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E3 2014: stakes are high for the most crucial show in a decade

Thursday, 5th June 2014 14:36 GMT By Matt Martin

With the world’s entertainment media focused on L.A. next week, Sony and Microsoft have to prove that console video games have a clear, exciting and worthwhile future.

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The build begins and Activision is there first.

This year more than ever Sony and Microsoft need to stand up at E3 and state “this is the future of video game entertainment.” They need to be crystal clear on this now more than any other time in the history of the console games business. They need to point in a direction millions can follow – not just consumers – but the developers, publishers, press and shareholders, a vision everyone can get behind for the continued evolution of the video game industry.

“E3′s days and nights are a bunfight, a backslap, a mudsling – guns fired in the air in celebration of a surgent industry as strong as any other entertainment media.”

E3 has always been crucial. The media briefings are a bombastic showgirl flaunting everything to the press and players. The three days and nights that follow are a bunfight, a backslap, a mudsling – guns fired in the air in celebration of a surgent industry as strong as any other entertainment media. But this year those bullets need to be directed at clear targets, lest so many shots are fired the roof collapses.

The stakes have never been higher. Last year new consoles rolled out and were rightly lauded and lambasted in equal measure. Finally, new hardware after such a long drought! But Microsoft’s Xbox One came hobbled with an arrogant reinvention of the brand; a social connected entertainment box that seemingly placed TV and sports above games. Since then the Redmond giant has u-turned itself dizzy, dropping almost all of its unwanted promises and even some of its intrusive tech. Now it’s just about the games. Quite right.

Sony won last year’s battle but a year later its line-up of blockbusters is equally barren. It’s created good will with indies and good value with PS Plus, but the list of titles from now until the end of the year is as thin as it was at launch. Here, says Sony, have some stuff already released on lesser formats and some free games you’ve already played to keep you happy.

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As always, Microsoft’s media briefing kicks off day one.

There has never been such a risk and such little risk at the same time. The games are what they are – more guns, more cars, more exploration, more role-playing – and the publishers are right to focus mega budgets on them. Because the risk of failure doesn’t just mean your game doesn’t sell. It means the investment money is gone, the 200 people who made the game are sacked, the studio closes down, the local economy suffers. And the little box you play games on has another hole in it.

While budgets are spiralling out of control, other numbers are shrinking. The audience knows what it wants. Look at entertainment on the internet to see what the audience likes and be sure to give it to them. What’s the video game equivalent of a cat running into a glass door, or a bloke in his pants singing Carly Rae Jepsen?

“Far Cry is proven. Assassin’s Creed is proven. That’s why Watch Dogs is both of these things wrapped in a different skin. This is what the kids want. Four million sales in a week proves that.”

“We don’t want that,” you cry. Yes you do. I’ve seen what you share on Facebook and Twitter. It’s hilarious and you shouldn’t be ashamed of it. Pop culture is cool. The lowest common denominator appeals to all and that’s why there are less experimental games and a doubling and tripling-down on what works. Far Cry is proven. Assassin’s Creed is proven. That’s why Watch Dogs is both of these things wrapped in a different skin. This is what the kids want. Four million sales in a week proves that. It’s fact.

Titanfall, Watch Dogs and Wolfenstein (yep, Wolfenstein, it’s not as dumb as you thought) have only shown glimpses of what this new generation of games can deliver. The console industry needs reinventions of its classic franchises alongside new brands. Call of Duty is so tired it’s releasing pirate ghost DLC like an episode of Scooby Doo. Those that haven’t already fled the industry over the past three years must be looking at that with deep alarm. Who’s going to invest time and money in such hokum? We need games like Destiny as soon as possible, with it’s ridiculous $500 million budget and eight year release plan. It cannot afford to fail.

Where’s Nintendo in all of this? Nintendo is out of the limelight. It may be having a gentle resurgence but the Wii U is never going to hit mainstream highs. Nintendo seems happy drifting alongside the console business, non-committal in its future vision and content to serve up those same old characters again and again. It can make a living from that well enough, but it’s all but retiring from this generation of technology. Maybe that will be its wisest decision in the long term.

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Rich white men will try to sell you an expensive box. You should buy one so we can eat.

A lot of the numbers are unsustainable. We understand there are cool indie games out there, experimental projects and fun little games for PSN and XBLA. That’s great, but without the bigger industry booming around them they wouldn’t survive on their own. It’s inspiring that an indie game can start out on mobile and PC before porting to Vita, PS3 and PS4, but without Sony those games don’t get the continued support, the marketing or the sales. Mobile is cool but it’s as brutal – if not more so – as the console business. The top ten on iOS is the same top ten it was last year and the year before. Three talented devs in a garage aren’t breaking into that.

