Ex­pe­ri­ence points

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

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