Sony finds itself in an awkward position going into E3 2012. PlayStation 3 is going strong, its line-up ever-improving, but that's juxtaposed with the company's overall financial trauma and the woeful performance of PS Vita despite the positive critical reaction to its launch. The handheld is now suffering dramatically slowing sales, to a degree worse than 3DS when it had similar issues, perhaps due to a general lack of compelling software since release. Without significant effort, Vita is in danger of undeservedly slipping into premature obscurity.
You'd think that Sony would have nothing left for E3 after its recent outburst of announcements. In the last few weeks we've seen PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, God of War: Ascension and Sports Champions 2, each of which could be considered a reasonably big project that could happily entertain viewers for a few precious minutes of its headline conference. If titles like this are being put out there so early to build up hype for the show, what's in store for the presentation itself? We have a few thoughts on what Sony might bring out of the cupboard in an attempt to claim E3 2012 as its own.
Breath of life
The general impression among the press still appears to be that Vita is a wonderful little console – but that hasn't translated into sales. In Japan PlayStation Portable is still outselling the newer handheld, which routinely sells less than 10,000 units a week and is only just out-pacing the pretty decrepit Wii. The big guns need to come out, pronto. As such, we expect Sony to devote a large portion of its E3 showing to Vita.
Vita is begging for some huge exclusive titles that really sell it as a worthwhile buy. Current announced upcoming titles such as Persona 4, LittleBigPlanet Vita and the rumoured handheld release of PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, can give the system a big kick up its rear touch pad, but in addition Sony need to tip out the new games with aplomb. As well as Call of Duty-shaped blockbusters and familiar friends like Sly Cooper, titles that take advantage of Vita like no other system would really help out.
No other console presently on the market has as many input methods as Vita. Hopefully Sony and other developers have used them to design titles that can't be done elsewhere especially for the system and suit portable play, such as Sound Shapes. Make a big deal of them on the stage and watch interest in the system rise once again.
Console-style gameplay in a handheld is still a big hook that should and will be pushed, but Vita needs something unique in conjunction. Giving some time to PlayStation Suite would be a great way to push Vita; display just how easy it is to get games up, running and for sale on Vita via PlayStation Network. Sony could encourage a culture in which independent developers can thrive and unleash their creativity on the system with ease.
There's also the rumour that PlayStation Plus will be getting a revamp. It's got to become worthwhile to Vita as well soon, right?
Living the stream
Rumours have been rattling around about Sony partnering with or even acquiring a game-streaming company, the frontrunners allegedly being OnLive and Gaikai. If it's true, the potential could be huge. These services work by actually processing and playing games on host computers in a remote location; no need for discs or downloads. The only thing that your computer or console does is receive the video data and feed back your control inputs over the internet.
The technology is in its infancy, but it works pretty well now with PC games, and the lag is minimal as long as your connection speed is at least a couple of MB/s. Simply select what you want to play from a menu or website and, after a short loading time, a remote terminal sets up the game for you with little stress on your own machine's CPU. All it needs to do is handle a continual stream of video and send over control inputs instantaneously. If Sony have worked with OnLive or Gaikai, there's no doubt that the services can be optimised perfectly for PlayStation devices.
The implications for demos could be big; no more hefty downloads, no more hard drive space snatched up – you could just stream the latest trial to your PlayStation 3 instead. To stretch the concept further, to full games, what if you were stuck away from home but desperate to get in some more time on Dragon's Dogma? Get into a wi-fi zone, boot it up via such a service on your PS Vita and get stuck in. Maybe Xperia Play could even get in on the action. The idea of streaming across multiple platforms goes hand-in-hand with Sony's thoughts on cross-play – and also with its 'Never Stop Playing' slogan that will hang over the LA Convention Centre for the duration of E3.
Sony could really blow E3 out of the water by combining this new technology with its past: provide full backwards compatibility, complete access to the entire PlayStation 1 and 2 libraries, on demand. Previous emulation problems would not apply; the software could run on specially designed versions of the old hardware, the video data streamed over to players without a hitch nor concern for what model of PlayStation 3 they're using.
Sony is still treating PlayStation 3 like it's in the middle of its life cycle, shoving out plenty of fantastic content over both PSN and retail, but it's inevitable that it'll be moving down the pecking order in favour of PlayStation 4 within a couple of years. We'd love to see PS3 hang in there for a while yet, though, and with the console profitable we're sure that Sony would like it to push on too.
We know we're getting massive first party games in the forms of God of War: Ascension, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, The Last Of Us. Third parties will be unleashing the likes of Assassin's Creed III, Tomb Raider and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. That can't be it for PS3 just yet, though – we'd be very surprised if Sony has shown off its entire hand before the show has even opened.
E3 2012 could be the start of the final onslaught of important PlayStation 3 titles. This is no time for laurel resting; as well as the announced content, Sony should aim to surprise on its home console even this late in the game. Sony could really pull off an upset with a series of interesting new titles, whether they're new IPs or returns to old, unexpected favourites like Parappa the Rapper. Quantic Dream's new effort could lead the charge, no doubt another emotionally-charged, story-heavy slice of gaming. And surely nobody would say no to a new trailer of The Last Guardian that proves that it's still in development and is progressing well. Announce a solid release date that lies within the next year and Sony will have many a gamer eating out of its palm.
There's something in the air for sure – we'd be shocked if the raft of pre-show hype announcements amounted to an empty show. Pumping life into Vita will be of paramount importance to Sony, but it's not the only thing in its pocket that can bring about surprises. And all of this is without mentioning the vague possibility of PlayStation 4 making some kind of appearance; if that happens, all bets are off.