Sony Conference – GamesCom 2011

I had the opportunity to attend at Sony’s pre-GamesCom press conference, held the evening before the start of the expo. It’s a chance for Sony to show off to the press their big hitters and most important announcements before the start of the show when such news is likely to get buried under the weight of everything else all clamouring for attention at the same time. Held this year at the Gürzenich Köln conference centre, an impressive 15th century banquet hall in the centre of the city augmented with modern extensions, the evening started with a drinks reception for the arriving guests.

It quickly became apparent just how many people were invited as the ground floor area became too packed to move, forcing the organisers to open up the first floor bar to everyone as well, where it had initially been reserved for VIPs. Fortunately I managed not to get a drink knocked down me in the restricted space (a fact appreciated all the more by my having found the local Koelsch very good, despite not normally being a fan of beer, plus I was wearing a new shirt bought specially for the occasion), and eventually the crowd was gradually seated in the vast main hall. Each seat was equipped with its own complimentary bottle of mineral water, which was a surprise, though a good one considering how warm the place became when they finally closed the doors.

The conference took a while to get going once we were all seated. There was a fifty minute gap between people being seated and the conference starting, with each new apology given over the tannoy in a very severe woman’s voice giving rise to growing agitation and increasing complaints and boos. I would later discover that the delay was due to most of the details and announcements of the conference being leaked to Twitter, resulting in the rest of the world knowing what was going to be said before the people who were actually in the conference hall. Just as I was really starting to want another beer and to stab myself in the ears with my pen to block out Lady Gaga being played to try and placate the disgruntled masses, though, the vast projector screen at the front of the room erupted into action with what seemed to be an extended television advert briefly highlighting some of the big name titles announced already for the PS3 and Playstation Network, before Andrew House, out-going president and CEO of SCEE, bounded up to the podium.

House started by saying just how important Europe was as a market to Sony, where the company has a large installed user base and high sales figures. He then moved onto highlighting what he considers to be the key aspects of Sony’s ongoing strategy. The Playstation Network is the core of Sony’s future plans within the games industry, it seems, though naturally the difficulties the service suffered earlier this year were never mentioned. Instead, we were told that it would create a unified point of access across all of Sony’s online enabled products, to the wider internet and video services such as BBC iPlayer and Youtube, to Sony’s downloadable music service, and to a new range of social networking services. PSN will be vital to both the PS3 and to the PS Vita, and to Sony’s media streaming services.

As well as PSN, the other big thing that Sony wanted to focus on was 3D. Pictures of the 24” Playstation branded 3D monitor previously announced at E3 were displayed on the screen, and we were told that 3D gaming was the future for the PS3, with Sony expecting most households worldwide to replace their standard HDTVs with 3D capable displays over the next few years. I wasn’t convinced of this myself, having no desire or intention to swap my TV for a 3D system, and it seems extraordinarily ambitious considering there are still some people who refuse to replace their old CRT sets with flat screens, but time will tell.

Next House confirmed that he would be leaving his role at SCEE to take a promotion replacing Kaz Hirai as the global president and group CEO for Sony Computer Entertainment, who in turn is moving on to be chairman of the entire Sony corporation. He then took this opportunity to introduce Jim Ryan, who will be replacing him as president of SCEE, to the stage. Ryan starts by briefly thanking House for his work in Europe, before swiftly moving on to Sony’s new handheld gaming system, the PS Vita. He made the bold claim that the Vita would provide PS3 level gaming experiences on the move, with gaming the central design consideration when Sony were developing the new machine. Another video on the big screen goes over some of the key features of the Vita, such as the two versions that would be available at launch (3G enabled and non-3G), the various methods of control, and a detailed look at how the online features work. The handheld will have a fully featured social networking ability, and be completely integrated into PSN with trophies for games and party modes and friends lists and so on. The handheld is intended to be constantly connected to the internet, with Sony wanting the majority of gamers to opt for the 3G version to facilitate this.

At this point Michael Denny, senior vice president of SCE Worldwide Studios Europe, came onto the stage with Ryan to further show off the Vita. We were told that developers and studios were being offered full support from Sony, apparently having learned from the launch of the PS3, and that this would result in the strongest launch line-up of any Playstation console or handheld to date. We were then given brief demonstrations or shown trailers for some of the launch titles for the handheld, starting with Resistance: Burning Skies. Much was made of the Vita having two analog control sticks, in a veiled dig at Nintendo only including one on the 3DS, and the game looked seriously impressive. I found myself intrigued enough to want to give it a go myself, despite not being that interested in the Resistance franchise to date. All of the Vita’s tech features are used by the game in various ways, and the visuals were seriously impressive, even blown up to the size of the projector screen.

