Tuesday, 11 June 2013

E3 2013, Sony Microsoft and Nintendo Impressions

So, E3 is going on, and as always the big news is in the form of the Big 3's conferences. Of course, Nintendo  didn't hold an actual conference, instead opting instead to do another Nintendo Direct, but we will include them anyways. This year's E3 is extra special, because it's the period of hype for the next generation. Information on the next round of consoles (sans the ailing Wii U of course) is just coming to light, people are forming their allegiances, and Microsoft and Sony are fighting tooth and nail to earn said allegiances. It's an exciting time to be a gamer, to be sure. So in honor of E3, I thought I would discuss my thoughts on the the big 3's E3 presence, and my thoughts going forward with the next generation.


If you've been following the information pertaining to the Xbox One, then you know that Microsoft had nothing to lose and everything to gain from E3. Their focus on non-gaming media and their stance on used games and internet requirements turned a lot of people off, at least among the vocal minority. On the whole I would say Microsoft put on a pretty good conference, though. People wanted to see games out of Microsoft, and they got them. Of course many of the games on display were in fact titles that will be available on PC and/or PS4, but people seemed pretty excited for the most part. I can't really claim that anything really caught my attention aside from Project Spark and Titanfall in terms of games, though I'm a fan of the in-built streaming capabilities. We know the PS4 has similar, but I would certainly prefer stream to Twitch (partnered with Microsoft) than Ustream (partnered with Sont). Oh, and there was a rape joke, that was fun.

When all was said and done, I don't really feel that Microsoft came out of their conference too much better of than they were, though. People said they wanted to see games, they saw games, and yet all they were talking about was the elephant who remains in the room, and the $499 price point. I feel like Microsoft tried to just sweep the talk of DRM under the rug and hope games would make people forget, but it doesn't seem to have worked. I think the better approach would have been to subtly show how the online requirements and DRM can work to the player's advantage. Obviously they aren't going to get on stage and discuss all the features everyone is up in arms about, they are there to build hype not draw attention to their detractors. Yet, if I had seen a good reason for an Xbone to be constantly online, then maybe my opinion on the console would change. Instead, we got Smart Glass awkwardly and aggressively shoved in our faces.

I think Microsoft has managed to seal their own fate on this one. As soon as they announced the price point that was all anyone was going to take out of that conference, and it's a doozy. What confuses me the most about the Xbone continues to be the question of demographic. Who is supposed to buy this thing? Microsoft has touted this thing as the one device that will take over your living room, seemingly aimed at everyone. Yet, between used game restrictions, online requirements and a $500 price tag, it seems to me they have managed to alienate every demographic in some way. Sure, it's understandable that packaging a kinect with it will drive the price up, but casual or non-gamers aren't going to buy this thing at that cost. The same is true of college students, whom I assumed was the primary demographic.

I don't know what Microsoft does going forward. It seems to me their only options are to back pedal, and hope they regain enough good will to not be a total disaster. Perhaps the more likely course of action is that they simply stick to their guns and try to stay lean and economical. No doubt regardless of whatever missteps the Xbone will still sell many, many units. If they can maximize their income from every unit, then maybe they can hang on. Either way, it would certainly seem Microsoft has thrown away any chance at the top spot in this generation.


In truth, Sony didn't need to do much. The advantage was theirs to throw away. All they had to do was show up, not murder any puppies, and be heralded as the great prophets of gen 8. Sony basically did just that, and then some. There were several games on show, including Final Fantasy Versus XIII (rebranded as FFXV) and Kingdom Hearts III, and indie titles like Transistor and Octodad. In truth the games were kind of secondary in this conference, to me any ways. It was predictably a bunch of trailers that didn't say much about the games in question. I will say that I was very impressed that Sony managed to get live demos of both Assassin's Creed IV and Watch Dogs, despite Ubisoft not doing a live demo of said games in their own freaking conference. There was also a first look at gameplay from Bungie's Destiny, which at first didn't do it for me, but as it went on and the RPG features came to light, my interest was piqued.

I think the biggest thing about this conference was the subtle things like the language they used. It seemed to me like every word in Sony's presentation was chosen very carefully, and it went a long way. I loved the referential humor that they knew the people watching the show would get. More to the point though, Sony clearly had been paying extremely close attention to what Microsoft's detractors were saying. Almost point for point, Sony had something to say about every one of the Xbone's weaknesses. Oh, you are obstructive to indie's? Here's 20 minutes of indie games on PS4. You restrict used games? Yea, we don't. They may have well have been shouting "PS4 does what Xbone don't", but instead they were just taking subtle jabs there weren't off-putting, but reassuring.

Then there was the final nail in the coffin. They announced the $399 price point, and it was all over for Microsoft. Not only is the PS4 significantly less restrictive, more powerful, devoid of  major privacy concerns and just more gamer friendly in general, but it's $100 cheaper. That makes a big difference. That means more early adopters, which means more third party developers, which means more exclusives, which is ultimately all that it comes down to. The PS4 even has some small advantage in their Gaikai cloud streaming service, but what that ultimately ends up looking like has yet to be seen. On the whole, it would seem that the PS4 is in a decisive lead some 5 months before either console is released.


It's very strange to me that Nintendo seems so far removed from the competition of late. Ever since the last generation started it's felt like Sony and Microsoft have been duking it out, and Nintendo has been off in the corner doing their own thing. This has never been quite so apparent as with their approach to this year's E3. Sony and Microsoft are battling for supremacy, holding huge 2 hour conferences in E3. Meanwhile, Nintendo's console has been out for 7 months and they put together a 40 minute pre-recorded presentation from the empty 7th floor of their office in Japan. In truth, it really wasn't any different from every other Nintendo Direct that has been put out, except that it happens to have happened during E3.

In that light, I would say that on the whole, the presentation was pretty unsurprising. Every game that was shown was either an already announced (or, at least known to be existing) game, or a highly predictable one (zomg, who would have guessed! Mario Kart, ON THE WII U?!?!?!). Of course there isn't anything wrong with that. Nintendo has subsisted on their first party titles and handhelds for over a decade now. People love their Nintendo franchises. None the less, there is clearly a lot of excitement behind the announcement of the next Super Smash Bros (apparently entitled simply "Super Smash Bros" ?). With games like that, a closer look at Wind Waker HD, and another look at Platinum Games' Wonderful 101 and Bayonetta 2 it seems likely that Wii U sales will begin to pick up.

And then there was "X". The next game from Monolith Soft, the rumored Wii U successor to Xenoblade Chronicles. In truth, I think I'm more excited about this title than any other I have seen from E3 thus far. I mean it's like Xenoblade, but high def, with more awesome mechs, mechs which the player can ride, and it's a more proper RPG. It looks pretty amazing, and is the first Wii U title I have seen that really screams "you need this console. You cannot miss this game". Of course I was always going to grab a Wii U once Zelda games started being released, but X might finally be the first third part core game that really pushes the Wii U into peoples' homes.

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