Thursday, June 12, 2014

Three Publishers at E3: Where to Spend Your Money

Another E3 is wrapping up, providing gamers with a glimpse at all sorts of quality titles they can look forward to. Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony (please note the alphabetical order so as not to enflame any arguments) all made their cases as to why their upcoming year will be bigger than the other’s. And all three definitely offered up a smorgasbord of properties that will vie for both your time and money in the coming months. How each one fares on both fronts remains to be seen, but there are a few pros and cons to each presentation that could sway you in one direction or the other.

Microsoft made its show all about games, which is good because the Xbox One doesn’t really have any. Sure, it has Titanfall, which is a blast to play, but the lack of a single-player campaign started to make itself known about a month in. To fill that void, Microsoft is offering a slew of games, including Rise of the Tomb Raider, Crackdown 3, Halo 5: Guardians, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Fable Legends and Dragon Age: Inquisition to name a few. That’s a lot of high-profile games that all have one thing in common: they’re all sequels. Sure, they’re all highly-anticipated sequels, but they’re still sequels nonetheless.

What was even more telling for Microsoft than the apparent lack of indies and new IPs was the absence of Kinect. At E3 2013, Don Mattrick made some rather inflammatory comments about the Xbox One surrounding an always-on philosophy and how the Kinect was the centerpiece of the Xbox One universe. Fast forward a year and the peripheral gets barely a mention. It’s possible that it has a lot to do with the PS4 out-performing the Xbox One in the resolution department, as the Kinect was developers were reportedly forced to make 10% of the Xbox One GPU available for Kinect processing. Since then, Microsoft has completely reversed course and lifted that requirement, even offering a Kinect-less Xbox One for $100 than its launch counterpart. Oh, and most of those games debuted at the show won’t be available until 2015, which means gamers have to wait at least six months for a lot of them.

Microsoft wanted E3 2014 to be about games and for sure it was, even if many of their presentations revisited franchises that have sold well in the past. Clearly, many of those sequels will be in consoles at one point or another and many of them are very exciting. Crackdown returning is very welcome, as you can never have enough of the saying “skills for kills, agent.” There were some other games announced that were new IPs that look equally exciting, including Sunset Overdrive, Scaleborn and Ori and the Blind Forest. And it’s very exciting to see Faith getting more attention in Mirror’s Edge 2, a sequel to the vastly underrated original that merged parkour with gaming in very positive ways.

Nintendo did what Nintendo always does at E3: they brought a lot of Mario and Zelda. Now, that’s not a bad thing per se, as those are two franchises revered within the gaming industry and always manages to offer unique gaming experiences. Mario’s love was in multiple forms. Super Smash Bros. will allow players to use their Miis in combat, Pac-Man or Palutena. Mario Maker will give gamers the chance to build stages from Super Mario Bros., even trapping the castle in a wall of blocks if you’re feeling sadistic. Toad and Yoshi will also get their own games, offering new looks at more familiar characters in the Mario universe. And a brand new Legend of Zelda game was announced, offering a more open-world experience with who may or may not be Link (rumors are it could be Zelda). And Shigeru Miyamoto is reportedly working on three new games, one of which is Starfox (cue the excitement).

After you get past the Nintendo familiars, then you get into some other intriguing ideas. Splatoon looks like a genuinely enjoyable experience, with gamers fighting in what is essentially a giant paintball match. The trick is though that each player can transform into a squid and traverse their paint, getting them across the map in a hurry. It’s a pretty smart concept and looks like a very enjoyable multiplayer experience. Bayonetta gets the collection treatment, in addition to a slew of Nintendo character costumes as well. Pokemon returns with another installment of everyone’s favorite capture-animals-in-balls-for-dueling series. And Nintendo announced Amiibos, which are akin to Skylanders. Overall, Nintendo’s press conference probably elicited the most childlike oohs and aahs, mainly because they always seem to return to our childhoods in a way.

The problem with their presentation (and every one of theirs it seems) is once the Nintendo hype wears off, where does that leave Nintendo? Sure, all their games look fantastic, but if you’re looking for something that doesn’t involve Mario or Link/Zelda, you’re pretty much out of luck. Will their showing be enough to move more Wii U consoles? Super Smash Bros. looks pretty spectacular on both Wii U and 3DS, but chances are most of the people looking to buy that already have a Wii U/3DS. It remains to be seen whether or not any of the aforementioned games are system sellers, which is something everyone is pulling for. When Nintendo is doing well, the industry in general is flourishing.

Sony went into E3 probably as the publisher with the most momentum, if for nothing else because they’ve sold the most consoles over the shortest time period of the big three. Additionally, they more or less trounced Microsoft at E3 2013, largely because of Microsoft’s rather disjointed and arrogant approach to the show and Xbox One. Sony didn’t seem content with maintaining the status quo, as they debuted a healthy mix of both new IPs and long awaited-sequels. In the latter category, the tease for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End was met with healthy applause and looked stunning. In the former category, Sony unleashed looks at games such as Bloodborne (for the Dark Souls masochists out there), The Order: 1886, Entwined, Let It Die, No Man’s Sky and a remastered Grim Fandango (!). All of those games are exciting and show Sony isn’t resting on its laurels, offering up a lot in the way of games that will help make the PS4 the console to own.

Outside of the games, PS4 had two very intriguing announcements. The first was that Powers will be coming to the PS4 later this year. The show is based on a comic of the same name by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming and two detectives, Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim, police officers in a Chicago Homicide department devoted to cases that involve "powers" (people with superpowers). The show was originally picked up by FX for a 2011 release date, but has been in development limbo since then. The second announcement was PlayStation Now and PlayStation TV, which is Sony’s answer to backwards compatibility in a way. PlayStation Now will allow gamers to rent games for as low as $2.99 to play on their PS4. PlayStation TV seeks to bring the Vita closer to home, essentially turning it into a home console. Both seem to indicate that Sony is serious about giving gamers access to the games they know and love from the past, even if that access does come at something of a price.

Sony’s show demonstrated they’re looking to build on the momentum they’ve established so far, but Vita fans were probably felt a little ignored. Other than showing PlayStation TV (which appears to be a Vita replacement), there were no games announced for the portable console. Additionally, Sony’s offering of Last of Us remastered seems a little strange, considering the original version of the game was just released June 2013. It’s a brilliant game for sure, but offering a remastered version a year later seems a little like a cash grab. And a Rachet and Clank movie is interesting if you’re into that property.

Overall, the three publishers offered pretty solid shows that addressed many concerns. It was a little odd in some ways that both Microsoft and Sony opened with Activision games (Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Destiny respectively). Both offered exclusives for their respective consoles, but Activision sort of got top-billing at both shows without having its own press conference. And there was an alarming lack of diversity in the presentations. Polygon did an interesting, impromptu survey where they found that there were more severed heads displayed on-screen than female presenters across the Microsoft, Sony, EA and Ubisoft presentations. It’s a problem that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, despite nearly 48% of gamers reportedly being women.

Based on what fans were shown at E3 2014 though, for the most part it’s a good time to be a gamer. There are a ton of quality games on tap throughout the remainder of 2014 and well into 2015, hopefully enough to justify purchasing any or all of the next gen consoles. The industry seems to be doing pretty well and the three big publishers are taking their babies into very interesting directions. Whether or not audiences go in those directions as well remains to be seen, but at least it seems we’ve got some great options ahead of us.


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