E3 13 Aftermath: Game Certainty and Policy Evolution
I really don’t think the gaming industry has ever been more fascinating than it is right now. The culmination of the odd state of transition for game development and publishing models combined with the announcement of new consoles set to define how the next generation will begin is making for a rather unpredictable future. That isn’t to say that I was particularly enthused for this year’s E3. I was actually kind of bored by the thought of it. Which is crazy, because console reveal E3′s are traditionally when most of the fireworks happen. However, in this era of carefully crafted marketing and PR plans and constant media coverage, the potential for any surprises seemed unlikely. Then, Sony dropped the mic. It made me sit up and pay attention. Not only do we have a honest-to-god competition for dominating our living room (and I’m not just talking about Microsoft vs Sony), but the games look, among other things, deep.
This is the first reveal of next-gen games that can’t be summed up with still photos. Sure, the graphics look better than ever, but for the first time the leap isn’t solely in graphics and polygon counts. The true leap is in the details – multiple bullet holes merging together in a car window as you close the door and it levels out from its tire being blown out, a soldier shot while ejecting from his mech, everything exploding into pieces under your super powers, and those dangerous characters controlled by other people who suddenly showed up at the worst time in your carefully executed mission. The leap is in the power that developers have finally been given the greenlight to utilize after waiting for years longer than they anticipated for the next generation to arrive. The leap is in game worlds that are richer than ever before and blur the lines between what we’ve come to expect from solo and multiplayer game experiences.
For years, I’ve watched E3 trailers, gotten pumped up, and immediately gone back to play what I was already playing. This time, I just wanted the new stuff. I started to see the rough edges in my favorite games, and it took a few days for me to recover enough to dive back in to my existing library. I just wanted to be playing:
Destiny – From all of the nebulous descriptions of what Bungie was working on, I had no real idea what Destiny was before E3. The most impactful moment of the demo was when the players sent in a drone that turned on the lights in the facility. When the lights turned on, I thought I was looking at the game’s concept art. I was in awe, and then the action heated up. While not groundbreaking, the combination of Halo meets Borderlands meets MMO experience had me wanting to group up immediately. (Gameplay trailer)
inFamous: Second Son – Granted, I all but ignored the trailer for this game. After all, it’s a sequel to a known franchise that I already like, so of course I’d be interested in it. Once the gameplay trailer was actually shown though, I did my first major double take of E3. Yes, I’m a sucker for destructible environments, but seeing the buildings fall apart into so many glorious pieces that actually affect the world of Second Son made me notice just how stellar its graphics are. Add in super powers and I can’t wait to be allowed into this playground. (Gameplay trailer)
The Division – Ubisoft promised a big reveal this year, and it delivered. I’m still not completely sure how the MMO and RPG side fits into this third person tactical shooter, but my adrenaline was pumping at the end of the mission when all of sudden the game switched to PvP. It also helps that The Division was one of the best looking games of the show. (Gameplay trailer)
TitanFall – Respawn made a debut that matches the impact that the name of its game implies. These are not big lumbering robots, these titans are agile powersuits that just happen to be the size of giant robots. Adding to the mech action are some quick-moving soldiers with crazy traversal skills and jetpacks. Other multiplayer shooters are going to have a hell of a time keeping up with TitanFall. It also bears mentioning that this game seemed to be the critical darling of the show, so I anticipate that there’s a little bit more going on under the hood once you see it in a live gaming session. (Gameplay trailer)
Watch Dogs – I had a ton of questions after last year’s debut of Watch Dogs. The most important one, however, was answered in the demo. Do I want to play this game immediately? Yes. I want to hack security cameras, black out cities, and throw cell phones on the ground. Seeing a random mission helped convince me that Watch Dogs will be my first go-to next-gen experience. (Gameplay trailer)
Those were certainly the stand-out games for me, but this E3 was full of great games. I can’t wait to get more of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Dead Rising 3, Below, Transistor, The 9 Sony Indie Games, The Crew. Also, I wanted to give a big shout-out to the Horizon conference for giving indies another home during E3.
As I mentioned the games pretty much stole my attention for most of the week, which is saying a lot because E3 2013 got started with one hell of a show at the press conferences:
Just One Reason
Microsoft came out on Monday morning, and did just about everything it needed to do. Its event was full of games and really showcased the exclusives to the Xbox One console (precisely what the console reveal did not do). Dead Rising 3 got me the most excited out of the exclusives, and I definitely want to see Quantum Break in action once Remedy can explain what the hell it actually is. Titanfall’s PC release is still a bit hazy, which makes this a console exclusive that is definitely the strongest mass selling point for the entire system.
Microsoft managed to surprise a lot of people (me included) by revealing a price $499 for the Xbox One. I didn’t think MS would announce a price at E3 at all, but if so, I expected a few different price options including a subsidized version around $200. I honestly still think the price is a fair for everything that is included because it includes the Kinect, and that’s a hefty piece of technology with a lot of promise that Microsoft should have proven before forcing consumers to buy it.
It was a good showing from Microsoft. Nothing bad and nothing great. My feelings on the Xbox One haven’t changed much since its original announcement. After a solid E3 presentation, Microsoft still has not given me that defining factor to drive a day one purchase. I’ll see you and my gamertag sometime in 2014.
