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PlayStation Experience is the fan service that E3 could never be

Smaller games fans love get the “E3 treatment”

playstation experience 2014
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

The cold open into the trailer for Uncharted: The Lost Legacy bore all the markings of an E3 keynote. Beginning with a black screen and a whooping audience, it resembled the presentation of a new game.

It was instead pure fan service, and thinking back on it, that’s the point of PlayStation Experience, an event now three years old. What we saw this weekend was meant to keep spirits up through a long winter for a console that has built its legacy on exclusive titles and serving many faces of the gaming community.

Chloe Frazer, who wasn't seen in Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, made a dramatic return alongside the series' newest heroine, Nadine Ross in Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, which for a good long moment looked like an entirely new title. The Lost Legacy is in fact a standalone chapter of Uncharted 4, coming sometime next year.

That's right, this showcase opened with DLC.

That's because Sony doesn't put on this expo to woo retailers or spin investment analysts, as it and so many others are obligated to in June. Only in the announcements that bookended the Saturday keynote — Uncharted 4 and The Last of Us Part 2 — was there the mainstream appeal seen in an E3 presentation.

In between was the kind of stuff one would expect if more gamers than industry figures attended that expo.

Go through PlayStation's E3 keynote six months ago, and it is quite a different story: Call of Duty and Activision, which is now fully in bed with Sony. All sorts of virtual reality — and PlayStation VR just launched in October! There was barely a peep from it at PlayStation Experience. Days Gone, the Sons of Anarchy-meet-the-apocalypse tale. God of War, rebooted as ... uh, God of War. Spider-Man, starring in ... Spider-Man.

Those are enormous names and big bets and huge holiday gift ideas. PlayStation Experience was about the smaller plays, the ones that aren’t there for growing sales, stock prices or an installation base, but which hold together those who have been with the console for years. That’s fitting for an event that ostensibly observes the original PlayStation’s launch in Japan back in 1994.

MLB The Show, partly because it launches in March, gets no closeup at E3. But MLB The Show 17 got an E3 moment on Saturday, delighting sports gamers. Fighting games got a huge jolt with Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, especially in a genre whose audiences are now largely restricted to one console — Killer Instinct for Xbox, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo, Street Fighter on PlayStation. Visual novels like Danganronpa 3: Killing Harmony aren't gonna take the stage in Los Angeles anytime soon. Even Ace Combat — and flight combat simulations are practically gone from consoles — got some love as that series comes to the current generation.

This is the kind of stuff that doesn't "win" E3, which is a puerile argument on social media every June, but it was enjoyable to see titles like Windjammers, of all things, get E3 treatment. Likewise, no one was really clamoring for a Knack sequel, but in the just-among-us atmosphere of PlayStation Experience, it seemed to be a good time to roll it out to applause.

What we saw this weekend was highly specific to PlayStation of course, because it was a PlayStation-produced event. It's possible much of this will be forgotten within months after its launch. But it's also significant that Death Stranding, a PlayStation 4 exclusive with a near cult of personality attending it and its creators, was given no airtime during the keynote live stream, though it was available on the show floor, had its own panel and still made news preceding the event.

That, more than anything else, sends the message that this expo was about the glue of the console's lineup. This was a beauty pageant, and all marketing events are, but the stars here were more Miss Congeniality than Miss Universe. Like remastered anthologies for WipeOut and Crash Bandicoot, and ports of PaRappa, Patapon and LocoRoco to the PlayStation 4.

These games do not have large fanbases by themselves. Together they make a big one, and for a platform so devoted to exclusive franchises, whose fans are so often fraught by anxiety over when they will return, or if they will come to the West, this event was like Christmas in July, except it's already December and we're already thinking of E3.

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