After Resistance we were also shown Little Big Planet, Reality Fighters, and Escape Plan, all of which are also first party launch titles. The Reality Fighters demo was a little bizarre in that the devs used the cameras on the Vita to create disturbingly accurate avatars of Andrew House and Jim Ryan, and then got the two to battle it out, accompanied by actual MC commentary, to see who could claim to be the more powerful SCEE president – House won, though not by a massive margin. As well as the first person titles, the conference was promised good third party support from the off, with Ubisoft having confirmed six launch titles for the Vita. Upcoming big-name franchises coming to the system shortly after launch were also touted, including Assassin’s Creed, FIFA, and Formula 1.

In a surprise move, the next announcement was that the PSP would continue to be supported, with a brand new “value” model being launched for just 99 euros. Games will also be reduced in price to 9.99, with Sony marketing the PSP as an entry level handheld. Aware of how the price of the Vita will prove off-putting to some potential customers, the plan is for the PSP to keep going to ensure those gamers don’t opt for a cheaper alternative from a rival company. The new model PSP looked a bit like a cheap South Asian knock off of a standard PSP to me, rather more cheaply plastic than before, as well as lacking wi-fi and with the stereo speakers replaced with a cheaper mono output, but it’s hard to argue with the pricing. I suspect Sony will do rather well off of it, and there is the precedent set by the slim PSOne console redesign being released alongside the PS2 and outselling it (and every other console at the time) in the first year after launch.

Next on the agenda was the PS3 and Move. Denny made the claim that Move offers the most unique, compelling, and immersive gaming experience available, which seems rather bold considering Microsoft’s Kinect. Further fuelling my personal cynicism was the stated intention to create more fun fitness orientated games for the Move, with Move Fitness and Dance Star Party being shown, and the latter even suggested as a possible replacement to Saturday night telly in the hearts of families seeking entertainment as a unit. As if to reinforce the association between Dance Star Party and shows like the X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, dance troupe Diversity took to the stage and gave a performance at this point, though rather tellingly the Move controllers they started the display with were gone by the end, suggesting that the game couldn’t keep up with the more complex moves required by the group’s choreography.

Returning to the PS3s more hardcore gamers after the dancers had left the stage, we were then shown new trailers for Resistance 3 and Infamous 2, as well as a new demo for Uncharted 3 that went down very well with the crowd and actually received a standing ovation at the end. Personally I was more impressed by Resistance 3, the art style for which is utterly stunning. The Uncharted 3 demo seemed to me to be more of a rip-off of The Living Daylights, the 80s Bond film starring Timothy Dalton, only featuring an even more cliché story and considerably more hammy acting, which is saying something since the Bond film had Joe Don Baker and Jeroen Krabbé in it. The final major announcement of the evening was a price drop for the PS3, to 249 euros, the same as the price for the Vita at launch.

Following the presentations and demo, guests were able to get hands on time with the PS Vita. I managed to play with almost all of the games that will be available at or just after launch, with the exceptions of Resistance: Burning Skies and Uncharted: Golden Abyss, the queues for which were long and constant. The most impressive ones for me personally were WipEout 2048, which I give a more detailed preview of in another article, Formula 1 2011, and dungeon crawling RPG Dungeon Hunter: Alliance. All in all, Sony seems to have bounced back pretty well from their hacking problems earlier in the year. I’m still not impressed by the PS3 or Move, but the Vita fairly astounded me. I want one. I want one now, actually. It’s very impressive, and my only real concerns are the amount of heat it generates (all of the demo units I’ve had a go on were very warm to touch after a while, which is unsurprising given it has a quad-core processor), and the battery life. I won’t be able to afford one at launch, but I will almost certainly be getting one after a price drop or something in the future.

I left the Gürzenich Köln with the feeling that Sony is still very much a serious contender.

Last five articles by Samuel



  1. Richie rich says:

    I do like the look of the Eindhoven but I’ve got more handheld gaming devices than I need these days.

    That said, it looks better than the 3DS.

    Timothy Dalton for the win.

  2. Edward Edward says:

    The Vita does nothing but impress me of late, and I really hope that Sony actually learn a goddamn lesson for once when it comes to the PSPGo and make sure the Vita doesn’t repeat any of those mistakes. In any case, I reckon Sony will still be a dominant force even if Move hasn’t taken off as well as they insist, and the 3D is increasingly becoming a flash in the pan.

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