This year at Gamescom, I thought Sony really excelled. That’s not to say that I was excited about everything they showed, some of it just isn’t for me. But whatever your personal feelings about Wonderbook, PlayStation Mobile or Nihilistic’s Black Ops Declassified footage, there’s no question that they will bring attention to Sony’s business over the coming months. They’ve had a week with plenty of buzz and excitement. Meanwhile, where are Nintendo and Microsoft?
Nintendo’s Wii U is due out in a matter of months and they don’t seem to be ready to give it a good thorough showing. Ubisoft seems to have shown more of the console than Nintendo has. That will need to change as the expected late November release date approaches.
The Wii U seems to be directing Nintendo in a slightly different direction, with a strong focus on first party titles and group experiences finally being complemented by more solid, mainstream, third party support. They’re aiming the Wii U at Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 owners, at least in part, so why weren’t they in Cologne shouting about it?
Of course, as the old games media cliché goes: never discount Nintendo. What we have seen of the Wii U is impressive enough to compete with current offerings from Microsoft and Sony. And there will always be that special draw for the key Nintendo properties like Mario and Zelda. As much as many will complain about a lack of originality and innovation, incorrectly in many instances, the formula works and those iterations within key franchises are usually more successful than similar offerings from their competitors. But skipping Gamescom gave up the chance to capture some excitement in a key market among the exact demographic the company wants to be interested in the Wii U.
Microsoft is treading water with the Xbox 360. As much as I love some of the experiences the console has given me over the past few years and as much as I look forward to Forza Horizon and Halo 4, the hardware was ready for replacement a long time ago. Kinect has made the Xbox brand look good in business reports but to those of us who want more traditional console experiences, the first party showing has been a little anaemic for a long time now. So their absence from Gamescom – outside of supporting Activision’s Black Ops 2 marketing campaign – is quite simply explained by the fact that they’ve not really got anything to show.
Was it worth spending the money to set up a presence in Cologne with only a handful of games to show? Surely some Halo 4 footage and a playable section from Forza Horizon would have been a big deal? Microsoft clearly didn’t think so, their biggest public presence at the German show was their company cheerleader, Larry Hryb, playing Halo’s biggest competitor for the multiplayer shooter crowd’s attention against the EU community PR team. That Black Ops II live stream was entertaining enough and the team involved did a great job but was it what the Xbox 360 needed to be seen doing at Gamescom? What big, showcase games has Microsoft got for the first half of 2013?
Of course, with many of Microsoft’s development teams clearly not working on 360 games, they’ll be well prepared to support a fantastic launch for the next hardware from the company.
Sony has been here before though. While this generation was undoubtedly dominated by Nintendo, and Microsoft seems to have captured more of the western mind share than ever before as well as having a slight edge on Sony in the sales charts, it’s Sony who are finishing the home console generation strong. Just as they did with the PlayStation 2, they’re reducing price and cost of the PS3 while simultaneously increasing the output of the kind of software that appeals to their new wave of owners. Wonderbook might be this generation’s Buzz!
So the PlayStation 3’s wind down is familiar to those of us who witnessed the PS2’s autumn years. We’re seeing a rise of family-focussed software, reliant on peripherals that break the entry barrier of the complicated traditional controllers. There’s new and interesting IP in the shape of Beyond and The Last of Us as well as familiar franchises like God of War: Ascension to keep the brand prominent in the hearts of existing fans.
The PlayStation Vita could finally be about to get the shot in the arm it quite desperately needs in the shape of key partnerships for beloved franchises, bundles and PlayStation Mobile but there is still an air of uncertainty surrounding it. It’s too early to write it off, obviously, but there’s no denying that it will need to have a strong showing in the latter half of its first year in order to avoid becoming an also-ran. Luckily, Sony is really trying to invigorate the Vita with a multitude of strategies aimed at a wide range of users. But will that range be too wide and the message become too unfocussed? We’ll need to wait and see.
The PlayStation 4 is imminent, too. Regardless of how tight-lipped the company is about its existence, it’s on the way soon and Sony has several studios who have been a little quiet for a while – we suspect they’re well into development on software for that hardware which doesn’t officially exist yet. Hopefully, this will enable a good strong launch for their next generation which, by their own admission, will need to arrive around the same time as Microsoft’s.
Gamescom has allowed Sony to answer critics who thought the E3 showing was a little flat. I believe that they’ve done that in the best way possible – by addressing concerns, giving us a little surprise and expanding on strategies that will ensure the outgoing home console generation, and the changing market for portable game consumption, generates revenue for the coming years of investment in that much anticipated new hardware.
The next 12 months will be amazing.