PSX: How PlayStation’s First Platform-Focused Expo Played Out

Sony held the PlayStation Experience convention for the first time over the past weekend, using the space to announce new games, reveal new footage from highly anticipated titles, and offer fans first-grasp at new PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation Vita indie games. In fact, I would say that independent development proved the star of the show, at least for yours truly.<

While it was exhilarating to see footage of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End or to learn new details regarding the atmospheric and cinematic world in The Order 1886, it should be clear to gamers that PlayStation Experience was only really for the most diehard gamers out there. On one hand, you could wander in with or without prior reservation and you didn’t need industry credentials to visit the show, but on the other hand you couldn’t expect to see any of the company’s competitors. Having a convention focused entirely on PlayStation meant that things felt a little one-note.

Wandering the show floor itself, I think it became clearer to everyone attending that fan-oriented swag hand-outs and first-brush impressions of upcoming games would rule the day. That’s more than OK!

Gamers are a funny bunch, aren’t they? While many consumers would be perfectly fine playing two or three games in a year, PlayStation fanatics wear their hearts on sleeves, T-shirts, or they tattoo it to themselves. What could be better than an opportunity to compare nerd credentials than a convention full of like-minded nerds? For my own peace of mind, I did my best to weave between crowds and see a lot of games I had never heard about before PlayStation Experience.

Here are my impressions, ordered in no specific way, with no intended direction:

How much did this thing cost?

GamerGate came up once while I was sitting in a panel for TellTale Games and it was at that point that I started thinking about the insane cost of organizing and running a convention like PlayStation Experience, particularly given that the event space was a lot larger than I thought it would be. The Sands convention center offered up a large hall for the keynote, broadcasted on Twitch following The Game Awards, while the secondary hall was literally packed to the gills with various indie booths, third-party partner booths, and loads of games to play.

I cannot say for certain that Sony’s investment paid off, but I can say that it’ll drive PlayStation fandom through 2015 given the way so many people wandered around happy, toting swag, and generally at peace. E3 and PAX can sometimes give off a sense of chaos and PlayStation Experience seemed to stand in opposition to this. I think part of it has to do with the way so many gamers could fit within the relatively open convention space, but a lot of it probably rides on the fact that PlayStation could not be more on-top of the gaming industry in this moment.

PlayStation 4 sales remain high and mighty, despite Xbox One’s rapid approach and Nintendo’s handheld dominance. Even if the company loses money on PlayStation Experience and continues to plan for another next year, I doubt that the brand or platform has been hurt by the event. PlayStation has held firm as one of Sony’s most profitable divisions.

PlayStation Panels

I sat in one of the many different panels open to convention-goers and loved hearing about a game I greatly enjoyed over the past year. While I can’t say that every panel had loads of entertaining or even interesting information, I can say with confidence that some games don’t get the kind of attention they deserve at the likes of a GDC or a Penny Arcade Expo. I’ll have more to say on this particular panel in another piece later.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

I couldn’t think of a better place for Sony to show off gameplay-footage of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End after attending PlayStation Experience and seeing it for myself at the convention keynote. Taken at face value, it is embarrassing to feature a full game-crashing fall through the world’s geometry, yet the crowd could not have been more forgiving. Having a few hundred fans shouting and cheering when Nathan Drake somehow discovers that all of planet Earth is water probably didn’t hurt the reaction at home, with thousands more watching via Twitch or other streaming services.

On a completely different level, I loved seeing how Naughty Dog has added to gameplay in order to make Drake’s adventures as cinematic as possible. When our hero started sliding down a mudbank, firing at enemies while progressing through the level, I immediately thought that I couldn’t wait to play. When he tried to pull an enemy off a ledge and that enemy grabbed Drake’s leg, initiating a brief quick-time event, I thought “how the hell are they going to pack that into the game and ensure it happens frequently enough to keep players on their toes?”

Regardless, the brief gameplay demonstration was enough to put Uncharted 4 on my list as one of the most anticipated games of 2015.

[Disclaimer: Not an indie developer, just hungry.]

Indie developers

… are cool. All of them. I love talking with these folks because more often than not they’ve got interesting ideas that remain obscurely difficult to articulate and yet… I love talking about video games. Meeting scores of passionate creators in this space gives your brain a work-out because of the numerous abstractions that exist within gaming and the creation of games. In the end, it made talking to developers from DrinkBox, TicToc Games, and Candescent Games great fun.

I don’t think you can actually identify another publisher that has gone out of its way to welcome independent developers to the platform in the same way PlayStation has. While many of the indies at the convention offered early-access Steam keys, meaning each title was not exclusive to PlayStation or even available on the platform just yet, it was clear that each would not be there without Sony’s help. On another level, it was clear that they were more than happy to receive the attention they did from con-crawlers who probably would never have awareness of each games.

While I did feel like bigger games with long lines stole time and attention from PlayStation’s indie support, an all-indie focused booth at something like the Game Developers Conference will likely continue the publisher’s gentle grasp of that development space. Microsoft has been dragging its feet in reigniting the development scene for Xbox One and Nintendo’s indie-promotions seem more based on taste and timing than an all-out attack.

Showcase more awesome game music!

I stopped by the 65 Days of Static concert that closed the PlayStation Experience on Saturday night and while I didn’t stay for the entire show, I would say that video games need to pair themselves more closely with music if they want to continue dominance in the art and business world. Games offer an incredibly wide canvass for creation and I’ve always adored experiences that manage to sound as good as they look and play.

When’s the next one?

Sony confirmed, apparently via Twitch, that PlayStation Experience will be held once more next year. We’ll be ready!