It’s almost that magical time of year again, when the Electronic Entertainment Expo happens and I become an insufferable recluse mainlining videogame news. And you’re all going to share the magic with me!
The conference (expo? exponference?) starts on the 9th of June with the annual Sony and Microsoft gaudy corporate press events, plus Nintendo’s cheaper and more low-key live-streaming presentation in which their CEO attempts to get the entire world hyped about Nintendo products despite not having any discernable personality. But before that let’s talk about the three main players and how they’re doing, what I’m expecting from them and what strategy they should take, according to my uninformed blog punditry.
Sony came out of last year’s E3 and the earlier next-gen console reveals swinging, earning an immense amount of goodwill largely by virtue of not being Microsoft. That and a 100 dollar price difference between the PS4 and the Xbox One seems to be paying off, as they’re the undisputed front runners at the moment with strong sales and a better (although still not stellar) lineup of games compared to their rivals.
One part of Sony’s strategy that I don’t think enough people appreciate is their savvy decision to focus heavily on indie games, giving small and quirky titles like Octodad equal standing with their big-budget exclusives. Clearly Octodad isn’t going to move consoles, but they seem to be the only major player in the console industry actively courting indie developers, which shows a laudable level of foresight into the direction the entire industry seems to be heading.
I don’t really have much to say about Sony this year in terms of advice or expectation. Whatever they’re doing it’s clearly working, I imagine they’re going to keep doing it, so there’s not really
Oh no wait, they still need to talk about The Last Guardian.
The third game from the creator(s) of Ico and The Last Guardian was first unveiled in 2009, popped up at a few more trade shows and conventions and then vanished. Fumito Ueda has repeatedly claimed that the game is still in active development, but where is it? It’s commonly assumed that the game switched focus at some point to the PS4 (frankly I have my doubts that it was ever going to run well on the PS3) and if the game really has been in active development we’re far enough into the PS4’s lifecycle that Sony is probably ready to start talking about it again.
So I am officially predicting that Sony will at the very least mention The Last Guardian at their press conference this year, and that the game will look quite different from what we saw before. Also, the mild controversy that bubbled up a few years ago over Ico and Shadow of The Colossus’ treatment of women will have prompted a gender flip for the protagonist. You heard it here first!
Last year Microsoft shot themselves in the foot spectacularly, announcing the Xbox One with a slew of unwelcome and controversial features (an online connection requirement every 24 hours, restrictions to used and borrowed games, Kinect as a standard feature with an accompanying 100 dollar price difference over the PS4) that it then had to humiliatingly backtrack on, just recently announcing a Kinect-less model and finally bringing the Xbone to what many people wanted it to be in the first place, six months after release. And to top it all off the console is lagging behind the PS4, although it’s certainly not a failure by any means.
Clearly Microsoft needs to drastically save face this year. Their press conference in 2013 was widely mocked and derided, partly due to the general groundswell of ill will following the Xbox One announcement but also because they spent a lot of time talking about TV and sports and didn’t have any particularly impressive exclusives- eg, one of the big announcements was an odd-sounding game/TV show hybrid called Quantum Break that was unveiled with a tiny sliver of possible gameplay and not a whole lot else. Just yesterday, a full year later, we got another tiny sliver of gameplay and the announcement that Quantum Break won’t be at E3 on the 9th.
It’s hard not to conclude that Microsoft spent so much energy trying to turn the Xbox One into a multimedia hub that it just didn’t have many games lined up for launch, and things haven’t improved a great deal since. They need to give people a compelling reason to buy their console beyond features that most people already have access to anyway. Yes, they announced Halo 5 and I’m sure that will help, but it’s not going to be nearly enough to win back the people they alienated last year.
I’ve been supporting Nintendo for a long time and continue to do so even after they allowed the Wii to become a shovelware wasteland, so it’s kind of painful to see how poorly the Wii U has been selling lately. Nintendo has cash reserves out the wazoo which means they’re not in financial trouble yet, but they can’t keep bleeding out forever. And a failed console is never a good thing, no matter how well you can absorb the blow.
