OPINION: Sony’s E3 press conference

The Vita brand reveal would have been the big surprise. But in typical Sony style that was leaked a while back. So this left Sony without any big surprises for its E3 press conference. And it didn’t matter one bit.

The contrast between its presentation and Microsoft’s is both obvious and fascinating.

Just late last night I wrote about how Microsoft’s increased focus on the mass-market was indicative of the changing games industry. If that’s the case, then Sony’s steely-eyed commitment to the hardcore sector is just as interesting.

Let’s not forget – Sony was pioneering family gaming before Nintendo even muttered the words Wii or DS. With SingStar and the EyeToy Sony was the pioneer of non-controller gaming and our industry’s growing success in the wider market owes a great debt to these early innovations.

But any fears we once had that Move would amount to little more than a Wii-a-like have long since been forgotten. Indeed, the belief that Sony wanted the whole family to crowd around the PS3 and pretend to stroke cats and be animatedly friendly has also vanished (though my daughter will certainly love the new EyePet game!).

Sony is now positioning itself as THE core gaming brand on the market. And with the software line-up on show this year it’s hard to argue with it.

Yes, yes – we all know that Sony has more of a vested interest in pushing 3D gaming than Microsoft because, unlike its competitor, it also wants to sell you 3D TVs. But that should’t diminish the huge amount of resource it’s ploughing into the tech.

Whether 3D will eventually proposer or not, Sony is the only one pushing the 3D envelope in the home console sector.

And with Microsoft choosing to show Kinect playing with Sesame Street characters and scanning in fluffy toys, Sony has a veritable feast of traditional titles lining up to use the Move controller.

Of particular note was the Move integration demoed with NBA 2K11. Not only was the title visually astonishing, it also looked genuinely accessible to all markets. And Ken Levine’s personal tale of how he was converted was compelling and seemingly quite genuine.

That’s not the only way in which Sony is pushing boundaries. Dust 514 seems to have attracted far fewer headlines than it deserves. Blogs and consumer sites have been quick to latch on to its new PS3 exclusivity, but what’s infinitely more interesting is that it’s free.

Yes, free. It’s not coming to retail. It’s download only. And it will cost nothing to download. CCP hopes to make its fortune by selling in-game items and currency to gamers. And yes, Dust 514 will be Move compatible too.

It’s that sort of willingness to try new things and expend its reach that currently sets Sony apart from its key competitor.

Don’t forget, either, Sony’s incredibly impressive first party line-up. Uncharted 3, The Ico Collection, WipEout, inFamous 2, the Grand Turismo, God of War and Killzone brands – it’s a killer stable of IP.

Where I believe there is less certainly about Sony’s strategy is Vita, the final name for the Next Generation Portable.

Now, that’s not to be disparaging about the device. Technically it looks incredible. High-spec and crammed with clever networking and connectivity ideas, it very much justifies its price tag from a raw value perspective.

But what a price tag it is. $250 for the wi-fi model and $300 for the 3G+wi-fi SKU. What that will translate to on this side of the Atlantic remains to be seen. But it will certainly be over 200 and perhaps not far off 300.

That’s a lot of money. Particularly when you consider that Nintendo’s 3DS launched at 230. Well, I say launched. It was advertised at 230 on the day after its reveal. By the time it finally arrived retail competitiveness – and I presume lower than expected consumer interest – had driven that price down to around 180.

Nintendo has learnt that the portable games market has changed in the iPhone and iPod Touch era.

I was never allowed to report this, but one leading UK retailer told me in the run-up to the 3DS launch that in some of its follow up called to pre-order customers it was astonished how many didn’t realise you had to buy separate games for the device. They had presumed you’d get home, turn it on and download all your games.

Like an iPhone.

Is there space for a device like Vita in the modern market? It’s impossible to say. Certainly there will be a large audience amongst traditional gamers, just as Nintendo knows that it is guaranteed sales of whatever it launches to its devoted fanbase.

But in today’s day and age that’s not enough. Vita will have to penetrate further than that. And big question marks currently sit over that ambition.

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