Midday Tuesday, the Los Angeles Convention Center will open its exhibit hall doors and over 125,000 gamers, press, and VIPs will spend three days talking about and playing video games. Monday was the traditional press conference filled day before the show where each major publisher gets an hour or so in the media spotlight (except Nintendo which happens Tuesday morning). Over the last few years it’s become the unofficial start of E3 and today the latest chapter of console wars was waged.
These lavish presentations full of bright lights, fog machines, and the occasional video game trailer have become a competition between Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation. Sure a case could be made for Bethesda after their take no prisoners flurry of Doom and Fallout 4 on Sunday night, but for now we’ll only examine two of the big three (Nintendo, Xbox, PlayStation).
Every year this day has the feel of a heavyweight prize fight in Vegas but with less scripted stuff, and for the most part it’s worth paying to see. This year could be summarized as the year of distinction. Rather than trade jabs or brag about how many units they’ve moved, both Sony and Microsoft stuck to what puts butts in their seats… games. In doing so each showed a shifted focus on different aspects of the market.
When Xbox opened their presentation this morning they did so by having a female lead from 343 Industries take the stage. For those who don’t know 343 Industries are the current developer of Halo games and the unquestionable massive blockbuster in the making Halo 5: Guardians. Huge step for female leaders in the gaming industry. Now as to where Xbox has focused their energy and resource, well it’s easy to see; they’re after the Summer popcorn flick audience.
Halo 5, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Gears 4, Forza 6; all these exclusive experiences coming to the Xbox One and all are created on the premise of generating revenue in excess of 3 times what it cost to produce. You know what? They’ve got a legitimate shot of doing so. Look at Gears 4:
It’s over the top action, it’s entertaining violence, it’s a sequel, it’s Hollywood. The same could be said for the other big titles shown by Xbox.
Sure ID@Xbox exists to keep the footprint of independent creation at Microsoft, but nothing has emerged exclusively out of that camp as a contender for a game of the year award. There are some promising titles coming soon from it, particularly the Cuphead game, but it’s far from a “game changer”.
Xbox’s current strategy is focused on opening wallets with adrenaline rushes to the eyes, and along the way they managed to be first to give console gamers the thing they’ve been clamoring for, Backwards Compatibility! Monday they dropped information on the first true version of this feature we all believe is so simple you’d think it should have been there all along. It’s not a service you’ll have to pay for, nope, Xbox simply wants you to put in an old 360 game and play it on your new Xbox One. There’s still a lot of details to work out including; if the day comes where every game is backwards compatible but has online multiplayer servers that were shut down, what then. But this is a step in the right direction for Xbox and will certainly help them get the audience who haven’t made the transition from Xbox 360 to Xbox One for fear of losing their library.
Remember when we all wanted to burn Xbox at the stake and everyone groaned at DRM protected games and a console that always had to be connected to the Internet. Then when it came in $100 more than its competition everyone all but wrote off Microsoft. They’ve come a long way since those days. Now consider that Phil Spencer was the first corporate face in this new era of consoles to come out, and by focusing on games, say this is why you bought an Xbox One. While Xbox hasn’t fully recovered from their mistakes which led to an almost insurmountable uphill PR battle; they have managed get back up before the count of 10. Xbox is actually giving gamers what we want, deal with it!
Now don’t get things mixed up. PlayStation is my jam! The warm feels you have about that old 8-bit Nintendo where you had to blow in the cartridges, throw salt over your shoulder, and sacrifice a chicken in order to make it work (not sure about those last two); that’s how I feel about the original PS one. I’ve stuck with Sony through all their missteps and those E3 press events where you keep yelling at the screen begging them to stop showing a demo of a book. This year Sony put up one hell of a show, especially when going in it appeared they might not have much to talk about.
What they did demonstrate on Monday is how radically different their focus is from that of the competition. PlayStation, more than Microsoft, has an uncanny affirmation to the art of video games. Sure, we saw one presentation for their triple-A exclusive planet destroyer of a blockbuster, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Mind blown!
