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Making The Grade: How Sony Can Improve Its E3 Performance

by Mike Futter on Jun 05, 2015 at 09:00 AM

Yesterday, we got down to brass tacks to discuss what each of the platform holders need to do this year at E3. We've picked apart Microsoft's E3 2014 performance and delivered our expectations. Today, we look at what Sony needs to do to raise last year's grade.

Last year, Sony gave a middling performance designed to hold its lead, but not grow it. Since then, Microsoft has gained ground, putting Sony in a challenging position.

After E3 2014, we called Sony's lineup "shallow." Since then, the company has self-described its first-party offerings for this year as "sparse." Last year brought us a first look at Bloodborne, The Order: 1886, LittleBigPlanet 3 (by Sumo Digital, not Media Molecule), The Last of Us Remastered, DriveClub, and Infamous: First Light. Two of those failed to live up to expectations.

No Man's Sky had a strong showing, almost stealing the press conference if not for Uncharted 4: A Thief's End (since delayed out of 2015). Other indies were featured, but just like with Microsoft, many of them still haven't emerged.

PlayStation TV was announced for North America and has since died on the vine due to miserable support. Retailers have dropped the price by over half from its original $99.

Here's how we summarized Sony's presentation last year:

For now Sony seems to be content with not blowing its lead, with third parties doing most of the heavy-lifting for the PS4 in the short term. While the system will see plenty of titles this year and beyond, Sony refrained from overly pressing its advantage over the Xbox One. Even a symbolic price cut, or perhaps including the PlayStation camera for free as a dig at Microsoft having to drop the Kinect, would have been an alpha-dog assertion of superiority.

With titles like The Order: 1886 and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End in 2015, next year should be a great one for the system in regards to Sony’s first-party studios – an area where the company has an advantage over Microsoft. In fact, Sony’s E3 2015 presentation could be packed with titles like The Last Guardian, and new offerings from Guerrilla Games (which is working on a non-Killzone title), Media Molecule, Polyphony Digital, and Sony Santa Monica (God of War) – but that’s an E3 press conference for another time.

Sony's final grade for its E3 2014 presentation?

Sony needs to improve that, but not in the same ways as its direct competitors. It's time to hit the books.

First-Party Exclusives

There should be some first-party exclusives.
Sony, you say "sparse." We say "understatement." While we don't expect that needle to move much through the end of Sony's fiscal year (March 31, 2016) except for Uncharted 4, a vision for the future is crucial.

Own up to mistakes made with DriveClub.
Apologies on the E3 stage are rare, but if Sony doesn't have something to say about the PlayStation Plus version of DriveClub, it's going to look terrible. If there's anything that has a shot of being an "... and it's available right now" announcement, it's this.

You've announced three remasters for this year already, and that's enough.
God of War III and the PlayStation 3 Uncharted titles are coming to PlayStation 4 this year, as is a version of Tearaway (originally released for the Vita). While the first-party lineup is thin, filling the channel with more remasters than have already been announced looks desperate. 

Show us what Guerrilla has been working on.
We're coming up on two years since the release of Killzone: Shadow Fall. We're extremely interested to see what that studio has been working on in the meantime. While we would be thrilled to see gameplay, a tease is the bare minimum.

Whatever happened to David Cage's old man?
Remember E3 2013 and Quantic Dream's "dark sorcerer" demo? We've heard very little from the studio since Beyond: Two Souls. It's not good to bottle up all that emotion.

Media Molecule is more than Tearaway and LittleBigPlanet.
When last we saw Media Molecule's PlayStation 4 project, it was at the console reveal event in New York City. Whether that studio is working on its funky air band game or something else, we're eager to see what it's up to.

Extra Credit

It's time to Last Guardian or get off the pot.
The Last Guardian is turning into the next Duke Nukem Forever. It's great that Sony wants to keep hope alive by denying it's been canceled, but it's time to show some proof. If The Last Guardian is real, let's hear about it. Proof of life would be a huge boost for the publisher.

Hold onto Bloodborne for dear life.
Bloodborne has been a boon for Sony this year. We know an expansion is coming, and if Sony is smart it has a DLC plan similar to Dark Souls II (three meaty chapters). Even more bonus points will be awarded if new content is an "... and it's available right now" announcement.

Ratchet and Clank is delayed, but that doesn't mean we can't get a long look at it.
Ratchet and Clank is one of the most beloved Sony properties of the past two generations. We know a new game that re-envisions the original is coming. We'd love to get a good look at side-by-side gameplay. Points will be subtracted if too much time is devoted to the upcoming animated film.

Stay focused on games.
Powers is getting a second season, and the first was gritty, violent, and fun. That doesn't mean it should get the same amount of time it did last year. We won't be surprised if Sony talks programming, between Powers and PlayStation Vue, but it should be a footnote, not a bullet point.

