E3 2014: It’s time for the true next-gen to shine

Wednesday, 7 May 2014 10:20 GMT By Matt Martin

As format holders and publishers ready their E3 announcements, Matt Martin says its time to buy into the next generation dream.

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“When the dust has settled I think it will be clear that Microsoft is moving on from the Xbox 360, despite a few respectful quotes from execs.”

Last year might have been the official big reveals of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but in 2014 E3 will be the year we buy into the next-generation console dream.

This week has seen a flurry of activity and pre-announcements, 40 days before Microsoft’s media briefing where it once again bathes the Galen Center in sickly green and rolls out the big guns, to be followed by Ubisoft, Electronic Arts and Sony capping the day off. Expectations are already high, with all these publishers and more drip-feeding fans, the press and investors a few healthy spoons of information on new releases, brand new IP and the return of old favourites.

EA said last night in a call to investors it will show a new game built on DICE’s Frostbite engine, created for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. It’s a big deal to leave current gen out of it, but EA will continue to support those formats with its yearly annual sports iterations for some time to come – there’s still a healthy audience on both Xbox 360 and PS3 after all.

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But when it comes to a new product (whether based on existing IP or brand spanking new) next gen is clearly where EA is putting its console efforts. And if it’s on PS4 and Xbox One it’s going to be a hardcore game. I’d put money on it being the rumoured Battlefield spin-off from Visceral (possibly with whatever’s left of the Criterion team), codenamed Havana. Whether it has the Battlefield name attached by the time it’s revealed we don’t know, but the police theme could offer a take on the first-person shooter similar to the awesome Payday games.

There’s another unannounced game coming from EA at E3 with the smart money on a Mirror’s Edge reboot. For me that’s still a completely unproven game, despite the fan love and cult status it holds. Personally I wouldn’t be upset if it never materialised and I don’t see a genuine financial reason to do it either – much like Ubisoft’s Beyond Good & Evil 2. Still, I just write about the games, I don’t make ’em.

“I would be surprised if we saw an outright sequel shown or even teased at E3. If there’s one game that’s already delivering on the next-gen dream, it’s Titanfall.”

As well as a proper blow out for the new Star Wars: Battlefront game, EA confirmed last night that it is working on new Titanfall “experiences” although I would be surprised if we saw an outright sequel shown or even teased at E3. It feels a little early and EA can still get plenty of life out of the current game if it shows off new DLC, expansions or content for the existing game. Titanfall was only released in March, remember. If there’s one game that’s already delivering on the next-gen gaming dream, it’s Titanfall.

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One game we won’t see at E3 this year is the next title in the Need For Speed franchise. Ghost Games has been given breathing space to skip a yearly update and go big in 2015 with its next racer – so again, I would expect that to be Xbox One and PS4 only, and possibly the first of EA’s annual franchises to drop current formats. As I said earlier, FIFA, Madden, The Sims and NBA Live are all likely to hang out with Xbox 360 and PS3 until their very last breath.

Over at Activision, the publisher confirmed that it’s going hard on its three pillars at E3 – Call of Duty, Skylanders and Destiny. There’s no surprise there, but expect solid details of the Destiny beta a month ahead of its release – it may not be garnering a lot of love from games journalists at this point, but beta releases bypass the professional critics and go straight to the fans, so Activision won’t be sweating over lukewarm press previews. Again, it hits PS4 first, so we can expect it to take centre stage at Sony’s media briefing as well as EA’s.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is already emphasising its next-generation credentials. Like EA’s annual releases, the next two, maybe three, Call of Duty games will be released on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but they are only ever going to be second best for the series from here on in. It’s all about the PS4 and Xbox One now – and quite rightly too – Sledgehammer has been beavering away at Advanced Warfare for three years and I believe it’s a labour of love for the team. Studio heads Michael Condry and Glen Schofield are two of the most genuine, enthusiastic developers I’ve personally met in a long time and it will show in their final game.

