E3 proper began yesterday with Microsoft’s E3 press conference. Or, to use its proper name, Microsoft’s Xbox E3 Briefing.
It’s not called a press conference because at this point, the press being in attendance is pretty much academic. More important to Microsoft are the noise-making fans sat in the VIP seats, and the millions of viewers watching online. Yesterday’s announcements were being picked apart by the connected masses long before anyone inside the packed Galen Center auditorium could escape to daylight and find a data signal.
In fact, if you’re at the Xbox E3 briefing, it’s hard to shake the feeling that you’re little more than a bum on a seat. A willing participant to fill up the hall and whoop in response to Phil Spencer’s every proclamation.
Despite that, I can’t deny that it’s nice to be there, although I certainly didn’t join in with the whooping. (I have standards, and am British, after all.) For one thing, it’s one of those rare occasions where you get to experience news happening live, and to absorb the audience’s instant response to each announcement. It’s also interesting to meet the press, fans, and employees of the various companies who have a stake in the event being a success. Before the show there were evident nerves, and afterwards, a mass dissection of every announcement that was much more fun in real life than it ever is on Twitter.
This is the second Xbox E3 briefing I’ve been to – the first was in 2015 – and the one thing I learned first time round was that enthusiasm within the confines of the Galen Center doesn’t always necessarily translate to a positive public reception. It also served as a warning to not get too excited about a game just because it has an impressive on-stage reveal. It’s easier said than done, of course, but then, ReCore.
There was a lot riding on this year’s Xbox E3 briefing. Since Phil Spencer took the reins at Xbox, the Xbox One has managed to rid itself of the baggage acquired during its fumbled launch. Last E3’s double punch of the Xbox One S, and Project Scorpio tease helped reposition the Xbox One as a desirable console, even if it hasn’t had the lineup of exclusive games it deserves.
With Sony dominant and Nintendo resurgent, there was a need for this year’s event to continue that work. It also had to show why we should care about another mid-cycle hardware upgrade. And in that respect, I’m not sure that Microsoft was entirely successful.
The ‘what’, was a success. The form factor, size, and specs of the Xbox One X, all impressed. Its name is simple, and ensures that the other Xbox models don’t feel completely redundant. The price, although high, is in line with the expectations Microsoft has been carefully building. But, in answering the question of ‘why’, it was a mixed bag.
In any other year, yesterday’s roster of games would have been seen as impressive. That’s because, it was impressive. There was creativity and variety in abundance from an array of titles that will appeal to gamers of all creeds.
However, in the context of demonstrating the worth of a new $500 console, it wasn’t entirely successful. Metro Exodus, Anthem and Forza 7 all looked jaw-dropping, but doesn’t Forza always? Elsewhere, Crackdown 3 and Sea of Thieves both looked like great fun – assuming there’s more to Thieves than chest quests – but, 4K resolution aside, they didn’t display a tangible reason to upgrade. It’s telling that the biggest cheer of the afternoon – by some distance – went to an announcement about backward compatibility, just as it did in 2015.
As we filed out of the Galen Center, the feeling I got from the departing audience was one of cautious optimism. Everyone was positive on the hardware – and the games, too – but there was a clear sense that the Xbox One X was missing a killer app.
Many of the attendees at the event were wearing t-shirts that said “I witnessed the most powerful console ever.” And although the Xbox One X reveal didn’t warrant such a hyperbolic fashion statement, that is what we saw, it is what Microsoft has made, and it is something we should be excited about. Isn’t it?