The Return of Sony
The thing I love about Jack Tretton’s E3 presentations is just how conversational they are, especially when compared to the lack of humanity present in everyone else’s E3 speeches (read: everyone except Reggie at Nintendo, and maybe the actress, Aisha Tyler, for Ubisoft). I understand how Sony could have come across as a bit arrogant at this year’s E3, but it was a different type of arrogance than we’ve seen from the company before where their collective heads were up their collective asses (much like Microsoft this year). Sony has been beat up the last 3-4 years after being untouchable, but has been slowly working on regaining trust from its customers. It just happened that this year, Microsoft set Sony up for the biggest turnaround I’ve ever witnessed at E3. This wasn’t arrogance on Sony’s face, this was confidence. With 3 announcements that merely stayed the course for the PlayStation 4, Sony simply “won E3.” (I hate that term, but this is why we have it.) 1) PS4 supports used games 2) PS4 does not require an online connection 3) PS4 will be $399. It was beautiful to watch one giant company take a swing at another one. Console wars are back, and that’s a great thing.
I won’t belabor Sony’s seizing of the moment any more than I have to because when it came down to it, only the price aided in my personal decision to make the PS4 the first console I’ve ever preordered during E3. The “Sony 9″ is what mattered to me. Sony has been reaching out to the game development community pretty heavily since it created PlayStation Plus. It wants to work with developers to make it easier to produce and publish games on the PlayStation 4. Seeing that come to fruition into displaying 9 amazing indie games and their developers on stage at an E3 press conference was incredible. Quite simply, if you support developers only great games can happen. That’s the promise of the PS4 to me. The potential is there for a wide variety of great games, and that’s something I want to get behind. So I spoke with my wallet.
As for the rest of Sony’s presentation, it was pretty much on par with Microsoft. Just solid. Destiny blew me away for sure, but I did not see a single standalone exclusive game or feature that makes the PS4 a clear cut choice on day one or maybe even the first two years. Both consoles still have something to prove to the general gamer and consumer.
As for Nintendo, it barely showed up. I say this as an active Wii U and 3DS player, that I have absolutely no reason to believe that things are going to turn around for Nintendo. They need to sell more Wii U’s or it is doomed to be only be good for first-party Nintendo experiences going forward. The Wii U lineup for the rest of 2013 and early 2014 has yet to feature a system seller (or a 3rd party confidence builder). Sure, the Mario games looked as fun as ever, but I think Nintendo blew it with having Donkey Kong Country as its surprise announcement. I didn’t expect much from Nintendo once it canceled its press conference, yet I walked away from E3 even less confident in my Wii U’s future.
Don’t bet on policies
After E3, Microsoft gave us all another surprise when it reversed all of the used games and always online policies that it was pushing so hard for at E3. It will be a long while until we know the true reason, but my guess is that it came down to preorder numbers. Microsoft isn’t the type of company to pivot solely in response to criticism, there has to be a sound business reason for making such a dramatic shift. After all, it was more of the post-press conference interviews that seemed to be pushing Microsoft down. Any hope for any momentum seemed to be crushed by out-of-touch comments by Don Mattrick or other faces of the Xbox One. Sony was winning hearts and minds of gamers from its own comments and from Microsoft tripping all over itself. With a $500 console, Microsoft’s consumer base out of the gate will be early adopters and tech enthusiasts, and Microsoft had to change course as soon as possible or face an even steeper uphill battle for the next 3 years.
I say 3 years because the always-online future that Microsoft was betting on for the basis of its original policies is at least 3-5 years away. As a huge fan of day one digital purchases and the promise of a tradeable digital game library, I’m definitely with all of the supporters who want to usher in that future sooner than later. However, as Microsoft learned the hard way last week, that is not the reality. Do not be mad at other gamers, the press, or Sony; the blame should go on Microsoft. Microsoft has failed at selling that future to anyone who doesn’t already understand its inevitability.
Do not think for a second that Sony does not understand the inevitability of our purely digital gaming future, either. Sony’s most brilliant move was while Microsoft was crafting its confusing policies on digital games: say nothing. All of the policies in relation to used games and online activation that Sony has addressed have only had to do with disc-based games. Sony has not announced its plans and policies in regards to digital games. Also the day that Microsoft announced its policy reversal, the latest Steam beta code was found to have references to shareable games. I fully expect Valve to break ground on tradeable games in the next year on PC’s. Once that shakes out in 2-3 years, Microsoft and Sony will enact their own digital ownership policies similar to that of Steam and to the Xbox One’s original policies. That policy will be centered around some sort of online digital license check by your console/PC within a given timeframe (let’s say longer than 24 hours but shorter than 30 days) and the ability to trade/sell digital games.
“Should you buy a console?” is the first question
I entered E3 looking for Microsoft and Sony to give me a clear reason as to why anyone should buy their consoles in 2013. I don’t believe either company gave that reason to anyone outside of early adopters (like myself) who were going to get a console no matter what. To the broader audience, my recommendation remains to use your console money to upgrade your PC to the modern specifications of 2013 and wait out the first punches of this console war. Things are just getting started and I don’t even believe all of the competitors for your living room gaming experience have made their presence known (Steambox, come on out). Regardless of your stance on owning digital games, it is going to be at least a year or two before all of the great games from this E3 are even out to be played either on disc or through digital download. For now though at least we can finally see what that future looks like.
Giant Bomb (images)