When it arrives, Uncharted 4 will be a contender for game of the year. The only other triple-A title to make an exclusive appearance for PlayStation was Guerrilla Games finally revealing the project they’ve been working on in secret. This world looks epic to say the least and the setting is definitely unique, take a look at Horizon: Zero Dawn.
Both these games are said to be coming in 2016, leaving Sony without a 2015 exclusive blockbuster game. Star Wars Battlefront is available on Xbox One, and if No Man’s Sky were to come out this year it’s still “console debut” on PlayStation. This means it may see a release at the competition.
Where Sony is really leading the charge is in indie games. Their resume in these stylish artistic experiences is unparalleled; Unfinished Swan and Journey just to name a few. While Sony have yet to put out true killer apps that remind us why we bought the PS4, they’ve managed to add real value using games considered too experimental by big publishers. PS4 gets Everyone’s Gone to Rapture, Devolver, and Killstrain; all nice additions to the PlayStation library.
Sony isn’t stopping there. Just look at what Little Big Planet architect Media Molecule is bringing to the table at some point.
Dreams is a game that taps into the artistic zeitgeist of the gaming community. I can’t wait to see what twisted beautiful creations players come up with using the game.
While 2015 is a holding year for Sony they reminded everyone that even though the big games of the year won’t be exclusive to Sony, some of their bonus content will be. For comic fans there’s no bigger game this year than Batman: Arkham Knight. Part of their presentation was showing off the exclusive Scarecrow Nightmare Missions for the game. It was a level of insanity not yet seen in the Arkham franchise, a level of experimentation perfect for PlayStation. You fired a gun in first person view! You fired a gun in a Batman game!
Yes, we finally saw The Last Guardian again. It’s been 7 years and whole console cycle but the game is still in the works. Though for as long a wait as fans have endured, it just didn’t feel like a PS4 game… at least visually it didn’t. It’s still early with much left to be revealed about the game and it will certainly be a part of the PlayStation Experience this year.
Perhaps Sony’s biggest pop came from another long awaited return.
PlayStation and Final Fantasy have always gone hand-in-hand. It’s one of the many reasons for Sony’s loyal fan base over the years. We saw this game announced some time ago with cheap place holder graphics but seeing how next-level this title looks in its CG trailer; you couldn’t help but be filled with glee.
Sony’s media presentation managed to not bore me when the talk shifted to PlayStation Vue‘s a la carte TV service. It’s a feature that, while not on my wish list, has an appeal for anyone who hates paying 50 bucks a month for cable TV.
Massive kudos to PlayStation for not totally forgetting the Vita. Sony’s handheld is a great piece of hardware that’s never received its due. Many of the games shown during the press conference have Vita ports on the way or remote play functionality.
Also personal note, Sony gets extra points for giving me an excuse to tweet @beckycloonan during their baller a** pre-show. Any time that happens it’s a win for everyone. Now go read Gotham Academy #7.
So while it was far from a bad outing for PlayStation, it did reinforce the fact that the company’s best year is not 2015. In a culture that demands instant gratification, teasing what you’ll be playing in 2016/2017 doesn’t win you the battle.
Ultimately, these companies are on two different paths to lead the industry. Xbox is here to blow sh** up and take your money now. Meanwhile, PlayStation has become the artistic torch bearer of gaming; they’re inventing new types of experiences using the technology at hand… just not for us to use right now.
Who won E3 2015 media day? Well by what we saw from both camps today, it’s apparent Xbox took the win. It’s really the first year they can make that claim. Microsoft showed big games for this year, new ideas, and gave the crowd something we wanted from both systems, first. I’m a PlayStation guy through and through so it’s with a heavy heart I had to give Xbox the W. However, judging by the path Sony laid out for gamers today; I expect E3 2016 to be the biggest year PlayStation has in recent memory. Hopefully by then our cyborg bodies built by robot overlords will be ready.