In and of itself, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (or E3) is already a seminal event for the video game industry, but this year marked the first time in a long time insiders found themselves at the forefront of a good ole fashioned console war. Both the PS4 and Xbox One were rumored to make an appearance last year at the convention but it wasn’t until this year that console rivals Sony and Microsoft fully unveiled their next-gen artillery to the public. Not since 2005-6 — with the Xbox 360 out on 11/22/2005 and the PS3 and Nintendo Wii released November 11 and 16 2006 respectively — have consumers been faced with the “task” of choosing a console to grace their living room/bedroom for the foreseeable future.
With E3 officially finished, it’s time to take stock of what we learned and, more importantly, what we can expect in the next year of videogaming.
1. Microsoft’s Xbox One is already facing an uphill battle, and it hasn’t even been released yet
Microsoft kind of stumbled out of the box with its Xbox One announcement by focusing on things gamers didn’t really care about like, say, its cable-box capabilities (?) and not, you know, the games, the system’s price, backwards compatibility with Xbox 360 games, and more. At E3 they attempted to remedy that with more specifics and the response was lukewarm at best, with one analyst proclaiming Sony’s PS4 the clear victor of this first-of-many forays. Why?
The first bit of controversy comes from Xbox One’s inability to play pre-owned games, i.e., unless a developer OKs it, you can’t get a used copy of an Xbox One game and play it on your console. You have to buy a brand-new game. Additionally, the act of borrowing games from friends has to follow a certain protocol as the game can only be traded once and only to a friend you have “known” on Xbox Live for more than 30 days.
Not only that, all Xbox One consoles will need to “check in” online every 24 hours or you won’t be able to play games at all. The consequences for this are wide-reaching: what if you don’t have an internet connection? what if it’s a snow-day and you have power but no cable? what if you just don’t want to be plugged in all the time?
Microsoft has since backed down on both of these points due to heavy public pressure, but the sting is likely enough to hurt the new Xbox's image.
Add to that the fact that its initial price is $499 compared to Sony PS4’s $399 price-tag and it’s fair to say Microsoft has some ground to cover before the presumed November 2013 release.
2. Nintendo will continue to quietly do its own thing
It’s sometimes forgotten that the last-gen console war was actually won by Nintendo with its Wii system, which sold almost 100 million units worldwide compared to Xbox 360 and PS3’s 77 million each. A revolutionary approach to console gaming certainly propelled the Wii to the forefront with its emphasis on player movement and physical interaction but — let’s be honest — it was first-party franchises like Zelda, Mario, and Donkey Kong that turned the system from a curious gimmick to a legitimate platform.
The Nintendo Wii’s successor, the Wii U, is “struggling mightily” right now in sales, but titles like Mario Kart 8, Super Mario 3D World, and an untitled Zelda Wii U game make the company optimistic. And that’s the thing Nintendo realizes better than anyone: exclusivity is still key in the console wars, and people will always want their Zelda’s and Mario’s.
Yes, Microsoft has Halo, Fable, and Gears of War and Sony has Killzone, God of War, and Uncharted, but despite their popularity they still don’t have the mass appeal of Nintendo’s first-party pillars, and the company knows that. They can branch out with a unique tablet/controller/console system like the Wii U and try something completely different because they can rest easy knowing their in-house properties will draw the widest of audiences.
3. There are still titles to look forward to on the current consoles
Once the big-guns are drawn, i.e. the next-gen consoles are reveals, there’s this unbidden hourglass that suddenly hovers over the system currently in your living room, tracking its slow decline until it’s inevitably rendered obsolete. In other words, gamers panic and wonder just how long they have before developers abandon their console and move on to the Next Big Thing. Ironically, each time this happens and the anxiety creeps in we get some of a system’s best content with something like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas or God of War II being released near the end of the PS2’s era, for instance.
The home-stretch for both the PS3 and Xbox 360 look promising with multi-platform games like the already-guaranteed-to-be-a-best-seller Battlefield 4 and Destiny, a game developed by Halo creators Bungie. For something with a little more adventure, Rayman Legends looks to have a format and style similar to Mario 64 (I don’t say that lightly) and seems to be reliant on actual gameplay to entertain and not outlandish, script scenarious. And there’s also the stealth-thriller Watch Dogs, which was unveiled last E3 and looks just as promising now as it did then with its mix of hacking and open-world exploration.
There are more, to be sure, but the point is if you plan on keeping your PS3 or Xbox 360 for a while (you’re not alone) you won’t be left wanting for new and varied content.
4. Consoles aren’t going anywhere
You play them, I play them, we all play them — Candy Crush Saga, Angry Birds, Temple Run, Words with Friends, etc. — and, while fun, they’re also a major threat to the console-gaming industry. Still, the top headlines from the videogame industry’s biggest event don’t concern games you can download for $.99 from your app store. While there’s definitely a trend amongst videogames in general migrating to more portable devices, it’s impossible to deny that the industry itself would be the same without consoles, or that E3 would generate as much buzz as it does with them gone.
If anything, E3 this year taught us that consoles are just getting started.