E3 still has another day to go but this post is only focusing on the big press conferences that took place on Monday and Nintendo’s that happened on Tuesday. For the big three console manufacturers (Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo) and Electronic Arts, we’ll look at the questions surrounding each company before this week and whether those questions were answered. The games each conference itself focused on will be scrutinized, with true exclusives for a console (i.e. a game that can only be played on that console) being given high praise. By such a metric, we can find out who won E3 and who lost.
Ubisoft will not be mentioned because they had no such expectations and the games they announced aren’t worthy of the time devoted to writing them, so they will be ignored.
Microsoft’s Xbox One entered E3 on the defensive. It’s an understatement to say the original announcement a few weeks ago went over poorly. Pick your poison regarding the console’s multimedia focus at the expense of gaming, the mandatory usage of a Kinect device that can’t be shut off and is transmitting data somewhere (a concern exasperated by the NSA PRISM program that’s come to light, a program that Microsoft has been supplying data to since September 2007), requiring an Internet connection every 24 hours, placing heavy restrictions on used games and lacking the backwards compatibility with Xbox 360 games… The best (and perhaps only) way Microsoft could put out the shit storm it started was by showing off games that make all this worthwhile.
Their E3 conference didn’t succeed. Microsoft did nothing to make people forgive the controversy surrounding their new console and added more shit for their storm by giving it a $500 price tag. The majority of the games they showed off are either going to be available on another console (Metal Gear Solid 5), will make their way to PC eventually (Project Spark, Titanfall), are reboots or spiritual successors to games that weren’t very good 10-20 years ago (Killer Instinct and the Panzer Dragoon-esque Crimson Dragons), most likely won’t stay exclusive for long knowing Capcom (Dead Rising 3) or won’t be sold at launch (the next Halo). Microsoft is the clear loser of E3, although I do look forward to next year’s presentation when the Xbox One inevitably bombs and business executives scramble to fix what went wrong.
Electronic Arts won The Consumerist‘s poll for Worst Company in America for the 2nd year in a row. The company’s has had a string of bad luck since last year, which came to a head when they fired their head CEO this past March. EA was in a damage control position much like Microsoft heading into E3. The best way to fix their poor company image is to provide games for people who want to pay for them without all the inconveniences that have plagued other titles like Sim City.
EA provided the games but I’m skeptical of whether they did enough to repair their reputation. Dragon Age III can thank Mass Effect 3 and The Old Republic for people being skeptical of BioWare RPGs. The new Star Wars Battlefront might be in good hands with developer DICE but EA only announced the game was in the works and provided a brief teaser trailer. Battlefield 4 will be pretty impressive if they can actually get 64 player match-ups on a console. It’s also hard to get excited about next-gen EA Sports title given the company’s horrible habit of stripping out features introduced in the last gen so they can be re-implemented later as new in the next-gen (compare Madden NFL 06 on the PS2/Xbox to the Xbox 360 version…).
EA didn’t screw up like Microsoft did but all their announcements should be taken with a hefty amount of salt. A wait and see approach with a cynical outlook is probably the best way to view EA’s E3.
The PlayStation 4 announcement back in February wasn’t as bad as the Xbox One’s but there wasn’t much to get people excited about it either. Then again, not much was announced outside of the controller and some tech demos. With Microsoft detailing their console’s unpopular features, it was up to Sony to address how their console was going to handle the used games issue. Microsoft had shown its hand a few weeks earlier with the Xbox One, so Sony needed to release information about the PS4. They needed to show what it looked like, how much it would cost and they needed to do so in a way to distance itself from its unpopular competitor. Showing off some games would be nice too.
It’s really sad we’ve gotten to the point where common sense features in a console are lauded with critical praise…but here we are. Sony’s official announcement declaring support for used games and not requiring an Internet connection got more applause than any other bit of news announced on Monday. Other than that, Sony’s presser was not all that great. They showed off games that are going to appear on other platforms (Walking Dead, Grand Theft Auto V, Kingdom Hearts III, The Elder Scrolls Online). Sony’s definition of exclusive is better than Microsoft’s, though, as they touted Gran Turismo 6, InFamous: Second Son, The Order 1886 and The Dark Sorcerer. With an actual variety of exclusives and by distancing themselves from the Xbox One, Sony is the clear winner of E3.
Nintendo wasn’t technically at E3, although they did hold a “Nintendo Direct” event this past Tuesday. What Nintendo needed to do was reassure Wii U owners of first party support to give the console a much-needed jolt. Nintendo has a history of not playing well with third party developers dating back to the Sega Genesis so the onus is on them to turn the Wii U’s misfortunes around. If Nintendo’s games can start moving units, developers will come to get in on the profits.
Nintendo will always have a niche in the gaming market thanks to its entrenched global fanbase. That said, a handful of first party titles aren’t going to make a garbage console any less trash. There’s little to no indication that these titles are going to be substantially different (much less better) than their Wii counterparts. Will Super Mario 3D World be the smash hit Super Mario Galaxy was? What is Mario Kart 8 going to do that 7 can’t? Personal bias against Zelda: The Wind Waker aside, what’s the incentive for buying the HD remake instead of popping in the GameCube disc other than one version looks more vibrant than the other? Unless the gameplay changes in a substantial manner, it won’t pull in enough non-Wii U users to save the console from being another GameCube. It’s possible to answer that question by going to a participating Best Buy but that’s another problem: the demos aren’t open to enough people. Nintendo has playable demos of some of its games at some Best Buy stores nation-wide but only certain ones have the demos and they’re only accessible for a few hours over two days (yesterday and this Sunday). That and the new Super Smash Bros. isn’t among the playable options.
Nintendo is delivering on its first party support promise but barring something spectacular, that won’t be enough. The damage inflicted from neglecting the Wii U since launch has been done and while the fans may be satisfied, third party publishers and the casuals that won the last console war for the Wii won’t be. They’ll be content with the Wii or other entertainment platforms.
If an ordered ranking system had to be given, it’d go: Sony, Nintendo, EA, Microsoft. Nintendo and EA can be swapped depending on how much you trust one over the other, although there’s a pretty massive divide between Sony and whoever’s #2. Arguments for Ubisoft being placed anywhere will be heard so long as they are not placed first.