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E3 08 – Sony Press Conference impressions

posted on July 18th, 2008 by christian

The major E3 press conferences played out the way I expected, except for Sony’s. Nintendo didn’t have much, and they didn’t really need much. Microsoft needed a fresh coat of paint and wanted a broader audience for the 360, and revealed attempts to accomplish these goals. Sony needed some big fucking guns, especially after the FF13 announcement. Instead, they gave us most of the same, and the few pleasant surprises simply weren’t enough in today’s gaming climate.

Killzone 2? Knew about it. Resistance 2? Looks great, but we knew about it. Resistance PSP and God of War 3? New, but not exactly shockers. Neither is a new Ratchet and Clank, even if it is a downloadable. Sony’s wares are all last year’s models, and apparently that will not fly. I think it is clear that as companies host their own mini events throughout the year, E3 is becoming less and less important for announcing ground-breaking news.

However, the culture’s mindset is still stuck on the Expo of old. Each year, E3 wanes a little more yet gamers get further steeped in predictions and speculation and hang on to every word of liveblogs. As a result, Sony and Nintendo were looked at as shameful this year by dedicated gamers, which is often more damning to a game’s success than it should be. Dennis Dyack might be nuts but he also shows just how powerful cesspools like NeoGAF are at swaying opinions and causing lost sales. Sony has a chance to do redeem themselves with future events, but that doesn’t help them in the here and now.

E3 also elucidated what gamers seem to truly value, and it isn’t pretty. Sony had a few interesting PSN games to show, but the response has been mild at best. Fat Princess may just be Capture the Flag with a twist, but a mighty twist for this PC world. Flower is a bit too similar to failed indie project Pollen Sonata, but at least it means the concept will be seeing life in some form. And while we all knew about LittleBigPlanet, the new demonstrations show a tremendous amount of potential for user generated content.

The common aspect of these games is that they are downloads, and as I have said before, it seems that the indsutry has a very short attention span when it comes to downloadable games, as if they are only worthy of a fraction of the attention that a fully priced release is granted. I find this troubling, especially when Sony’s first party teams are trying harder than ever to make something interesting and original. I know we all wanted to see a new Fumito Ueda game, but his team shouldn’t be the only one we pay attention to.

There was also the announcement of movie rentals via the Playstation Store, which earned a reception similar to vegetables being thrown at the stage. After all, the 360 has had this for a while, and now has Netflix to boot. I will give MS credit for what they have offered, but I also don’t blame Sony for waiting so long. This isn’t something like the 2.40 firmware, which introduced basic and needed usability features. The downloadable rentals on either console are no cheaper than either a Netflix subscription or a Blu Ray rental at Blockbuster. When there are cheaper and more reliable methods of getting the content, there isn’t much for me to cry over (and with ISP’s toying with bandwidth caps, I care even less). Allowing this non-game announcement to become a highlight and focus of an Expo meant to demonstrate new games is both shocking and somewhat depressing.

Lastly, as unjustified as this lack of interest may or may not be, it isn’t good for Sony no matter how you slice it. They have already lost billions, and while figuring out the finances of such a large entity is often a fool’s game, that isn’t a good sign for a company that previously had a decade plus of unrivaled dominance. Jack Tretton was quoted as saying that they have to rely on creative first party titles because they cannot afford to throw money around for exclusives. While there may be some hyperbole in there, it is still not something you want to hear. I think they are in worse shape than anyone is making them out to be, which is probably the most fucked up observation about the industry.

Nintendo had a few years during the Gamecube era where they made less gold than in the past, posted a tiny bit of loss, and suddenly every armchair analyst claimed their time had come. Meanwhile Sony can bleed cash while everyone assumes that they’ll be around for them to heckle and insult.

That isn’t guaranteed to be the case, and I think we all need to take a more realistic look at the company. That means being more critical of their bad decisions, while also being a little more fair to them when they come up with some good products. Sony has fallen down more than a few pegs in a short time, and after this E3 I have no idea if they can crawl back up. Even if they do make some knockout moves, there is no telling if they will have an effect on whatever opinions the various gaming hiveminds will cobble up.

Conclusion – tl;dr, OMG Sony has no good games.


