We've already discussed how Nintendo can win, and talked about how Microsoft can win, and now it's Sony's turn. What will it take for the creator of the PlayStation 4 to win what is arguably the biggest show of the year?
What we mean by "win"
For the purposes of this article we'll define a "win" as a press event that energizes existing fans and will help to bring in new fans while helping the company in question improve their bottom line. If the show gets everyone talking about games and initiatives that will cause both existing and new fans to get out their wallets, that's a "win." This isn't a zero-sum game, where one win means that someone else loses; it's very possible at the end of the show that each company will have "won."
Sony in a nutshell
The PlayStation 4 is, to date, the best-selling current generation system. It launched at a lower price than the Xbox One, delivered more graphical power, focused on games instead of gimmicks or media and the public reacted the way you'd expect. A lot of people bought them.
The Vita is still getting the odd game here or there, but the platform is basically dead. Sony is the only console manufacturer with a known VR strategy: The Project Morpheus headset will launch in the first half of 2016.
About Project Morpheus...
We have no clue if there's going to be a market for any of the hardware, but the press loves to talk about VR, and Sony is likely going to show off some games for its upcoming VR hardware.
Sony has the ability to coast a bit on past success. That gives them some leeway to do what they normally do, which is spotlight interesting indie games that look great on stage but may not sell in huge numbers, and if you marry that approach with virtual reality the show could be very interesting indeed.
Here's my thought for a slam dunk: Announce No Man's Sky as a pack-in for Project Morpheus. Everyone would go nuts. It would move hardware.
Sony won't give us a solid release date or price, and it's going to be fun seeing which major VR company blinks first and releases a solid retail price, but people could be disappointed in the game selection. Virtual reality isn't like a new console; it's not a simple thing to port games onto a device.
That means new titles need to be built from the ground up, or developers need to spend an extensive amount of time and resources porting a game to VR. It's unclear if the public at large understands this reality, and some may be wondering why they can't just buy the headset and explore Grand Theft Auto in VR.
Education, combined with games people want to play, are the two big things Sony needs to focus on when it comes to VR.
I'd love to see a price drop so Sony can be at parity with the least expensive version of the Xbox One, but based on sales of the hardware Sony doesn't really need to do anything.
Sony can see if the lower price on the Xbox One impacts their projections and try to coast on the fact they're still the most powerful console on the market, or they can get out ahead of things and drop the price to make sure they maintain every possible advantage.
I'm not going to shake the magic 8 ball on this one, I give it a 50/50 shot.
The Last Guardian
It would be great to finally see The Last Guardian, and it's rumored that Mark Cerny of all people is being brought in to finish the project. But I wouldn't overstate its importance. At this point it's mostly a punch line with the gaming press and fans of the game, even if those jokes come from an honest desire to see and play the final game. We mock The Last Guardian because we desire it.
But for your average gaming fan? The Last Guardian won't move the needle much one way or the other. It's not a known title past the Sony fans, so showing it will mostly make people happy with their existing purchases.
So OK, stop hedging your bets, how can Sony win?
Sony needs to hammer the fact that it's more powerful. As hardware prices drop and big games are announced across the show Sony should repeat the fact that PlayStation 4 plays these games at a higher resolution often with a higher framerate.
You can argue about the extent of the differences between these resolutions and speeds endlessly, and plenty of people won't care, but the fact that the games will look and play the best on the PlayStation 4 is a powerful message.
We're going to see Uncharted 4 and it's going to look great. That's a franchise everyone knows, everyone loves and this is its first PlayStation 4 outing. Expect a jaw-dropping trailer, and hopefully some in-game footage. Guerilla Games is also expected to show something new, and that's a studio that knows how to make the PlayStation 4 sing.
Sony can repeat that Project Morpheus is coming, it's real, the press has used it and it's likely going to be the most welcoming VR platform. It's the headset you'll be able to buy at a GameStop, hook up to your existing PlayStation 4 system, and it will run just as well in your home as it does in the developer's office. This is the power of a closed system.
Also, notice how we didn't bring up the Vita? Outside of a few cross-buy titles, we don't expect Sony to mention it either.
Sony doesn't have to amaze us to win E3, it just has to make sure Microsoft doesn't take away any of its momentum. Based on the rumors and what we know already, they're halfway there.
Safe prediction: No Man's Sky a launch title on Project Morpheus
Hail Mary Prediction: Last Guardian launches in late 2015