Humbled and honest, Microsoft finally admits it’s all about the games

Tuesday, 10 June 2014 09:00 GMT By Matt Martin

Microsoft put video games first during its E3 media briefing this year, a welcome message from a company no-longer obsessed with self-congratulatory bullshit.

Phil Spencer _E3 2014 Briefing_Photo

“Microsoft was giving you all its reasons for buying an Xbox One without any of the peripheral bullshit.”

Microsoft’s media briefing on the first day of E3 2014 delivered what everyone had been asking for this past year. Talk about the games, they said. So Microsoft did. The games looked good, a handful looked great and fair few fell flat, but regardless, Microsoft has listened to the criticism and shifted focus away from the business – the soulless corporation honking its own horn

Xbox boss Phil Spencer got straight to the point. For Microsoft to acknowledge “friends at Sony and Nintendo” was a great leap and acknowledgment that the Xbox One is not in it alone. We need more than one console on the market, we need competition, we need multiple publishers and we need to rally around one another in tough times. Nothing is a given. Nothing is a sure shot hit. The video game eco system needs to move and writhe and pump and live. This was Microsoft not speaking for itself but speaking for the games industry as a whole.

And it was also about the fans. The first three presenters thanked the fans for their feedback specifically, and it genuinely didn’t feel like those thanks were through gritted teeth. Console manufacturers have lost there way over the years, obsessing about movies and TV and sports and apps and nonsense. We hear you, said Spencer. Here are the games you’ve been asking for.

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The first 45 minutes of the briefing were dedicated purely to games that are out in 2014. Microsoft has heard the worries and concerns from players who bought these consoles 6 months ago and don‘t feel that their early investment has really been justified.

It’s solid line-up from now until the end of the year, with Forza Horizon, Sunset Overdrive, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Evolve, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Dragon Age Inquisition, Fable Legends and the ridiculously generous Halo Master Chief Collection.

“Microsoft has heard the concerns from players who bought these consoles 6 months ago and don‘t feel that their early investment has been justified.”

That’s a list of heavy hitters. And while Microsoft wasn’t boasting about it, it’s worth noting that with the third-party games Xbox One is getting a lot of DLC, extra content and the odd beta first. This was presented as fact, not as a self-congratulatory high-five. Times have changed.

When the focus is purely on games we have to understand that we can’t have 90 minutes of surprises and new IP. You can’t have bombs dropped across the whole presentation. So there was some content that made the eyes roll and some that shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

No-one asked for Conker to turn up on Project Spark, a vanity project that never really should have gotten the green light. Fable Legends has a nice hook with players taking on the role of a villain but it feels like Lionhead’s last roll of the dice on that franchise. And you’ve got to feel for the guys at Harmonix, still chugging away at games for Kinect when Microsoft didn’t even (quite rightly) mention its name once.

The reality is Microsoft doesn’t really have a console system with a unique selling point anymore. Its USP has to be its games. Only time will tell if that’s going to damage the Xbox One. But for the time being there are games to last out the year, and they look good enough to keep us all going until Christmas

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So it was the second half of the presentation where we got an encouraging glimpse of where Xbox One is going in 2015 and beyond.

Playdead’s Inside, more ID@Xbox side-scrolling cuties, big hitters like Square Enix’s Rise of the Tomb Raider, The Witcher 3, Ken Lobb’s pointless remake of Phantom Dust (what, why?) Ubisoft’s The Division and Scalebound, the exclusive project from Hideki Kamiya. Again, no real nukes to blow up the Galen Center or E3 this year, but solid titles that are made for the games players, not the mainstream entertainment crowd.

“Third-party games are getting a lot of DLC and extra content first. This was presented as fact, not as a self-congratulatory high-five. Times have changed.”

The only real surprise then was Crackdown, and the fact original creator Dave Jones is back on board. Maybe it’s just the fact Jones is involved that’s the real surprise, but regardless, the trailer looked awesome and there’s enough goodwill about that open-world franchise that at this stage it was a welcome addition to the Xbox One portfolio.

This is what we asked for. Microsoft was giving you all its reasons for buying an Xbox One without any of the peripheral bullshit. “Games, games, games” shouldn’t have been a message that was ever lost in the first place but the stubborn-headed Microsoft of old has seemingly calmed down. Nothing is Better With Kinect. TV and sports aren’t on the same level of interactive entertainment. Novelty isn’t front and centre – the developers and their video games are. The fans are being listened to and catered for.

It turns out that the future of video games is video games. Microsoft has come full-circle. Let’s hope it’s a vision it sticks with and a realisation the rest of the video game business can get behind.

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