Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo’s Report Cards for E3 2013

I’ve mentioned before that E3 is an archaic institution the video game industry continues to put too much stock in, and still stick to that.

However, this year it seems that every major developer and publisher was determined to re-kindle that old spark the event used to have, and across the board triumphantly accomplished just that with an E3 filled with the usual great game announcements, but bolstered by one time only events like Microsoft’s follow up to the “Xbox One” debacle, Nintendo’s rebellious direct service announcements, and of course the true reveal of the PS4.

Ultimately, like so many E3s, it would be the announcements of the “Big 3” that stole the show, and are still on the lips of gamers worldwide. Now that the presentations are done though, how did the world’s largest game companies fare at the most publicized video game event in the world? Well, let’s start with…

 

Microsoft

Microsoft had a lot of explaining to do after a reveal of the Xbox One that emphasized multimedia capabilities over gaming, as well as invoked the dreaded ideas of used game restrictions, and mandatory internet connectivity, that generally left a lot of people feeling pretty irate, and unsure of the future of the system.

While there were many ways to go about this, they made the somewhat interesting decision to go out on stage, drop a turd, hang a $499 price tag on it, and exit stage left.

It’s not that the presentation wasn’t better than the reveal, it certainly was, but even though they did things like focus on major gaming announcements over any media aspects, it seemed even the best announcements came with a catch. A good example is the return of “Killer Instinct,” in the form of a free title. While it should have been an untainted glorious moment of shock and hype, even that was watered down by the reveal that you can only play as one character on the outset, unless you paid into the game’s freemium model. As for major reveals and unique announcements, they were few and far between, and did little to excite.

More than any individual announcements though, it was the greater ideas that hindered Microsoft and the Xbox One. Try as they might they couldn’t escape the stench of bullshit that lingered well after every mention of used games restrictions, online connectivity, and even ideas which challenge the very notion of game ownership itself. As a result, there was a certain tension surrounding the proceedings that prevented even the most exciting announcements from drawing more than the odd applause here and there. It was uncomfortable to watch at its best, and embarrassing at its worst.

Yet I can’t give Microsoft failing marks. Like it or not, they have created a system that addresses issues in the industry from a business perspective, and even though they are horrible, dreadful, just plain awful ideas for consumers, they are at least original approaches to creating a system. But despite the fact no one can accuse Microsoft of playing it safe, there’s also no conceiving the argument that says they played it smart, or even intelligible.

Grade: C-

 

Nintendo

Nintendo chose to forego the traditional E3 announcements, and instead made their presentation via their new Nintendo Direct service. The results were interesting, as what was sacrificed in the energy and emotion present at a live event, was replaced with a confident, error free presentation that you can only achieve through that format.

It was the opposite of Microsoft then, as Nintendo gave a smart and safe demonstration of their future.

This would hurt them when it came to the content of the presentation itself though, as so much of what was presented just built off of that stellar Nintendo Direct announcement made not long ago. While games like the new “Super Smash Bros,” that incredible looking “Wind Waker” HD re-make, a new “Mario Kart,” and “Super Mario 3D Land” all draw the required “ooohs and aahhs,” there was no sense of urgency from Nintendo when it came to convincing the doubters of the long term capabilities of the Wii U and 3DS.

In a way though, that’s okay. Nintendo has existed like this for as long as anyone can remember, and any major shifts in that dynamic would shake up the core fanbase that makes them the unique, and profitable, company they are. At the same time though, considering they aren’t working with the runaway hardware successes that were the Wii and Nintendo DS, this approach doesn’t have the same weight it once carried.

Still, this was Nintendo being Nintendo another year. At this point you’re either on board with this method, or against it. Ultimately they did nothing to change the mentality of either party for good or bad.

Grade: B

 

Sony

It’s not often that a president of a major gaming corporation can literally drop the mic after an interview and not be accused of hubris. However, when Sony president Jack Tretton did just that recently, it felt instead like an almost necessary exclamation point to their presentation.

Microsoft may have lacked confidence, and Nintendo may have been missing energy, but Sony thrived off of a surplus of both those aspects with a conference as well executed as any the event has ever seen. In so many ways it was the opposite of that pathetic 2006 conference that ushered in the age of the PS3, and was filled to the brim with an enticing combination of both major reveals, and necessary, but properly handled, announcements, such as the PS4’s stance on used games (play all you want), required connectivity (doesn’t exist), and game ownership (if you bought it, it’s yours to do what you want with).

In case it wasn’t obvious beforehand, Sony was aiming right for the heart of Microsoft and attacking all of their failures with an almost bully like glee. What could have been a cheap tactic instead proved to be the driving force behind one of the event’s best showings ever. The trailers of games like “Kingdom Hearts III” and “Final Fantasy XV” along with the demonstrations of “Destiny” and “Watch Dogs” may draw all of the YouTube views, but it was the announcement regarding the used game policy that drew the biggest applause.

It’s a little bizarre that the reveal you would be able to continue do something you’ve always been able to in gaming would inspire a better ovation than any other single reveal at E3, but such is the world the Xbox One has created, and the one Sony chose to take advantage of. Yet even if that wasn’t the case, their presentation would have still been best of show for sheer entertainment value alone, and quality of titles. Combine all of that with the game changing $399 price point of the PS4, and there’s not enough mics in the world Sony could drop to signify their victory.

Grade: A

 

Final Thoughts:

Most of the talk from this year’s E3 revolves around Sony and Microsoft, and most of that is about Sony’s complete victory with an announcement that draws historic parallels with the PS1/Sega Saturn war of E3 1995. While it’s impossible to completely write off a company that ultimately has Bill Gates signing the checks, the fact remains that Sony nearly made all of the right moves, and Microsoft nearly all of the wrong ones, even if it was for one day only.

A few people here and there have made the comment that there has never been a domination so complete on the video game hardware scene. While that remains to be seen, for right now Sony finds themselves in a place they haven’t been since the heyday of the PS2, and that’s atop the video game world.

Oh and Nintendo? They’re still off somewhere in the Mushroom Kingdom, keeping it real for all us sinners, and maintaining their position as “The Dude” of gaming.

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