PrE3: Show me something Microsoft!
At E3, Microsoft has many questions that need to be answered if they want to satisfy their fans and quiet their critics. We've already seen the internet’s backlash to their less-than-successful console revealing on May 21st and Microsoft’s newest announcement isn't likely to satisfy their vocal critics. This year, unlike most, E3 is a direct competition between Microsoft and Sony to define what their console is going to do for gamers, and if either falls flat it could spell financial ruin even before the console hits shelves.
Used games and internet requirements
Microsoft has FINALLY cleared the air on what the Xbox One will have in store for gamers on this front. They weren't exactly quick about it, but getting it out before E3 is important. This gives the gaming community (I’m looking at you internet!) a chance to scoff and bluster, separate from the information they are going to deliver at E3. Now it is up to Microsoft to validate these decisions. They need to come out swinging at E3, tell gamers why these features are important to include, how these features will enhance the Xbox and benefit the consumer--and try to not sound “press-releasy” while doing it or gamers will pass it off as spin.
I think gamers realized that this was an inevitability at some point. For years now, GameStop has been eating into the profits of game developers by undercutting the price of new games while marketing against their own products with copies of games that make GameStop the most money—all while refusing to split the revenue with those who actually created the product being sold. Gamers aren't going to be happy about this, in the short term. It is a drastic shift in the current gaming culture and it is up to Microsoft to have patience with consumers and spell out for everyone why this is a necessary change in the industry.
If I could play devil’s advocate for a second, let me give explaining it a try. The new system will empower game developers to assess an activation fee for their own games that are resold used. This allows a game developer to do the one thing that GameStop has been refusing them for years, get a cut of their own product. It doesn't affect the consumer as much as everyone is worried about; we already saw with EA’s online pass that retailers will mark down their game to compensate for the activation cost. This presents a scenario where a game developer can continue to bring in revenue on a product and then when they wish to entice more gamers to play it later in a game’s life, say after some major DLC has been released, they can remove the activation fee creating a developer controlled sale. I hope Microsoft has ideas like this in mind and that they clarify this controversial issue. It doesn't have to be a bad thing if they are willing to articulate that to the gamers listening.
Expect Microsoft to pretend this announcement never happened. I don't expect to hear any more about used games at E3. I believe this announcement was for this exact purpose and, as I said earlier, it is a way to get the negative publicity out of the way before the big event. I think Microsoft knows that gamers aren't going to like this, but I suspect that they also know that Sony will have something similar in store—possibly at E3.
It is official, the Xbox One will require authentication every 24 hours in order to be able to play games. I really hope Microsoft has a legitimate reason for this and it is not just DRM for DRM's sake.
I expect Microsoft, if they mention this at all, to assert why internet is such an integral part of the Xbox One’s architecture. In order to validate this decision they need to announce unprecedented incorporation of cloud computing, or something similar, which requires internet to function. I’m hoping to see an announcement in regards to the future implementation of game streaming through the home consoles. After OnLive generated such buzz in the industry, I think Sony and Microsoft both would be fools to not consider this feature.
As with used games, don't expect Microsoft to mention these features at all on Monday. It is a shame, really. I think that the general gaming populace would be able to forgive this feature if it proved essential in experiencing all the Xbox One has to offer. There would always be those that rail against any decision made by Microsoft, but I like to think that gamers are open minded enough to frame the issue in the context it was meant for. Now, I could just be overly optimistic about the reason that internet will be required. If it turns out that there is no underlying reason for this, and that it is just a superfluous restriction on the console then I would be annoyed—though I, and most gamers I think, keep my consoles connected constantly so it’s not really an issue that will affect me.
Games, Games, Games
The second largest
criticism that Microsoft had after their initial console release was over the
decision to not spotlight any of the games that will be available to owners of
the Xbox One. Microsoft did promise us 15 exclusive titles within the first
year of the console's release—which would be roughly October through October. If
Microsoft wants to quell the rising tide of animosity that it earned it will
have to give us every one of those 15 games and then some. However, if half those titles are Kinect only titles then Microsoft will not have a good evening. Don't expect all of these 15 games to be displayed in depth, though. Many would barely look like games so far from release. Expect names for most and trailers for some. If we are lucky, Microsoft will even allow for some of these games to be played by the public.
There is hope, though. In the weeks preceding E3, there have been leaked lists as to what games that Microsoft may be planning to reveal. While less than certain, these lists do give hope to any who wanted to see a strong library of titles for their Xbox One.
I predict that Microsoft will not disappoint. Call it hopeful optimism, but Microsoft is in a position where they can’t afford to turn off its potential consumers. I expect that Microsoft will deliver on its promise to reveal 15 exclusive titles, though it could be debated on how many of those games will actually be able to spark gamers' interests.
What I'll be looking for in these announcements is creativity and originality over quantity. If the majority of the games are linear first-person shooters or if most of the titles end in a number I will not be able to leave satisfied. This is a general concern for the entire event and not just aimed at Microsoft.
Expect Microsoft to continually reassure gamers that they are going to support the indie market in some way. While I don't think that the indie market is as important as its proponents contest, not bringing this up is a negative PR hit that Microsoft does not have to take. There will most likely be a wide variety of Xbox Live Arcade titles that will be paraded out at some point during this press conference.
However, do not expect Microsoft to reverse course on the decision to not allow open publishing on the Xbox One. Microsoft gave a lot of leeway to game developers on the Xbox 360, with their Xbox Live Indie marketplace, and it crashed and burned. Microsoft is attempting a form of quality control with their current stance and I do not expect them to change philosophy unless they see the PS4’s marketplace function more successfully than their past attempts have.
I’m going to say it now: NO! While I have defended Microsoft’s decision to feature the Kinect and all the other media functions in their first press conference, unless there is some earth shattering revelation that they withheld from us, do not bring these up as anything more than a passing remark. E3 is a gaming expo. The people tuning in are the people that want to see the games you have and how they function on the console you are premiering. If they dedicate any of their stage time into rehashing the topics that already infuriated gamers then they will just be opening up old wounds and reminding everyone of all the features they hated the first time around.
Unfortunately, I expect Microsoft to reiterate the majority of their first press conference. It will probably only be about 15 minutes of their full time, but if their goal is for the Xbox One to be the only box that you will need in your living room then they will continue to push the features that will make that a reality. I'm not expecting any new information from them on this front, though. I'm not even sure what more they could say to be honest. I hope they realize that this will not generate good will from gamers if they choose to spend too much time highlighting these features again.
Seal the Deal
To close out the conference, I expect Microsoft to announce the one feature that might be able to tip the scales in their favor in the upcoming console war--pricing. Microsoft has already established the groundwork for variable pricing options on the 360. If Microsoft wants to create a favorable atmosphere around their October release, announcing that people may be able to get their hands on the Xbox One for $200 would be a good place to start. A low initial upfront cost with a contractual commitment to Xbox Live would be a great way to establish an early sales lead over Sony's PlayStation 4.
I fully expect this to be the most relevant E3 in years. I am excited as a gamer to see what all the major consoles and publishers have in store for us in this upcoming year in gaming. Sure, the PC gamers will scoff at us from their ivory towers, but it's time to get excited people!