Strong E3 showings generate hype and set a company’s aspirations for the future. On that count, it’s hard to fault Sony’s strategy. They focused on a few hugely anticipated game announcements: The Last Guardian, a Final Fantasy 7 remake, and Shenume 3. Just one would have made many PlayStation fans happy, but we saw all three at once. Alliances with this year’s biggest third party releases (e.g. Batman, Star Wars) underline Sony’s status as the console market leader. And an upcoming exclusive, the futuristic RPG Horizon: Zero Dawn, was an E3 highlight.
Yet all the hype and big games for the future can’t mask Sony’s lack of big exclusives for 2015. That’s a problem given Microsoft’s strong lineup this year. And beyond the mega announcements, I found stretches of Sony’s E3 presser poorly focused. We barely saw a mention of Project Morpheus. There was little stage time for indies, far less than Microsoft. And Sony relegated 2015 exclusives like The Nathan Drake Collection to a few seconds of a sizzle reel.
Problems aside, Sony can improve their “light on games” perception heading into the holidays. Granted, efforts won’t go toe to toe with Microsoft’s huge exclusives. But several steps could improve the situation:
There are many big multi-platform releases this year vying for gamers’ attention. The PS4 has to position itself as a “better” choice to play them on over the Xbox One. Sony’s already partially in front of this, with exclusive PS4 marketing, bundles and DLC. But I’d also hammer the PS4’s hardware advantage over the Xbox One. Yes, in most cases the graphical differences are indistinguishable. And recent Xbox software improvements have closed the gap. But being able to trumpet a game looks and plays best on PS4 is a strong message for undecided buyers.
The PS4 is selling well, even among those who haven’t owned a console before. And PlayStation generally champions artier, weirder, and more niche titles than Microsoft or Nintendo. For fighting game fans, Sony brought Street Fighter V back from the dead, and landed Guilty Gear as a PS4 exclusive. For more contemplative, artier fare, Sony offers Hohokum and the upcoming Dreams. And there’s hit retro platformers with console exclusivity like Nidhogg and Towerfall Ascension. Other catered niches include arcade baseball (Super Mega Baseball), LucasArts revivals (Grim Fandango), and pinball (The Pinball Arcade).
It’s time for Sony to double down on this strategy. Aggressively support these smaller titles on PSN, social media, and other outlets. It’s not just for core gamers looking for variety; it’s for a more casual audience. They aren’t PC gamers, and want offerings beyond $60 shooters and smartphone games. And there’s many strong PS4 exclusives or console debuts in 2015: SOMA (horror), Firewatch (adventure), Galak-Z (arcade space combat), The Talos Principle (puzzle) and many more.
Yes, it’s another previous gen port collection. Yet the Uncharted trilogy is critically acclaimed. Uncharted 2 is one of the PS3 era’s top titles. And there’s many Sony newcomers who’ve never played any Uncharted title. It’s also a great lead into Uncharted 4 next year.
Bottom line, Sony still has hope for 2015 against Microsoft. It takes tightening up their PR strategy and ensuring a few key indie titles get out the door. For third party releases, PS4 is ready with exclusive DLC, bundles, and better hardware. And there’s quality independent game exclusives to land casual and niche audiences. Big and small, mainstream and niche, Sony is riding on a lot of potential for the holidays.