Thoughts on the “Big 3” at E3

6e201c5789e7be76f4271ffb2ba30af4For those who don’t know, E3 is the Electronic Entertainment Expo, but (despite the name implying that it’s for all kinds of entertainment) it’s essentially a video game trade show. It’s held every year in California mainly for the press and people in the industry, but the news that comes out of it is important to everyone from an average video game player to stock traders on Wall Street. The “Big 3” are Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo – the companies that make or have made the 6th, 7th, and 8th generations of home video game consoles. It’s a big year for E3 because 2013 marks the full transition from the 7th to the 8th generation. Technically, Nintendo released its 8th generation console, the Wii U, in late 2012, but Sony and Microsoft join with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this year. Each of these three companies gave press conferences about the futures of their respective consoles (and handhelds in the case of Sony and Nintendo), and I’m going to give my opinion on each in the order they occurred.

 

Microsoft – Xbox One

The Xbox One (which many are nicknaming Xbone) was announced a couple of weeks before E3 to nobody’s surprise, and it left many people with more questions than answers. They showed the actual console but did not do much else besides show some games and give out confusing details about some serious limitations on the the device. At E3, many thought that they would clarify some of these limitations and ease the minds and hearts of those interested in getting Microsoft’s new system. One of the biggest unanswered questions was what the price would be. Another was whether or not an Internet connection would be required to simply play games as had been stated before. Instead of taking these concerns to heart and surprising everyone with a low price and removing the online requirement, they announced it would cost $499 in the US and would be even more expensive elsewhere. They then solidified the fact that the console would have to “check in” to the Internet at least once every 24 hours, even if someone only wanted to play games that have no online components. Also, that “elsewhere” I mentioned is limited to only 21 countries. If you live anywhere else in the world, the Internet check-in won’t work, and you won’t be able to play your games. Effectively, they bombed their chance at making things right since the announcement of the console.

However, many people who play games are interested primarily in the games themselves, right? Microsoft had plenty of them to show, and they seem to have quite a few important exclusive games. The one of these I’m most interested in as primarily a fighting game player is the long-awaited third game in the Killer Instinct series, named Killer Instinct. As a side note, I have no idea why so many games and movies like to pretend they are not sequels by removing the numbering after the title once enough time has passed or if there have simply been too many in the series. There’s already a game called Killer Instinct, and, if they make a sequel to the new one, will they just call it Killer Instinct 2? That’s already the name of a game as well! The new Killer Instinct was announced as a free to play game, which concerns me, but then was later changed to be a free to play demo, which most fighting games already have, and that you could buy the full game separately. I understand why Microsoft made KI an exclusive title, but it saddens me as someone who isn’t planning on buying an Xbox One.

Overall, I feel like Microsoft dropped the ball. They had every chance to do this right as they did with the Xbox 360, but the limitations, the scarily invasive technologies, and the price have turned me (and many others I have spoken to) against even considering to buy the Xbox One. There’s very little chance I will ever own one unless it somehow becomes the standard for future fighting games as the 360 did in this generation. I don’t see that happening, however, due to many concerns that tournament organizers have voiced over how difficult it would be to run a tournament on a system which requires a Kinect and an Internet connection to work.

Sony – PlayStation 4 

The PlayStation 4 (PS4) was announced even earlier than the Xbox One, which gave Microsoft a chance to feel out the competition before announcing its console. However, the original announcement focused on system features and games but did not show the console itself, leading to questions to hopefully be answered at E3, much like with the Xbox One (although different questions). Unlike with the Xbox One, most of the answers to these questions were satisfying with regards to Sony’s PS4. First of all, the design of the console itself is very sleek and will look nice in my Sony-centric living room. Secondly, the price is also much more reasonable at $399. To top it all off, the system is much more open in regards to region-locking, DRM, game sharing, and indie game development.

Unfortunately, there was not a single fighting game shown for PS4. This is really disappointing considering all the features that make the PS4 the perfect system for the genre: video streaming and sharing, ability to use 3rd party USB controllers, no required online check, and automatic updates. On the other hand, two games which I am very excited for were shown as part of the press conference: Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts 3. Later, both were revealed to be released for Xbox One as well, but it was too late for Microsoft because I preordered the PS4 only a few hours after Sony’s show. FFXV looks particularly amazing, a great example of the difference between the current and next generation. As mentioned before, Sony also confirmed that there are quite a few indie games in development for the system, which will hopefully bolster the launch with some fun diversions before some of the bigger games come out. Oh, yeah, there were also a bunch of shooting and racing games, but I’m not terribly interested in any of those.

