Thursday, June 13, 2013

The big question: Who won E3?

The biggest question that always comes out about E3 is “Who stole the show?” While it’s fun to discuss this with your buddies over XBL, PSN, or over a beer, the debate always gets fairly heated. It’s a very large scale, open-ended question that sometimes results in confused opinions and hate-laced rants. Millions of gamers watched the broadcasted conferences, demo streams, and interviews, but a vast majority of gamers rely on answering that big question. While it is very opinion-based, one thing is certain, a report based on who exactly won E3 can lead to larger sways in sales from mob mentality.

First things first, nobody wins at E3. E3 is an expo designed to reveal new content to the masses, whether it’s new consoles, new games, upcoming features, and the like. The conference is not designed to be a battle to the death on who has more exclusives, who can deliver more, who offers more bang for the buck. While it is often treated that way by the masses, the direct goal is to entice players to choose one side or another. That’s not to say it can’t get heated, and as a rule, it usually does.

All 3 consoles came in with general misgivings from fans. Microsoft had some innovative, albeit controversial, features, Sony came in with relatively little known about the console or games attached, and Nintendo was suffering from low sales figures on their Wii U console, mainly due to a low amount of available games. What followed was 3 days worth of apprehension, relief, insults, and overall frustration because of conflicting reports.




Let’s start with Microsoft. Their Xbox One conference was illuminating to say the least, and it essentially created a dichotomy of opinions. The new features such as voice activated scrolling and television control fell a little flat during the Xbox reveal, and the developers were quick to dismiss that for their E3 presentation. Where the fans felt Microsoft went wrong was the policies on DRM, 24 hour online check-in, and the Kinect being forced to always be connected. Where Microsoft succeeded however, is in the games. Unveiling roughly 20 games in their 90 minute conference, fans were delighted to see some new exclusives such as Ryse: Son of Rome (a launch title for the Xbox One), a return of the fighting game Killer Instinct, and a quick peek at a new Halo title. Even more titles surfaced during the event, including some previously unattainable exclusives like Kingdom Hearts 3.

Starting off a conference about your new system can be tricky, but one thing is for certain, you never should announce new stuff for the old system. Especially not a design to a 7 year old current-gen one. The “new” 360 is merely a 360 slim with a new shell design. The fans run quieter now, but that can be worked around by installing your games on the current slim model. Bringing news about offering 2 free XBL games per month for gold members was a good addition though, even if the titles are older ones.
Cloud expansion announcements also caused big hype for the Xbox One, as Microsoft explained the vast scope of it’s previously implemented feature. Working with the cloud, gamers can access their stored games from anywhere you can connect an Xbox One to the net, with no discs needed. A Twitch partnership was met with overwhelming approval, with gamers now being able to stream online with nothing more than a Twitch channel and their Xbox One. Cap cards will mostly be rendered obsolete if you are into causal recording, as they now allow you to save, edit, and upload stored gameplay.

On the flip side, we have the controversial issues. The new DRM policy restricts sharing games and purchasing/selling used titles. While Microsoft has been adamant that the Xbox One was designed to allow for used games, the system itself appears to speak differently. Games can only be loaned to friends who have been on your friends list for 30 days minimum, and each game can only ever be given to one friend total. Another issue that relates to DRM is the 24 hour check-in policy. The Xbox One is designed to require an internet connection, and forces gamers to connect to the internet and Xbox Live at least once every 24 hours, otherwise the console will not play any games, whether you have a physical disc or are just using your installed data. If you are not at your own console (i.e. friend’s house) you are required to check in once every hour. This is done to check and verify if the games you are playing are actually yours, and not a loaned copy. The policy has been established to prevent piracy or trading used games, but ultimately comes across as a nanny-policy where the console insists you let them know exactly what you are doing. Whether this 24 hour policy will be affected by times when XBL is down for maintenance is unknown.

