updated 02:55 pm EDT, Wed June 11, 2014
Big Three 2014 E3 presentations complete, who 'won' the showdown?
This week's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) may have been devoid of any significant hardware announcements, but that doesn't mean there was nothing to talk about. Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo all had either live or "canned" press events in the two days leading up to the start of the expo proper, and as with all things, we've got opinions. Electronista writers Mike and Jordan discuss the big-ticket issues that have popped up from the brief look at the future of the "Big Three" console makers.
Is there much point anymore for these console companies to show off games that hit all systems?
Jordan: After seeing Ubisoft games in three press events on the first day, I'd have to say no. If there is something special that is being brought to the console that others might not have -- say for instance friends playing without the game in Far Cry 4 -- I could understand the need. Otherwise, leave the games for the studios or publishers to show off if they have the resources to do so. I appreciated seeing so much footage of some of these games, but at a certain point it doesn't offer much. A prime example was Battlefield: Hardline during the Sony media briefing: it was an exclusive trailer, but Electronic Arts gave such an impressive first look at the multiplayer during their presser that I dismissed it.
Mike: I don't think that anybody's got a choice but to show cross-platform titles. We don't have 20 major publishers anymore, we've got like five. Remember, the shows are as much for the fan base as they are for attracting new customers. Showing Paul Playstation or Xander Xbox that Destiny is coming for everything keeps the fan base salved, and gives fanboys ammunition for "my console validates my existence and yours is terrible" arguments, despite the ludicrousness of them.
It would make our job a lot easier, though, if the big three left the releases for everybody alone. Alas.
Jordan: I liked how Nintendo handled their online event when it came to this. All of the titles covered -- unless you count the four-year-old Bayonetta bundled with the exclusive sequel -- were Nintendo-specific. Each game was one of their properties for either the Wii U or the 3DS. This saved both on time and gave a greater amount of focus to each title. Because of this, their event felt more personal and I felt like I had a better connection to each game.
Where were some bigger announcements that fans have been looking for? Project Morpheus? A Microsoft handheld? The future of the DS?
Jordan: It is hard to think that there would have been any big news after two consoles were released last year. Microsoft is refocusing on being about the games instead of thinking of television. Nintendo is just trying to turn a profit at this point after a third year of disappointing sales. Sony was the only company that came out with anything really new, though I'll admit both of the technology pieces were announced before. One of those was just brought to North America and Europe because of demand.
Mike: There was no way that there was going to be any form of new hardware at all in the keynotes here. This had to be about the games for Microsoft. Sony had to reinforce their existing path, and Nintendo had to do something to stay relevant in the console market. Distant future products, if they exist at all -- like a MS handheld - are probably for another day.
Remember, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were out for years with no new console announcement. I'm not even sure that Microsoft and Sony know what to do with themselves the year after a console revelation anyway!
Jordan: As far as a Microsoft handheld goes, I really don't think that is in the future of the company. Why pull away from sales of a Surface tablet? It seems like it would do more harm than good to the company in general. Now, if they made a gaming-centric Surface that still retained PC functionality, I'd be listening. However, Spencer said on Twitter last month that it isn't something that is in development. I really would have liked to see them announce they were stepping into virtual reality though.
Nintendo is still a year away from releasing a new version of the DS. Since the release of the original DS, the company has been doing a two- or three-year gap between each version. The 3DS could still have some life in it, but it is getting old. I can't imagine Nintendo coming out with a whole new handheld console at this point, especially considering their financial position. The 3DS XL still sells really well. The 2DS is a cheaper alternative. The strength of their game catalogue should keep them going.
I craved more information on Project Morpheus during Sony's presser. I'm really not sure why they simply gleaned over it. When you consider that they took it to the Tonight Show recently, it really doesn't make sense. As for any other major news, I'm really not sure where the company could go at this point. If Sony keeps tying all of their consoles together and building on their services, I think they'll keep going strong.
Is Microsoft going to fall behind if they don't jump on the virtual reality train?
Jordan: My expectation was that if there was going to be new hardware from Microsoft, it would have been something involving virtual reality. I think that the company will fall behind if they don't bring something to the table. Virtual reality will change the landscape of gaming in a big way, if it catches on. Maybe the company is hoping that it doesn't, or is waiting it out to see if it dies off. With Oculus/Facebook, Samsung and Sony backing it, I don't know if it will. It could be they don't want another camera issue to explode on them too. Who knows, they might have a deal with Oculus in their back pocket.
Mike: No. Not yet. I'm not sure that Ma and Pa America is ready for a Lawnmower Man scenario in the living room. Maybe in five years, but not now. Despite parents buying the Mature-rated games for their eight-year-olds, I think that parents still would like some sort of monitoring to make sure little Billy or Mary isn't getting into trouble online, and a VR headset prevents easy monitoring. Before you get all cranky, yes, I know consoles aren't just for kids!
Besides, the widespread dismissal of the Kinect as relevant is a nod in the irrelevancy of non-traditional input in consoles. The industry just isn't ready.
Is it time for Nintendo to "pull a Sega" and get out of hardware?
Mike: It's past time. The DS ecosystem is fine and should be left alone. Any integration with the handheld and other consoles should be doable by Nintendo's engineers. The Wii U controller is awkward, but interesting, but would it be so hard for Nintendo to make that for other consoles if they really need it?
Jordan: I've been thinking for a number of years that Nintendo should follow the same path as Sega. As someone who grew up with a Nintendo, this is a hard thing to say. However, from a business standpoint it makes a lot more sense. In my mind the company hasn't had a good console since the Gamecube. They haven't had a great console since the N64. The Wii sold well and put up really great numbers, but the novelty of it wore off. Nintendo's first-party games and lack of third-party games really hurt any console they put out.
