Sony’s Gamescom 2009: What To Expect

With the buzz from E3 having long died out, the thrills, spills and leaks of the major announcements now just a distant echo, the gaming world turns its gaze towards Europe, and one of the biggest and most important dates in the industry’s calender: Gamescom 2009.  Whilst the general feeling from most European gamers is that we’re the unwanted runt continent locked in the basement and fed scraps, the Gamescom convention is second only to the Tokyo Games Show in attendance and goes to show our importance as the game hungry mass continent that we are, not to mention the wealth of talent we have here in Europe. For the last 7 years, Leipzig was the home of Europe’s offering but this year marks the first show at Cologne.  I’m sure I don’t need to point out how important Gamescom is going to be for us here in the UK and across Europe but this doesn’t mean that what comes out of Europe isn’t going to have an impact on the rest of the gaming world.

There have been no end of rumours flying about recently, some backed up with some pretty solid evidence and some based on pure conjecture, but three and a half years into this generation I think it’s safe to say that the game has somewhat changed.  What was seen as a likely console lifecycle has been brushed off by both Microsft and Sony.  Nintendo’s Wii threw everyone off the mark when announced, and later even more so by its success, opening up the floodgates to a market that has since seemed unreachable. Add this together with the current economic climate and you start to get a picture of where the key aims for the PS3 should lie.  With the core gamers now settled in, the casual mass market and the console’s cost are going to be the key focus of Sony’s strategy for the future and as the rumours suggest, this is exactly where they are headed.  So, with that out the way, lets have a look at what offerings we can expect from Sony’s epic three hour showing at Gamescom.

The PS3 Slim

Lets get this one out of the way first shall we?  The Slim was first spotted in some fairly dubious leaked images of the case and packaging.  The Internet screamed fake until someone decided to send out threatening letters lending more weight to the story.  Like a posh tart, the Slim wasn’t going down easily.  As if the pictures weren’t enough, we then saw a very rough video clip of the complete console.

If indeed the Slim is real then the likely nature of the SKU is suggestive of an omission of hardware features.  This would indicate a possible price drop and would make sense financially.  Features wise though, the PS3 doesn’t seem like the kind of console you can cut back on.  We’ve speculated about the possible exclusion of the Blu-ray drive turning it into a download only console but this is an unlikely move considering how central it is to the PS3 experience. The only exclusion any of us could really commit to was the wireless receiver and that surely wouldn’t be enough to reduce the size to that degree.  It could be genuine.  It could be another massive leak in the Sony hardware catalog.  Then again it could well be some cheap rip off that will only play 16 games including the usual delights like Ping, Marios and Sonique the Spiky Rodent.  Chance of us seeing the PS3 Slim in Cologne: 75%.

The PSPgo

Ah Sony, what a water tight team you have.  Regardless of the expressed disappointment displayed in Jack Tretton’s acknowledgement of the PSPgo leak, we were thoroughly impressed by the mini black beauty at E3.  Of course, as always, the cold light of day brings a more sober look at its feature set and we find ourselves uncertain about this one at this junction. But let’s give Sony the benefit of the doubt and let them explain themselves further because that hefty price point isn’t going to lure the consumers in all by itself.  While the big push of big titles for the small screen is good news, what we’re hoping for is more of a justification than ‘it’s new.’  We’re talking about things like their UMD to digital strategy, more on the recently confirmed App Store and more news of how the early adopters are going to be considered and catered for.  Chance of us getting a confirmed price for Europe at Cologne though: 99%.

Price Cut

Now I’m no fortune teller but I get the feeling that if Sony were to drop the price at any point it would be around about now.  The PS3 has a reputation of being an expensive console – you get a huge amount of bang for your buck but that hasn’t stopped the opposition from making this the prime target of their swipes.  Smack talk between the big three is pretty standard in this business but when publishers start heckling you you know something has to be done. Everyone would love to see the inclusion of the smaller Cell chip bring with it a price reduction and, right now, this might be the only area Sony have to exploit.  As mentioned before, if the Slim ever becomes a reality, it would no doubt bring the numbers down with it.  Right now it’s all rumours and hope, but without it, the PS3 will continue to struggle to sell without proper consumer understanding and marketing.  Chance of Europe getting a universal price cut on the standard PS3: 75%.

Firmware 3.0

Sony have been playing feature catch up for 3 years now.  As it stands they seem to be just a hair’s breadth from where they want to be and a million miles from where they started.  Some features have been cunningly tied up in patents, in some though, Sony have overstepped the Xbox Live experience and have created something they should be proud of, but we’ll get to Home in a bit.

While Sony have stated that the XMB is here to stay and for us not to expect an NXE style full overhaul, don’t let that stop you from thinking they have some exciting advancements planned.  Rumours of grief reporting, user reputation and background patch downloads have come and gone and, although likely, they don’t sound like the kind of major additions you’d expect from the expectation that a round number like 3.0 will bring. Unfortunately all we really have to go on is speculation: better file management, improved browser and Flash support is a must and better Home integration would make sense but Sony have the opportunity to go beyond the functionality of Live and do it their way.  Winter this year is going to be big and dropping a huge feature update (or even overhaul) alongside the PSP Go, a price drop and all those big budget games would put Sony in a prime position.  Chance of Sony discussing future firmware updates at Cologne: 90%.

