News, Views, and Reviews
It’s hard to believe, but the wait will soon be over. We’re days away from the big Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 for short, which runs from June 10th through June 13th at the Los Angeles convention center. One hundred and ninety-seven electronic exhibitors will be showcasing their latest gizmos and games, revealing what new projects and products they’ve been working on, and hopefully giving live demonstrations of these projects in action. Of course, this year, the most attention is going to be focused on Microsoft and Sony, and what we can hope to expect from their next-generation consoles and games. Sony already revealed a lot of the details about their PlayStation 4 in February, and Microsoft followed with their reveal of the Xbox One in May. Both shows went into some detail about hardware and the services each console will be capable of, with the intention of devoting more attention to just games at E3. As expected, the consoles have very similar hardware and offer many of the same services, so the pressure is now on each company to dazzle everyone with their exclusive next-gen games.
At their respective console reveals, Sony and Microsoft weren’t clear about everything. Sony somehow dodged the bullet by going first, and a lot of the negative attitudes were directed towards Microsoft. Basically, the new Xbox had a lot to answer for, before its big reveal even started. Microsoft didn’t help the situation by not addressing those rumors during their reveal, and made things worse by giving inconsistent answers afterwards. Then, all those rumors became big problems for MS – and not Sony – as gamers began speculating all kinds of worst-case scenarios: would the Xbox require the internet to function? would gamers be able to buy or trade used games? and, my personal favorite, would the Kinect camera spy on us? Not to sound paranoid myself, but I wonder if this was Sony’s plan all along? They were able to give brief, non-informative statements like “we are not discussing used game policies at this time” that redirected those rumors and questions in Microsoft’s direction. In the days following the Xbox One reveal, the internet forums have been full of people swearing their allegiance to the PS4. These rants were amusing to me, because they expressed something to the effect of “If Xbox One does (fill in the blank), I’m getting a PS4” but (fill in the blank) could very well be a PS4 policy, too.
Microsoft: With the wind taken out of their sails, the pressure for Microsoft’s E3 show to be that much more amazing has really increased. I believe it was Microsoft’s intention, as it was Sony’s, to reveal the hardware specs and services of their new consoles independent of E3, so they could use the stage at E3 to focus on nothing but games. But now Microsoft was in a compromising position, in that they would have to sacrifice some of their stage time to clarify their position on these policies and other issues. Fortunately, Microsoft solved that problem last night, by releasing an official statement that answered most of the rumors, speculations, and complaints people have about the Xbox One. The list is extensive, so I’ll just link it here: Xbox Wire.
(Briefly: 1. The internet will be required to use most of the features of the Xbox One, but some functions like playing offline games and watching (DVD) movies can be used offline. But, gamers will need to “check in” every 24 hours to maintain access to their games. 2. Microsoft will not charge fees or limit the sharing or trading of used games, but they have produced tools that will enable different publishers to do so if they wish. 3. Xbox One users can set their own privacy preferences and limit the amount of data shared with other companies, and the Kinect can be “paused” to disable the microphone. Further, the Kinect does not record video or sound.)
Sony: It will be interesting to see if Sony follows this example, otherwise they will now have to sacrifice some of THEIR stage time to clarify their policies. So far, the most clarity we have regarding the PS4’s policies are that the internet isn’t “always” required and the restriction of used games will be up to the publishers. It would be smart for Sony to clarify these things before E3, so they can also devote all their time to showing games.
Hopefully, these issues will be out of people’s minds so E3 can be focused on games, games, and more games. There are other aspects yet to be revealed, such as prices, possible holiday bundles, and even the cost of playing online. The Xbox Live has always had a “Silver” or free service choice along with a “Gold” or paid subscription, and Sony has recently experimented with a “PS Plus” or paid subscription to compliment their free service. With both companies stressing “the cloud” and game streaming capabilities, I can’t imagine that either can offer “free” for much longer. Still, it has been a strong selling point for Sony to remain “free” versus the Xbox Live Gold subscription model, so it’ll be interesting to see what they announce. To remain competitive, I predict both Sony and Microsoft will have to make some adjustments.
Microsoft: When services like Netflix came to consoles, they came to the Xbox, first. At that time, it made sense to include them in the “Gold” subscription price. Since then, the PS3 and even the Wii and now the Wii U have added most of those services – and don’t charge anything. I predict MS will have to drop services like Netflix down to the Silver level. The newer applications, like monitoring your NFL fantasy league while you’re watching live football games, I can see those remaining under the Gold memberships. Playing multi-player games will probably remain a Gold privilege, especially if Sony has to raise their prices.
As for games, Microsoft announced that they will have fifteen new *exclusive* games available for Xbox One in the first year, eight of which will be brand new IPs. I’m curious if they will announce all fifteen of those games at E3, or save some to be revealed closer to when they would actually be released. Hopefully, MS won’t sacrifice any of their stage time to third party developers, as each of them will have their own stage time during E3. In past E3’s, games like Call of Duty were showcased on Microsoft’s stage, even though Activision has their own stage time, and MS already gave the new Call of Duty: Ghosts the last 15 minutes of their Xbox One reveal back in May. I wouldn’t be surprised if they give them some time again, but I hope MS takes all the time for themselves. They’ve already built a reputation for having strong third party support, but having a smaller selection of first party games – so this is their chance to strengthen that reputation.
