At its press conference last night, Sony casually sauntered on stage, slipped its hands nonchalantly into its pockets, offered up an expressive French shrug, and won E3 2014. Microsoft and its legion of fans could do nothing but look on with envy as Sony unveiled hit after hit for the PS4. For all of Microsoft’s talk about games, the only platform exclusive that might be a critical success — Halo 5 — was reduced to a 60-second-long pre-rendered clip. The Division looked fantastic, but it’s a cross-platform game. There were some smaller, art game-like titles that looked good — but nothing that Microsoft felt warranted more than a scant few seconds of gameplay footage. Sony, on the other hand, essentially showed off everything a gamer could want at E3: A new white PS4 (to celebrate the release of Destiny); a release date for PS Now and the PlayStation TV streaming box; more details about the Morpheus VR headset; the beautiful art game No Man’s Sky; and actual in-game/in-engine footage from two massive exclusives (LittleBigPlanet 3, Uncharted 4) and many more smaller titles (No Man’s Sky, a remake of Grim Fandango).
It’s not unusual for one of the console companies to come out ahead at E3 — but this isn’t just Sony winning by a nose; it’s a landslide, and such huge disparities are rare at E3. How did Microsoft get it so wrong?
Games, games, games!
“Today we are dedicating our entire briefing to games,” began the head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, to huge cheers from the E3 2014 audience. But, if you put all of your eggs in one basket, you better be damn sure that you have a very strong basket — and Forza at 1080p and a pre-rendered clip of Halo 5 do not a strong basket make.
The question is, why did Microsoft decide to make games the focus of its E3 presentation, even when it knew it had nothing big to show off? Bear in mind that Microsoft almost certainly knew about all of the games that Sony intended to display, and so it knew full well that it was going to be eviscerated by core gamers for a weak showing.
But… what else could Microsoft do? Following its backtracking of every single policy and feature that made the Xbox One unique, all that’s left is games. After de-bundling Kinect, Microsoft couldn’t then take to the stage at E3 and show off some amazing Kinect-based game. Likewise, in the words of our associate editor James Plafke, Microsoft couldn’t really show off another peripheral such as IllumiRoom after the Kinect debacle.
Microsoft could’ve showed off a new console, though — if it rushed a cheap, slim version of the Xbox One, that would’ve given gamers something to talk about. Or it could’ve announced some exciting updates to the Xbox One dashboard. Or it could’ve re-introduced digital game sharing, or something else equally crazy.
Presumably, Microsoft figured if it focused on just one thing — games — it actually stood a chance at beating Sony at something. Now that Sony has shown its gaming hand, we know that isn’t the case. In short, games were the crux of Microsoft’s E3 presentation, and thus games were the crux of its failure.
While Microsoft’s E3 presentation was full of obsequiousness — “you are shaping the future of Xbox, and we are better for it,” said Xbox’s Phil Spencer — Sony oozed confidence; the kind of confidence that comes from knowing that you almost have the eighth generation of the console war sewn up. Sony already had the lead in sales and consumer confidence, but it needed this E3 to show gamers that it can capitalize the advantage — by golly, that’s exactly what Sony did.
Not only did Sony beat Microsoft in the primary arena of games, but it also won the secondary conflicts by default because it didn’t focus solely on games. PlayStation TV (previously Vita TV), PS Now, and the white PS4 are all very cool additions that will only increase Sony’s sales lead. Perhaps this is Microsoft’s biggest problem coming out of E3 2014: The only real thing that will drive more Xbox sales is Halo 5, while Sony announced at least three or four games that are have the potential to become Game Of The Year. There’s a possibility that Sunset Overdrive — the only original IP announced by Microsoft — will become a runaway hit, but I still think Sony is in the lead by some margin.
Next page: So, what can Microsoft do?
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