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A Tale of Two Sonys

Who are you, and what have you done with Jack Tretton?

Sony’s E3 press conference Monday night was striking for a lot of reasons, but the greatest contrast of all wasn’t between Sony and Microsoft. It was between Sony and itself.

Seven years ago, Sony was on top of the world with the PlayStation 2. Already on track to become the best-selling game console of all time, it would go on to sell a mind-blowing 155 million units. Needless to say, expectations for the PlayStation 3 were high leading up to its unveiling at E3 2006.

Unfortunately for Sony, E3 2006 would become legendary for all the wrong reasons. Gems such as “giant enemy crab” and “Riiidge Raaacer” would be immortalized into embarrassing although otherwise innocuous memes. But the worst was yet to come, and it would be the first of seven years’ worth of blows to consumer confidence.

That’s right: “599 U.S. dollars,” AKA the cost of a premium PS3. It wasn’t the most expensive console ever, but it was close—only $50 less than the record-holding 3DO. The price tag was a shocking revelation for consumers who, at least for the past decade, were used to paying around half that amount for their consoles. Driven up by the early costs of its Blu-ray drive, the PS3 was still being sold at a loss even with so much of the burden passed on to the consumer.

Exacerbating the PS3’s cost issue was Sony’s failure to effectively communicate its value. With a hefty price tag, limited software, and strong competition (the Xbox 360 was already a year old, and the Wii was so popular you couldn’t actually buy it), the PS3 languished on retailer shelves untouched. Sony Computer Entertainment of America President and CEO Jack Tretton was apparently oblivious, famously offering to pay $1,200 for each unsold PS3 console found.

Console launches are rarely smooth, however, and of course the PS3 would eventually go on to produce a lot of the generation’s best titles. But too often its successes have occurred despite Sony, and too often the number of failures have matched.

The PlayStation Network, despite being free, is often said to be inferior to Microsoft’s Xbox Live for multiplayer gaming. Firmware updates have frustrated consumers both with their frequency and their removal of core functionalities such as the ability to install Linux. Sony rushed to compete with the Kinect by releasing the Move, only to abandon it with similar urgency. A self-proclaimed commitment to 3D gaming was more or less DOA too. And then there was the PSN hacking, which Sony neglected to even acknowledge until several days after personal data were compromised.

That's why the thunderous applause Jack Tretton received Monday, and the praise Sony continues to receive, are so remarkable. With a single statement announcing support for used games, all the worst parts of the past seven years were, at least temporarily, forgotten. Forget the ending to BioShock. Sony's press conference Monday was the biggest final plot twist of the generation.

Of course, Sony’s revelations were so impactful because of the controversy with Microsoft. If the Xbox One didn’t have unprecedented DRM, and if Microsoft didn't completely ignore its consumers' concerns at its own press conference, then the PlayStation 4 unveiling may well have been business as usual. Heck, maybe Sony was 10 minutes late starting because it scrapped identical DRM at the last minute.

It doesn't matter. In sports, the winning team isn't praised only because the other team lost. Sony still managed to unveil a console with similar tech which is also far less intrusive, far less restrictive, and even $100 cheaper. It's their first truly great business decision in years, and they've earned their day in the sun.




06/12/2013 at 01:10 PM

Forget Bioshock? How do you know these aren't the Sony execs from another world? :p

Seriously, though. The level of self-awareness and understanding Sony showed during the conference was the polar opposite of the blind arrogance they brought into this generation. 


06/12/2013 at 07:22 PM

Agreed. Now it's Microsoft's turn to play in King's Clothes.


06/12/2013 at 01:27 PM

Yeah, I always wanted a PS3 but it was way too expensive at launch and forced me to go with a much cheaper 360. Sony shot itself in the foot,grimaced, and thought to itself "Okay,not gonna do that again!". Aka, at least they learned from their collective mistakes.

I'm surprised microsoft tried to pass so much bullshit with us with the Xbone. Did they really think gamers were mindless drones who would buy into their own slavery? I'm glad we proved em wrong!


06/12/2013 at 02:14 PM

I actually wonder if this next cycle will play out very similar to the current one, except with the roles reversed.  Unless of course, if sega were to swoop in and kill both microsoft and sony.


06/12/2013 at 02:16 PM

Sega annihilating every competitor would be friggin sweet. No one would expect it but hey,stranger things have happened. lol.


06/12/2013 at 02:55 PM

This is what I call Third Console Assclownitis. The symptoms are overbearing arrogance, stupid decisions, and corporate executives making things worse by insulting their customer base.

"People who play RPGs are depressed gamers who like to sit alone in their dark rooms playing slow games." - Hiroshi Yamauchi, president of Nintendo, bitter over Square making FInal Fantasy VII for the PlayStation instead of the Nintendo 64

[the PS3 is] "for consumers who think to themselves 'I will work more hours to buy one'. We want people to feel that they want it, irrespective of anything else." - Ken Kutaragi


06/12/2013 at 07:25 PM

And the newest member of the club,
"We have a product for those who can't get online, it's called Xbox 360"

- Atlus*Aspect/Idiot-Savant



06/12/2013 at 08:09 PM

Don Mattrick has created new memes every time he opened his mouth over the past two days. I also think the video of Sony bigwigs Shuhei Yoshida and Jack Tretton demonstrating PS4 game sharing by having Yoshida simply hand his game over to Tretton went viral. That was the best moment of E3, even better than the Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts 3 trailers.


06/12/2013 at 10:28 PM

Sony had to learn from their mistakes, they were arrogant after the succes of the PS2 and it went to their head, similarily Microsoft are arrogant after the success of the 360 so naturally they think they can 'lead' the way. Ultimately it's the consumer however who lead the next gen, Microsoft are saying that you can no longer own games, only rent them. Sony realise it's far too early to make that statement, even if thats the way it will eventually end up!

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