Analysis: Microsoft manages to pad it out for another year

Tuesday, 5 June 2012 08:54 GMT By Patrick Garratt

Microsoft’s E3 conference was a success in that it managed to keep 360 moving for yet another year, but with Kinect quietly moved aside and the AAA blending into one, the next gen has to be something special, says Patrick Garratt.

It was solid. There were no surprises. It was better without Kinect. Microsoft at E3 2012 was about setting the co-ordinates with enough precision to make the jump to light-speed. The real action comes next year, and it had better be good: we can’t keep up with this for much longer.

It was strong enough, and given just how old Xbox 360 is, it’s was all you can hope for. Microsoft’s E3 conference this year was a functional affair specifically designed to keep this generation alive until 2013’s new console reveal, and it did enough to make the entire strategy seem plausible.

It says a lot about the current state of this generation that a new Gears of War game can be announced, trailered and vanish in the space of a few minutes with little fanfare. Microsoft at E3 2012 was all about treading water.

That’s not to say there was no merit. Microsoft is an old hand at managing third-party exclusives while mixing in a slim but solid triple-A portfolio, and this year proved just how valuable the strategy can be. Halo 4, Gears of War: Judgment and Forza Horizon all looked dependable as the first-party offering for the year, and Black Ops II, Splinter Cell and Tomb Raider – and their exclusive pieces of DLC – are all guaranteed FY2012 smashes.

No matter how well they’re going to sell, though, it’s all starting to blur. Halo and Black Ops are floating sci-fi guns. Splinter Cell and Tomb Raider are hyper-violent cover shooters. There was little to buoy anyone looking for a shift in platform holder publishing from Microsoft, but 2012 isn’t about moving off the beaten track: it’s about doggedly following the compass until we reach the next gen waypoint of E3 2013.

There were hints of the future, though. Kinect, as is now obvious, has been dropped like a hot rock. Dance Central 3 was the only Kinect-specific game in the entire conference. The only other Kinect features on show were voice-related, in games such as Madden and Splinter Cell. There’s no accident here; Kinect hasn’t worked in the way Microsoft hoped it would. There are too many problems with a device that requires oodles of room and perfect lighting, and it should be no shock that game-makers should only allow voice-recognition into their software in terms of Kinect. You can’t gamble on whether or not a motion feature’s going to work when you have a $20 million budget.

Another pointer at what’s to come was shown in SmartGlass and the inclusion of Internet Explorer in 360 this year. The SmartGlass demo was excellent, showing how companies like Microsoft are now keenly aware that the savvy consumer is looking for a connected living room eco-system, and that openness is key to any successful method. SmartGlass will support iOS, Windows Phone and Android, meaning you’ll be able to hook everything to your 360 no matter what you own. This will be a standard moving forward, and you should expect next gen consoles to support iPad and the like straight out of the box.

The weight of services to software was really nothing unusual, as you’ll know if you’ve watched Microsoft at E3 in recent years, and it was nice to see Xbox Music finally announced. As ever with these initiatives, though, the proof will be in the eating. It may be the music service of “dreams,” as the effervescent presenter had it last night, but Sony’s VidZone sounded amazing until you sat in front of your TV watching nothing load. We’ll see.

It was solid. There were no surprises. It was better without Kinect. Microsoft at E3 2012 was about setting the co-ordinates with enough precision to make the jump to light-speed. The real action comes next year, and it had better be good: we can’t keep up with this for much longer. For 2012, you’re stuck with first-person shooting, cover shooter and dancing like Usher. You’ll just have to be patient.

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