Sunday, 16 June 2013

E3 2013

So the Electronics Expo 2013 has happened and it might have changed everything. I’ll explain how shortly, but first you need to know where my thoughts were, going into the event.
In fact, let’s go back a ways. Like millions of others, I had a PlayStation and then a PS2. I had no reason to believe, when the 7th generation loomed on the horizon, that I wouldn’t be continuing the trend with a PS3.
But things started to unravel for Sony. Mixed messages on subjects like backwards compatibility and then the ridiculous price tag of nearly £500.
Then I saw Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter on the Xbox 360 and the deal was sealed. I jumped ship and spent the following six years in gaming heaven. Despite a rocky start with the whole “Red Lights of Death” debacle, the Xbox went from strength to strength, while the PS3 floundered under poor framerates, badly designed online mechanics and lacklustre exclusives.
Ultimately, the PS3 sold well, but largely due to its Blu-ray drive, with software sales remaining heavily in the 360s favour.
And so when another generation of consoles crested the hill, again there was no reason to believe I would be breaking from a brand that had made the last six years such a joy.
Then the rumours started to circulate. From dark corners of the Internet we heard about the “Xbox 720” and how it would require an Internet connection at all times or it would cease to work. It would block pre-owned games. It would monitor your every waking thought through the Kinect sensor. It would have an affair with your wife. It would watch your dreams.
Even those of us with sane heads on our shoulders couldn’t help but feel a little worried. Rumours have to start somewhere after all. So it was with nervous anticipation that we all tuned in to see a “New Generation Revealed” at the Xbox Reveal event in May, to witness Microsoft quell all the rumours and blow our minds.
The console was revealed and while not to everyone’s tastes, I thought it looked great. As did Kinect and I was pleased to see that while the controller had been changed enough to look and feel fresh, it was still very much the Xbox controller recognised around the world as the best design out there.
But the rest of the conference focused on the console’s capacity for television and films; for Skype calls and switching channels. All nice features no doubt, but the Internet immediately erupted at the distinct lack of games.
At this point, I wasn’t too worried. With E3 just weeks away, I knew they were taking the opportunity to divide their conferences – using the reveal as a platform to showcase the entertainment and connectivity aspects and use the Expo for the games. If only they had mentioned this plan in the first place, a lot of the disappointment seen on social networks and blogs could have been avoided.
With many questions still unanswered, Microsoft looked to clarify their policies ahead of E3: 
  • The console will support trade-ins, but only if publishers allow it for their games.You can lend a game to a friend, but only once, and only if they’ve been on your friend list for at least thirty days.
  • The console needs to connect to the Internet once every 24 hours to update game licences etc, meaning you can play single or local multiplayer games for a day, but if you haven’t connected to the Internet by then, the games will no longer work. You can, however, continue to watch TV and Blu-rays.
Despite noting great features such as being able to play your entire library of games from the Cloud from any Xbox One console, the “clarifications” only fuelled the fires of Internet opinion. To their credit, Microsoft were at least sharing information, unlike Sony, who had been very quiet since their PS4 announcement. Nevertheless, Xbox appeared to be shooting themselves in the foot.
But E3 arrived with the promise from Microsoft that this would be all about games, games, games; and indeed it was. The Xbox briefing was wall-to-wall games, opening with Sony stalwart Metal Gear and showcasing massive titles like Battlefield 4, Halo and Forza 5 and new exclusives such as Ryse, Sunset Overdrive and Project Spark.
In all, if was a fine briefing and went a long way to showing that Xbox One was still very much a gaming platform. If the gamers could forgive Microsoft’s weird restrictions, they would clearly find a happy home on the Xbox One.
Then the PS4 happened.

For the first hour, Sony’s briefing was your standard stuff, save for the reveal of the console itself. Games, business jargon and buzzwords.
But then, in a flurry of punches to match any Ali threw at Foreman, Sony landed blows aimed directly at Microsoft.
First they brought out a load of Indie developers and showed their support for a corner of the industry many feel has been side-lined by Microsoft.
Then Jack Tretton stepped up and threw these haymakers:
  • The PS4 will support used games. You can trade in at retail, sell to another person, lend to a friend or keep the disc forever. It’s up to you. 
  • The console will not require an Internet connection to play. If you play single player games, they will not stop working if the console doesn’t connect every 24 hours.
  • The console will cost £349. £80 cheaper than the Xbox One.
Sony used the euphoria in the room to slip in the fact that to play online with the PS4, you would now have to pay for PS Plus (bringing it in line with Xbox Live’s subscription model), but nobody cared. They also went on to show Bungie’s Destiny, which looked beautiful, but it didn’t matter. The damage had already been done.
So where do I stand now on these consoles.
I prefer the look of the Xbox One and they have a better range of exclusives, but the idea of paying £429 for something with these restrictive hoops to jump through is incredibly off-putting.
Sony’s price tag is hard to ignore and they are winning popular opinion with their focus on what the consumer wants, but are they innovating enough? Haven’t they basically come out and said everything will stay the same, the games will just look a bit prettier?
The next few months will be crucial for Microsoft. I don’t think they will adjust the price, but unfortunately I also think it isn’t in their nature to do a u-turn on their policies. They believe their model will work going into the future and they might be right, but a console needs those early adopters and so far, they are turning away from the Xbox. But time will tell.......

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