E3 2014: Day 1 Wrap-Up

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**UPDATE**

It seems I spoke too rashly!  Nintendo brought a very fun and exciting conference which perfectly addressed everything people wanted to see from them.  By integrating the Robot Chicken sketches, they showed their intentionality in connecting to hardcore gamers as well as their typical casual markets.  And they presented or teased practically everything people wanted to hear about – Smash Bros innovations, new and promising uses for the Wii U, the new open world Zelda, a few new IPs, no mention of Pikmen (thank God!), and what has been revealed to be a first teaser that Star Fox is on the way.  Perhaps because my expectations were so low, Nintendo so thoroughly shocked me and got me excited for the future of their company, despite several recent pratfalls financially.  E3 2014 goes to Nintendo!

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The time is upon us again.  Every year, E3 rolls around and delivers the most incredible innovations in the video gaming market, the best new IPs, and a glimpse at the future of the tech industry as a whole.  For years I have maintained that interactive media is the way of the future and this E3 helped me feel confident saying it for another year.

Each year, questions fly about what games will surface, what new hardware will be debuted, and the ever present question: who will win the conference.  This year I had the very distinct privilege of having a day off to sit on my couch with a nice cup of coffee and live-Tweet all four press conferences of day one.  Not nearly as glamorous as being there, I know, but I was able to enjoy each showing in turn and critique them for the how well they presented their case.  Below are the detailed analysis of each contributors strengths and failings, which I hope you’ll enjoy.

Microsoft

The biggest question I had coming into this E3 was how would Microsoft bounce back from their floundering performance last year, in which they spent more time backtracking and promoting non-gamer focused materials.  This year, they came prepared and brought it straight to Sony’s front door, keeping a laser-guided focus on gaming and challenging the thus-far lackluster lineup for the Playstation 4.

Skipping the expected announcement of the Kinect-less Xbox One, Phil Spencer set the bar early, claiming they would focus on the entirety of their time on games.  And they showed off an incredible lineup of games coming up very soon.  Sunset Overdrive in particular showed some fascinating promise, as did the now four player Co-op Assassin’s Creed Unity.  As well, the introduction of Halo Master Chief Collection and more Halo 5 Guardians information came with the interesting focus on keeping things “exactly as they launched ten years ago.”  If anything could be said to have been odd or a poor choice, it would be the surprise announcement that Conkers will make his return in Dev-friendly Project Spark.

Overall, the team at Microsoft gambled on gamers and came up in a big way, setting the bar high.  Focusing on Co-op gameplay and “dedicated servers”, and maintaining a good blend of cinematic trailers and gameplay demos, Microsoft hit the perfect tone for the audience in front of them.  They started the conference on the right note and reminded everyone (rather than Being reminded themselves) that this is a gaming conference.  A solid, if not entirely spectacular, start.

EA

Electronic Arts, to this reviewer at least, disappoints consistently year in, year out.  It seems like they always miss the mark, and I for one attribute this to one simple idea:  they do not think about who they are talking to.

Gamers came into this press conference hoping to hear about three titles, and three titles only.  Instead of focusing on these consumer desires, EA opened their show by breezing past Star Wars: Battlefront 3 and diving straight into their sports staples.  Then later, they gave the much anticipated Mirror’s Edge 2 the same rapid, blow-by treatment, showing nothing new or titillating for the DICE title.  EA finally got their act together when they ended their show on the leaked Battlefield: Hardline.  At long last, they showed off a very interesting looking game that leads the franchise into new and better directions from the Brown, Military Shooter.  Whether one could say that a heist destroying skyscrapers and freeways haphazardly leads the series into more “realistic” material, I leave up to debate.

However, the one thing that maintains from year to year is the myriad of micro-technical adjustments to their licensed sports games.  This year was particularly egregious because early on, Brian Hayes of the UFC15 unwittingly set a tone of separation between sports fans and gamers, implying that gamers could live out their best sports fantasies “Virtually, of course” – a slight suggesting our inability to do so in real life.  Very subtly, this turned the conversation from “join us in this fun thing” to a reminder of stereotypes wedging the gamer and jock subgroups.

It did not help that EA spent the rest of they conference focusing on Sports and trying to reach sports fans.  Every year, EA misses a perfect opportunity to reach the audience in front of them.  Instead of talking about how important Defense is to football players.  Why not show wireframe models colliding with each other to highlight the technical development of the new material?  Why not focus the technically minded audience on the technical side of their new games?

