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The Console Wars are back, gamers should rejoice

Each year the video game industry gathers into the packed halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center to make its best sales pitch to the world.

The Electronic Entertainment Expo is a week's worth of executive sniping and news, parties and celebrity, and of course video games.

The artists and executives for Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony struggle to rise above the din of explosive trailers and bombastic speech. The fervor surrounding this year's dual launch of the next PlayStation and Xbox only made things worse, churning carefully planned press conferences into indistinguishable white noise.

With one very clear exception.

Standing on a stage set up in the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena last Monday, Sony Computer Entertainment of America CEO Jack Tretton ignited an uproar of applause with a series of promises directed straight at competitor Microsoft.

The PlayStation 4, he said, won't impose any new restrictions on the use of its games. It won't have limitations on how a retail disc can be used or resold. The console won't require online connections to work. These are all things Microsoft's Xbox One's always-online console will do.

The thunderous reaction became the pivotal moment of the week-long show, not because of what it said about the upcoming PlayStation 4, but because of the message it sent to the industry as a whole.

The next day, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime told Polygon what we were all thinking: The spontaneous cheers at Sony's press conference were meant to send a message to Microsoft as well.

It was also the clearest sign yet that the console wars, long cooling over this past generation of consoles, are back.

Console transitions, the years when a new console comes out, are times that game developers love and console makers fear.

For developers, it offers a chance to get more innovative, attempt to create a new series or franchise at a time when gamers typically are more open to new ideas.

For the console manufactures it's either the chance to win back the customers you lost, or lose the ones you thought you had.

The last console transition brought with it the PlayStation 3, Wii and Xbox 360, consoles that launched in 2005 and 2006. That transition ultimately established Microsoft as, while not the dominant next-gen console maker, certainly an important player in an industry typically dominated by Japanese companies.

First out of the gate, the Xbox 360 somehow managed to supplant, at least temporarily, the phenomenally popular PlayStation brand. Ultimately, Nintendo beat both companies handily, selling nearly 100 million Wii consoles compared to their 70-something million each. But the shift in power between Sony, which the generation before sold more than 150 million PlayStation 2s, and Microsoft, which sold about 24 million Xboxes, was notable.

And that Microsoft power play started at E3, at not one press conference, but two: A botched PlayStation 3 reveal, and Microsoft's slick, MTV-backed Xbox 360 unveiling.

This year's dueling press conferences (Nintendo decided to sit this show's press conference circuit out) has the hallmarks of another flip.

Microsoft's showing, while packed with impressive, exclusive games, struggled to overcome the negativity surrounding its Orwellian anti-piracy technology.

And Sony, free of any need to dance around still confused new online strategies, delivered not just one blow to Microsoft but two.

First came that "read my lips" used games moment at the press conference. Followed by a surprising price tag.

Where the PlayStation 3 launched at $499 and $599, a price tag so high a Sony exec infamously said gamers might need a second job to afford it, the PlayStation 4 will sell for $399. Microsoft's Xbox One will sell for $499.

Sony's obvious E3 publicity win doesn't mean that the PlayStation 4 is ensured victory this holiday when both it and the Xbox One console go on sale. But it does ensure a tooth-and-nail fight for the hearts and minds of gamers.

And that can only be a good thing for gamers.

Good Game is an internationally syndicated news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and their bigger impact on things to come. Brian Crecente is a founding News Editor of Polygon.

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