With the preliminary showdown at E3 between Sony and Microsoft done and dusted, analysts and critics alike have poured in for their verdicts. While Nintendo has shied away from a flashy pre-conference, its Nintendo Direct broadcast from Kyoto still managed to cause some stir with the new Cat Mario. So really, what is happening with the new battle royale among the big three?
Personally, I was less engaged before E3. We were previously introduced to two new consoles and had a fair idea of games we may say showcased. However, what I was more interested in, were the details on business models the big three were going to apply. Honestly, I believe that technology-wise we are at a point that storage space and polygon counts do not matter anymore. All three consoles are now capable of generating great graphics, so what is left for me, personally, is gameplay and business models.
One of the most talked about topics this year is the approach to used games and the collection of gaming data for push advertising. While Nintendo was quite clear with its stand (with the Wii U on the market for 6 months) it was Sony and Microsoft’s turn to make a stand. The end result was that Microsoft has either willingly or unwillingly kowtowed to what general gamers see as the corporate greed of big publishers in the field. Xbox One will now have used-game control mechanisms built in, although whether to use this mechanism is up to the publishers. This move immediately started a bush fire that burnt across the plain. Microsoft’s move to include this functionality is regarded as a move to conspire with publishers to make more money out of gamers, greedily. Since the conference, Microsoft has stood firm on its ground claiming that the idea of “ownership” is morphing and the old disc ownership model of games won’t apply in the future. However, personally, what I think Microsoft did not see, which is something I was passionate about too, was that if I bought something using my hard earned cash, I would see this as my own and I could use it in any way I see fit, including giving it to a friend or reselling it to the store (particularly if I did not like the item). This approach of ownership, no matter how “future proof” Microsoft sees it, is a blatant betrayal against people who have been loyal to their brand. Sony, on the other hand, made a strong stand against this approach and announced that there will be no restriction placed on used-games and you could just give it to anyone or sell it to anyone as you please. This stand against corporate greed was greeted with praise among gamers and was seen as a move that Sony listened to what their loyalists wanted from their company. Sony even poked fun at Microsoft with a video of its own showing how used games can be shared with PS4.
Another feature that Xbox One was criticised about was the always-online requirement of the console. Microsoft once again stands firm on this point saying that internet access is so readily available nowadays that people should not see it as a problem once they have acquired the console. What Microsoft does not see is whether people want to be “conditioned” to provide that data, by checking in once every 24 hours, and also whether it would be practical to do so. This move has once again taken away ownership of the console from the gamer and given it back to Microsoft. Seriously, does Microsoft think that gamers would be happy to fork out $599 to “rent” a console from Microsoft in such manner? The thing is, leaving a console online, all the time, is not a new function. Nintendo would update your Wii console automatically through push technology if you leave the Wii console on standby. However, this is optional, not compulsory. Microsoft might be testing the tolerance of its loyalists by making this a compulsory feature and taking the control out of gamers’ hands. What baffles me even further is that Microsoft noted that if people don’t want that always-online thing, they could stick with the 360.
Sony is not all giving though. The main take-away from gamers with the PS4 is that all gamers will require a Playstation Plus account to play online. Previously, a main selling point for PS3 is that unlike 360, gamers can game online without paying extra. That is one of the main reasons I opted for PS3 over 360. Taking this away has put Sony on par with Microsoft in terms of making something that is central to a co-operative and online gaming experience an additional cost. However, considering the cost of maintaining servers and the additional benefits Playstation Plus account holders have been provided, this additional cost did not receive a major backslash as some might expect.
Nintendo has adopted a quieter approach this year and judging from the Nintendo Direct broadcast for E3 you can understand why. With Wii U in the market for 6 months and struggling to get a foothold (selling around 3.45 million so far and missing the target of 4 million in the first 6 months), there is no way that Nintendo’s event could compete with detailed announcements of the PS4 and Xbox One. As we can see, Nintendo has focused on delivering new content for Wii U to entice gamers back. However, one of the things I did not see in this, around 30 minute, presentation was how Wii U is different from the Wii. Nintendo had previously claimed that the sluggish sales of Wii U was because consumers did not understand that Wii U is a different console. However, in this presentation, apart from Wii U Party, there was no significant push of the Wii U as a different console. The new games that are coming are exciting – a new 3D Mario game (featuring the cat suit that created an explosion of Tweets from gamers and on the Tweeterville), a new Mario Kart game, Pikmin 3, Wind Waker HD, Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze, a new Smash Bros featuring Mega Man, Wonderful 101– are all great news. However they did not explain, nor convinced me why I need a Wii U console in my living room. Without a doubt, what Nintendo showed us was that they are innovative in gameplay, which is why I always appreciate Nintendo when it comes to games (seriously I was not particularly excited about any of the new and exclusive franchises offered by Sony or Microsoft). However, the centre point of how Wii U is different from Wii in my opinion was not directly addressed.
E3 is about fanfares and excitement. Certainly there are things to get people excited. I personally became more interested in PS4, and also some of the games offered by Nintendo. But, was I excited about all the news so far? Not so much. However, there is still time before the landslide of new releases and consoles arrive. So I am sure hoping that things will build up eventually.