The Wii U’s main problem (apart from the fact that no one is buying it) is the lack of compelling games. Last time around they could get away with lagging a generation behind their competitors in terms of graphical power due to an influx of “casual” gamers and an expanded market that reached outside of the kinds of people who were buying Xbox 360s and PS4s, but that’s just not happening this time around. It’s widely believed (and Nintendo have acknowledged) that this is largely down to brand confusion. Keeping the valuable Wii name and making the console look almost indistinguishable from its predecessor probably seemed like a good idea before release, but those factors combined with marketing that focused almost exclusively on the controller seems to have caused a lot of non-traditional gamers to believe that the Wii U is just an expensive peripheral for the console they already own. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a new Wii U model with a fairly radical visual overhaul, but even that might not be enough. The unfortunate reality is that the new consumer base Nintendo created with the Wii just aren’t the kinds of people who are going to see the point in shelling out hundreds of dollars for better graphics.
We know Nintendo is working on hardware aimed at “developing markets” (widely believed to be China, where a long standing ban on game console sales was recently loosened) and some sort of health-based platform. Both of those are smart moves- there’s going to be a gigantic rush to tap into China’s huge population and they made mad bank with games like Wii Fit and Brain Age last generation- but it’s hard not to see them as evidence that Nintendo might be getting ready to just write the Wii U off. There’s been a lot of low-key chatter (usually not trustworthy, but Nintendo hardware announcements for whatever reason tend to be prefaced by vague whispers instead of solid leaks) about some sort of hybrid home and mobile console in the works, which lends credence to the idea that they’ve internally recognized that the current generation is a lost cause. If such a console is in the works I don’t think we’re going to see it this year or even next year for the simple reason that it would be an instant death sentence to the 3DS, which is still going strong. Instead I predict Nintendo will publicly put on a show of trying to turn the situation with the Wii U around while quietly waiting for the clock to run out on the 3DS’s life-cycle.
In terms of this year, we know they’ll be showing the first Wii U Zelda game (a proper Zelda game, not the Hyrule Warriors spin-off) which might entice some of the hardcore crowd over to their side. Apart from that I don’t really have any expectations for Nintendo this year, although I would personally love to see some HD re-releases of games like Mario Galaxy and Metroid Prime. That would certainly get me to buy a Wii U, even if it wouldn’t do much to turns their fortunes around.
The console manufacturer brinkmanship is fun from the perspective of an amateur pundit like myself, but the real draw of E3 is the games. The biggest developers save their biggest announcements for the show, and there’s always a handful of cool surprises to get hyped for. Here are a few already announced games I’m looking forward to seeing more of, as well as my personal whishlist.
Project Beast is a leaked title by From Software and is assumed to be the next game in the quasi-franchise that includes Demon’s Souls and the two Dark Souls games (for this reason a lot of people have taken to calling it “Beast Souls”). As a fan of all of those I’m hugely excited about it, particularly as it’s most likely the project that director Hidetaka Miyazaki has been working on while someone else handled Dark Souls II. The timing of the leak certainly suggests it will be at E3.
The Division was the most interesting game by far at last year’s E3 and we’ve heard sweet fuck all about it since, apart from a handful of images and the news that it’s been delayed to 2015. I seriously want to know more about this game, and I hope I get my wish at Ubisoft’s press conference.
As for my wishlist, Dishonored was one of my favourite games of the last generation and I greatly enjoyed (even while having problems with) the Tomb Raider reboot from Crystal Dynamics. It’s widely assumed that both of these games are getting sequels but we have yet to hear anything about them apart from an almost certainly fake “leak” regarding Dishonored II. I’d be thrilled if that changed this year.
Anyone who read my (still unfinished) Silent Hill posts knows I’m a huge fan of that franchise. After the release of Downpour there was a lot of vague talk about a next-gen installment, possibly with some kind of involvement by Hideo Kojima. I have no idea if any of that actually went anywhere, but if it did the next Silent Hill game could be far enough in development for Konami to at least announce its existence at E3, which would make me a very happy camper.