E3 2017 Sony – The World is not Enough

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The task was a lot more complicated for the industry leader this year. Indeed since 2016, the competition brings stronger offer and Sony must face the raw power of Xbox One X and fast-selling Switch. This year, there would be no default victory.

The manufacturer can boast a renewed financial health. Despite lower revenues (-6%), the operating result stabilizes around 300 billion yens, a respectable level. However, the net profit halved, Sony not being able to avoid non deductible amortization. Sony also posted a lesser financial result than last year, but it also means purer profitability. Amortizations widely affect some lines of product : semi-conductors, components, TV & Cinema are on the wane. Unfavorable currency rates were a factor too. On the other hand, the mobile sector improved a lot, and some other keep making nice profits : photo, audio & video, banking & insurance and of course, gaming.

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PS4 is unstoppable, the growth in sales is so massive that the department registers a 50% progression in operating result, reaching 135 billions. That is roughly five times Nintendo’s ! 20 million PS4 were sold. The home console has topped 60 million install base worldwide and should overtake 3DS in the next term despite being… a lot more expensive ! In consumer value, Nintendo’s handheld has been beaten since a while. Moreover, let’s notice that given the gap in Japan (18 million in favor of the 3DS), PS4 has already reach a bigger install base than 3DS in the West. Currently, ¾ of 3rd party games to come are either for PS4 or PSVita. Sony’s line up has a hammering strength and got more key titles during pre-show : Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, Far Cry 5, Little Witch Academia, Need for Speed Payback or Darksiders III. Games that won’t be seen on Switch… Ni no Kuni II Revenant Kingdom, Ace Combat Skies Unknown and Gran Turismo Sport also come back with attractive trailers.

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With such a pre-show, what the hell was going to be in the conference ? Well, like last year, nothing… IF memory serves, we’ve probably never seen such a boring show from Sony at E3 : the rhythm was slack, the long list of VR games we don’t even recall the more of was pitiful, there was zero surprise announcement and the gameplay shown was horribly generic (Days Gone of War, etc.). After what seemed to be less than 55 minutes, disastrous is the only word that comes to mind. But where the fu** are Atlus, Sega, KoeiTecmo, Rockstar, SCEJ, BandaiNamco (well for the latter we know : at Microsoft’s) ? SquareEnix had no better to show than a fishing mini-game in the (dumb) FFXV universe. Don’t those guys have better to bring in the biggest show of the planet !? No creators invited on stage either, which made the conference lack human passion, whereas Ubisoft delivered it brilliantly : Sony had no friends that night… With such a presentation, why send all those big games on the back in pre-show ? Why give the rendezvous at 3 a.m. if the major stuff starts airing at 2 ? The organisation, even more still than the lackluster content, has been a gigantic failure.

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Only point to its credit, Sony puts an ends to 5 years of Monster Hunter exclusivity on Nintendo platform by welcoming Monster Hunter World on PS4. This announcement has a considerable impact in terms of brand, especially at home. With splendid 4K screenshots immediately shared everywhere in the world, Monster Hunter World on PS4Pro obliterates Monster Hunter XX Switch on the technical side, and offer the first true evolution of the series in 10 years. Japanese forums caught fire. Still, Monster Hunter World is not a portable game. When Monster Hunter 3rd was ported to PS3, it had sold roughly 10% of its PSP counterpart. Monster Hunter fans are used to enjoy hunting experience on the go, so there’s a natural limit to Monster Hunter World’s success on PS4. Without the game being ported on a hypothetical PS4 mini portable, PS4 will only marginally resist to future Monster Hunter titles on Switch.

It remains that Sony’s advantage only grows after this E3. EA, Bethesda, BandaiNamco, Activision and Ubisoft aren’t keen on using their Switch dev kits : every third party title of the show was running on PS4, while Switch had at best a dozen of games (some of which being late ports). Even with the snooziest conference, Sony isn’t threatened one second by an isolated Switch.

