Microsoft Made Up For Lost Years At E3 2014, But Some Questions Remain
I was a big voice of criticism for Microsoft often throughout this generation. That is until their controversial policies were changed and I was mostly happy for the months that followed. It lasted for a time though, until the company announced that Kinect was no longer mandatory, and at length my colleague and I spoke about the frustrations we’ve had with Microsoft being unable to stick to any policy or, to put it bluntly, have some spine. We also commented on the fact that with Kinect no longer being a compulsory peripheral, the company can’t really sell the “all-in-one” vision it held so proudly because something can’t exactly be a console vision if not everyone or the large majority is in on it, right? That meant the pressure was on this year for their conference, and I awaited it eagerly.
In a surprise twist Microsoft for once actually stuck to their guns and the conference was a full ninety minutes of games. It was paced well with no developer coming on to talk for extended periods and say absolutely nothing, and they simply allowed the games to do the talking, with the biggest statement coming from the lovable Sunset Overdrive, which is my number one reason to want an Xbox One right now. I already own a PS4, and have been waiting patiently for a reason to own the alternate console, and Insomniac Games has given me a big one. Honestly, I have to say that for the first time in years it was a pleasure to watch Microsoft’s E3 conference. It was thoroughly enjoyable, it catered for the gamers and there were some good announcements. Sure there were a lot of multiplatform games being advertised and a lot of throwing around of the word “dedicated server” like it’s a new-found goldmine, but I have to say this was Microsoft’s best conference in a very long time.
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I’ve long expressed my admiration for Phil Spencer, and I think he has done a good job since he came on. Sure, I had some vicious comments about the removal of Kinect, which largely peeved me because I felt that the “all-in-one” vision allowed the Xbox One and PS4 to have two separate markets and have their own identities, with the PS4 being the more traditional gaming console, but sometimes you’ve got to tear one vision down to bring in a new one. And after last night’s conference it would appear that Microsoft is after winning back the gamers rather than proudly talking about the magic of entertainment, which isn’t quite so magical. I would say that after last night’s E3, the PS4 and Xbox One are more or less where the PS3 and Xbox 360 were at, in that both have similar offerings and it’s now primarily down to the highest quality exclusives and to who offers the best service, two attributes which I’ve declared are the key to winning a console generation. It’s not about resolution or frame rate, folks.
However, despite my belief that Microsoft had a wonderful show and made up for lost time with a gaming-focused conference, I do still have two major questions lingering in my mind that make me worry about the long term situation of the Xbox One.
The first is relating to the fact that Microsoft is still heavily into timed exclusive content. There was Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare (which has come to PS4), Limbo developer Playdead’s new game Inside which is also a timed exclusive, Titanfall which could very well come to PS4 when its sequel lands and games like Sunset Overdrive, in which Microsoft doesn’t own the IP and thus the future of it could also be on PS4. The lack of first party developers for Microsoft is what greatly cost them towards the end of last generation, as the PlayStation could finish strong with new IP like The Last Of Us and Ratchet and Clank, while the Xbox 360 was left with little other than a new Gears of War title, which wasn’t the best. I am not a believer in timed exclusive content, as I don’t believe it works out in the long run and you need first party studios to bring out the highest quality games. I’m a backer of console exclusive content, but not timed exclusive games.
I would hope that in the long run Microsoft doesn’t fall victim to the same mistake of last generation, and can consistently push out exclusives rather than find itself always falling back to and relying on Halo, Gears and Forza. Sure those are great franchises, but the competition has great staples too and even if they lack the same marketing power they certainly match point for point in quality.
My next big question is regarding Kinect. Under the previous regime Microsoft fought hard and true to make us believe that Kinect 2 would be worth anything. The first alarm bells went off when the flagship game Titanfall completely snubbed it. From there it’s more or less been the same story as last generation. It has some great navigation features, but the ever-standing question of “what does it do for gaming” still lingered. The idea in everyone’s mind was that, since Microsoft is forcing every Xbox One owner to have a Kinect, then surely developers can rest easy and actually work on content for it, because it won’t be like last generation where something like one in twenty Xbox owners actually had the peripheral. However, after its cancellation, in the long run it seems Kinect 2 will be in the same boat as its predecessor, and at E3 2014 Microsoft paid the device absolutely no attention at all.
While I’m glad I was spared from ten minutes of extreme awkwardness akin to Ubisoft’s dancing rubbish, I still feel a bit concerned that after everything invested into Kinect 2 and all the supposed promise it had, it was shafted on the grandest stage of them all and perhaps it’s time to accept that it really won’t do anything miraculous for gaming. With this in mind, the concern is regarding whether Microsoft will repeat their mistakes of last generation and try and throw money at it and convince us that the device will somehow change how we play games in a meaningful way. Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, the fact that Kinect is no longer mandatory means that the “all-in-one” vision is not the prime vision of the Xbox One, and it seems that according to Phil Spencer at E3 the games are the biggest deal.
The biggest thing to keep in mind is that console generations are very long journeys, and you’ve got to look at last generation over the long term as you do this one, because if you think Sony has won it already, I could easily point to how the PS3 started off so badly last generation and came back with a vengeance to cross the finish line first by the end. Winning a console generation is about the highest quality exclusives and the best service. With those two feats in mind, and keeping in mind that Microsoft had an excellent E3 showing, I do have those two lingering worries for the long term of the Xbox One, and I hope that those end up being obstacles that Microsoft can overcome.
At the end of it when a console does well the only people who truly win are the gamers.