Why Sony’s community-focused PlayStation Experience was just what game-hungry PS4 owners needed
Reporting from Sony’s communityfocused PlayStation Experience
While it wasn’t like Sony had any choice in the matter, PlayStation’s 20th anniversary could hardly have arrived at a better time. Its Las Vegas event, PlayStation Experience (PSX), was designed to commemorate two decades in the console business, but the company was already in celebratory mood, with PS4 sales well ahead of its rivals. Indeed, as SCEA president Shawn Layden took to the stage to introduce “two intense days of all things PlayStation”, he opened by reminding us all that PS4 is now the fastest-selling home console of all time.
And yet, even as Sony was keen to mark its achievements to date, PSX represented a chance to look to the future. Its hardware may be selling well, but this has not been Sony’s strongest year from a creative standpoint, and PS4 owners could be forgiven for wondering when their console was going to live up to its prelaunch billing. With numerous high-profile delays and big games arriving with bugs and online issues (none more damning than DriveClub), Sony has had to rely on remasters and ports of indie favourites to prop up the release schedule. Over the past six months, Microsoft has regained some ground, and you could now easily make a case for it having the stronger roster of exclusives. And with NPD numbers for November showing Xbox One outselling PS4 in the US for a change, Sony had something to prove.
Though press were present, PSX 2014 was an event with a firm focus on community. Notably, it began with footage of and voiceovers from fans – nothing too self-aggrandising, just people talking honestly about what games mean to them. “We continue to be humbled by your passion,” said Layden, dressed down in a Kratos T-shirt, with Sony’s other hosts in similarly casual attire. This consciously more informal approach was a world apart from a sharp-suited E3 presentation. The message was obvious: we’re just like you. And if it wasn’t entirely convincing, the effort was appreciated. It helped that Sony chose presenters wisely: the likeable Adam Boyes introduced Destiny’s PlayStation-exclusive content by making a loot cave gag that was more warmly received than the DLC bonuses.
CG trailers were conspicuous by their absence. A demonstration of Uncharted 4 began with the words “the following footage is running entirely in realtime on a PlayStation 4 system”, and that was true of just about everything that followed. Viewers of the livestream might have been surprised by the apparently muted reaction to A Thief’s End, but you can blame the sound team for cutting out crowd noise whenever a video was playing. In the auditorium, the response was raucous. Questions were asked about how much of a mechanical advance had been made over its predecessors – questions answered on p54 – but visually the game is a cut above everything else on PS4 to date.
A strong start, then, and there were plenty of crowd-pleasers to come. We saw new trailers of existing games, and witnessed enough announcements to make us wonder whether Sony might be leaving itself short for E3 in June. Many of them were aimed at pleasing players rather than press or trade, though our delight at the news of Yakuza 5’ s localisation was as great as anyone’s. Applause also greeted the imminent arrival of Suikoden I and II on Vita, with SCEA Third Party Production director Gio Corsi announcing portable versions of Super Time Force Ultra, The Banner Saga, Octodad, TowerFall Ascension and Resident Evil Revelations 2.
Meanwhile, the ebullient Yoshinori Ono managed to work the crowd to a frenzy for the already-leaked Street Fighter V, while EA earned itself a bit of goodwill as Peter Moore made three of the publisher’s games available to download for free for the duration of
We saw enough announcements to make us wonder whether Sony might be leaving itself short for E3
the two-day event. More big names arrived: Tim Schafer didn’t just confirm
Broken Age for Vita and PS4, but surprised with Day Of The Tentacle: Special Edition. Yet Sony spent plenty of time showcasing more offbeat fare: Keita Takahashi and Robin Hunicke baffled everyone with a trailer for Wattam, while Giant Sparrow’s glimpse of its follow-up to The Unfinished Swan, What Remains Of Edith Finch?, looked like a similarly rich, melancholic treat. Few could fail to notice the breadth of the games on show, with room reserved for Kickstarter RPG
Darkest Dungeon and pixel-art sidescroller Skytorn alongside blockbusters such as Batman: Arkham Knight.
Not everything came off, of course. Sony hasn’t mastered conciseness, and some attendees were visibly flagging as it passed the two-hour mark. Attractive set dressing and magnificent facial hair aside, The Order: 1886 looks to have little going for it. David Jaffe’s heartfelt thanks to fans for supporting his family for 20 years was soured by a poorly chosen turn of phrase afterwards, and it was a strange choice to close on Drawn To
Death, a high-concept, low-art multiplayer arena shooter that looked crude in every sense – understandably so in pre-alpha state. Square Enix, however, took the wooden spoon, teasing the crowd with the Final Fantasy VII logo before revealing that the PC port of the original – not a remake – was coming to PlayStation 4. The uncomfortable silence that followed suggested Sony knew what it was doing when it muted the mics for the livestream.
Nonetheless, this was a show with real substance, and the generosity continued once the presentation had concluded. With around 800 game kiosks, queues were for the most part reasonable, while playable demos were often lengthy. At E3, attendees were limited to five minutes with The Order; here, you could stay on for half an hour.
Away from the show floor, Sony hosted a series of panels covering all aspects of development, though these were targeted at players rather than developers, suggesting Sony had taken a few pointers from PAX. Impressively, these were no mere PR exercises. A discussion looking back at ten years of God Of War saw a panel including God Of War II director Cory Barlog talk over early footage from when the game was known as Dark Odyssey, and a rough cut of Kratos riding Pegasus set to Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone.
A Storytelling In Video Games panel featuring Naughty Dog’s Neil Druckmann, Media Molecule’s Rex Crowle and Double Fine’s Tim Schafer would undoubtedly have been a highlight at GDC and was naturally a draw here. Tellingly, Sony encouraged audience participation wherever possible: in a session where Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson discussed voice acting, attendees were asked to step up and deliver lines that would later be spliced into cutscene footage of God Of War III. The results were mixed, but everyone seemed to be having a good time.
Any whispers that complacency might have been setting in at Sony were dispelled by what was a convincing show, then – for its home console division, at least. Sony perhaps needed PSX more than it would be prepared to admit, but over the course of a weekend it worked hard to remind players why they bought a PS4 in the first place.
SCEA chief Shawn Layden loses the suit in Las Vegas to celebrate 20 years of PlayStation