June 11, 2013 at 1:27 PM ET
The biggest news yet out of E3 is that gamers finally know when they'll get their hands on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One — and how much it'll cost them. But even though the annual video game conference in Los Angeles just got started, it's already triggered countless news releases — and more explosive competition between rivals.
In a stunning reversal of roles from the previous generation, Sony managed to undercut Microsoft's $499 price tag with the PlayStation 4's starting price by a full $100.
Still, price is only one part of the equation when sizing up a new console. People still care most about what device has the best games.
Microsoft teased out a few more of its exclusive titles including the "300"-esque "Ryse: Son of Rome," and the hotly anticipated "Project Titan," a "Call of Duty" rival from Electronic Arts and Respawn Entertainment. Microsoft said that the next installment of "Halo" won't be released until 2014 — a delay perhaps intended to demonstrate that the acclaimed sci-fi shooter isn't the only Xbox flagship.
Sony, meanwhile, only revealed one new exclusive, "The Order: 1886," a "Van Helsing"-like alternate history game. However, the sudden return of "Final Fantasy Versus 13" under a new name caught people off guard.
Yet the biggest game surprises came from publishers EA and Ubisoft. While both companies trotted out new installments of blockbuster franchises like "Battlefield 4" and "Assassin's Creed," each gave an unexpected amount of airtime to fan favorites that may not always be huge sellers.
After opening with the insanely goofy "Plants vs. Zombies" third person shooter, EA revealed new "Dragon Age" and "Mirror's Edge" games. While these franchises may lack the commercial gravitas of a new "Madden NFL" title, they are acclaimed nevertheless, and give EA some indie cred.
Ubisoft assured "South Park" fans that "The Stick of Truth" — already well liked among the gaming press — will ship in time for the holiday season. Then the publisher, which has been lacking new material for a while, unveiled an ambitious new multiplayer shooter called "The Division."
And as for Nintendo? Making use of its Direct address Tuesday morning, it announced a lineup of first-party games for the Wii U. Some of these — new installments in the beloved "Super Smash Bros." and "Mario Kart" series, for instance — will no doubt get previously indifferent Nintendo fans excited about the console. But they still don't do much for the Wii U's persistent software problem.
Despite all the gaming news, hardware concerns continue to linger. Sony took the opportunity of its Monday night press conference to directly address fan concerns that the PS4 would be a digital-rights-management nightmare.
Speaking as unambiguously as possible, Jack Tretton, president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment of America, said the console will allow users to borrow, trade and resell games to their hearts' content, and there will be no mandatory Internet connection.
"When gamers buy a disc, they have the right to use that disc," Tretton said as the crowd in front of him rose up into applause. "Your games won't stop working if you don't check in after 24 hours."
Tretton never mentioned his company's arch-rival, Microsoft, but this last point was as clear a jab at the Xbox One. Late last week, Microsoft revealed that while it will not necessarily require a persistent Internet connection, the Xbox One will need to go online at least once every 24 hours to make sure users are only accessing content that's been specifically licensed to them.
So what does it all mean? First and foremost, the console wars are going to be bloody. When NBC News spoke to game industry analyst Michael Pachter in the lead-up to E3, he said that the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 will be "similar products competing for similar users." But price is now an issue. DRM is now an issue. In other words, winning over the average gamer may take more than a handful of special-sounding games.
It also means Nintendo, which has had the quietest presence at E3, may be more viable than many originally believed. While the Wii U, launched last November, is no success story, the $300 console now stands out as a cheap alternative to the brawnier PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
We may have come into E3 expecting to call a winner to the next-generation consoles war. But if the buzz from LA is any indication, the war is just heating up.
Yannick LeJacq is a contributing writer for NBC News who has also covered technology and games for Kill Screen, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic. You can follow him on Twitter at @YannickLeJacq and reach him by email at: email@example.com.