We think of E3 as being the place where new consoles are announced, and some associate last year’s E3 with the most recent console releases, even though both the PS4 and the Xbox One had their initial announcements at specially held launch events. Yet the decision not to announce at E3 had the benefit of allowing the presentations at E3 to be more streamlined, having got the issue of announcing the consoles out of the way.
Sony may have formally announced the PS4 first, a notable period of time before E3, but they managed to set the scene for what they were aiming to achieve with the system whilst also keeping enough under wraps for E3, and importantly making sure not to dig themselves into any holes.
Microsoft on the other hand potentially revealed too much, opening up a Pandora’s Box which incurred the wrath of gamers, including those who had previously been ardent and loyal supporters of Microsoft’s gaming endeavours. Microsoft had a grand vision for the Xbox One, but like Sony back in 2008, they had become blinded by arrogance due to the success of the 360. Therefore instead of explaining why all of the new features were beneficial and how the positives would outweigh the negatives, Microsoft came across as telling people they will like the changes and that this was the future anyway.
With Microsoft’s dramatic announcement, even though prior to the event respected industry magazine Edge had revealed that the console would require an always on connection, many were now looking to Sony to confirm or deny whether they would be doing the same or not and thus helping to dictate the future path that the next generation would follow. Even with everyone looking towards Sony they continued their silence leaving people to wait until E3 for everything to be revealed.
For Microsoft meanwhile many assumed that E3 would provide them with an opportunity to do some damage control and begin reversing the negative sentiments that came out of the Xbox One reveal, as well as curtailing the systems heavy focus on TV (and more TV) and sport and instead focus on the games, which had largely been absent. Microsoft’s presence at E3 did correct this aspect that people had complained about, as they did indeed bring the games, more so than even Sony did when it came to exclusives and even first party titles. But the issue surrounding Indie games place on the system was still uncertain, unlike Sony who even before E3 had expressed their commitment to this ever-growing section of the industry.
Unfortunately this was the only area where Microsoft managed to please people. As for an event which many people assumed would be damage control, Microsoft managed to make the situation even worse. This did not solely come out of the presentation though, but the announcement of the cost, which was dangerously close to Sony’s infamous 599 US$ reveal, and the confusing details regarding what people could or could not do with their purchased games did not help. It was the demeanour of the higher-ups in Microsoft’s gaming division, most notably the (now ex) head of Interactive Entertainment Don Mattrick managed to further tarnish the image of the Xbox One before the console had even been released and with it Microsoft’s credibility in the industry with consumers. This was particularly notable with Mattrick’s response regarding what those without an always on internet connection can do, which was essentially that they use an Xbox 360. In other words if you do not have a stable internet connection then as far as Microsoft is concerned, you are not ready for the next generation.
Sony’s E3 presentation on the other hand was very much a continuation of what had been announced at the PS4 reveal. With the presentation providing the first reveal of what the console would actually look like as well demonstrating its strong commitment to indie developers who received substantial exposure, both at the presentation and on the show floor. But it was the metaphorical bombshells that Sony dropped that signalled the change in the distribution of power in the console world. The first being Sony’s response to Microsoft’s confusing policy regarding used games, which was that the status quo from the PS3 regarding used games was to remain the same (although online passes were subsequently dropped by major publishers improving upon the status quo). In addition, supplementing the announcement, Sony released a playful video on YouTube demonstrating how easily preowned games could be used on a PS4.
This announcement generated a lot of good sentiment from all of those watching, especially those in the audience. For Microsoft’s stance regarding preowned games had generated a lot of discontent due to the confusion around what could and could not be done with the physical software that they had purchased. Sony was seemingly giving power back to consumers, even though they were not doing anything different to what they had been previously, the only difference was that Microsoft had failed to espouse the benefits of their always available game collection.
The real “drop the mic” moment came when Sony announced the price for the PS4. This was not going to be a repeat of 2008; instead they managed to come $100 below the price point for the Xbox One only hours after Microsoft announced the price. Of course Sony’s price was determined irrespective of what Microsoft was planning, as the amount was based on the components used and how long it would take to reach profitability on each console sold. The main difference between the two of course was that one included a $100 periphery and the other did not. This was a considerable factor in Microsoft recently announcing the decoupling of its previously highly touted Kinect. The price point was the final part of the puzzle which helped to cement in the minds of many that Sony had “won”, and by the end of Sony’s presentation people in the audience were chanting ‘Sony’; it is hard to get much better publicity than that.
After E3 had wrapped up a wounded Microsoft emerged, one that had finally woken up and realised the damage it had inflicted upon itself. This was not strictly because of the range of policies that they had planned for the Xbox One, but rather the shockingly poor explanation and a disastrous PR campaign. So lacking was the explanation of how preowned games could be used that Microsoft released a full page guide on its Xbox website trying to explain how it worked, yet this resulted in further confusion. This combined with the ever-increasing outrage regarding the systems always online requirement ultimately led to Microsoft backtracking on many of its online features and the requirement of the Kinect, which was quickly satirised with the term Xbox 180.
The important aspect to take out of last year’s E3 was not what was announced but what was not announced. Both consoles had their big reveal prior to the exhibition, many important announcements (mostly from Microsoft) came after, and then there was Nintendo who chose to keep things low key whilst the other two console manufactures battled it out. Already this has had an effect on this year’s E3 with many notable announcements having already been made, such as Microsoft’s decoupling of Kinect, updated Xbox Live, and Halo 5: Guardians. Just in the last week Homefront: The Revolution and Mortal Kombat X were announced even though E3 is right around the corner. This is not to say that E3 does not matter, quite the opposite, rather its importance has continued to grow whilst its size has reached its limit, and as a result companies are having to announce things prior so that they have more time to highlight aspects of the games other than that the game exists.