“Need for Speed could be the first of EA’s annual franchises to drop current formats.”

Skylanders is going to be the harder game for Activision to transition to the new consoles, even though Swap Force already put in an appearance on next-gen last year and Trap Team will follow it. When you’ve sold 175 million toys across multiple formats you need to be patient with your audience and their investment. It’s not just about shifting a game to a different format, but moving a beloved collection of toys too, so you have to be careful not to ostracise a group of collectors regardless of their previous format choices.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if Hearthstone made its way to consoles as a digital release, despite what Blizzard may have said in the past. It would be a big coup for one format holder if it can strike an exclusivity deal, or a just a great deal for fans if it ended up on both Xbox One and PS4.

“Deep Silver really wants to be seen now as one of the big core games publishers, and a new Saint’s Row and/or Dead Island for the home consoles makes financial and fan sense.”

It’s not just EA and Activision that are making the big shift to new hardware. Deep Silver revealed last night that it too was prepping two new games for E3 2014. While this is speculation on our part, based on the big bets (and by “bets” I mean “spending”) the publisher has made recently with the Saint’s Row purchase and marketing spend on Dead Island, I would expect it to go big on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Deep Silver really wants to be seen now as one of the big core games publishers, and a new Saint’s Row and/or Dead Island for the home consoles makes financial and fan sense.

That’s only three publishers so far, and the two format holders themselves are obviously going to go nuclear on their respective systems.

Microsoft has subtitled its media conference “Xbox: Game On” which may be as unsubtle as they come, but tells me it’s not going to repeat the mistake of last year and focus on TV game shows and multimedia functionality. What we should expect is a relentless barrage of games – new IP and old favourites. It’s a no-brainer to expect Halo 5 and more, but when the dust has settled I think it will be clear that Microsoft is moving on from the Xbox 360, despite a few respectful quotes from execs and smaller game reveals. Yes, the system has shifted 80 million-plus units, but Microsoft really needs to boot the Xbox One to the forefront and gain on the lead the PlayStation 4 already has.

It’s early days in the console war and there’s plenty of time to catch up with Sony. Microsoft can do this by selling the Xbox One gaming dream to the hardcore, not the all-in-one entertainment features to your dad (in many ways it’s got that message out of the way early, despite the criticism for doing so). Now next-gen games have had longer to percolate in development, it can do a lot more than blind the fans with slick trailers, teasers and the comfort of well-known logos. Now it can show the real next-gen games and it may even drop the price of the Xbox One to put it on a level playing field with its rival.

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“Sony has more reason to keep the PlayStation 3 alive. The PS3 and the Vita are great companion systems with cross-buy. It’s not only a good deal for fans, but for developers too, who get to hit two systems in their prime.”

Sony on the other hand has more reason to keep the PlayStation 3 alive. The PS3 and the Vita are great companion systems with the digital cross-buy initiative. It’s not only a good deal for fans, but for developers too, who get to hit two systems in their prime.

That’s not to say Sony won’t take big swings of the PS4 bat at E3 this year – it’s got plenty to shout about. But it can afford to be a little more subtle with its approach and paint the PlayStation ecosystem (urgh!) as a three console family, each with their own virtues. I wouldn’t expect a price cut from Sony on the PS4 (maybe the PS3 and Vita), but I would expect a stack of good value hardware and game bundles. I also think Project Morpheus will be good to wow the audience with demos and highlight a future vision, but it’s still too early to see it as anything other than impressive technology.

Despite launching last year, the next-generation of home video games hasn’t arrived in full force. It’s a healthy trickle at the moment, and this Christmas will see the release of more games to support the potential of Xbox One and PlayStation 4. What the fans (and the industry) needs is for E3 2014 to be a bigger show that last year – the consoles and technology are established, we already understand the services – now it’s time to really see the potential of the games. Because games will sell the dream.

The VG247 team will be bringing you more insight, preview and opinion on E3 2014 over the coming weeks, as well as extensive coverage during and after the event.

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