Let’s Get Ready To Rummmmbllllle
Just as in years past, we submit a distillation of the Big Three Briefings.
This E3 has been difficult to observe usefully from afar, because merely watching doesn’t convey the data it used to: so much of the offering is directly experiential. People are waving things, or they’re waving their arms in front of things, or they’re looking at magical screens that shit is popping right out of. It would be like if a person came out and started talking about chocolate, and then ate some chocolate, and then walked off stage. That is not data. There’s so much conjecture that whatever you come up with is almost hopelessly attenuated.
The Nintendo briefing didn’t have anything wrong with it, really, in terms of line-up. They don’t have anything to prove, they’re on top of the heap in home and portable by a ridiculous margin, so they spun open the valve and drowned an exultant audience in product. They had an array of targets before them - the dizzying breadth of the communities they serve - and they had offerings for each that thwunked in with elven precision. There’s almost nothing to discuss, unless you want to talk about the ability to take three dimensional pictures of your junk, a technology which will revolutionize Craigslist Personals overnight.
Speaking of 3D, but not of Junk, the 3D thread that ran through Sony’s presentation was bizarre.
I need to emphasize that I don’t have any particular problem with 3D. I have every intention of importing a 3DS. I like three dimensional images as much as the next organism with two functioning optic nerves. But if you want to talk about real costs, Sony’s consumer dialogue isn’t especially robust. The Kinect is rumored to cost a hundred and fifty dollars, and this is considered to be the equivalent of a street mugging. To contrast, a single pair of active shutter glasses costs the same amount - every picture of a deliriously happy family enjoying 3D content is predicated on a hardware investment north of four thousand dollars.
The Move message offers a similar pirouette: Joystiq happily tells us that one may secure Playstation Move for fifty dollars, which omits the cost of the Playstation Eye, the newly christened “navigation controller,” and the second Move controller so many demos seem to incorporate. What is the true cost of the experience? No-one seems to care, least of all Sony, who is performing lip tricks off a wave of ambiguity.
Sony’s most fascinating maneuver was the reveal that “the best version” of Portal 2 “on any console” would be coming to the Playstation 3. We haven’t heard rhetoric of this kind since Epic touted the platform’s “openness” in 2007. For people who game primarily on consoles, you might not know what it means to have Steamworks integration. It varies depending on the implementation, it’s sort of a la carte, and the PSN itself delivers some features by default. But you wont be paying for DLC on Valve games, ever. That is not a thing that will happen. And since Microsoft won’t allow you to charge for something that is free on another system (recall R6: Vegas, or Burnout Paradise) it’s an end run that’s given Valve a lot of leverage. To sum up, Portal 2 isn’t the surprise - Steamworks is the surprise. The porous nature of the PSN’s functionality is an amazing opportunity for a company whose platform practically defines “platforms.” Plus, there’s no license associated with its use. Think about what this means for other developers, up to and including first parties. Why Sony would cede this kind of power to a third party I couldn’t say, and why they would undermine the Playstation Store as a venue for premium content I couldn’t tell you. This is important; we should be paying attention.
I wouldn’t know what to tell you about Kinect, either. The ideas are all there, but they aren’t crystallized into an wide array of strong products. The most compelling uses they showed were in terms of the Dashboard - confident, novel interactions I’d use on a daily basis. I know where it fits in my home, though, and I suspect that ultimately it may; but they’ve made a product for every person in the house but me.