Nintendo might also do well to look further into the tablet and smartphone markets.
Mike: I'm not saying smartphone games, here. Nintendo is real clear that they won't allow it! It wouldn't kill them to make a virtual store with the classics for other consoles that they keep pumping Nintendo owners on year after year. How many copies of Mario Kart 64 would they sell for $3 on Xbox Live? What about Super Mario World? Are you telling me that they can't make a SNES or N64 emulator for the Xbox One or PlayStation 4?
Jordan: That said, I don't think they should pull out of the console market completely. Yes, they should ditch any home-based console. Instead, they should focus on handhelds. They've had a strong grip on that market for years. It isn't one that is going to loosen any time soon. Sony has a fantastic piece of hardware with the Vita, but it has adoption problems with the customer base. Estimates place the Vita selling over four million units in 2013, compared to Nintendo saying they sold over 12 million at year end. It's a huge gap, but it might grow smaller with improved Vita support from Sony.
Mike: Consoles are loss-leaders. Nintendo is doing very badly, and not making up for console hardware losses with game sales. It's just getting worse. Time to shift.
Sony announced it was continuing to leverage support on the Vita. With the PSP being shut down and the arrival in the US of PlayStation TV, will Sony be able to garner more interest in it from gamers and developers?
Jordan: Sony is slowly building support into the handheld that it should have had long ago. The PSP was around for 10 years before Sony finally pulled the plug on it, three of those years overlapping with the Vita. I'm happy that Sony has finally come around to dumping the PSP to focus on the Vita. I only hope that will also mean localizing and porting more games over to the Vita from the old system.
If Sony could back away from using costly memory sticks, it would ship more units. Those memory cards are so cost-prohibitive that it becomes a heavy factor when looking to invest in the platform. When you then consider that many of the physical games still install to memory cards, it seems silly to even buy the physical copy. That's something for the next generation though. In the meantime, Sony can bring the 64 GB cards over from Japan, and maybe cut the costs a little bit!
Mike: Sony is nothing if not persistent, so even if its not widely adopted, they lose nothing by continuing the integration. The Vita and PS4 were clearly designed in parallel to be complementary. We've got a hands-on of the PlayStation TV peripheral, which really needs to be included in this discussion.
Jordan:If you look at the technology between the PlayStation 4 and the Vita, it is hard to not be amazed. The fact that I can stream a game from a brand new piece of hardware to this little hand held device in another room is freaking fantastic. Yes, I know we can do that with Steam now, but think of the implications. You can take a "set it and forget it" approach to the TV or not tie up the television for everyone. Walls and limitations from console to console and being torn down to give gamers a better overall experience. Sony is trying to breathe into the system. If it can run the games, why not?
Mike:I think the Sony ecosystem won't attract buyers, but it appeals to the fanbase. A PS4 owner might look at a Vita for streaming, and then a PlayStation TV to play what they got on the Vita on the television. I just don't see it attracting the undecided in any major way.
Jordan: PlayStation TV support is going to be great with the new functionality to use the Vita as a gateway to playing on a television. It shows that Sony has thrown more weight behind it, even after it said it wouldn't initially take it out of Japan. Exactly how many games we'll be able to play is still up in the air based on what was said during the press event. Even if it ends up being a fraction of what is current offered in the back catalogue, PlayStation Now should be able to supplement it.
With some of these moves, Sony should be able to gain more attention from not only gamers, but developers as well. Sony announced there was around 100 games for the Vita currently in development. Cross-buy, PlayStation TV, PlayStation Now and remote play should continue to build the audience. If they make Project Morpheus compatible with the Vita, it'll lower the cost of entry for VR and push more units.
Who did the most to reassure their audience that their console is the safest bet, and not to jump ship to another?
Jordan: I'd have to go with Sony on this one. While both Microsoft and Nintendo had an impressive lineup of games during their press events, Sony had the largest number by far. They hit the scene hard with what I felt was a number of exclusives people have been craving. I only wish they went into greater detail on them. Their indie support is extremely impressive. Partnerships with Devolver Digital and Hello Games for No Man's Sky should bear fruit.
Since we are still at a point with next-generation consoles where not much is out, what people are dying for is a reason to own these consoles. Up to this point, early adopters have been extended beta testers. Now that some real news on games is starting to come from these companies, people can start to feel comfortable with what they purchased. PlayStation continuing to support and expand on all of its hardware was certainly important as well.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Microsoft is trying to appease their fans. Phil Spencer's vision for the Xbox One is certainly helping the company at this point. The game news had to be coming this year, given last year's E3's proclamations that were badly received. It was also funny that there was no mention of the Kinect during the briefing. Even Ubisoft didn't mention it when Shape Up, a game that uses the Kinect, was brought on stage at their event. Only a "partnership" with Microsoft was mentioned.
Mike: The only console with a clear message is Nintendo's, but they've been losing gamers steadily on consoles for years. The latest Mario Kart, despite having massive, massive adoption percentages, will be the lowest-selling version ever. That doesn't seem great for Nintendo. Clear message, but still a loss.
Sony did a good job, and Nintendo was ... amusing, I guess. But, I think Microsoft is the leader here. They (for once) listened to the complaints about the Xbox One marketing being everything but games, and appeased the user base, while trying to pull in new ones with some old favorites that gamers who left for the green grass on the other side of the fence may appreciate.