E3 is almost upon us, and it's going to be an interesting one. With a new console being detailed and a bunch of games on the horizon, I decided it'd be fun to write out some predictions and thoughts about what we might end up seeing. I'll be focusing on the big three for this particular post, and I'll be starting with Nintendo.
Coming off of the underwhelming -to say the least- floundering of the Wii U in the market, Nintendo seems to be back in full-force with the Switch. An early success story, Nintendo can't produce enough of the things to meet the overwhelming demand, even 3 or so months after the fact. With a success that seems to hearken back to the wildfire of the original Wii, Nintendo has something in their hands that could easily be quite special.
If it's handled right.
So far, things are looking fairly solid on all fronts. Strong first-party titles have been strategically lined up for release throughout the year book-ended by the critical and sales darling that is Breath of the Wild, as well as the highly anticipated Super Mario Odyssey. Though third-party developers seem to be a bit more cautious about supporting the new hardware, Nintendo and Nvidia have gone out of their way to ensure that the ARM based Switch is a console that's easy to port games to and easy on the pockets with cheap dev-kits.
There are some short comings, of course. The upcoming online app is supposedly a needlessly cumbersome solution to a standard feature set found on competitor hardware, dev-kits are actually still hard to get a hold of for smaller developers, and a few early units have shown up with defects. Fortunately, the low cost of the online service and inclusion of game-pass style feature, the increase in production, and quick customer service have shown that Nintendo is listening and very wary of its weak spots.
We can't forget about the 3DS. Nintendo's handheld series of devices still holds strong and essentially monopolizes the dedicated handheld space. With the New 2DS XL coming and their pledge to continue supporting the hardware up until at least 2018, Nintendo seems convinced that there are still some legs to these pocketable Pokemon machines. Did I mention that there are more Pokemon games coming? I'd say that alone is a pretty compelling way to reinforce commitment to the product.
Currently, I'd say that Nintendo's steadily moving in the right direction. Investors are happy. Partners are happy. Customers are mostly happy.
What'll the future hold?
Terms of Success
Let's start with the Switch.
To be commercially successful, I don't think that Nintendo has to do that much at all. Knowing that this presentation is a short one focused on titles coming this year, it seems all too apparent that Nintendo's can still ride high off of the demand built by what they've promised already. It's Nintendo's responsibility to create a strong backbone for the Switch to ensure that both customers and developers are confident in the hardware, and so far, it seems that they're doing just that.
To be successful in terms of building further excitement in the gaming community at large, however, is something that requires the introduction of a reasonable amount of new software or services. E3 conferences are known for bombast and surprises. Nintendo's more segmented approach to staggering announcements throughout the year is great for maintaining mindshare during what might constitute seasonal lulls for the competition, but it leaves them with lower highs to work with. Splatoon 2 may be well anticipated and Super Mario Odyssey may be one of the heaviest hitters that can be brought out, but the fact of the matter is that we already know that these titles are coming and the general gaming audience will likely be looking for the unexpected.
Now for the 3DS
Nintendo's insisted on a commitment to their dedicated handheld console of family. It won't take all that much to convince folks that they're not leaving these portables behind and the cards are all on the table for a strong showing this year. The New 2DS XL will need to stand front and center to really drive home their intent. This is new hardware that may interest those who haven't picked up a 3DS and is the easiest way to show that they're still putting their money behind that line. With upcoming games like Hey Pikmin!, a new Professor Layton, Ever Oasis, Miitopia, a slew of Kirby titles, and, most importantly, a new set of Pokemon games, there'll be more than enough to make sure that the 3DS is still a part of the conversation moving forward.
With the 2017 focus and so much of that schedule already on the table, I'm actually expecting a deeper look at what's already been announced for the Switch and solid release dates of those titles. I think that we'll finally hear more about Skyrim and that we might get an one MAYBE two completely new games aside from the leaked Rabbids Kingdom Battle Game, but that any other unexpected titles will likely be re-releases of titles from the Wii U era, just to add some variety to the selection over the coming months. I doubt one of those games would be Smash Brothers, as Arms and Pokken are already coming this year to fill out the fighting game genre. Looking at the calendar, I think that Fire Emblem Warriors will likely take an October slot and that, if it's still on course for this year, Xenoblade 2 will come in December after Super Mario Odyssey.