Sony didn’t walk away with flying colors, however. They were slightly underhanded in the way they “announced” one new aspect of the PS4 – that you would be required to subscribe to PlayStation Plus to be able to play most games online. One of the biggest selling points of the PS3 is that it has always been free to play online. I personally think PlayStation Plus is already a great deal, but the fact that we had to find out about it on the small print of an advertisement for something else entirely was pretty shady.

Overall, I agree with most of the rest of the Internet that Sony did a pretty good job at E3. It looks like they are winning the early game against the Xbox One with preorders, and I think that they are going to continue to dominate the next console generation. I just hope there are actually some games that come out for the system at launch that I want to play.

Sony also has a great handheld called the PS Vita which has been out for a while. There weren’t a ton of games mentioned for it in the main conference, but I assure you that they exist. The Vita has the most beautiful screen I’ve ever seen on a handheld device, and the upcoming remote play functionality is going to be great for those few of us who are going to own both a PS4 and PSV.

Nintendo – Wii U

The poorly named and poorly marketed Wii U launched late last year to fairly poor sales and a lot of confusion. To this day, many people I know just think it’s an overpriced Wii accessory rather than an entirely new console that is more powerful than a PS3 or 360. Nintendo’s main goal of this E3 was to clarify all of this and get people to buy a Wii U before the onslaught of XB1 and PS4 this holiday season. Rather than show a traditional press conference to people who couldn’t make it to E3, Nintendo created some pre-recorded videos that included clips and short explanations of a bunch of different upcoming games. Also, at a very limited number of Best Buy stores around the US this week, shoppers were treated to some swag and a chance to play some of the demos that would have otherwise been limited to people who were able to attend E3. Unfortunately, the closest one to where I live is about two hours away despite there being about 20 Best Buys between here and there, and I couldn’t justify the trip.

Of course and as always, the games shown by Nintendo were mostly first-party titles in long-running series. There was not a single surprise among them all as the only completely unannounced title was Super Mario 3D World, but people have been expecting a 3D Mario on Wii U since before it launched. There were a couple of really cool surprise characters announced for the new Super Smash Bros. game, which is very sadly the biggest fighting game news to come out of E3 entirely. Nintendo’s first-party games, such as Mario Kart 8, all generally look great and are the main reason that I continue to buy Nintendo consoles.
Unfortunately, I don’t think that Nintendo really accomplished its main goal. The Nintendo Direct video should have started out by explaining exactly what the Wii U was and announcing a price drop. Instead, it focused on games and gameplay, which is normally a great move. I still predict in a few months there will be people at stores all over buying Super Mario 3D World as Christmas presents for their kids that only own a Wii. The confusion that haunted last year’s holiday season isn’t going to go away until Nintendo faces facts and makes the differences more clear to the average consumer. If Mario Kart 8 or Smash Bros. were announced as coming out in 2013, I would say that Nintendo had a fighting chance this year. Because they weren’t, I expect the Wii U to get crushed this year but to come back with a serious vengeance in 2014.

The 3DS is going strong as Nintendo’s newest handheld. One of the coolest announcements from E3 regarding the successor to the greatest handheld of all time (Nintendo DS) is that it will also have its own version of Super Smash Bros which will include all of the characters (but strangely not all of the stages). I don’t know if this will affect the game competitively, but I would expect that tournaments will be run on the Wii U version.

Closing Thoughts

As someone who primarily plays fighting games and other games by Japanese developers, E3 isn’t where I expect to get blown away by game announcements. I hope that EVO and Tokyo Game Show have some surprises in store. That isn’t to say that E3 isn’t important to me as a fan of video games. The entire industry is focused on this event, and its aftermath determines which consoles people are going to buy and develop games for. From what it looks like, Sony has the ball and is running with it. The PS4 has the power, price, and features that make for a great console. It just needs more games. Nintendo of course has strong first party games but needs to get out the word better about its console. If I were them, I would also worry about getting left in the dust due to the huge difference in power between the Wii U and the other two consoles, but I guess that didn’t matter much with the Wii. So, I could be wrong. Microsoft has to do a lot between now and the Xbox One’s launch to get the attention off of its terrible policies, price, and limitations. There are some really strong games coming out for the system, but I’m not willing to deal with all the hoops I would have to jump through in order to play them.

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