Sony: With their new emphasis on streaming games, trying demos or “free 2 play” games, Sony could maintain a “free” online service and people will feel pretty good about that. I predict, though, that playing multi-player games online will have to be added to the “PS Plus” paid subscription. Services like Netflix will probably remain free.
Meanwhile, Sony has boasted they have over forty titles to talk about at E3, across all their platforms (the PS3, the PS4, the Vita, and possibly smart phone/tablet games). I’m not clear on if they would count the PS3, PS4, and even Vita version of the same game as three different games or as one game, so it will be interesting to see how they came up with that “over forty” number. Sony has already positioned Bungie’s new game “Destiny” as one of their special showcases, and is conceding some of their stage time to Bungie. Destiny will appear on the Xbox 360 and Xbox One, so it’s interesting to see Sony giving them special attention. This is probably part of their deal for “exclusive content” that will only be available on the PS4. The current generation saw an interesting shift, with Sony gaining the reputation for having the biggest collection of first party games, at the cost of weaker versions of third party games. So, as important as it is for Sony to maintain their first party reputation, perhaps courting Bungie is demonstrating their commitment for stronger third party support. Unlike Microsoft, Sony has focused a lot of attention on independent or “indie” developers lately, and so I wonder if some of these indie games are being counted in that number, too.
So far, a lot of this stuff has been announced. We’re really only expecting to hear price points, release dates, and the names of those exclusive games at E3. But, part of the excitement of the big June show is getting hit with unexpected surprises. Imagine if one of the consoles announced their release date was – the next day!? That would be huge!
Microsoft: Reputation wise, MS has the most to prove. Sony became the “white knight” following Microsoft’s confusing answers about their policies, as everyone assumed that the PS4 would be a better alternative. Plus, many gamers felt the Xbox One reveal focused too much on non-gaming, so it’s up to E3 to win those gamers back. A strong line up of exclusive games will go a long way, as will popular price points if MS is capable of offering a cheaper console again.
However, I am hoping for an “ace up their sleeve”, a surprise announcement that could dramatically change the video game industry: Cross. Platform. For the past few years, MS has been slowly strengthening their brand, unifying it under the new Windows 8 Operating System. They’ve entered the tablet and smart phone markets with Win 8 devices, and the Xbox One will have a kernel of Win 8 powering the multi-tasking capabilities. It just makes sense for Microsoft to take the next step, and make PC games playable on the Xbox One and make Xbox games playable on PCs and smart devices. I have a feeling they won’t do this, but I think that would be a terrible mistake. Sure, they may lose hardware sales because gamers wouldn’t *have* to buy an Xbox to play Xbox games. But, software sales could jump from the 10-20 million copies sold on Xbox alone to 600 million copies sold across all their platforms. The Kinect (2) is going to be PC compatible, so why not make Xbox games compatible with PCs? Make it happen, Microsoft!
Sony: The PS3 had a really bad start, but Sony has managed to turn things around. In spite of the 360’s year long head start AND the PS3’s shaky first few years, global sales for the PS3 and Xbox 360 are finally in Sony’s favor (by a few million). Following the strong PS4 reveal in February and all the negativity focused on Microsoft, Sony can practically do no wrong at E3 in June. If that list of over forty games is equally impressive, the PS4 will be the console to beat next generation. The only possible shortcomings it might have are first, sharing many or all of the unpopular policies and restrictions that the Xbox One has and second, potentially carrying higher prices. Again, it’s remarkable that Sony has avoided that first issue at all, allowing MS to take all the heat these past few months, heat that will probably dissipate by next week. I wonder how Sony will handle the second issue, the price, but I’m more optimistic than some. Sony made the smart decision to go with third party “off the shelf” components that are readily available instead of making their own proprietary hardware this time. As long as they don’t try to add expensive memory cards or something ridiculous like that, they should be fine.
Sony’s big “ace up their sleeve” could be their Gaikai servers. The games on Gaikai might only be available by streaming, but if MS doesn’t make PC games compatible on the Xbox One, the PS4 COULD make them compatible via Gaikai. Plus, Sony and Google have already partnered with PSN titles appearing on Android devices, and “Google Play” or Android titles appearing on Sony devices. Imagine how BIG the PS4’s game library could be if it includes PS4 games, indie games, Android games, and all previous PS titles AND PC titles via Gaikai?! Nothing could compete with that! If something like that is going to happen, I doubt it will ALL be ready by this holiday, but it is something to look forward to.
So, the big show starts next Monday. The first few days will really be the days to watch, and I can’t wait! MS gets to go first, at 9:30a PDT. EA will be on the stage at 1:00p PDT, followed by Ubisoft at 3:oop PDT. Sony will wrap up the first day of E3 with their show starting at 6:00p PDT. That’s going to be a long day, and hopefully I can return with my thoughts by Tuesday! See you all then!