“Sony and Microsoft need to reclaim the spotlight for video games. They aren’t HBO or Sky or ESPN or the BBC and they don’t need to pretend to be.”

Sony and Microsoft won’t make a living selling and supporting indie games. It all adds to the ecosystem and we can all have a little circle-jerk about games being creative and beautiful but the money to support hardware that costs billions of dollars to research, build, manufacture and sell comes from those games that sell 10 million copies at $50 a pop. The games that sell and hold their value over years. Everything else – everything – is peripheral.

The manufacturers have a duty to lead the rest of the console business. It’s their walled gardens we play in. Next week in L.A. Sony and Microsoft need to reclaim the spotlight for video games. Sony and Microsoft aren’t HBO or Sky or ESPN or the BBC and they don’t need to pretend to be. Sony and Microsoft are God of War and Halo and Uncharted and Forza. Activision is Call of Duty and EA is FIFA and Ubisoft is Assassin’s Creed.

They are massive, multi-million dollar entertainment brands, and more importantly, bloody great games.

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24 Comments

  1. Rockstar Vienna

    Well, Microsoft will do better than last year of course. Less Kinect and TV Features at Microsoft’s conference and less indie presentations at Sony’s conference. That’s it. Can’t wait for monday. :)

    #1 7 months ago
  2. Erthazus

    “Titanfall, Watch Dogs and Wolfenstein (yep, Wolfenstein, it’s not as dumb as you thought) have only shown glimpses of what this new generation of games can deliver. ”

    Wait.. WHAT?

    Next gen games? One is arguably have the worst AI, second is an ok game with failed vision and crappy open world compared to last gen Hits and last gen visuals and the next is a mediocre shooter with last gen engine (id tech 5) that barely works with it’s original Megatexture idea where it loses even the old Unreal engine 3 and I’m not talking about Cryengine and other engines.

    #2 7 months ago
  3. KAP

    @1

    So less indies equals a better show? Really?! Your logic escapes me but anyway.

    I dunno I feel a little underwhelmed as most of first party games seem to be a no show this year. But with that said I hope to see some great indies and hopefully a few surprises.

    #3 7 months ago
  4. RefuseBunny

    “… we can all have a little circle-jerk about games being creative and beautiful …”

    This made me laugh. Great write-up.

    #4 7 months ago
  5. The_Red

    @Erthazus
    Because having a last gen engine and bad textures means a game is bad. Solid shooting mechanics, fun set-pieces and awesome story don’t count no, it’s all about NEXT GEN ENGINE (Though even next-gen suckzzz since it can’t play 4k at 120fps!).

    Joking aside, I actually agree with you though MAINLY about the gameplay.
    - Wolfenstein is a 360 game uprezzed for PS4 and XB1 (A great one but still).
    - Watch_Dogs has some nice ideas but as a whole, it feels more like a modern day Assassin’s Creed rather than a truely new and fresh new IP.
    - Titanfall is the best of the bunch but my god, is it bare bones. Charging more than 30 bucks for this should have been unacceptable.

    As it stands right now, I’d argue that Infamous is the closest thing we have to a next-gen CONSOLE game and even that is mostly repetitive and limited (Though still fun and at times gorgeous). Killer Instinct is also kinda promising. I really REALLY enjoy the ultra fast and super crazy (particle fueled) battles.
    (Too bad they had to ruin it with a f2p model rather than releasing a full priced game with story mode, more fighters and proper content).

    #5 7 months ago
  6. Rockstar Vienna

    @KAP

    You totally misunderstood my sentence! Half of Sony’s conference last year was about indie projects. And i just didn’t enjoy that! Simple as that. Never said that less indies automatically equals a better show. Of course not! Indies are still important but both, Sony and MS need big exclusive titles this year. The hardware was revealed last year. The games this year are more important than ever imo.

    #6 7 months ago
  7. Joe Musashi

    “..This is what the kids want. Four million sales in a week proves that.”

    What? Using sales as an indicator of consumer interest and demand? What madness is this?! It’s clear they want kitten-flavoured donuts and unicorn-horn powered jeeps. You’re naive and short-sighted to just look at real world data. You should see the bigger picture. The future is all about niche products and Steam boxes. The future hasn’t happened yet, but that doesn’t mean to say it won’t. And you can’t lazily refer to years of the status quo. I have decreed that the tansition to unicorn jeeps and kitten-flavoured donuts is the niche my favoured brands have the godly insight to move into. That is why there is change for tomorrow and today’s way is on its last gasp. I have proved this already, many times.