I think that we'll get a bit of a mention of Nintendo's online service, but not necessarily much more than a brief overview that includes the cost, highlights the game library perk, and some features we already know about. I also think it's safe to say that we'll get a short trailer that shows off the first half of the Zelda Expansion Pass before its release. I'm not expecting much of the second half of the expansion, but I think it'd be nice to get a glimpse of what the story might be about there.
The 3DS will likely have a place in the Spotlight as well, but I think that it'll take up closer to a third of it at most. There’ll probably be a few quick glimpses at upcoming titles and the New 2DS XL, and maybe even a little promotion for Fire Emblem Echoes. There's probably some room in there for Nintendo's mobile games, so I think that we'll actually see one of their next titles announced.
Perhaps Animal Crossing.
Overall, I think that the Showcase will just about meet or slightly exceed tempered expectations, but that it won't be seen as a very exciting showing in more general terms or to the viewer coming in looking for a slew of crazy new games. I think that there WILL be a surprise or two either during the Showcase or in the Treehouse stream afterwards, but that Nintendo will pace themselves and stay the course with making future announcements through Directs later this year and at the start of the next.
This generation has been firmly in Sony's grasp.
The Playstation 4 is going as strong as ever with hardware sales and shows no signs of significantly slowing. Sony's library of games is ever expanding with full and console exclusives, the first two quarters of this year alone providing a slew of critical and commercial hits from various genres and niches.
PSVR's also doing exceptionally well in the grand scheme of things. Though production is slow, the hardware has just recently passed a million units sold through, making it the first mass-market VR headset to meet that milestone.
Looking at the last few years, it's a little hard to believe that Sony could possibly have more to announce. With E3, the Playstation Experience, and other conferences, Sony easily could have spread themselves thin, and though they've pulled out of Gamescom and Paris Games Week in 2016, it's still staggering to consider the amount they've announced over the years so regularly. A new God of War, Gran Turismo Sport, The Last of Us Part II, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, Days Gone, and Spider-Man are just SOME of the games coming exclusively to the PS4, and that's leaving aside console exclusives, remasters, and games from third-parties with exclusive content.
Sony's already promised so much for the future. Can they possibly keep up the pace for E3?
Terms of Success
Sony's got a whole lot of software to work with this year to make an entertaining conference.
What we already know could be a great set up for a solid holiday line-up and a generous start to 2018 with a little breathing room to spare. Though this is the case, I also think that Sony would do well to announce a few surprises to be safe and make sure that they leave the conference with as much of a chunk of the industry mindshare as they had coming in. The terms aren't certain, but the fact that Microsoft is coming into this E3 with a hardware launch means that it's a pretty good idea to try and make a striking impression where possible, even if it means taking away a bit of the oomph from future conferences this year.
Speaking of Microsoft, the competition is introducing variations of unlimited Game Rental services that seem as though they offer greater value and functionality than Sony's PS Now. Depending on the potential value of these packages, there could be merit to making a change on that front, but I do think that they could hold off on this until the market speaks to how important these offerings are to them.
PSVR has been relatively successful since its launch, and I think that there's a lot of potential sitting there for Sony to take advantage of. In fact, the success of the hardware is such that Sony is in the position to lead the fray in mainstream VR thanks to their stable of First Party developers and low barrier of entry. It'd do Sony well to take some time to show their support for the platform, highlight future releases, and maybe announce a few more games.
A mention of the Vita would also likely be nice to round out all their bases. The handheld still sees a few independent releases here and there, and a short reel might be a nice nod toward the aging portable.
I think Sony's conference will likely be very well rounded out.
There'll be a PSVR showcase, talking on the success of the hardware and highlighting upcoming games that'll be compatible with and made for it. There'll likely be a brief mention of the Vita, but I don't feel that it'll have even as much of a mention as it did last year. I think there might be a shorter Indie reel to show off interesting titles coming out for the Vita, but definitely some indie love for the PS4.
