E3 2014: Microsoft's E3 Press Conference: Did It Impress?
Written Monday, June 09, 2014 By John Robertson
Microsoft has had little to celebrate over the 12 months following its E3 2013 press conference. Its ideas and approaches to the console business have been ridiculed and laughed off by consumers, press and developers, forcing it to perform numerous embarrassing U-turns in a bid to regain the ground lost to Sony. Sales of the Xbox One have been mediocre overall, but in comparison to the success of the 360 and the momentum of the PS4 they've been awful.
The platform holder's E3 2014 press conference was their chance to show us that they've learned from mistakes and are moving towards a future that we can support and get excited about. To that end, Microsoft dedicated its entire 90-minute presentation to showcasing the games - not a minute spent on talking about business models, hardware tweaks/additions or its evolving relationship with publishers.
It was an incredibly hit and miss affair in which quantity superseded uniqueness; the vast majority of titles on show coming from well-established franchises and from familiar names... kicking off the conference with a lengthy gameplay demo of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare setting an early tone of déjà vu that never really went away. Following that up with an appearance by Turn 10's Dan Greenawalt - plugging Forza Horizon 5 and new Forza Horizon 5 content - turning that déjà vu into predictability.
For the bulk of the first hour, all that was shown were games that we've already known about for quite some time, the likes of new additions to Fable, Halo, Assassin's Creed, Dragon Age and The Witcher. This hardly felt like an E3 conference dedicated to the future of videogames, it felt more like one obsessed with tarting up and regurgitating the past.
Things got somewhat better after the hour mark, though, and while timed-exclusives are not entirely popular among the wider videogame community, the frequency with which Microsoft boasted about them demonstrates that its relationship with publishers and developers is nowhere near as fraught as some reports suggest. Either that or they're paying those same publishers incredible sums to secure the early access.
Advanced Warfare, 2K's Evolve and Ubisoft's The Division will all be releasing additional content first on Xbox One. Being able to buy and play DLC on one console before another is certainly not a 'system seller' of a feature, but it's at least a box Microsoft can tick and point to in their attempts to court new purchasers.
Taking into account which games were highlighted as having 'timed-exclusive' content for Xbox One, it's very clear who Microsoft is targeting in those courting attempts. All three of the aforementioned titles are shooters of one form or another, continuing to single out the Xbox as the system of choice for fans of the genre and the best place to get your cover-shoot-cover-reload-fire fix.
Further evidence of this approach came from the amount of time spent talking about Halo, with brief looks at Halo 5: Guardians and the newly announced Halo: The Master Chief Collection (an Xbox One remastering of Halo 1 to 4). It's interesting to note here, that following the outcry from players regarding Xbox One's seeming inability to run games at 1080p and 60fps, The Master Chief Collection has achieved exactly that.
Despite Halo's presence, interesting exclusives remained thin on the ground. Significant chunks of time were given up to showing Dragon Age: Inquisition, Rise of the Tomb Raider, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Assassin's Creed Unity and other third-party software that will also be coming to PlayStation 4 and PC. While their presence on Microsoft's stage adds further weight to the fact the platform holder still has excellent relationships with major publishers, the fact that they're also appearing on other systems means their appearance here does next to nothing to enhance the Xbox brand.
Exactly four minutes were spent talking about ID@Xbox, the much-maligned Xbox publishing platform for indie developers. A trailer showed a huge selection of games both new and old (some are already available in some form or other on other devices), but only Limbo developer Playdead's new game, Inside, was given any real screen time. Probably because it's coming to Xbox One in 2015 before it appears on any other platform.
Again, this brushing of indie games under the carpet does much to reinforce Microsoft's positioning of the Xbox One as the place to play big-budget, action-heavy games with guns. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's not a new or modern thing either.
As is customary, the final 20 minutes played host to the most engaging moments. Microsoft scored major kudos by revealing Platinum Games' Scalebound as an Xbox One exclusive, an announcement that will do much to endear the console to fans of Bayonetta and Vanquish. Only a CG trailer was shown, but it was more than enough to communicate the kind of over-the-top madness and extravagance we've come to expect from the Japanese developer.
More goodwill will come from the confirmations of new Crackdown and Phantom Dust releases. Both games have retained a loyal following over the course of their absence and, while they're not new IPs in their own right, they've been out of play for such a period of time that they will feel completely fresh to most players. Again, no gameplay footage of either was shown, but their existence is enough to generate excitement.
The fact remains that there was very little on show that we didn't already know about, though. Fable Legends, Halo 5, Sunset Overdrive, Forza Horizon 2 and Project Spark are all looking like promising Xbox exclusives products, but they're all either continuations of well-worn franchises or games that have been on our radar for a long time. As such, it's difficult to excited about any or all of them at this point.
The fact that so much time was given up to third-party software and timed-exclusivity for DLC highlights that Microsoft's studios are struggling to come up with ideas that are genuinely new and fresh.
Same old, same old. That's very much how this conference is going to be remembered. If this is genuinely the future of the videogame industry, then you look forward to playing what you've already played before. A new IP from Platinum Games and a new Crackdown are nice, but is that enough of an excuse to buy an Xbox One?
The answer: no. Not least considering the most interesting games on show here are also coming to the PS4.
This was a conference for players, then. Players that enjoy sequels and shooters.
Still... at least Microsoft refrained from talking about Smart Glass and TV apps. Omitting that from their conference was probably the best move they made.