A third controversial implementation is the requirement that every system must be equipped with a Kinect at all times. Microsoft has stated that the Kinect can be “paused” or turned “off”, however it has also been said it will continuously monitor voice commands in the background, regardless if it needs to act on those commands or not. This has led many to question the motives behind the decision and many view it as a breach in privacy. A newly revised Xbox Live Terms of Service does not allay these concerns:
You should not expect any level of privacy concerning your use of the live communication features (for example, voice chat, video and communications in live-hosted gameplay sessions) offered through the Xbox LIVE/Games for Windows-LIVE Service. We may monitor these communications to the extent permitted by law.

When you use Voice Search, all voice commands are sent to Microsoft and stored to provide the Voice Search Service and improve Microsoft products. If you use Voice Search, you consent to Microsoft recording and collecting your voice input to provide the Voice Search Service and improve Microsoft products.

With all of these policy changes and a $500 price tag, do the innovations and game releases outweigh the restrictions?



PS4 002
Sony came into the conference and appeared to be out for blood, as they continuously ripped into Microsoft in regards to their policies. Where the original PS3 was concerned with offering consumers more than just a gaming console, Sony had lost ground on the gaming front. Some big hitting exclusives and free online service kept them in the race. If not for an attack on their PS Network resulting in a total shutdown for 2 months, they might have tied, or even overtaken the Xbox 360 at that time. With past mistakes in mind, Sony was dead set on giving fans what they wanted. A purely gaming console.

Not to be outdone on games, Sony rattled off their own list of exclusives, with returning titles like Killzone and Infamous, and also bringing some new IPs to the table such as The Order: 1886, a Victorian era “steam-punk” game, reminiscent of Dishonored. Sony also opened the doors a little wider for indie developers, which went over very well with the crowd. Indie games have been rapidly gaining huge followings over the past several years, and making it more accessible to these small group developers can really help drive sales numbers. One thing that did not go over well, was the announcement that a PS Plus membership would be required to play online games. With PS Plus being a relatively gimmicky service previously, the news that it would be a required expense shocked quite a few gamers.

Where the marketing really hit big was also where Sony failed in several ways. Taking apart Microsoft’s policies bit by bit, Sony announced that the PS4 would not restrict any sort of used games, nor would they require any sort of internet connection in order to play games. With an announcement the next morning about DRM being up to individual developers, Sony appears to be shifting any blame on further use of the current DRM service we see today towards developers rather than on them. This double speak led to quite a harsh reception when discussing the Playstation 4, however with many gamers used to online passes, the same system being implemented again did not bring about any real change in perception on the console developer. The almost childish attacks on Microsoft earned them a lot of cheers from the crowd, but further discussions hosted online pointed towards Sony coming across as arrogant. Combined with a lower price tag of $399, many gamers concluded that Sony had stolen the show.



A large mistake Nintendo made was forgoing a conference at E3, choosing instead to live stream it over Nintendo Direct. When you are hosting a live stream, any glitches or technical difficulties are on your own head and can result in people not being able to see your new content. Luckily, the stream held for the most part, and fans of the franchise were overwhelmed with returning favorites.

With a new Smash Bros., Mario Kart 8, a new Donkey Kong game, and several Legend of Zelda titles being revealed, the chat rooms were beside themselves with glee. Bringing back tried and true IPs works in Nintendo’s favor on multiple fronts, resulting in increased faith in their Wii U console, as well as ensuring these titles will sell like hot cakes.

Unfortunately, not many third party titles were revealed. Players will most likely be relegated to the confines of Nintendo based games until such a time as third party companies become more confident about the Wii U.

Beyond the games, Nintendo didn’t have much to offer, but appealing massively to their fanbase will work wonders in their favor.


Overall impressions

In the end, the biggest thing to take away, is that nobody decisively won at E3. Each of these consoles come with pros and cons, as do the games they are promoting. Without actually being able to use the units or immerse ourselves in the game, there really cannot be a crowned winner. Fans will continue to buy their favorites regardless of policies, content, or how pretty/ugly the consoles are (I mean, one is a giant VCR, the other looks like a trapezoid from math class. Neither really win in that regard). It will be up to consumers to determine where they want to spend their money.

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