The major E3 press conferences are over, and we’re moving on to the demo and show floor portion of the thing. The major companies have said their piece, we’ve seen some great games, we’ve wondered about the absence of some others and we’re generally set up for an impressive run of titles from September on through March of 2019. And who won? It’s hard to say–it was a weird E3 in a lot of ways, with some oddly short presentations, a ton of amazing-looking games and a generally diffuse feeling of an industry that’s in a pretty nice spot, overall. But who lost? That one’s easy. After its press conference on Monday night Sony was sitting pretty with an impressive lineup, but yesterday it managed to lose E3 in spectacular fashion.
That Sony had the best games of the show out of any platform holder–or maybe even any publisher–seems pretty clear-cut. Ghosts of Tsushima, Death Stranding, Spider-man and The Last of Us Part 2 all look amazing in their own ways, and are all sure to continue notching rewards and sales milestones alike for Sony’s first-party development. Microsoft can’t even dream of competing with that lineup. Even Nintendo looks weak next to it though Nintendo, as always, does its own thing. The fact that the company presented it all with its bizarre signature stagecraft might have annoyed people at the moment, but you can bet they’ll remember it going forward. Sony didn’t show anything new, but the confidence to be able to waltz on the stage with these four already announced games shows just how secure the company is feeling.
But not what E3 is about, at least not on an essential level. At its core, E3 is about what company can make people excited about its products and have them leaving the show excited about its platform. On that level? Sony, in a phrase that I want to become a thing, pulled a Mattrick.
Yesterday, Epic Games and Nintendo made the announcement everyone expected them to make: Fortnite: Battle Royale is now available on Nintendo Switch, complete with the cross-play and cross-progression mechanics that have defined the game so far. If you’re playing on Nintendo Switch, you can easily squad up with your friends on Xbox One, PC or iOS, and you can easily transfer your progressions from Xbox One, PC, or iOS. Notice a name missing there? The PS4 is out in the cold, furiously pacing the pathways of its fortress-like walled garden.
Here’s what really jarred players downloading the thing on Nintendo Switch: if you’ve ever used an Epic Account on a PS4–ever–you can’t use that account to play on Switch. You’re locked out with an error message that throws more than a little shade Sony’s way, and you’ve got start again without your friends list, progression or paid-for cosmetics. There are clearly no technical barriers toward making this happen: the fact that all the other platforms are playing nice makes that clear. This is Sony protecting its network with a fervor that would make Apple blush. Fans are understandably furious, and the slowly developing message would seem to say that if you want a console that works with the broad-based, cross-play game ecosystems of the future, you’re better off with Microsoft or Nintendo. This is what Microsoft’s Phil Spencer has been trying to say for a few years now, but it took Sony’s self-inflicted wound to put a fine point on it.
Sony has won the fight for the present, that much its clear. The PS4 handily outflanked the Xbox One at the beginning of the generation and then moved on to total dominance from there, arriving at this moment with an unprecedented suite of exclusive studios and IPs. But at this moment it’s losing the fight for the future, adopting similar restrictionist and anti-consumer stances that so doomed Microsoft with the launch of the Xbox One. Sony has time to make this right–the next generation won’t launch until 2020 or later–but if it can’t get its head around opening up its platform it’s going to find itself having a hard time reversing some ugly perceptions, and you only need to ask Phil Spencer how hard it can be to turn that train around.
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