Lessons from gaming history: Sony at E3
Sorry for the long hiatus from the blog, friends. The end of the school year is always monstrous, schedule-wise, for us teachers. I have been getting in some gaming here and there, which I will perhaps write a little about later, but after those press conferences at E3, I felt I had to write up a couple of observations.
Immediately after the reveal of the Xbox One, I was reminded of an anecdote I’d read earlier this year in Steven Kent’s “The Ultimate History of Video Games,” a text I’ve referenced before and cannot recommend highly enough. If you’ve any interest in the history of the industry, it’s both enlightening and wonderfully entertaining.
The anecdote that occurred to me after Microsoft’s reveal is this:
When Sony presented the PS2 at E3 2000, they weren’t just advertising it as a gaming system. They boasted about its DVD-playing capabilities, its ethernet support, and its space for a hard drive. According to Kaz Hirai, the PS2 wasn’t “the future of video game entertainment, it [was] the future of entertainment period.”
Doesn’t that sound a little like Microsoft’s angle at the Xbox One reveal? And in contrast, Sony’s major competitor at the time was Sega–which had just launched the Dreamcast–had an adamant focus on games. As Kent records in his book, Peter Moore, then the president of Sega of America, responded directly to Hirai’s boast: “They also said they are not the future of video games, they are the future of entertainment; and God bless them. We’re the future of video games.”
And yet! Who won that round of the so-called “console wars?” The Dreamcast was dead in the water within two years, and the PS2 ended up being the best selling console of all time.
Thinking about the parallels here between the respective outlooks of Sony/Sega and then Microsoft/Sony, I was very hesitant to dismiss the much-mocked “Xbone” because of its attempts at tackling the broader market, its restrictive DRM, or its “often-on” internet requirements. There is a chance, I thought, that Microsoft really is selling the future of entertainment. We should observe the lessons of E3s past.
…and then Sony had their press conference yesterday. Ben Kuchera, over at the PA Report, says that Sony effectively “won by standing still.” For my part, I realized that E3 2000 wasn’t the expo I should have been looking to for answers.
Instead, I should have been looking at the very first Electronic Entertainment Expo, in 1995, and the announcement of the PSX.
Sega, which was scheduled to launch the Saturn in September of that year, had a morning press conference in which they outlined the price of the system–$399.
Later that day, it was Sony’s turn, and… well, and then this happened:
Ha ha ha ha! That Steve Race! What a card!
Did the rest of the conference even matter? Sony shows a system of equal or greater power to its rival, then undercuts them by a hundred bucks, drops the mic, and gets off the stage.
This is very nearly what they did last night–and when you add in the bit about preserving the architecture of used games to which the gaming community is accustomed, well… Sony killed it. Which, it’s worth it to note, they’ve done before–more than once.