Sony wins gamers’ goodwill in the console race

June 11, 2013

Sony’s taken a bold move that’s helped it with the gaming community by announcing that its PlayStation 4 will cost $399 at launch: $100 less than its main competitor, the Xbox One.

That was a bit of a surprise, as Sony doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being easy on the wallet. But pricing decision and other parts of the company’s big keynote demonstrates that Sony’s doubling down on its core gaming audience with its PlayStation 4 launch, and sets the tone for this year’s game industry show, the Electronic Entertainment Expo.

The firm’s news conference Tuesday was a second love letter to serious gamers, as Sony announced marquee titles, courted independent developers and — finally — showed off the console itself, months after its February “launch.” The console, which bears some resemblance to the Xbox One in its squared-off design, will hit store shelves this holiday season.

Coming a few hours after Microsoft’s opening E3 conference, Sony had a lot to match. Microsoft pulled off a slick show brimming with news of exclusive titles and great-looking gameplay, plus the announcement that it will launch the Xbox One in November. But Microsoft has also had to combat an image problem, publishing posts on its company blog last week addressing concerns about how privacy, Internet connectivity and game-sharing will work on the new console. For example, the company said that while all games will be downloaded to the console’s hard drive, game publishers “can enable” a way to let players trade in games, and Microsoft will not charge a fee for doing so — language that’s far from a guarantee. And, if you want to lend a game to a friend, you can only do so if they’ve been listed as your friend for 30 days — and you can only give them a game once.

Sensing its moment to jump on a current of dissatisfaction with the Xbox One, Sony pulled no punches. The firm told gamers that nothing’s changed about the way its users can share games, and even launched a “how-to” video on sharing games on the PS4 that took giddy aim at Microsoft.

In the clip, Sony’s Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida says, “This is how you share your games on PS4,” and then literally hands a game to Vice President of developer and public relations Adam Boyes.

Game fans, frustrated with the approach Microsoft is taking with its digital rights management, ate it up. (The 22-second clip now has 1.5 million hits on YouTube.)

Following the opening E3 conferences, it’s becoming clear that Sony has an early lead, at least in the public relations wars, with the core gaming audience.

In the end, however, it’s not clear if the gaming market is really the one to be courting. Microsoft made it clear with its first launch event last month that it’s got an eye on a larger audience, one that uses consoles for forms of entertainment other than games.

Facing a game market that’s moving toward mobile games and an industry that’s racing toward a clash with streaming video companies, Microsoft is arguably in a better position to market its console to those who see gaming as a part of their entertainment needs.

Shoring up the base is a good idea for Sony, and the company should enjoy this early goodwill — they’ll just have to hope that it translates to sales when it counts.

More technology news from The Washington Post:

Microsoft storms the living room with Xbox One

PlayStation 4: Sony announces it, but doesn’t show console

Wonkblog: Privacy in a digital world

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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