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Monday, June 19, 2017

My E3 Impressions

E3's over, and it's been an interesting ride. Overall, I think this was a weaker year than most, but there have definitely been some promising announcements and trailers to come out of it.

After having written up my thoughts and predictions during the lead up to the event, I thought it'd be fun to follow up with my impressions now that it's all said and done. I'll only be covering the big three here, but I think Ubisoft deserves a shout out for their stand-out showing, so congrats to them for a strong presentation.

Let's start with Microsoft.

Microsoft



Dense but disappointing

I've been very lenient in my perspective on Microsoft over the last few years with regards to their position and strategies in the gaming space, appreciating the potential and intentions they've put forward. Regardless, this conference has made it clear to me that the things keeping the Xbox hardware on the consumer's backburner will stay on the forefront.

Overall, I'll say that Microsoft's conference was well structured and rich in the one thing that I believe matters most:

Software.

Unfortunately, the selection represents very little in the way of surprises. No shockers. No jaw droppers. No new first-party announcements outside of Forza 7, and that franchise releases on a schedule. There were a few nice looking titles on the third-party front, however. 22 exclusives were touted, but at best, they all will also launch on PC, and at worst, are timed exclusives that will launch on competitor hardware in the future. Even the big showcase game that closed out the show, Anthem, is fully multi-platform. Good news for gamers who have competitor hardware or a reasonably built PC, but not a sure-fire way to sell folks on Microsoft's consoles particularly. This strategy hasn't proven to provide strong incentivization of the Xbox One in the past, and I'm doubtful of it being the case in the future.

The Scorpio was revealed as the Xbox One X and was the centerpiece of the conference. It will launch on November 7th at 499 USD. The price is very sensible and is in line with my expectations, but it isn't really much to work with. I initially thought that selling at a loss at 399 USD would be how they might try to get aggressive against Sony's offerings and really force them and Nintendo into a tough spot with regard to cost, especially with the standard Xbox One now retailing at 199 USD. Unfortunately, I don't think a solid enough case was made for the purchase of an Xbox One X to any but a very particular niche of enthusiast as it is. No service shifts or major software motivations mean that launching at 399 USD probably wouldn't have been a worthwhile risk to take, so I'm not docking points for them not going that far with it.

Looking at the state of the market, I also wonder how well the Xbox One X can really do, even under ideal circumstances. With the PS4 Pro representing only a modest amount of PS4 sales at 399 USD, it seems that the premium user base is limited to begin with, making the greater extreme of Microsoft's new hardware seem as though it has a little less potential for greater market penetration. As an entry-level console, though, the standard Xbox One's new price becomes attractive to those on a budget. At the least, I think we might see something notable come of that in the long run.

So what's the conclusion? Is this a better conference than years past? In many ways yes. It's a good format with little fluff and a big focus on software. Was it one that posed a reasonable deal of added value to the Xbox line of hardware? No, unfortunately, and this was definitely the time to have pushed for it. In my predictions piece, I said that this show would be one that would speak to the future of the brand. I think it's abundantly clear now that Microsoft is set on supporting their greater ecosystem as a whole beyond all else moving forward, and that's something that has and will come at the expense of the market's perception of the Xbox One's worth.


Sony



Functional but unexceptional

I was expecting a more restrained conference from Sony thanks to the slew of upcoming software that's already been announced, but I didn't quite expect it to be this reserved.

Ironically, I think my expectations were a bit higher than they would have been otherwise, not just because of Microsoft's new console reveal, but because of their own past showings as well: for two years and twice as many conferences, I'd expected a shrinking presence or a smaller number of titles on stage, but Sony defied those expectations time and time again.

This year, that definitely wasn't the case.

The conference was streamlined and shorter than any previous one may have ever been at under an hour long. There were about 17 titles shown off, of which 13 are exclusive and 9 new. PS VSVR definitely got a lot of love, with 6 of those new games being for the headset. This is an expected and necessary play, as PSVR has been relatively successful and needs nurturing to be sustained as a platform, giving folks who've already bought in more to enjoy and those on the fence more to consider. For the primary platform, however, there were 3 announcements, of which two were exclusives: an expansion to Horizon Zero Dawn and a remake of Shadow of the Colossus. Pretty meager selection on that front, unfortunately.

