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Ditching the numbers: How Sony came to own E3 in the eighth generation

The PlayStation 4’s success since launching in late 2013 coincides with Sony’s remarkable ability to work a crowd and build up hype during gaming’s annual gaming extravaganza.

After a long stretch of domination at the hands of Microsoft — which certainly coincided with the 360’s success — Sony’s confidence has transitioned into a console that continues to break all sorts of records while outselling the competitor globally at a rate of 2:1.

It’s a “chicken and egg” scenario: would Sony be as confident as it is without the PS4 going as well as it is? Would the PS4 be going as well as it is without Sony being so confident and celebrating gaming as they are?

Whatever the answer, it’s clear how they’re doing it: they put on a show that is particularly fitting of the sunset aesthetic of tinsel town, setting a standard for an industry that’s playing catch up.

Understanding The Dominance – A Look At E3 2016

At E3 2016, Microsoft and Sony held their Xbox and PlayStation press conferences to mostly positive receptions. However, while Microsoft showed its whole hand, Sony kept its cards close to its chest yet still managed to show so much. It’s easy, then, to understand the reveal of the Xbox Scorpio: Microsoft simply had to show that it was working on something.

It was a tale of two consoles. First up was the Xbox One, a console that has struggled to find an identity yet has made inroads over the past 24 months. It’s still a long trek back from its error-riddled 2013 launch. Next up was the PlayStation 4, a console so confident in its ability it needed only to show what it can do: say less, show more.



It was a philosophy that worked. The PlayStation team was confident enough to sit back and say, “Just let us show you what we’re working on.”

To a similar degree, Microsoft did the same with Xbox, but its reveals of the Xbox One S and Xbox Scorpio on either side of its press conference seemed convoluted relative to the company’s simple plan to close the gap between PC and Xbox. Its reveal of Xbox One S got things off to a good start, with a sleek new Xbox One design, 4K upscaling, and internal power brick. For what it’s worth, it’s hard not to like the look of the Xbox One S. The rest of the show was a blend of fantastic (Forza Horizon 3, ReCore) and solid (everything else), with nothing that really sent the crowd wild. Sure, the likes of Sea of Thieves and Gears 4 look great, but there was no Crackdown, and the Scalebound demo failed to showcase the size and power of the dragons, instead minimising their influence by putting them up against a giant crab that made the game’s stars look like ants. It was a bad choice of demo. Ultimately, the Xbox One’s premiere franchises either weren’t shown, or were shown in a way that limited their appeal.

MORE: God Of War’s stunning evolution is a testament to the PS4’s success

Finishing things off, Microsoft showed the Xbox Scorpio. Why they did this is anyone’s guess, especially with Gamescom in a mere two months, and a planned launch window more than a year away. It doesn’t make sense that Microsoft would have wanted to stifle hype around Nintendo’s NX, because the two companies are vying for two totally different audiences. Sony had also said that it won’t be showing the PS4.5 at E3, but the intent by Microsoft to steal the show has just led to confusion, and cries of, “Why would I buy an Xbox One S when there’s a new console out in 16 months?”

What Microsoft did was show pretty much everything that’s coming up (that we know of), even going as far as to reveal a piece of hardware that we all know will eventually render the current Xbox One hardware obsolete. Sony on the other hand took a “stand back and watch” direction, beating out Microsoft with a stream of great games, whilst still managing to hold a significant number of its upcoming games library close to its chest. Just take a look at what Sony didn’t show.

