bethesda Softwork’s series of medieval-themed RPGs which is coming to PlayStation 4 in the Spring of 2014. The beta for this game will be exclusively available on Sony’s new console. Presumably this will be a subscription-based title with monthly fees, so parents need to beware that beyond the initial cost to buy this title, they will also incur monthly fees. With the addictiveness of online titles like World of Warcraft long-established at this point, parents should beware letting their kids get too immersed in this title.
Overall, the blockbuster games certainly involved a lot less military action, guns, and direct violence when compared to Microsoft’s announcement, but that didn’t mean any of these titles were necessarily any more family-oriented than their competition.
The Used Game Market
While Microsoft is siding with the game developers in the next-gen console battle, linking purchased content to a console and preventing the easy resale, lending or trading of games, parents who think that the ability to trade-in games towards newer titles or to allow their children to borrow games from friends will be delighted to discover that Sony’s PlayStation 4 will not restrict used game sales in any way.
Disc based games for the PlayStation 4 can still be sold, traded, lent or kept in your collection just as we’ve been able to with every generation of home consoles since the very beginning. Similarly, and in contrast to Microsoft’s play this time around, disc-based games do not need to be connected online to play whatsoever, allowing those without always-on Internet connections or those who do not care to play their games online the freedom to play their games the way they want.
Microsoft announced that they’ll be selling the Xbox One console for $499. Nintendo, meanwhile, has priced their Wii U at $299, a not-insignificant savings, albeit for a less-powerful home console that will not be able to play games with quite the same level of graphics quality. Where does the PlayStation 4 fit in?
In a fairly big surprise, Sony announced today that the PS4 will sell for $399 and become available this “holiday season” (no exact date was set). A full $100 less than the Xbox One, and not much more than the Wii U, Sony is very competitively pricing their console and taking dead aim at their competition this time around. While they’re undoubtedly losing quite a bit of money on every console sold at that price, it’ll be hard for parents to argue with the cost savings when compared to Microsoft’s offering, especially when you consider that you also won’t have to pay for the additional Xbox Live Gold membership to enjoy online PlayStation 4 content. However, a PlayStation Plus membership (less than $5/month, slightly cheaper than the cost of Xbox Live Gold) sounds like it will be required to play games online.
Having now seen what all three of the big console developers are focusing on for the next generation of consoles and game titles, the choices parents will face this holiday season are becoming more clear. While both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox are hugely powerful devices that will foster amazing new gaming and film/TV streaming experiences, Nintendo’s Wii U, which was released before the last holiday season, is still a contender in this round of consoles. With the ever-popular and much more family-friendly Mario, Zelda, and Metroid titles on their side, the Nintendo system may still be the best way for families to play together. And with Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video apps already on the console, it’s not as though you’ll be left behind if you want to watch online content as well.
While the debate around which console parents should consider, and for which ages what types of games are most appropriate will continue for years to come, now that we’ve seen deeper looks at what both Sony and Microsoft have to offer parents are better able to plan which of these hot new devices, if any, are the best for their own families for this holiday season.