Gamers, analysts, and by now, even hermits living in the Outback, knew that Sony went from gaming behemoth to another fish in the pond since E3 2006.
But guess what? They're baaaaaaack.
The Sony keynote delivered by Phil Harrison at the 2007 Game Developers Conference was exactly what the company needed to re-establish itself as a gaming giant. The announcements of Home and LittleBigPlanet were the types of things gamers had expected to hear about a year ago, but as the old adage goes, "better late than never."
Even just waiting for the keynote to begin, the crowd could tell that something was up--that this wouldn't be another Sony keynote like the ones from E3 2006 or Tokyo Game Show 2006. This would be the Sony of old, the one that wowed the audience at its E3 2005 press conference.
Among the faces I happened to spot in the crowd were Keiichi Yano, the creator of Elite Beat Agents and Gitaroo Man, Joseph Olin, president of the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, and even Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo of America. And of course, DS owners were furiously sending entertaining (and obscene) messages back and forth to each other over Pictochat.
About 10 minutes before the keynote began, Sony staff threw gigantic soccerballs into the crowd which were bandied about like beachballs at a baseball game--with the intent being to knock the balls into makeshift goals set up on the flanks of the stage. Giant screens kept score of the "game," which was a heated match between team A (a portion of the crowd on the left) and team B (a portion of the crowd on the right). If you're keeping score at home or had money on the match, team B won.
That was a glorified example of audience participation--a key component of Sony's strategy moving forward. The buzz phrases "user-generated" and "emergent gameplay" were used about a billion times during the keynote, but they were backed up.
Home, the PS3's answer to Nintendo's Miis, Microsoft's Xbox Live and achievements system, and Linden Labs' Second Life, is a free service designed to foster communities among PS3 owners in a virtual world populated by corporate-branded virtual items and locations (hey--the Home service is free). The audience was clearly impressed with the seamlessness of the software, which allows gamers to bowl, play arcade games, hang pictures (customized of course), furnish their own digital apartments, and more.
However, the real darling of the presentation was LittleBigPlanet, a game from the makers of Rag Doll Kung Fu, now under the studio name of Media Molecule. The game is LocoRoco on steroids, or hallucinogens, or probably both. The word 'cute' doesn't do the game justice, nor does the phrase 'totally fricking insane and fun.' At it's heart LittleBigPlanet is a fancy tech demo showing off an incredible range of physics, but on the surface it's an adventure created by the player--and that player will range in age from 5 years old to 90 years old. I haven't heard applause like that which followed the LittleBigPlanet demo in a long time.
Miyamoto and Nintendo, it's your move.
To watch the Sony keynote in its entirety, watch the video.