I think that it's very likely that there'll be an Activision presence in the form of Destiny 2 and Call of Duty: WWII. I also don't doubt the possibility of other major third-parties like Ubisoft taking the stage with some well anticipated future releases.
The meat of Sony's presentation will likely include various trailers that highlight their upcoming first-party releases, with major titles like the new God of War closing off or introducing the show with a set-piece driven demo. There'll very likely be three or four new games announced, of which one could be Sucker Punch's new title. The time is right to hear a bit more about Insomniac's Spiderman with Homecoming on the horizon, so I wouldn't be surprised if we finally get to see more of that. Gran Turismo Sport is a guarantee for the conference and should finally be given a release date. I'd like to see Dreams finally presented as something that's nearing release, but I have doubts that it'll make a notable appearance just yet. If it DOES show up, I think we might see PSVR support announced for it. I don't think that The Last of Us: Part II is far enough along to have more than a mention before the Playstation Experience, but who knows? We may get lucky there.
Because they've got the advantage of going on a more than a day after Microsoft, I think it's fair to think that they might have a reactive strategy in mind. I don't think it's very likely, but if the Scorpio is given a low price, I'll say there's a chance that we could see a price-cut for the Pro, standard, or both PS4s.
Overall, I think that Sony will have a very well-received, content-dense showing. It's hard to make very specific predictions about them because of how much they already have in the oven, but the ingredients are definitely there for a great conference. The wild card that could take away Sony's thunder is Microsoft, and even then, I think the worst that they can do is well.
Microsoft's been a very strange story this generation.
With unfortunate messaging, a higher price tag, less powerful hardware, and the intention to ship with a restrictive always-online infrastructure, the Xbox One made its way out the starting line needing to overcome a deeply ingrained negative perception of the masses. Microsoft very quickly turned around on their always-online design and over time, corrected course on many other fronts. Fortunately for them, sales were respectable, positive even, when looking back compared to the 360 in the same span.
Unfortunately for them, they didn't compare well to the Playstation 4.
Sony managed an early win that's carried through to today, no doubt aided by Microsoft's early stumble. But it isn't all that simple. Since Phil Spencer became the head of Xbox, he's gone on to make strong pro-consumer decisions for the benefit of Microsoft as a whole. This was a very welcome, if not admirable, change of pace and direction. A change that's, over time, been going a little too far. While the Xbox One started off with a reasonable first year of interesting exclusives to set it apart as a console, the year that followed had seen most of them come to PC. This eventually peaked with the introduction of Play Anywhere, an initiative that allows owners of games that are a part of the program to be played on PC or Xbox One. It doesn't sound bad does it? In general terms it's actually quite nice. But it also means that no major title that releases moving forward is exclusive to the Xbox One.
To gamers at large, this is a convenience: you don't have to buy a console to play these big games. For the value proposition of the Xbox One a consumer product, however, it's a distinct problem. This is a decision that seems to have been made in service of the greater Windows Ecosystem, but it very clearly comes at the expense of building up the unique worth of the Xbox One when put up next to the competition. This is further compounded by the ever dwindling number of Microsoft fronted titles released over the last year and a half or so outright. This isn't just a lull, either: the release schedule moving forward is sparse as far as we know it, and the titles that ARE coming will also be playable on PC if consumers so choose.
Over a year ago, Microsoft stopped publicly sharing sales figures for the Xbox One hardware. Numbers that have been glanced from research groups put the console at approximately 26 million units to the Playstation 4's nearly 60 million.
With the announcement of the Scorpio coming at Microsoft's conference, do they have the cards up their sleeve to really push the Xbox One as the more enticing place to play?
Terms of Success
Microsoft is this E3's underdog.
There's a lot to prove and, fortunately, a lot of room to prove it. Being the company that's announcing new hardware automatically grants a sort of interest that little else can and makes sure that most eyes in the industry are on them.
There are a fair number of things that I think Microsoft needs to get right for a good showing. Let's start with the Scorpio.
Microsoft's new console is being touted as the most powerful dedicated console that'll hit the market. I don't at all doubt this will be true by far, but power alone won't win most gamers over. Price and messaging are paramount to making sure that the hardware is well received. There's a careful balancing act that needs to be played on these matters, and I think that successfully pulling it off will make for a strong foundation moving forward.