Exclusives like Gran Turismo Sport, Knack 2, Everybody's Golf, and the Crash Trilogy were on the show floor, but oddly enough, didn't get any love during the actual conference. Another oddity is the lack of fulfillment to Shawn Layden's promise of big announcements with regards to Japanese games. Outside of perhaps Monster Hunter and Shadow of the Colossus, these were mostly absent as well. I think that this may be a reactive result of Microsoft's showing.

Coming into the show, I took the bet that Sony would route some of their big announcements to E3 to combat the potential mindshare draw from Microsoft, but it seems that they didn't think it was necessary. TGS and the Playstation Experience are coming up, perhaps even Gamescom or Paris Games Week on top of those, and I'm very sure that there's key content being saved for those conferences, but the small selection presented during the conference makes me wonder if some of the content that was going to be highlighted today was held back after Sony saw Microsoft's showing, perhaps deciding it wouldn't be worth squeezing themselves dry. It sounds odd, but the primarily video-based format certainly makes that kind of reactive play a lot easier to pull off.

All told, I wouldn't say Sony's presentation was bad by any means. It's represented a focus on the value of the Playstation brand to the primary consumer through a selection of software from their first-party stable including two games from their biggest franchises, a crowd-pleasing demo of a promising new title based on a major property in the broader entertainment space, and a remake of a game recognized to have widely affected the modern game design landscape. It also presented notable third-party partnerships with Activision's Call of Duty WWII and Destiny 2 on stage, the reveal of Capcom's Monster Hunter: Worlds, and Bethesda's Skyrim VR. It's just that, outside of the VR front, this was a conference that didn't provide much to feed the overall fervor and hype that's already been established prior.

Fortunately for Sony, their market share means that they don't necessarily need to do much more than they have to keep themselves on top and maintain momentum, giving them a bit of room to breathe and space out their announcements for the next two conferences in the year. However, empathizing with how this might be the soundest strategy for them doesn't mean they get a free pass when it comes to judging their presentation on its own merits.

My verdict? Functional, but not very impressive to the core gamer that's in the know, especially when held up to their last few showings.


Nintendo



Short but substantial

Nintendo’s Showcase was a very brief affair. At less than 25 minutes in length, it’s notably shorter than even Sony's presser before it, making it seem less like a presentation and more like a headliner to the Treehouse Live streams succeeding it. Fortunately, the right content was chosen to fit in that time frame.

The conference consisted of the expected Switch content with Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Fire Emblem Warriors, Super Mario Odyssey, Breath of the Wild DLC, and Pokken being highlighted. Splatoon 2 and ARMS also got a bit of visibility, rounding out the full 2017 first-party release schedule. Beyond that, we also got to see new Kirby and Yoshi titles announced for 2018 releases, and two heavy hitting reveals were made with Metroid Prime 4 and a new core Pokemon title confirmed to be in development. There was some third-party love as well with games like Fifa 18, Skyrim, and the recently announced Mario+Rabbids Kingdom Battle getting some space and the announcement of Rocket League coming to the platform.

Nintendo isn't very conventional with how they promote their content. They typically announce games about 9 months to a year out from release at most and elaborate on or reveal them through small, focused digital presentations throughout the year. Though this is true, Nintendo did well even by more typical press-conference standards.

Their showing reiterated on the strength of their 2017 Switch line-up, which consists of at least one major exclusive release for every month until the end of the year. It also reinforced their commitment to third-party relationships with a smart selection of high-demand titles that exemplify the functionality of the hardware. Nintendo subverted expectations with fun and surprising announcements of new first-party titles coming beyond this year, and they weren't wasteful with their selection either: They provided confirmation of a new Pokemon game instead of a full reveal and stayed their hand on announcing Smash Brothers, which could have easily cannibalized the sales of the other fighters they have on the release schedule.

Overall, Nintendo had a good showing that bolstered the value of their brand and brought in some major crowd-pleasers. The only thing keeping the Showcase from having been excellent by conventional terms is that they didn't cover all their bases. Of course, with Treehouse Live streaming through the same channels as the Showcase and giving the 3DS a prominent spread of promotion, previews, and new game announcements, I doubt that's hurt them in the grand scheme of things.

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