“See the future.” That was what Sony promised when they sent out invitations just over seven years ago for the 2013 PlayStation 4 reveal event. And at just over two hours, that’s exactly what the livestreamed conference did — albeit with some wiggle room. While some of that future rolled out exactly as Sony said it would — including some incredible moments of foresight into just how video games and the internet as a whole would evolve throughout the rest of the decade — other pieces of Sony’s prognosis never quite came to pass.
With the full unveiling of the PlayStation 5 clearly on the horizon, it’s worth taking an in-depth look back at the Feb. 20, 2013 PS4 reveal to break down all of Sony’s promises and announcements: which bets paid off in spades, and which ended with money left on the table. Which presenters and studios we might see return, and which are a straight-up impossibility. And what clues about the PS5 we might be able to glean from studying that evening back in 2013. After all, the best way to predict the future is with a clear understanding of the past.
The show kicked off with a montage of PlayStation games from throughout the decades, and right off the bat, it’s funny to look at the characters who were highlighted (Crash Bandicoot, Nariko from Heavenly Sword, and Cole from Infamous) and, perhaps more interestingly, which characters now crucial to Sony’s success didn’t even exist yet. We were still months away from the release of The Last of Us, so there was no focus on the then-PS3 characters Joel and Ellie. There was no Aloy, no Spider-Man, no papa Kratos, no Bloodborne hunter, and no Sam Porter Bridges. On the third-party front, Minecraft had yet to release on a Sony console, Fortnite was an unreleased single-player survival game for PC, Geralt was still worrying about the Assassins of Kings on PC and Xbox 360, and we had yet to be introduced to the trio at the center of Grand Theft Auto V. The landscape has changed quite a bit over the past seven years.
Andrew House, the former Global CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment who stepped down at the end of 2017, served as the host for the conference. His opening speech set the tone for the entire showcase — an emphasis on PlayStation as an “ecosystem” that encompassed everything from consoles to mobile to Vita. In hindsight, it’s funny to look back on how integral the Vita was to Sony’s view of the future at the time, and how that all changed throughout the generation. However, given MLB The Show and possibly more first-party games going multiplatform, plus the continuing expansion of Remote Play possibilities, Sony is learning that technological isolationism simply will not work in 2020.
House’s first guest was Mark Cerny, the luminary who served as the architect of the PlayStation 4 hardware and is currently serving the same role on the PlayStation 5. It’s a safe bet that he’ll be back on stage again whenever the PS5 gets its full reveal in the near future. After going over a whole bunch of impressive-sounding technical specs, he showed off the DualShock 4 for the first time. Though the touchpad and light bar got a lot of the initial attention, it was the forethought of the Share button placed prominently on the face of the controller that would be one of the most forward-thinking aspects of the entire showcase. Last year, The Verge remarked, “The act of sharing has defined Web 2.0.” Sony’s inclusion of a button that simplified this very act proved that the company had more than just an inkling of what the modern landscape might look like.
After showing off a few tech demos, Cerny jumped right into the first game of the conference, which just so happened to be his own project, Knack. Japan Studio’s PS4 launch title was admittedly forgettable, but it did a good job of showcasing the jump in power this generation held, particularly when it came to the amount of particle effects occurring on screen at any given moment. Plus, having something colorful and family-friendly kick things off provided a nice contrast to a lot of the other more dour games shown off later on in the evening.
From Knack, the presentation shifted to some of the operational-level features of the PS4. This is where a lot of the forward-thinking elements of the showcase came into play. “Our goal is to make the sharing of gameplay video as popular as screenshots today,” Mark Cerny said, which in 2020 is absolutely a reality. Our consoles are so much more than just video game machines — we use them to watch Oscar- and Emmy-winning movies and TV shows on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and HBO. We use them to browse through the infinite library of YouTube. And we send our adventures out into the universe, and the universe is able to tune in using Twitch and Mixer.
Next was another montage of developers sharing their excitement for the potential of the new hardware. While this sort of segment is fairly standard, one funny detail was the inclusion of Double Fine’s Tim Schafer and Ninja Theory’s Tameem Antoniades, both of whom had their studios purchased by Xbox Game Studios in the past two years. It’s safe to say that neither one will be making an appearance at the PlayStation 5 reveal.
Hermen Hulst, the co-founder of Guerrilla Games and now the head of Sony’s Worldwide Studios, then took the stage to show off Killzone Shadow Fall. It turned out to be another pretty standard launch game that showed off the hardware but was quickly eclipsed by better games. Since 2013, Guerrilla has gained a much higher status in the PlayStation family with the release of Horizon Zero Dawn as well as the Decima Engine, which powered Death Stranding and will undoubtedly act as the framework for more games going forward. There’s a solid chance we see Guerrilla again with the PlayStation 5 reveal, but instead of showing off a new game in the Killzone series, safe money’s on the next Horizon, given that the original is just about to hit its three-year anniversary. And given Hulst’s new prominent role at PlayStation, expect to see a lot more of him at the PS5 reveal.
