June 11, 2013 -- Sony may have spelled "game over" for Microsoft at this year's E3, or at least that's what some think has happened at the annual super-massive gaming show in Los Angeles where embattled console makers fight to hawk their latest wares.
Microsoft came out with a solid enough start at Monday's E3 Xbox news conference. It listened to critics and kept the cable-television-control features of Xbox One out of the event entirely. Announcing a partnership with Twitch TV for socially sharing live game play put it on par with Sony's partnership with Ustream.
Microsoft listed the starting price for a Xbox One at $499, a predictable price for a powerful computer that could process the realistic cars of "Forza Motorsport 5" or city blocks full of the undead in "Dead Rising 3."
All in all, it was a decent showing, topped off by "Titanfall", a promising mech-suit game. Even if some larger issues regarding used games and mandatory Internet connectivity went undiscussed, the game variety stood on its own. Then, seven hours later, Sony gave its news conference a go and completely pulled ahead of Microsoft in almost every way.
The Sony team took twice the time Microsoft used to showcase games, with decent newcomers like "The Order: 1886" and "DESTINY," as well as a surprising amount of time talking about indie studios.
Little moments began to build up. The system was revealed to be a black box with a bit of a rhombus shape. A staged conversation between the life-like Lebron James character in a PlayStation 4 game and the real-life Lebron James worked well to showcase the system's detail.
A check-in from Square Enix to announce the long-sought-after "Kingdom Hearts 3" (no Kingdom Hearts game even made it to PS2) trended on Twitter all through the night.
In the last quarter of the presentation, Jack Tretton, the president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America, boldly went for Microsoft's jugular. To huge applause, he announced that "PlayStation 4 won't impose any new restrictions on used games," "PlayStation 4 disc-based games don't need to be connected online to play," and "it won't stop working if you haven't authenticated within 24 hours."
Thousands of GameStops sighed in relief. Sony shortly thereafter launched an instantly viral video poking fun at Microsoft's waffling outlook on DRM restrictions.
Sony briefly talked about the cloud and again confirmed that its handheld device, the PS Vita, could stream games directly from the PS4. Xbox One's Smart Glass app for tablets had earlier shown the ability to display in-game statistics of you and your friends, but it was nothing quite like what the PS Vita was offering.
Tretton then priced the PlayStation 4 at $399, $100 less than its Xbox counterpart. Sony had listened to its fan base. It had learned from its mistakes of previous years, when it priced the PS3 as high as $599 to start. It had earned trust and had a good time beating up its opponent in the process.
The release dates for both systems will be later this year around the holidays, still fairly far away. Plenty could change and there are plenty of unanswered questions:
We still need to learn how many cable providers will be partnered with Xbox One on day one, and there may be time yet for Microsoft change its tune regarding fees for playing used games.
Sony has some clarifications to make, as well, specifically as to what the PlayStation Eye camera offers and how dedicated support will be for PS4-to-PS Vita cloud streaming. If a Vita and an Eye are must-owns in order to enjoy a PlayStation 4, that would close the price-gap considerably with Xbox One.
Regardless of how these final lingering questions pan out, the major stakes have been set and the Internet on Monday night was buzzing with praise for Sony. The PlayStation 4 won the battle of E3, but we will have to wait until November to see who will win the war. Until then, better start saving.