  • Final Fantasy VII Remake
  • Gran Turismo Sport
  • Kingdom Hearts 3
  • Hellblade
  • Ni No Kuni 2
  • Nier: Automata
  • No Man’s Sky
  • Nioh
  • Valkyria: Azure Revolution

I don’t actually believe that what Microsoft has planned for the future is bad, it’s just that timing of the Scorpio announcement, alongside a solid but hardly memorable showcase of upcoming games, makes it even tougher to recommend the Xbox One as it currently stands. For a console that’s being outsold 2:1 globally, it’s suddenly less appealing than it was before E3, because all eyes are on an upgraded console due for release in October or November 2017. That’s around the corner in gaming time, and it’s hard to get excited about a significantly sleeker Xbox One design in the S when I have already started saving for the Scorpio. Furthermore, why would anyone buy an Xbox One now when they could wait until late 2017 for a new console?

MORE: Forza Horizon 3’s Australia setting: Here are the gorgeous locations, and some places we’d like to see

The argument for Microsoft’s decisions here is that it is admitting defeat this “generation”, but that the second part of this console era is up for grabs. That’s a fairly modest direction to take, and similar to what it did with the original Xbox leading into the 360. You have to consider that with PlayStation VR and 50 games coming later this year, Sony has an “in” point for its PlayStation 4.5, some 12 months before the VR-compatible Scorpio hits the market. Microsoft might benefit from the year difference in the same way the PS3 eventually did, but it’s a big “if” considering we’re not calling these upgraded consoles a new generation. They’re just…well, upgrades. I would think that a sizeable cross-section of the Xbox One community may not upgrade to Scorpio immediately if all games and accessories release still work on their launch console, but the reveal yesterday suggests Microsoft has less confidence in the Xbox One as it stands than what Sony has in the PlayStation 4.

This ties into just how Sony has managed to dominate E3 this generation.

Sony shows the games, not the hardware

Looking back to E3 2013, it’s always been about the games for Sony and the PlayStation 4. Even in 2013 when it was talking about its hardware, that was directly in response to Microsoft’s own attempt to stifle used sales and introduce restrictive privacy and online features. I do believe that Microsoft has since caught up and moved beyond the PlayStation 4 in terms of UI, updates and user customisation, but that’s just a matter of opinion and not at all reflective of Sony’s ability to trounce the competition at E3. Games like Horizon: Zero Dawn, God Of War, Detroit: Become Human, and even Spider-Man were shown in a limited capacity that reflected an almost arrogant sense of confidence from Sony and the PlayStation team. It works so well: we don’t need someone standing on stage guiding us through it. Just show us how it works, how it looks, and how it plays. That’s it. Sony said less and showed more, and they have been doing that for a number of years now.


They understand timing, and know when to reveal things

As I mentioned above, Microsoft’s intent on revealing the Scorpio now does a pretty good job of making the Xbox One S and the current Xbox One model seem less appealing. Sony just focused on the games and instead held back any new hardware reveal to a later date once a lot of the software has been released or at the very least dated. Even with PlayStation VR, we got a lengthy look at games and some new details, but not much about the hardware itself. They saved that for another time, and simply showed us what it can do. E3 is about the games, and Sony saved its other stuff for a future event.


They did away with numbers

Sony struggled during periods of their E3 2013 and E3 2014 press conference by dragging out the figures and saying, “Look at how well we’re doing!” The problem was that anyone in attendance already knew how well the PlayStation 4 was doing, so it was all a futile attempt to drum up hype for something that already had hype. While the event either side of those draining numbers was fantastic, it was hard to stay focused while they spoke at length about PSN subscription numbers. They’ve done away with that in recent years, and it’s worked wonders to help generate hype and excitement around what they’re doing.


They embraced the “gamer”

This really encompasses a lot of the above. I think Microsoft has come a long way to reconnect with gamers and I think they’re doing a fantastic job there, but Sony and the PlayStation team has never had to backtrack like Microsoft has: the PS4 as always been “for the gamers”, and their E3 events typically focus on this. They’re slowly made the transition away from corporate suits to…well, suits that talk a lot less, instead turning the attention to the games and confidently proclaiming that the PS4 is the console to own. Phil Spencer has done wonders for Xbox with his laid back style, but he’s still fighting an uphill battle. Sony can do no wrong in this regard.

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