European Video Store

We’ve been waiting a long time for this one and there isn’t a better time than the European Gamescom to announce it.  As was the case for the US, if you’re watching Sony’s conference live you’d do well to have your PS3 on waiting for someone at Sony HQ to flip that switch and for an icon to appear in the XMB. The US video store has a huge number of titles that is getting regularly updated every week – most week’s updates bring several series and a bunch of films at a time and that quickly adds up to more entertainment than you can shake a glowing ball on the end of a stick at.  This should be a given but whether the Store will have the same quantity of content as the US’s will have to be seen to be believed but let’s hope they don’t forget some of the quality British shows we all love.  Fast Show for the win.  Chance of SCEE announcing a European Video Store next month: 90%.

Home

Home has been an underlying development since it went public in December last year, and for two years before that.  It has steadily grown as more and more developers get involved with the likes of EA showing big support for the virtual world.  Where they plan to take it is still unsure but its potential is, Sony say, close to realisation.  Expect more love from more developers and game launching to become a must. Hopefully there will be a way to incorporate the Video store within and some new features to make further use of linking up with friends.  This should be another area that Sony need to use to their advantage.  If it progresses in the right direction you might find yourself spending a lot more time there.  Chance of some major Home announcement: 50%.  Chance that Sony will talk about Home stats for 30 minutes: 90%.

The Accessories

While Microsoft slapped paint on a wall and flailed their limbs about in an undignified fashion, Dr. Richard Marks’ son was busy writing on the wall ‘we were here first.’  It’s the accuracy of Sony’s new motion device that got the crowd going at E3 earlier this year and we fully expect to be shown more examples of how this peripheral can be implemented preferably with in an actual future retail game.

The other half of Sony’s wand experience, the PlayStation Eye, has received a distinct lack of support.  Sony look to be rectifying this starting with Eye Pet.  Various impressions have popped up over this and it seems to be an enjoyable family friendly title but it’s potential is pointed directly towards the casual market, once again reinforcing Sony’s future strategy. Another facet of this technology is facial recognition.  Sony recently stated that the technology is already there, recognising gender, expressions, speech and smiles.  All these things are major bullet points for Microsoft’s Natal but one thing Natal has over the Wand/PS Eye combo is integration and developer support.  This is where Sony need to focus their efforts in relation to peripherals to ensure that the great potential for these devices does not go the way of the Eye Toy.  Chance that Sony will talk more about The Wand and the PlayStation Eye: 99%.

Games

New technology’s all well and good but we all know that at the end of the day, we’re in it for the games.  We’ve seen many of Sony’s big hitters slip off the winter schedule and into early 2010 but that doesn’t mean we’ll be short of things to play come the frost.  This being a conference of announcements, expect Sony to continue to hammer away with new exclusives and even more reasons to own a PS3.

Since the release of LittleBIGPlanet Media Molecule have been steadily churning out the DLC to great effect. This doesn’t necessarily mean that’s all they’ve been doing – with Mm being based in the UK expect them to make an appearance, but can we expect a LittleBIGPlanet 2?  We can but hope there’s more to the team than just the PSP version. The Play, Create and Share genre was kicked off (and coined) by Sony so expect them to support it in a big way.  We saw a lovely example of this ethos at E3 in the form of Mod Nation Racers.  No doubt more will be shown and the possibility of another game in the PCS genre isn’t a complete write off.

GT5 is a dead cert for the show and the likelyhood of it being demoed is high.  Expect facts, figures and a firm release date on one of the most anticipated games of this generation.  Its little brother GT PSP should also make an appearance and is almost certain to be in playable form on the show floor in an advanced state than it was at E3.  With its release later in the year coinciding with the PSP Go launch this will be a prime title in Sony’s handheld strategy. Heavy Rain was woefully absent from the E3 presser.  This should be rectified in Cologne with more details on the story, gameplay and design choices behind this potential hit.  We’re really hoping this hits the mature mark well as it’s a bold and exciting direction for games.  Do us proud, Quantic Dream.

Another omission from E3 was the latest offering from Insomniac, Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time.  This should also feature heavily as we’ve seen little of the game so far and, as this is what we expect to be a winter release it would do well to wind up that hype machine to do it justice. And finally, Warhawk’s much rumoured successor Starhawk is a title we’re hugely excited for.  As big fans of the first, if Incognito pull this out of the bag we could be talking about a potential game of the show.  That is unless the Cat/Ferret/Chicken thing and grumpy glowy boy make another appearance.

Conclusion

All in all we’ve got a lot to look forward to.  Thankfully it’s a good job Sony have booked the stage for 3 hours.  Of course that could be 3 hours of charts.  Regardless, we’ll be there covering the whole thing live so after you’ve digested this feast of expectations, make sure you keep it locked here when Sony reveal all.

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