Next up was Evolution Studios showing off Driveclub. The PlayStation 4-exclusive racer never managed to meet the quality of Microsoft’s annual Forza games, which oscillates between the Motorsports and Horizon sub-franchises. Sadly, Evolution was one of the many studio closures we saw this generation, with Sony shutting the doors in March 2016.
Following the Driveclub presentation, Nate Fox and Sucker Punch Productions presented a bleak and serious first look at Infamous: Second Son, which eventually released in spring 2014 and became the first really good, if not great first-party PlayStation 4 game. And while Sucker Punch has been relatively quiet throughout the generation, that’s all changing in 2020 with the release of Ghost of Tsushima. While it’s a solid bet that PlayStation 4’s swan song eventually makes its way to PlayStation 5, it remains unknown whether it and fellow late-PS4 game The Last of Us Part II will be brought up alongside the PS5 reveal. After all, the original TLOU was in the exact same boat at the 2013 PS4 event, and we didn’t hear a peep from it that evening.
At roughly the halfway point, Sony brought up Jonathon Blow to show off The Witness, his incredible follow-up to Braid. While the beautiful, haunting, and genius puzzler was an absolute masterpiece, it wasn’t released for another three years in early 2016. After Blow, David Cage stepped up, surrounded by a bunch of strange buzzwords like intense, subtle, pixels, disbelief, complex, and multifaceted. He showed off a brief demo of a weird old man’s face that ended up being some of the tech behind 2018’s Detroit: Become Human. If nothing else, Cage’s games have always kicked off as gorgeous tech demos, so there’s a likely chance he shows up again with the reveal of new hardware.
Next up was another Sony first-party studio with Alex Evans and Media Molecule. At first glance, what Evans showed off was a tech demo that focused on the power of creation using the PlayStation Move. But hindsight is 20/20, and it’s now clear that what we were seeing was the early stages of Dreams, which is just now finally seeing its official release this month. To be fair, Evans even hinted at the title right there when he said, “We want you to be able to record your dreams.” Get it? Dreams?
The time we’ve had to wait for Dreams is nothing compared to our wait for the next game. Capcom’s Yoshinori Ono came out for a three-pronged message: First, that the PlayStation 4 would have ample third-party support (check). Next, that Japanese studios were once again on board with PlayStation (check). Finally, Ono showed off the dark fantasy action game Deep Down, which remains vaporware, and the exact opposite of a check.
Staying in Japan, Square Enix took the stage to show off a Luminous Engine tech demo filled with spooky desert priests, a crystal girl escaping gunfire through a favela, and a menacing dragon. It ended with Final Fantasy brand director Shinji Hashimoto taking the stage to announce that they’d have more to show at E3 2013. While this was definitely a bummer at the time, they more than made up for it at E3 when they re-revealed Final Fantasy Versus XIII as Final Fantasy XV, in addition to showing off Kingdom Hearts III (which would not be released for another six years) for the first time.
Next, Ubisoft’s Yves Guillemot gave us an extended demo of Watch Dogs, which eventually released on May 27, 2014. Seeing as how Watch Dogs: Legion was delayed from this spring to later on in 2020, it seems like a game that would make sense to show off at the upcoming reveal. Among Watch Dogs, Infamous: Second Son, and Edward Snowden’s NSA disclosure, 2013 sure was a banner year for big brothers and the surveillance state, huh?
After a quick appearance by former Blizzard senior VP Chris Metzen to talk about Diablo III on consoles, Activision piggybacked into the final game of the showcase with Bungie and Destiny, which had been officially revealed the week prior. It can’t be emphasized enough how wild it was to see Bungie, a studio synonymous with Xbox and the Halo franchise, showing off their new game on a Sony stage. This presentation included the new buzzword genre “shared-world shooter,” which would be one of the defining genres of the generation.
With that, Andrew House closed out the conference by assuring us that the PlayStation 4 would be “coming holiday 2013.” No price, no release date, and no glimpse of the physical console itself. Just a promise that Sony had an array of first-party games, ample third-party support, and a vision of the future that showed that our consoles were for more than just playing games.
Sony’s entering the new generation with a commanding lead over Microsoft, but as history has shown us time and time again, all of that can change on a dime. Microsoft has been gaining a lot of momentum recently with high-profile studio acquisitions, consumer-friendly backwards compatibility features, and a growing GamePass library that is a phenomenal deal. Plus, Microsoft has already shown off more of the Xbox Series X than Sony has of its PlayStation 5. But at the end of the day, what it all comes down to is simply the games. Despite the myriad delays, 2020 is looking like a banner final year for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It’s how both companies decide to learn from the past in transitioning into the future that will define the next decade of gaming.