Crispy Gamer

CES Day 0 Report: MS: "We love games." Sony: "What games?"

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If you somehow froze yourself in the early '90s and thawed out just in time for Sony's CES press day event yesterday, you would hardly know the company has been in the forefront of the console video game market for nearly 15 years now. Sony's press presentation was packed with reporters and similarly packed with new product and service announcements, ranging from 3D-capable TVs to webcams, e-Readers to 3D TV networks, and even cameras and camcorders that support standard SD cards as well as Sony's overpriced Memory Sticks (now where's our SD-capable PSP?). Sony also used the presser to unveil a new marketing campaign, "make.believe," which CEO Howard Stringer said is "supposed to mean different thing to different people." I suppose that means other people may not think it's the stupidest slogan they've ever heard.

So amidst all this news from across Sony's electronics divisions, what did we learn about the company's gaming plans? Absolutely nothing.

To be fair, Sony Computer Entertainment CEO Kaz Hirai did mentioned the PS3 in passing, bragging that the system sold 3.8 million units worldwide during last year's holiday season. But to hear him talk yesterday, the PS3 seems more important to Sony as a device for purchasing a selection of 2,700 movies and 16,000 TV episodes than for playing games. And it won't even be Sony's most important streaming video device for very long, as Hirai announced the PlayStation Network video service is coming directly to Bravia TVs, Blu-Ray players and Windows PCs this year. Your existing PSN account will work on all these new devices, seemingly proving that the PS3's true utility is not as a gaming system, but as a trojan horse to get sign-ups for Sony's video-on-demand service. That was the impression I got from the press event, anyway.

Microsoft at least acknowledged how central games were to the success of the Xbox 360 at their keynote speech later that night. Yes, they did mention that the system can be used to stream Netflix videos and post Facebook updates and stream last.fm internet radio and dress up avatars and make coffee (I may have made that last one up). But they also devoted a good 10 minutes talking up the system's lineup of 2010 games, exposing the audience of 10,000 tech reporters to already-seen but still impressive footage for Alan Wake and Halo Reach.

They even threw out news of a major new feature for the system; a lineup of downloadable classic games from the arcade, Atari 2600 and Intellivision, playable on both the Xbox 360 and PCs. The new marketplace will start with thirty games, but Microsoft promised there will be 1,000 available in three years' time (are there even that many classic games worth playing?). There are all sorts of Xbox Live-centric trimmings around the experience, including a customizable Avatar arcade and the ability to challenge online friends to high score battles, but the most interesting part of the announcement to me was the pricing model, which includes a "try it once" option for 40 Microsoft points. That's 50 cents, people! Put your quarters up on the screen if you want next! 

And while Sony failed to even mention the existence of their motion-sensing Wand controller at their CES press event, Microsoft closed out their keynote with an extremely over-the-top video talking up Project Natal, complete with recycled E3 video and hyperbolic praise from developers saying how many new ideas the device makes possible. There was even a speck of actual news about Natal when Microsoft confirmed rumors that the device is coming out in Holiday 2010, but with key details such as price and game support still under wraps, it's hard to get excited about the announcement of a vague three-month release window.

Still, the dueling CES presentations, coming back to back yesterday, really seemed to highlight a disconnect in how these two battling console makers see the video game portion of their business. Perhaps Sony just felt CES wasn't the best venue to talk up their gaming initiatives, with GDC and E3 just around the corner. Perhaps Microsoft is simply proud of their dominant market position. Regardless, it was hard not to come away with the impression that Sony sees gaming as an afterthought while Microsoft sees it as a central part of their consumer electronics business. I know that's not true, but I'm just not sure how many of the other reporters here are similarly aware.

And now, ladies and gentlemen... TAYLOR SWIFT!