    Or some such tosh.

    JM

    #7 7 months ago
  8. Legendaryboss

    The amount of opinion pieces is becoming far too frequent. This is the order in which who will need to prove themselves. Nintendo > Microsoft > Sony. The internet warriors can argue amongst themselves on who needs to prove themselves, but the buying trends worldwide far outrank meaningless babble.

    #8 7 months ago
  9. Legendaryboss

    Re: opinion pieces scale it back. @7 Walk in, Walk out.

    #9 7 months ago
  10. Dragon

    “E3 2014: stakes are high for the most crucial show in a decade”
    No. Its just another E3. Nothing bad about that though.

    “the money to support hardware that costs billions of dollars to research”
    Uh, no. R&D is in low millions now, “billions” is the past thing. All companies are more sensible now.

    “Everything else – everything – is peripheral.”
    Again, no. Fits the narrative of the article, but tis’ false. Consoles are multimedia machines, and AAA games are one part of it.

    ” The top ten on iOS is the same top ten it was last year and the year before.”
    Uh, didn’t know that. I would appreciate if someone can provide a link for that.

    Maybe I am just being cranky, but I don’t like twisting things just to fit a narrative or headline.

    #10 7 months ago
  11. Joe Musashi

    @9 I’ve made my point. All done. :)

    JM

    #11 7 months ago
  12. yeoung

    I can say with a comfortable level of certainty that E3 2015, if indeed it happens, will feature VR games and as such will mark the beginning of next-gen gaming. Not next-gen consoles, but next-gen gaming.

    2014 is a seed-to-sapling year, truly exciting things lie a yet bit further ahead. That said, there’s no reason not to be excited for this year’s E3 line-up, I just feel it isn’t going to grab me by the short ‘n curleys as much as VR is going to. It’s still safe to say that E3 is a good time for gamers everywhere though.

    #12 7 months ago
  13. KAP

    @6

    Sorry my bad then.

    #13 7 months ago
  14. ManuOtaku

    I do believe for the numbers sold by watch dogs, we need to consider it was released on five consoles, not three, therefore a conclusion cannot be draw that easily.

    Dont get me wrong iam happy for being a new ip doing well, but to compare It with other new ips that were released only in 3 Platforms, in a then current gen situation, is not a fair thing , and neither a right meassure and/ or indication, both situations are very different, for various factors. Numbers do not show alone the whole picture, evidence needs the right procedures in how you handle the data, in order to diminsh external factors which might incide in the conclusion, and making it not accurate.

    Having Said that i believe it will be a good e3 for all the big three, especially in the surprises category.

    #14 7 months ago
  15. Rockstar Vienna

    @KAP

    No big deal!

    #15 7 months ago
  16. polygem

    @Joe Musashi

    “What? Using sales as an indicator of consumer interest and demand? What madness is this?”

    aha, so my steam argument DID prove something. i knew it.

    noone denies that sales are an indication for consumer interest and demand. of course they are but they are not the only indication to look at if you want to paint a picture of future markets. you have to very closely look at trends. just focussing on sales numbers would imply that everything would stay the same. that´s naive joe. very naive. the problem with time is – it never stops. what is selling today might not sell tomorrow. we´ve seen it happening, ask nintendo, ask atari, ask the sony walkman.

    overall, cool story joe. twisting. missing the point. baiting. being passive aggressive. i am having a million dejavues right now.

    #16 7 months ago
  17. yeoung

    @Joe Musashi

    To be fair, sales data is a pretty good indicator of demand. Whether that be the demand for an actual AAA game on next-gen systems or demand for Watch Dogs specifically might be best left to the discretion of each respective wallets.

    That said, might I inquire as to who you are referencing/quoting? Not trying to start something but I could appreciate a good satirical face-rubbing more with some context.

    #17 7 months ago
  18. yeoung

    @yeoung

    Cough, I think I have my answer. Fair enough.

    #18 7 months ago
  19. Joe Musashi

    @17 Sir, your comic timing is impeccable.

    JM

    #19 7 months ago
  20. bradk825

    @7 Well done, lol.

    #20 7 months ago
  21. JB

    Oculus-Facebook and The Cloud will dominate this year.

    #21 7 months ago
  22. Ifrinne

    The best Nex-Gen game that has been released so far is Infamous: Second Son. I can’t wait for Sucker Punch to announce the DLC for it at E3. — On a side note, Kingdom Hearts 3 FTW !!!

    #22 7 months ago
  23. redwood

    lol @ “rich white men” ,

    #23 7 months ago
  24. LikkiCurry

    @redwood Lol at a dumb bigot.

    #24 7 months ago

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