If I can say anything for them, I will give them credit for their bizarrely strong focus on Development teams.  Instead of talking about the games, they focused on devs – Star Wars: Battlefront team traveling and checking out old props (instead of making the game); DICE new office in Mirror’s Edge 2 trailer (instead of making the game); Bioware not saying ANYTHING AT ALL about the new Mass Effect and whatever their new IP is (instead of making the game).  That’s it.  The abrupt, air-cannon ending was the best part of the conference because it signaled the folly was over.

Ubisoft

Balls-to-the-wall as usual, Ubisoft kicked down the door with plenty of swearing and wackiness to spare, suffering only from the tonal undulation required from having such a varied clientele.  They showed off some incredible games, demoed some exciting IP’s, and tried out some interesting new ideas.

Ubisoft captured the essence of the conference by remembering something that EA forgot:  E3 is a gaming convention.  They came out strong with a new introduction to Far Cry 4, laying out a fascinating game world that is sure to be fun.  From their, they kept the focus solidly on games and gameplay, showcasing their wide range of projects, from Assassin’s Creed Unity to Just Dance 2015, and the surprise reveal of Rainbow Six: Siege.

However, as usual, this did lead to some awkward moments.  Because Ubisoft creates games not only for the deeply committed gamer, but also for the casual gaming market, tone and mood were rapidly shaken by things like the Just Dance performance, followed by serious focus on The Division.  Worse than that, it seemed a massive misstep to spend so much time highlighting their Shape Up.  While the effort made sense and seemed to fit well with the Just Dance audience, and I certainly see the influence of the recently dictionary-inducted “gamification”, but it came off as pandering to the gamer audience.

Despite this, they clearly showed up ready to play and brought it big time.  With awesome new games and a good balance of new and sequelled IPs, Ubisoft provided another fun conference which makes me excited for their coming lineup.

Sony

Capping off the first day was Sony, and it was clear that it was theirs to win or lose.  They needed to provide some big showstoppers on top of a solid lineup in order to edge out their Xbox rivals.  And bring it they did, but was it enough?

Someone with Sony made the right call by focusing on the biggest concern for the new Playstation 4 – the opening line up of games has been decent but not spectacular and the wellspring had seemed to run dry until 2015.  Yet, from the get-go, Sony came out with a list of PS4/Vita exclusives that range from immediate release to late this year and a few that show the bright future ahead of the 8th gen console.  Of special note is the remastering of DoubleFine’s classic Grim Fandango which drew the loudest applause of the day.

However, as the show entered it’s second half, Sony turned its focus towards hardware and there things began to slip.  Andrew House showed up and spend a beautifully short time reminding us about Project Morpheus.  But then he turned it over to Sony America CEO Shawn Layden – a man who talked like a gamer but whose every statement (and $3000 suit) oozed of business mentality.  And when he started talking about Free to Play games as “free”, I knew we were in trouble.

While I don’t think any individual unveiling was poor or uninteresting, it was simply too much with too little focus.  The PSN, PSNow, and PSTV announcements could each have been cut down to spend half as much time on them without losing any information, and worse yet was the misguided floundering of the Powers announcement.  Brian Michael Bendis could not have appeared more like a Hollywood Fat Cat, not a wise choice for a crowd that had just been cheering for indie developer Hello Games fascinating new IP No Man’s Sky.  And no matter how jazzed I was to see my favorite game franchise, Ratchet & Clank, turned big screen, that could not make up for the horribly avoidable mistake of entirely spoiling Last of Us for generations of audiences.

Further, while we saw some of the best gameplay demos, including Far Cry 4 and Batman Arkham Knight, we also saw very little of several large IPs that gamers came hoping to hear about – namely Metal Gear Solid 5: Phantom Pain and The Order 1886.  Both of these received very limited trailer which did not show much more than what we already knew.

However, with clear focus on “Dev-otion” and using fan feedback to improve their produced content, Sony presented a solid (though loose) conference and ended on the high note of debuting the full reveal of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.  They did a great job amping up their fans, presenting another well-rounded yet not extraordinary conference.

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Wrap-Up

Overall, it was a much stronger showing than last year all around.  Both of the Big 2 came in with reasons to celebrate and swinging strong.  The two distributors showed as expected, though the content they brought to the table was above average to begin with.  When looking over the spectrum of games coming up over the next two years, one can only be excited for the myriad of possibilities out there.

However, someone has to win, and ultimately, because of their strong showing, their great lineup of games, and their focused presentation, I have to concede this years E3 Day One to Microsoft.  Sony simply wandered to much in the middle and failed to produce the knockout blow to put them over the edge.  And while Nintendo is just moments away from presenting their conference, ask yourself: When was the last time they won an E3?

E3 is well underway and it kicked off with a marvelous first day.  I look forward to Nintendo’s showing here soon.  Enjoy the rest of E3 2014 and let me know what you thought of all four press conferences today!

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