The conclusion is still a terrible E3 for Sony whose offering has declined over the years. In its communication, the manufacturer clearly failed to give a clear view of what kind of greatness” awaits for Playstation players. The bright future turned into a grey mist. Microsoft caught up on the technology, Nintendo went one step ahead in terms of innovation, but Sony doesn’t gather its strength to respond and remains passive. Its hold on the market is strong, but inaction is the greatest danger.

How 3DS ended up casual

When 3DS was released in February/March 2011, Nintendo had already undermined its relations with harcore gamers by years of casual policy. The 3DS line-up was thus the perfect occasion to make a new start and regain the gamers’ confidence.

Nintendo did fairly good at that time, because games like Street Fighter IV 3D, Zelda the Ocarina of Time 3D, Dead or Alive Dimensions or future releases like Resident Evil Revelations or Metal Gear Solid 3D were put at the forefront of the manufacturer’s communication. The launch was a big success and everyone seemed to be happy… But an unexpected problem appeared : money. Nintendo has grown heavily dependent on casual dollars and can’t afford to rely on a slowly progressive hardcore base. They had probably expected casual DS owners to jump on 3DS by simply saying the magical words “glasses-free 3D”. At 250€, that just didn’t happen.

During the summer 2011, the Kyoto-based firm had no choice but to take a U-turn. The first emergency measure was to drop the price, by 33% in the west and 40% in Japan. The second thing was to rush the development of mario games to make it on time for the holidays, when casual gamers do their Christmas shopping. Nintendo had resisted providing a mario game at launch so as not to hamper the sales of third party games (most of them bombed anyway, since Nintendo fanboys weren’t interested), but the alert bells were already ringing. From that moment, hardcore gaming ceased to exist on 3DS : the mario games crushed the competition on the system along with all hopes from the third parties. Games like Ace Combat Assault Legacy, Metal Gear Solid 3D or Shinobi went totally under the radar.

Earlier this year, Nintendo tried to save the day by funding advertising campaigns and securing air time for third party games such as Resident Evil Revelations, Tekken 3D or Heroes of Ruin, but you don’t buy the public’s interest. Nintendo likes to remind people that Revelations got stellar reviews and is unanimously appreciated by RE fans, but what they fail to remember is that it doesn’t even make it in the sales top 100 in the US. Similarly, Tekken 3D and Heroes of Ruin plummeted just after their (failed) launch : Tekken 3D currently manages 80K worldwide, Heroes of Ruin only 50K. On the other hand, Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 have been on top ever since they were put on shelves, selling respectively 6.27 millions and 5.79 millions, which represents 12 times what Revelations managed globally.

Things are totally different in Japan where despite a similar mario-monopoly, some hardcore games do perform well. Monster Hunter 3G is one of the few million sellers, Fire Emblem Awakening cruises towards 500K, Harvest Moon cracked 200K and RE Revelations finally gets decent sales.

What is Nintendo going to do now? You just have to turn on the TV : currently here in France, every TV ad for 3DS shows some retarded kid playing Mario 3D Land with his father. Gamers got the message : don’t expect any further effort. The line-up for the 2nd half of 2012 also speaks for itself : more mario (New Super Mario Bros 2, Paper Mario, Luigi’s Mansion), Disney games (Kingdom Hearts, Mickey Castle of Illusion), more casual stuff (Art Academy, Dr Kawashima’s brain training) and a new Castlevania to keep gamers happy. No new 3rd party project is planned for the west in the near (or the long) future whereas Japan gets tons of them. Nor the publishers neither Nintendo seem to care very much about localizing Senran Kagura, Beyond the Labyrinth, Project X Zone, Bravery Default or Monster Hunter. Even Fire Emblem was delayed to 2013. Nintendo never mentions it during presentations and generally sends tweets to keep fans posted on the extra-slow localization process. Some are losing patience.

The Fire Emblem case shows one thing : gamers are second-rate costumers to Nintendo. The manufacturer needs massive amounts of money to make up for the recent losses, and massive amounts means mass market. Innovative IPs and costly projects are not an option, since only sure-fire hits will secure the necessary income. Nintendo did try to reclaim the gamers’ faith, but it was clearly too much work for them.