PlayStation Hardware And Services

It's time to leave 500 GB in the dust.
The PlayStation 4 can support bigger internal hard drives, but that's a hassle for new owners. With an extensive library, especially with PlayStation Plus games, it's time for 1TB to become the standard (without increasing the price of the console).

In the absence of a healthy lineup of exclusive games, it's time to consider pricing options.
Sony wants to maintain its edge into 2016. Without solid first-party offerings this holiday, we expect Sony will aggressively bundle. We expect to see the Uncharted collection either in an official bundle or one cobbled together by retailers. We also wouldn't be surprised to see third-party bundles, especially if Destiny's likely The Taken King expansion is as massive as rumors suggest. Announcing bundles for the fall at E3 makes sense.

PlayStation Now needs to be a deal too good to refuse.
Right now, there's little motivating PlayStation Now subscriptions. Adding PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games might be the jolt to get nostalgia-hungry gamers to bite. A reasonably priced 12-month bundle of PlayStation Plus and PlayStation Now could also give cautious gamers a cost-effective way to jump aboard.

Either leave the PlayStation TV on a mountainside or bring it in from the cold.
Just a year after its announcement, the PlayStation TV is dying of hypothermia (like the PSP Go before it). Either Sony is committed to this piece of technology or it's not. If Sony doesn't consider it "legacy" hardware (as it's professed), it's time to prove it.

The Vita deserves better.
Unlike the PlayStation TV, the Vita has years left in it. The handhed is an RPG machine, and continues to see support (especially through cross-buy). It's time to re-message the system and give people a reason to buy one.

Extra Credit

Start talking specifics with regard to Project Morpheus.
Sony says it plans to ship Project Morpheus by mid-year 2016. We need to start getting a sense for which features will make the cut (for instance, Sony promises on-screen mirroring for party play) and if the head-mounted display and Move controllers will cost more than the PS4 with which they are compatible.

We need to see Project Morpheus games that appeal to the core.
Sony's track record with peripherals and non-core hardware isn't great. PlayStation Move, PSP Go, and PlayStation TV litter the road the company has traveled. Gamers are already wary of head-mounted displays. If Sony wants to make a real go of virtual reality, it needs to show more than tech demos.

A user interface upgrade would be nice.
The PlayStation 4's user interface works, but it would be great if we could pin favorites to the menu bar, create folders, or otherwise get to our content faster. If you've ever tried to watch Powers, you know that finding the video content isn't the easiest thing in the world. Minimizing "time to game" or "time to media" would be helpful.

The PlayStation 4 controller's faults should be acknowledged and fixed.
If you have a PlayStation 4 controller, chances are you've got peeling thumbsticks (see above). Sony hasn't said much, but the company needs to figure out a way to address this. Users are buying after-market thumbstick covers to fix the problem after minimal usage. Controllers cost as much as a game and should be able to stand up to normal play. A better battery wouldn't hurt either, as our DualShock 4s have a shorter life than a flashlight in a horror movie.

Let us play our digital PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games on PS4.
Many PlayStation fans have a library of digital back catalog titles from last-generation. Being able to play those natively on PS4 would be a value-add for owners.

Third Party and Indies

Help Hello Games make the most of this E3.
We've heard a lot about No Man's Sky, but given the alleged size of that game's universe, even that's not much. It's time for hands-on and a release window. If Hello Games is ready for this holiday, it could be a huge safety net for Sony.

People love Yoshinori Ono.
In nearly every picture of Capcom's Yoshinori Ono, we see a smiling, happy developer (and his tiny Blanka). If the little green Street Fighter character makes an appearance on Sony's stage to show off the exclusive Street Fighter V, it's going to be a big moment.

In the absence of solid first-party, Sony needs to spend money on a third-party exclusive.
Microsoft fired a shot last year with the timed exclusivity for Rise of the Tomb Raider. Sony's deal with Capcom for permanent Street Fighter V console exclusivity was a good move, and one that's even more important to repeat this year.

When it comes to indies fewer and bigger are better.
It's very hard to care about a montage of indies that each get 10 seconds of screen time. Sony needs to curate the best of its "first on console" titles and give them the spotlight. This includes No Man's Sky, Mike Bithell's Volume, The Chinese Room's Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, Tequila Works' Rime, Jonathan Blow's The Witness, or others that have (or have serious potential) to garner attention.

Extra Credit

Where is Deep Down, and is it coming to North America?
If you remember Sony's PlayStation 4 reveal, a new Capcom game called Deep Down drew a lot of attention. The Dark Souls-esque environments, multiplayer, and futuristic narrative elements all have us curious. If Capcom has anything to show of the game, it should be on Sony's stage.

The PS4 is missing its MOBA.
Microsoft was smart to strike deals with Hi-Rez Studios and Motiga to bring Smite and Gigantic to Xbox One. Sony needs to get in on that action. The genre is only getting bigger.