In less than a week we will be knee-deep in the biggest event of the video game year. The Electronic Entertainment Expo is known providing show stopping announcements and lighting the way forward for the video game industry. With the impending release of the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and the WiiU well into it’s first year, this E3 should be one of the most important in the conference’s history as these console designers will try to explain to the industry why their hardware belongs in your living room.
While we’ve had announcements and news leaks, E3 is a unique opportunity for Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo to change the current narrative being written about the next console generation by giving the public the announcements they want. This will probably be the last time that any of the three companies will get a stage this large and public before the release this Holiday season, so now is the time to pull out all the stops. Let’s look at what each company needs to do in order to gain ground in the next-gen console race.
While it is not hard to understand Microsoft’s strategy–doubling down on the mainstream entertainment purposes of gaming consoles–it is surprising Microsoft would come out of the gate with such unpopular messaging. After spotting Sony a three month head start in the next-gen console race, Microsoft gave a press conference last May that was–admittedly–uninteresting for their core audience. Couple those factors with the confusing and negative rumors surrounding used games, always online, and independent developers, Microsoft has started the next generation with little goodwill.
It is important to remember that Microsoft is far from out of this race, and a strong showing at E3 could put them right back into the thick of it with Sony. How do they do that? It will be difficult, Microsoft has painted themselves into corner, not only with their negative reception thus far but also with promises that they are sitting on something big. They better be, with Craig Davidson, Director of Global Marketing at Microsoft, saying, “Xbox One will surprise the world during E3…We will kill Sony at E3.”
Microsoft says that they have 15 next-gen console exclusives in their launch window, which sounds like a big number until you do the math. We already know about Quantum Break, Fantasia: Music Evolved, Ryse, Forza 5, and the new release from Black Tusk which they describe as “the next Halo”. It is also safe to assume Halo, Gears of War, Fable, and Dance Central will all have some presence on that list. That is nine (over half) of those 15 games, and four of the new IPs that Microsoft claims to have. Of the remaining six exclusives, it is likely some are Kinect games (we’ll say half), that leaves only three games Microsoft has remaining in their stable for the core gaming audience. As none of the games announced or leaked at this time have changed the Microsoft hype-meter, one of these unknown titles has to be show-stopping, trailer re-watching, this-is-why-next-gen-is-awesome, big. Which is a lot of pressure for something that we know nothing about.
If Microsoft really wanted to change the narrative, they would open up dialogue about the negativity swirling around their console. Microsoft is in need of better message to explain the unpopular decisions involving DRM, online connectivity, and independent games. Combine that with a great showing of games, Microsoft could find themselves going blow-for-blow with Sony this Holiday season.
For nearly half a decade now, Sony has been on the defensive, constantly playing catch up in a race where they were depressingly behind. Now, Sony finds themselves in the driver seat, an odd place to be, given their recent history. With a strong showing in February, catering to the audience they scared away with the launch of their current-gen console, Sony captured a faction of the game-playing audience with the promise of games and game-centric features. They gave new life to the struggling Vita with the promise of increased cross-play titles, they promoted a new video-sharing system, and avoided the buzzword minefield with surprising nimbleness.
The ball is in Sony’s court and if they have any sense they will capitalize on the opportunity. With Xbox One being pitched as a living-room centered device, plagued with unpopular features, Sony needs to prove the PlayStation 4 is different. If Microsoft is phasing out the used game market, PlayStation must follow suit or risk losing publishers who will feel scorned. So how will Sony announce they’re no better than their console counterpart? Can they pitch it in a way where it will be received with less venom than Microsoft? Are there internet connectivity issues Sony hasn’t told us about to support this? While we know a lot about Sony’s games, we still don’t know much about the hardware itself. This is important for Sony’s future.
While one can only expect Sony to dance around the unpopular questions and avoid the media frenzy that beset Microsoft, Sony needs to continue to incentivize the PlayStation 4. While Infamous: Second Son, Killzone: Shadowfall, Knack, and The Witness are nice feathers in the proverbial hat, Sony is lacking a big name title to really steal the show. The obvious move would be to announce Uncharted 4, but an original IP showing off new mechanics would be Sony’s best bet at reaching out a hand to the Microsoft fans willing to be converted. A couple more games, revealing the hardware design, and assuaging certain fears about the next generation could be all Sony needs to establish themselves as the next-gen front-runner, we will see if they can avoid fumbling the ball in their race to the goal line.
With a disappointing WiiU launch and a year where they will struggle to make any headlines, Nintendo finds themselves in a strange place at this E3. When they announced their decision to step away from the stage and expand their Nintendo Direct series, there was a mixed reaction. However, one could not help but admit that Nintendo knows they won’t be stealing any spotlight this year. Some think that Nintendo is poised to roll over and die, but there are still be a few tricks up Nintendo’s sleeve before getting into that kind of hyperbole.
Opting for a Nintendo Direct over an E3 show is a risky move, but continues to prove that Nintendo is looking to pave its own way, rather than compete in the Sony-Microsoft war. With announcements tailor-made for the Nintendo faithful, such as Mario Kart Wii U, Super Smash Bros 4, Super Mario 3D Wii U, and Pikmin 3, Nintendo did not have much of a chance converting many fans anyways.
Nintendo has the right idea in a year that is bound to be difficult regardless of their game lineup. There is a hardcore audience for the Wii U at this time, and those who are not among them are pinching pennies for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. The best thing Nintendo can do is to continue to appeal to their faithful fans who want more of the established titles that they know and love, these are the fans who are sticking by Nintendo through thick and thin, so now is a time to reward them. Maybe with a new Zelda game and a price drop, Nintendo can get back to moving units in 2014. Maybe.