Forget the undercard. 2013’s E3 was clearly about two heavyweights, going toe to toe. In what the netizens of the internet have clamored that Sony played Frazier to Microsoft’s Ali, the new generation of console wars is at fever pitch, and it has only just begun.
Microsoft seemed disconnected
A constant theme, stemming from their shaky Xbox One reveal in May, was that Microsoft was being incredibly bull-headed about their new console’s policies. Required online check-in, limitations on used and loaned games, restricting rules for independent games, a difficult to swallow price point of $499; all of the Xbox One’s new policies never fully gelled with the gaming community.
The problem was not so much in that Microsoft decided to move forward with things like required internet connection and digital licenses for disc games, it was that consumers weren’t given a reason beyond “this is the way we envision the gaming world.” In truth, the Xbox One’s policies wouldn’t change the way I play and purchase games a whole lot. I have my console connected to the internet 99% of the time, I tend to purchase new games over used games at about a 4:1 ratio and as a gamer growing up on the PC, I’ve never had a problem with registration serial numbers or online passes.
Adding further levels of confusion was that Microsoft representatives were routinely vague and often gave conflicting information regarding the policies. We all eventually found out about the how the Xbox One would operate, but Microsoft continued to act aloof and disorganized, as if they had no idea that their shiny, new, VCR-shaped console would come to such scrutiny. By being guarded, in an arrogant way, Microsoft lost the trust of the consumer and the pitchforks began to come out.
The least Microsoft could have done at E3 was clarify their stance on the issues, and they finally confirmed that this was the direction that they were going to proceed in. Aside from a brief snafu where Don Mattrick implied that those who wanted to game in other regions, trade games or not worry about required online connections should just stick with the Xbox 360, the Xbox One had a decent show. We already knew all of the dirty laundry, so an exclusive lineup that highlighted a new Killer Instinct, Remedy’s Quantum Break, Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive, Harmonix’s Fantasia, and Respawn’s Titanfall as well as Microsoft stalwarts Forza Motorsport 5 and a new Halo were more than enough ammunition to go against Sony’s comparably softer exclusive lineup.
Sony drops the mic
But even a stronger exclusive lineup couldn’t shake Microsoft from all the bad press that had been swirling around the Xbox One for nearly a month. Sony took the opportunity to do everything that Microsoft didn’t. A console that wouldn’t require online check-ins, disc based games that would can be loaned and resold, a launch price of $399, a weird angle to the PS4.
As much as I initially applauded Sony’s choices by being the anti-Microsoft, it wasn’t as if this should have come as a surprise. They clearly saw the writing on the wall for Microsoft’s practices and opted to underline the areas where the PS4 was nowhere near its competitor.
But does that really count as a win? Sony is still clearly making a strong push for the PS3 to go out with a bang. The major launch of Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us during E3, a historically slow period for gaming, clearly says that they have faith in the title to perform. Even Sony exclusives Beyond: Two Souls and Gran Turismo 6 will be launching for the PS3 later this year. The console has also seen a boost from PS2 era HD remakes with Kingdom Hearts 1.5 Remix and Final Fantasy X/X-2 slated for the fall.
Sony’s divided focus between their future and their present sends a mixed message and their list of exclusives is indicative of their non-commitment. Their exclusives are being predominantly produced by in-house studios with reliable franchises Infamous and Killzone being the stand-outs to go with new racer Driveclub.
As close as I was to pre-ordering a PS4 and supporting Jack Tretton’s mic dropping statement, I simply couldn’t commit to such a paltry list of games.
The Xbox One-Eighty
So there I was, with a PS4 pre-order in my Best Buy shopping cart when Microsoft dropped another bomb. Sensing the consumer backlash on their product, they decided to axe their plans for required game licenses, region locking and mandatory online check-ins. The internet rejoiced in the toppling of a mega-corporation as they cried for a DRM-free world.
And although I am now closer to pre-ordering an Xbox One, I can’t help but feel that Microsoft waved a white flag. The world they envisioned would ultimately lay down the infrastructure to eliminate disc-based games. By selling game licenses attached to discs, Microsoft could wean the gamer off of a physical product, much like Steam made purchasing DVD-ROMs obsolete. Digital delivery has always been something console producers, publishers and developers have always wanted because it eliminates production costs, makes the impact of brick and mortar stores obsolete, and can potentially increase their profit margin.
While consumers will cry that executives at Microsoft are simply looking to fill their coffers with Scrooge McDuck levels of cash, I believe that Sony had similar designs. One thing to note about their choice to make PS4 games exchangeable is that was a Sony only decision. They pointed out quietly that such policies would ultimately be decided by publishers, not the console manufacturer. Think of such policies like online-passes. Not every company decided to use online passes, but Electronic Arts and Codemasters did, in an attempt to stave off used game sales. Deep down, all software developers understand that their most profitable future relies on digital delivery.
But for Microsoft to pull a major policy shift was absolutely unheard of, especially after their stubborn approach to the issue, even going as far as saying that they simple can’t turn it off. My old fashioned nature may not have agreed with the Xbox One’s used and loaned games policy (I love exchanging games and perusing the used games section at stores), but I have to give them credit for trying to do something progressive in an industry that is saturated with sameness.
In fact, one of their tools that wasn’t spoken much about was their family sharing plan which would allow for multiple accounts to share multiple games with each other. If Microsoft came out and explained these ideas of freely sharing within the confines of licenses attached to accounts, I think the community would have been able to wrap their heads around the importance of licenses and required online verification. But now, without the licenses, without the online requirement, the account sharing is something that Microsoft admits they simply can not go forward with at this time. Which is a shame, because it could have been fantastic.
Draw by TKO
Ultimately, we will look back at 2013’s E3 as one that provided a ton of drama, but one that never delivered. Microsoft may never get to completely execute their plan with the Xbox One and sometimes I feel Sony just does not get it. The current generation of consoles will fade into memory, with the new generation being embraced for the entertaining consoles that they are. Maybe in seven years time, when the new consoles are unveiled (or uploaded into your brain) we will have industry standards like persistent online cloud computing and digital delivery, but I feel that this E3 showed that consumers are just not ready for that kind of future. Yet.