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Gaming: E3 2010: What is Sony’s plan?

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You can picture how it might have gone. Jack Tretton on stage, talking about Sony’s strong line-up for the end of 2009 and early 2010, with blockbuster exclusives like God of War 3, unique titles like Heavy Rain and family-friendly games like ModNation Racers making for a varied and quality selection, the price cut spurring sales to a point that for several months they were unable to keep up with demand.

Then he would go on to talk about what Sony plans between now and the next E3. Guerilla Games show off Killzone 3. Media Molecule brings out LittleBigPlanet 2. Infamous 2. Motorstorm 3. SOCOM 4. Resistance 3. A release date for Gran Turismo 5. Footage of The Last Guardian. As far as their ‘hardcore’* titles go it would be about as good as could be hoped for, with God of War and Uncharted being the two notably missing franchises, having only released new entries in each series very recently (though God of War would be represented with the new PSP game and possible epilogue content for God of War 3). Then would come PlayStation Move and it’s line-up of motion control titles, intended to expand the PS3’s appeal to the ‘casual’ audience so enamoured by the Wii.

Essentially it would have been game after game after game, evidence that Sony are working hard on giving their console a fantastic range of exclusives now that they no longer have the de facto third-party exclusives that defined the PS2 generation. In those pointless discussions about ‘winning’ E3 Sony would have been clear frontrunners, with anything Microsoft or Nintendo revealed likely paling in comparison to the sheer number of big exclusives being rolled out in Sony’s conference.

Sony, however, seem to have other plans. A lot of Move’s games were unveiled in March 2010, as was SOCOM 4. LittleBigPlanet 2 and Killzone 3 were given to magazines to announce in May and Infamous 2 to June magazines, while Sony themselves unveiled MotorStorm: Apocalypse just a few days ago. God of War: Ghost of Sparta was announced for the PSP at the start of May.

So if Sony has chosen to announce the majority of their big games in the three months before E3, the one event of the year where everybody saves up their big surprises, what exactly are they holding back? Is it just going to be about expanding on those announced games or have they been shunted aside for something else?

Sony seem to be banking a lot on 3D gaming taking off and driving the uptake of 3DTVs in the same way that HD gaming did for HDTVs, so there will likely be some time set aside for that if they can feasibly show it off to a room full of journalists (though it would make those watching via the live feeds feel somewhat out of the loop). PlayStation Move still has more games to be shown off, especially from third parties, so it’s likely that will take up a chunk of the press conference’s time again, which will be the first time Move and Natal (or possibly Wave after its official name is revealed) will have their games shown off almost side by side.

Then, of course, there’s the PSP2. Sony’s handheld, reasonably dominant in Japan, has essentially died at retail in other territories, consistently at the bottom of the US charts, its big exclusives failing to make an impact in the monthly sales. Consumers don’t seem interested in a handheld that tries to replicate the home console experience on the go (not least because of the lack of a second analogue stick, requiring big sacrifices for movement or aiming), flocking instead to the bite-sized, more unique experiences of the DS and the iPhone. Rumours point to Sony working on a new PSP, significantly more powerful than its predecessor and the competition (suggesting they haven’t quite learned their lesson there, portable consumers don’t seem to care about power) but also with cameras and a touchscreen, the things that have helped propel the rival handhelds to success. Those same rumours suggested a reveal at E3 was unlikely but Sony seem to be making room for something, so maybe it will be Sony’s next handheld that gets a lot of time.

I can’t help thinking that I’d be personally disappointed if that did turn out to be the case. I don’t expect I’ll own a 3D television for many years yet as the HDTV in the gaming room is still very new, making 3D gaming something of an irrelevance, and I have no interest in handheld gaming at all. That leaves Move, and while I intend to get both Sony’s and Microsoft’s motion control devices if the games interest me Sony’s E3 conference would be a little underwhelming if that’s the biggest thing that comes out of it. With just four days to go it won’t be long before we see just what Sony thinks was worth sacrificing AAA game announcements for.

* I dislike using the terms ‘hardcore’ and ‘casual’ to represent the two audiences (separating the regular gamers for whom gaming is a primary hobby from the expanded audience approaching gaming through the Wii’s motion controls and places like PopCap and Facebook) but don’t have a better term. They’ve become the accepted shorthand.

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