New games, hardware and adding value: Which console "won" E3 2015?
With big press events from Sony, Microsoft and a raft of third party publishers, and with Nintendo's unique Direct broadcast approach, it's all too easy to get lost in the tidal wave of announcements that hit in the first few days of the E3. All three big console makers presented a vision of what consumers can expect from their systems in the coming year, but whose showing was the strongest, and whose left a bitter taste in the mouth? Read on as Gizmag assesses this year's E3 offerings, and provides musings on what the announcements might mean for the current and future landscape of console gaming.
A rocky year for Nintendo
Let's start off with the bad news – not everyone was a fan of what Nintendo showed during its E3 Direct broadcast. While the announcement broadcasts, which the company makes fairly often throughout the year, are usually well received, fan reaction to the latest outing was far more negative – there's even a petition to stop development of the multiplayer 3DS title Metroid Prime Federation Force. It's currently sitting on more than 16,000 supporters.
The presentation made for a light hearted and enjoyable watch, but was heavy on filler, and while a fair few portable titles were announced, there wasn't much talk of big Wii U games. In fact, we already knew about the biggest console reveal – Star Fox Zero – from an earlier glimpse at the project, and no AAA title was announced to fill the void left by the unnamed Legend of Zelda Wii U entry that recently slipped down to a 2016 release window. But the underwhelming software wasn't the company's biggest issue. No, that came in its failure to discuss the future.
We've known for a few months that Nintendo's next console is in the works. We don't yet know what form the system will take (rumors suggest that it might combine the company's portable and home console offerings into a single piece of hardware), and it's unlikely it will hit shelves before 2017, but we do know it exists, and that's a problem for Nintendo.
Why announce that your next generation games console is on the way, then wait a year to talk about it? That behavior only breeds a lack of confidence in current gen hardware, making consumers reluctant to jump on board with the Wii U, when they know the party won't go on much longer.
In reality, it was always going to be a tough year for Nintendo. The company had to make a strong case for the Wii U – that it still has its best years ahead of it – and it needed two or three AAA reveals to do so. That's something that's difficult to pull off when you're working with very little third party support.
The result? Nintendo essentially sealed the Wii U's fate as a lame duck console (if there were still any room for doubt before E3).
Backwards compatibility + new hardware = a more appealing Xbox One
Microsoft has made some huge blunders this console generation. Things were rocky from the get go, with the system's split focus between gaming and entertainment, always online requirements and strict no-used-games policy receiving a frosty reception from consumers. Those issues were quickly fixed, with a reversal on the always online and used games policies, and a refocus on gaming. The company even started selling the console without the much-derided Kinect sensor, allowing users to purchase a cheaper, more gaming-centric version of the product.
Microsoft performed a balancing act at this year's E3, showcasing its upcoming exclusives (Halo 5 Guardians, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Sea of Thieves, etc.) while announcing new features and hardware that add significant value to the system. On one end of the scale, the announcement of backwards compatibility will make the Xbox One a far more appealing prospect to Xbox 360 owners who are yet to make the leap to the current generation platform. At the other end of the scale, the new Xbox Elite controller will appeal to the platform's more hardcore player base, particularly eSports players using the console.
Redmond had one more trick up its sleeve at E3, demoing how its Hololens augmented reality headset will play a part in gaming, showing off an impressive version of Minecraft that allows users to view an interactive tabletop version of their creations.
Microsoft isn't ready to provide hands-on time with the tech, but it looks very promising and, like the company's other big reveals, could add serious value to the platform. Overall, Microsoft's E3 was the polar opposite of Nintendo's, giving new users a reason to jump in, and existing players good reason to keep faith.
Sony makes good on one promise, skips over another
Sony made the biggest game reveals of any company at this year's show, including new IP Horizon Zero Dawn, the ambitious and creative Dreams and the much-requested Final Fantasy VII remake – a timed exclusive. Oh, and there's also highly anticipated The Last Guardian, a game originally revealed back in 2007, and one that many people believed would never see the light of day.
For many, a great upcoming games lineup will be enough to keep up interest in the system – it's the strategy that Sony has had from the beginning with the PS4, and one that's kept it ahead of its rivals since launch. But its easy to argue that Microsoft's exclusive game lineup is looking every bit as strong as Sony's, and with the issue of horsepower disparity – one the key post-launch battlegrounds – beginning to fade into the background, could Redmond's new features and hardware be enough to finally put it ahead of the pack? It's certainly possible.
What's interesting here is that Sony does have one big way of adding value to its system – the Project Morpheus virtual reality headset. Surprisingly, Sony didn't take the opportunity to drive home the upcoming hardware at E3, instead providing no significant new details, and generally just skimming over the topic during the press event. Gizmag did get the chance to go hands-on with the headset on the show floor, and was generally impressed with what it offered. Unfortunately, the demo was a little limited, and didn't really show off how the peripheral could impact the system.
So, overall, if you were ranking the performance of the big three at E3 2015, you'd have to put Nintendo in last, behind Sony and finally Microsoft. Of course it's not quite that simple in reality. For many, Sony's big reveals will be enough to claim victory for the PS4, for Star Fox fans could even claim that Nintendo had the most compelling offering.
What's certain is that Microsoft went above and beyond for this year's event, giving existing and prospective users more reasons than ever to consider its current generation system. As the months and years roll on, it might just be enough to help the Xbox One claim that much coveted top spot.