Pricing may seem like a pretty simple thing. Make sure it's cheap enough so that folks see it as an attractive proposition and you should be good, right? Though that may be the case, there's actually a lot that rides on the price when you're looking at a package like this. The Scorpio is functionally so powerful that it might as well be a PC. Heck, with a Windows 10 based OS, it could very well be one. If the price isn't within the margins of standard consumer expectations, the budget imbalance could make potential buyers expand their scope of consideration. That is to say: Why buy this game console when I could spend a hundred more dollars for a PC that plays all the same games and does so much more? Needless to say, that's a line that should be avoided unless Microsoft actually decides to sell the Scorpio as a competitively priced PC, which comes with its own challenges and advantages.
Pricing ties into messaging, which is another important matter. Microsoft needs to push the value of their hardware not as A place to play, but THE place to play. At its core, the Scorpio must be presented as the answer to a broad range of gamers' needs, and not just something for a specific kind of consumer or hobbyists. The services and software that surround it during the presentation must exemplify its value and functionality very well.
In more broad terms, these ideas regarding messaging apply to the entire Xbox line of hardware. Services and software need to show folk not how valuable they are to "the gamer" but "the gamer who plays on the Xbox One family of consoles". It may seem less friendly in the grand scheme, but it is necessary for these systems to be a reasonable valuable proposition when compared to other consoles or PCs. It's important that these devices have experiences and features that can't be had anywhere else. That all comes back to what is the most important thing to a console outright:
Microsoft needs to showcase fresh new software that can only be played on their dedicated gaming hardware. It needs to varied, it needs to be appealing, and it needs to come out regularly if possible. There are only three big titles coming out right now that we know of: Crackdown 3, Sea of Thieves, and State of Decay 2. They're all also releasing on PC.
There needs to be more games, and some of them need to be fully exclusive.
I think that Microsoft will have a decent showing.
The Scorpio will take up a moderate chunk of time to be introduced -perhaps more depending on how many games they have that are ready to show- and that most software presented afterwards will be contextualized with how they feature improved visuals and performance on it. I think that Crackdown 3 will make a showing and be used to display the native power of the console when compared to how the standard Xbox One requires the cloud for the advanced damage simulation touted.
We'll see the reveal of Forza Motorsport 7 as is expected and will also likely be used to show off the power of the Scorpio. Though the next Halo is said not to make a showing, I think that we will see something like a visual update to Halo 5 Guardians for the Scorpio. I also think it's very reasonable to assume that we'll see a sort of assurance of software partnerships through a video or graphic displaying all of the developers on board to make content that takes advantage of the power of the new hardware. I do think that we'll see a few actual unexpected game announcements, but I can't honestly be sure of what they might be. Ideally some new stuff to really help expand that stable of IP moving forward.
I think that the Xbox Game Pass will get some time to shine alongside a price reduction for the cost Xbox Live Gold. I think that there's a slight chance that the standard Xbox One might see a permanent price cut.
I think that the Scorpio will cost 599 USD at most. I see this as past the border of reasonable expectation for your typical consumer, as those who just play on console will see hardware that costs this much as an excessive investment and those who play on PC will likely decide that they could build comparable hardware that does more and is more modular for the same amount or less in a short span of time. I think the highest that they should reasonably go is 499 USD and not a cent more. The price that'd directly confront Sony and give them chase would be 399 USD. I don't think that's what it'll launch at, but I do think it would be the smartest decision if they did, even if they had to eat the cost for a while.
If I had to pick a specific price from the range, I'll go with 499 USD being what they launch at.
If I had to pick a specific price from the range, I'll go with 499 USD being what they launch at.
My most outlandish prediction would be that the Xbox Scorpio could actually function as a standard Windows 10 PC. This would be a real game changer, but the number of things it affects with regards to market perception makes it hard to say that this would definitely be the smartest move.
Overall, I think that the conference will be controversial, but positive. It'll also be one that speaks to the future of the brand as opposed to providing immediate fulfillment.
I really hope Microsoft does well. Regardless of how things go, it's the conference that stands to impact the industry the most moving forward, and is definitely the one to keep an eye on.