E3 2013: Round up – The good, the bad, and the crazy
The games industry’s big battle of the bands has come and gone for another year. Journalists and the public will still given the chance to watch developer showcases over the course of the next few days as well as getting the chance to play some of this year’s hottest next gen releases for themselves but for all intents and purposes the big guns have already been shown. What started out as a contest to see which of the major console manufacturers could take things into a new and innovative direction has actually turned into a war of who will be brave enough to listen to the public and just give them a lot of what they already have.
Microsoft were on par in giving the audience exactly what they asked for, next gen games and lots of them, but were carefully mute during their conference when it came to issues of DRM and online connectivity. Although a great deal of time during their keynote was dedicated to cross-platform titles, there is no denying that some of the Xbox One’s exclusives look fantastic, most notably Sunset Overdrive, Dead Rising 3 and Quantum Break. Players will however need to understand that to play these games will come with a price far beyond the one listed on Amazon. Since delivering their presentation, Microsoft have confirmed some of the industry’s worst fears regarding their rumored used games licensing and online DRM policies. These will indeed come to pass and their now-former employee may have been on to something when he told legions of twitter followers to just “deal with it”. Microsoft have even since come out and said that any potential Xbox One customer who isn’t willing or able to comply with the online systems implemented in Xbox One is welcome to ‘enjoy the offline benefits of the Xbox 360’. Ergo, it seems to be a way of their way or the highway and if massive numbers of the existing Xbox fan base aren’t happy then they are welcome to stick with the current generation or look elsewhere.
Microsoft’s pricing for the Xbox One was also a tail sting to an already slightly pissed off user base. An RRP of $499 or £429 for the UK seemed particularly steep when the Xbox 360 launched in 2005 at the price of £209 for the basic Core SKU. Not only is £429 completely out of line with current dollar to sterling conversion rates, even when average sales taxes are accounted for, the console is also obviously priced highly to account for the inclusion of a mandatory Kinect sensor which many players would simply rather be without. At a time when many younger people and families aren’t at their most financially affluent, a price of £429 is likely to further discourage many players from picking up an Xbox One on launch day.
Sony: The People’s Champion
There is no denying that Sony played an absolute blinder on Monday night. In the fortunate position of delivering their presentation almost a full working day after their main competitor, Sony were able to analyse Microsoft’s approach and fine tune their own keynote into something which really gave the audience exactly what they craved.
Again, with a lot of time dedicated to cross-platform franchises and media features, Sony also had less brand new IP’s to deliver, having covered many of them at the PS4 reveal event earlier in the year. What they did reveal for the first time however definitely looked interesting and personally I can’t wait to see more of ReadyAtDawn’s The Order: 1886. Sony will allow indie publishers to self-publish their own software and seemed genuinely committed to the cause unlike Microsoft who just really seemed to be going through the motions and don’t exactly have the best track record in that area.
Most memorable of all from Sony’s keynote however was the outstanding bullet point delivery by SCEA CEO Jack Tretton which has spawned many a meme and twitter joke over the last 24 or so hours. It is not often that a console manufacturer take what seems to be their rival’s biggest public weakness and directly counter it in such a way that it has the potential to smash their opponent to pieces. The standing ovation and cheers caused by Tretton’s announcement that Sony will not directly incorporate any anti-used game policies or forced online DRM into their console seemed to be genuine. Sony’s subsequent confirmations which have confirmed that the PS4 will remain region free and with a fully upgrade-able HDD speak of a company which has listened to it’s core audience and is willing to retain some of the gaming traditions which their customers want to continue to enjoy. The confirmed launch price of $399 or £349 for a PS4 has also gone down well and indeed the PS4 actually became the 2nd most preordered item on Amazon UK yesterday, topped only by Naughty Dog’s imminently due The Last of Us for the PS3.
Yesterday, several news websites reported that Microsoft’s stock value had dropped by 1.7% whereas Sony’s had risen by the same figure since Monday’s E3 announcements. Whilst these figures may not seem to be extremely significant, it’s worth remembering that both Sony and Microsoft are primarily focused on businesses outside the games industry. Sony is a massive home electronics manufacturer first and foremost and Microsoft remains the leading software company on the planet, albeit at least for now. As if those sat on the fence regarding their choice of next gen platform needed any more encouragement, Sony announced that PlayStation Plus subscribers will be treated to a free special edition copy of Drive Club on the launch day of the PS4. Not to be outdone, first day buyers of the Xbox One will receive a special achievement. Make of that what you will.
- Nintendo: Doing things differently but without many different things
In recent years Nintendo have become the odd one out in the games industry. A company focused on innovation and family fun rather than shiny visuals and super-charged hardware. Nintendo were the first to enter the next gen space last year although, at only slightly more powerful than the Xbox 360, it has been argued that the Wii U doesn’t really count as a next gen platform at all. There is no denying that the Wii U has had a tough first year, with third party support almost completely drying up and vast numbers of the hardcore waiting to see what Microsoft and Sony were able to come up with this week. This shouldn’t be a major problem for Nintendo as the Wii stood out among it’s peers as a machine as a machine focused on the masses. The Wii owned the casual home console market in the last generation and efforts by Sony and Microsoft to nudge their way in mostly failed. The problem for the Nintendo however is that it looks as though the casual market which they took so lovingly under their wing may have now fled the nest.
The casual market has changed dramatically and mobile runs the show. Nintendo obviously realised this when the Wii U was being conceived and tried to win back the hardcore with promises of epic 3rd party support and multi-platform franchises. The one problem is however that the Wii U certainly will not be able to compete in terms with the hardware it’s next gen rivals are touting and yesterday’s long list of delays and familiar 1st party franchise sequels announced by Nintendo president Satorou Iwata will not help the system to sell. At this point Nintendo seem, on some level, to be an ageing relic within the industry. A business which seem to becoming increasingly Japanese whilst the rest of the Japanese games industry looks west. Whilst yesterday’s public apologies and admissions of delays by Iwata fit with Japanese tradition, they’re not going to fly with a mostly American audience which has become accustomed to being wowed by skillfully-delivered marketing hype and light shows. Nintendo needed the charm and slick of their American chief Reggie Fils-Aime. They opted for an apologetic Japanese man in a business suit instead.
Indeed, the games which Nintendo displayed yesterday weren’t bad by any stretch. Monolith Soft’s RPG X looks particularly interesting and the world will love Mario Kart 8 and Super Mario 3D World as much as it has always done. The problem is that Nintendo should be focusing their efforts on appealing to the hardcore as 2nd platform now. The Wii U could be a great machine on which to play your favourite Nintendo-exclusives, just as the Wii was, but when the console is priced at only $50 less than a PS4, that’s going to be difficult for a lot of potential customers to swallow. Some retailers in the UK, for example, have taken matters into their own hands by reducing the cost of the Wii U to simply get them off the shelves but an official price cut is still as yet to exist. Nintendo have a golden opportunity this holiday to market their system at parents who are looking for a new console for their offspring for Christmas but can’t afford the high price tag of the PS4 or Xbox One in the tough economic climate. Dropping the price of the Wii U to around $199 or £149 could be a great way to do that but for whatever reason Nintendo seem reluctant to make the jump. It’s a jump which they may need to make at some point fairly soon though because if the last few days have proven anything then it’s that Nintendo’s rivals certainly won’t wait for them, even if their increasingly shrinking fan base will.
What was your opinion of this year’s E3 and who do you think won the show this year? Are you looking forward to the next generation or are you happy to stick with your current systems for now? Or do you think real gaming ended in the days of the ZX Spectrum? Let us know in the comments section below or via Facebook or Twitter.