Something’s a-brewing at E3.
This would normally be nothing either new or unique, given the expo’s status as ground zero of the gaming world, but, in this particular case, it represents a long-gestating trend that promises to change the industry of our cherished pastime just as much, if not more, than Sony’s multimedia cavalcade and Nintendo’s motion-control revolution: diversification, which is a polite way of saying a fracturing focus and splintering product line.
This year’s Microsoft presser was split neatly down the middle between the Xbox 360 and Kinect, the motion-sensing camera formerly known as Project Natal – a first for the company, despite the former and sporadic (not to mention typically lackluster) presence of Games for Windows content in shows past. Nintendo likewise divvied up its presentation between its Wii and newly-announced 3DS systems, though this is hardly new in the big N’s case; it’s been segmenting its conferences since the first expo, 15 long years ago.
But Sony takes the cake (no pun intended, dear Gabe Newell). Perhaps reflecting its diverse product line as an electronics manufacturer, SCEA had to contend with the PS3, PSP, and PSN even before the new additions of the PS Move, PS Plus, and PS3D (not an official appellation, but Sony may yet reconsider this excellent chance at [further] branding) were added to the E3 mix. The console market has literally never seen the likes of this before, even with the endless iterations of both the 360 and the PS3 taken into account. The question now facing both Sony and the industry is: will gamers across the country – and, indeed, around the world – embrace this PlayStation saturation, or will they shrug indifferently as they cast their controllers, both traditional and motion, aside, just as they did to the Atari-led gaming blitzkrieg of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s?
The answer resides in yet another answer to yet another query. Such a full roster – so full, in fact, that the PSP only showed up for some five minutes at the two-hour-long press briefing – is indicative of just one of two possibilities: confidence or fear. Either Sony is so thoroughly convinced of the ten-year lifespan of its mighty console that it is eager to keep piling reason upon reason to keep the PS3 front and center of the living room, or it is so fearful of either a weak economy or stronger-then-expected competition from its two eternal rivals that it feels the incessant, almost compulsive need to keep tweaking and fiddling. For, make no mistake, this is a situation that can easily go either way; videogame history is paved – well, all right, occasionally paved – with examples of companies engaging in interactive excess, such as Sega’s barrage of the Sega CD, the 32X, redesigns of the Genesis and Sega CD and 32X, and the Saturn within a two-and-a-half year period.
Ultimately, however, it seems that Sony just may well end up rewriting history, and doing so successfully, yet again. Not only do the manufacturer’s recent initiatives provide real and substantial additions to the gameplaying experience – there is a far cry from playing Killzone 3 in 3D or Socom 4 with the Move than, say, playing the DSi XL over the original DSi – but it is extremely unlikely that all consumers will feel the need to purchase all of the expanded capabilities, just as, indeed, a third-party developer will not feel compelled to release a brand-new title with 3D and Move functionality along with PS Plus-exclusive DLC. Rather than relying upon the standard console tradition of everyone-does-everything-identically content, Sony may be trailblazing a new, expanded (forgive me for using the dreaded buzzword) structure of allowing different types of users to freely engage in different types of uses.
If this is truly the case, then be fully prepared to see the Wii Too and the Xbox 720 – not to mention, of course, the PlayStation 4 – utilizing the exact same set-up.