Public relations gaffes, product reveals, and the future of gaming – the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles has been and gone, and we’re still picking over what it all means. Here are my thoughts on the big three at E3:
Nintendo will be releasing Mario Kart 8, Pikmin 3, Super Mario 3D World, and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker remake – all solid if unambitious franchise titles, and many of these will not be available before late 2013.
Nintendo ensured that they beat Sony and Microsoft to market with the next generation, but the Wii U isn’t selling. Nintendo has shifted 3.45 million units, but 3.06 million of those were sold in the first month, according to Eurogamer.
The Wii U simply hasn’t distinguished itself from the original Wii. Back in 2006 WiiSports and the new Wii remote brought games to new groups, while delivering Mario, Zelda, and Metroid to the core fans. The Japanese giant has been unable to capture lighting in a bottle this time around. Where now Nintendo?
Microsoft views the Xbox One as a comprehensive system for not just games, but music, online movies, television, and Skype. Do Xbox gamers agree? Microsoft did highlight big games at this year’s E3, including Forza Motorsport 5, a new Halo, and a new Killer Instinct.
Killer Instinct made headlines, but not for the reasons Microsoft hoped. In the presentation for the game, a male Microsoft producer and female manager play against each other. At one point the female manager states “I can’t even block! You’re too fast”, and the producer replies: “Just let it happen, it’ll be over soon.” Here is the full clip:
According to the Entertainment Software Association, 45% of all gamers are women. The Killer Instinct demo was a truly dreadful moment for Microsoft, the conference, and video games in general. To have a staffer make a joke about rape was inexcusable.
As for Xbox One, the console will launch at $499, a steep price point. Technically it will be slightly less powerful than the PlayStation 4. Both consoles feature eight-core AMD x86 CPUs and 8GB RAM – though PlayStation 4 has GDDR5 compared to Xbox One’s DDR3 RAM. This gives PlayStation 4 more bandwidth and a graphical advantage over Xbox One.
And Microsoft retreated from the conference battered and bruised over the issues of game ownership.
Originally, Xbox One would require the console to be online every 24 hours for “verification” purposes. There was also a convoluted ownership rights policy – preventing users from lending, selling, or trading games without going through “participating retailers”.
The reaction from Xbox owners was overwhelmingly negative.
One week later, and Microsoft has backtracked on its policies – no internet connection will be required to play offline games; users will be free to lend, trade, and resell games as with the Xbox360; and now there will be no region-lock either. Microsoft did what they needed to in order to salvage something from this debacle. Gamers stared these restrictive policies down. And now Microsoft has given itself a fighting chance against Sony.
Xbox is a console – and a brand – in transition. Microsoft is aiming squarely for the living room, encompassing all media. The downfall for the US company lies in the loyal fanbase they’ve built since 2001. Unless Microsoft can convince current Xbox owners that the games are still a focus, they may lose core support to PlayStation 4.
The Japanese company had a good conference, but that may have been due to Microsoft’s weaknesses rather than Sony’s strengths.
The PlayStation 4 will retail at $399, a full hundred dollars cheaper than Xbox One. This will be critical in the run-up to the holiday season. The console has more power under the hood. Sony’s upcoming titles – Killzone: Shadow Fall, Driveclub and Infamous: Second Son – are unspectacular, but Microsoft had left Sony an open goal elsewhere.
PS4 will not require the user to be always online. Then Sony smelled blood in the water, and took on the issue of game ownership – in “the moment Sony won E3 2013”:
Sony Computer Entertainment America president and CEO Jack Tretton received a round of applause when he said that PlayStation 4 won’t have any restrictions on pre-owned games. Even taking into account Microsoft’s climb-down, Sony is still riding on considerable gamer goodwill.
That the defining moment from E3 2013 was one corporate giant battling another over game ownership rights points to how far the industry has folded into itself.
The second half of 2013 will set the tone for the next gen. Are gamers willing to spend $400 to $500 on a new system, given the changing marketplace and the rise of cheap or free mobile phone and iPad downloadable titles?
Microsoft has bridges to build with a disaffected fanbase. Xbox One is expensive, and Kinect and Microsoft’s policies are deeply distrusted. Sony is in a stronger position. Nintendo has it all to do.
And what about the wildcards? There is the crowdfunded Ouya, and Valve’s “Steam Box”, a potential game changer and another challenge for the current console makers.
Nothing can be taken for granted in gaming, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out in 2013 and beyond.