  1. TrueTallus said on July 21, 2008:

    The core gamer hivemind doesn’t seem like it matters as much as the leauge of uninformed mouthbreathers. Wasn’t I reading not too long ago that the PS3 was finally overtaking the 360 in monthly sales? If Sony can continue to sell to Joe Fratboy and Jim Absenteefather with non-gaming functionality and empty marketing promises, maybe they really don’t have much to worry about from a strictly financial position. That’s not to say people who are interested in a richer world of gaming shouldn’t be concerned by what’s being offered, of course.

  2. jay said on July 22, 2008:

    Sony undid anything they gained from the PS2 with the PS3. Their game division only made profit overall if you count the PS1. That’s pretty dramatic. I don’t think they will drop out any time soon but Christian’s right that the average gamer sees the company as invincible. Think about the Xbox last generation. When it was in distant second no one expected more of it. Now we don’t only hear fanboys telling us the PS3 will stage a coup, paid financial analysts are saying it, too. Sony is not seen as mortal.

  3. TrueTallus said on July 23, 2008:

    I don’t understand what you mean about Sony’s game division only being profitable if the PS1 is included. Are you saying the PS2 and PS3 both didn’t/haven’t made a profit but the PS1 did? Or are you saying the total revenue from the Playstation brand only balances out to the black if all three versions of the console are weighed against Sony’s all time game related expenses? How does the PSP fit into that? Not trying to nitpick, just curious.

  4. christian said on July 23, 2008:

    TT, I do not wish to speak for Jay, but the PS3 has lost so damn much money that it likely weighs significantly against what the PS1 and 2 earned them.

  5. jay said on July 23, 2008:

    TT, what I mean is that if you look at what Sony has lost in the PS3 era it entirely wipes out anything they gained during the PS2 era. In order for them to be in the black overall in their video game career you need factor in what they made with the PS1. I don’t have the numbers broken out for specific systems so I can’t say how much of their recent losses are due to the PSP, but I’d wager little or none.

  6. TrueTallus said on July 23, 2008:

    Ouch. I didn’t realize they were so spectacularly behind. It goes to show that I suffer from the same “they’ll make it somehow, don’t worry” mentality you and Christian are worried about that I was about to give you the old excuse that the Xbox took a long time to be profitable as well… Is anyone here grizzled enough to remember whether people were just as quick to say Atari or Nintendo had nothing to worry about back when they started to loose ground back in the day?

  7. pat said on July 24, 2008:

    there is a big difference between the 360 losing money and the ps3 losing money. the 360 can draw on the piggy bank of hugely profitable microsoft. as a company, sony makes money (usually) but they don’t print it the way msft does. for several years in the previous hardware generations games division was sony’s largest operating segment by income (FY 2004 most recently).

  8. Christian said on July 24, 2008:

    Pat is right, and it isn’t hard to see why. Sony works largely in the entertainment industry, where losses and failures are much more common. Meanwhile the world of electronics has stiff competition. Microsoft has a huge lock on the PC market; aside from operating system costs, they’ll make solid revenue just on software licenses and support for businesses and developers. For example, as weak as Windows Vista may be, sales of Office, Windows Server and Visual Studio 2008 should remain throughout the next few years. MS has too many products to fall back on.

  9. jay said on July 24, 2008:

    Regarding Nintendo, they have never lost money over a full year. I believe they showed losses once or at most twice from quarter to quarter but that is all. Keep in mind they’ve existed since 1889 though so I’d guess we have no idea if they lost money for most of their history – Pat would need to check into this stuff. I am at least pretty sure that as a game company they always make annual profits.

    In other words, Nintendo makes profit and people declare they are leaving the industry. Sony loses money and people declare there is no way they will ever leave the industry.

  10. pat said on July 24, 2008:

    i can state that they have not lost money over a full year since 1999 (although according to bloomberg data they have had quarters where they lost money, back in 2003). i cant say what went on for the previous 110 years. i would bet (though cannot confirm) they lost money during the 1960s, as it seems (according to wikipedia) the playing card market was on the ropes at times over that decade and nintendo failed in their attempts to diversify into other businesses.

    the wikipedia article on the history of nintendo
    nintendo annual reports, available on the company’s website
    bloomberg equity data

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