So there’s been a fair amount of hubbub around the internet saying that this E3 was boring, predictable, that there were no new announcements and a bunch of other justifiable criticisms.
I’d like, however, to respond to a few of these by looking at the wider picture of where Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo currently sit.
Two years ago, Wii sales finally started to come to a grinding halt. Nintendo, finally being price-similar to Xbox, which had the arguably superior Kinect device ready to go, was seeing the inimitable gimmick of the Wiimote and Nunchuck finally have some strong competition, and the market chose a side.
Nintendo had no choice; it had to come out with its new console. Which explains why the details on the Wii U were so few at last year’s E3 – it was announced perhaps prematurely.
Flash forward to this year’s event, and everyone knows the Wii U is preparing to make a big showing to start seriously drilling some pre-orders. Microsoft and Sony know it too. The market right now, with the ripple effects of the GFC being felt around the world (less so in Australia), is at best unpredictable, and at worst volatile and unstable. Neither Microsoft nor Sony (or Nintendo for that matter) really want to enter a new, high-priced console into a market they’re not sure has the cash to throw around on a new console, and in the case of Microsoft and Sony, the prices of current gen consoles still haven’t come down as low as they can go, and in spite of this are still selling.
Of the big three, Nintendo is the only manufacturer of hardware whose sales had finally wound down. It may not have wanted to test the waters, but it didn’t have much of a choice.
So at E3, Microsoft and Sony, still profitable and still able to squeeze more life out of their current gen consoles, showed exactly that. No PS4, No Xbox 720, they simply outlined how they planned to continue to extract further life out of their solidly performing consoles – can you really blame them? Neither party had to ‘compete’ with Nintendo, which has been carving out a brand new market of casual gamers ready to jump in and dance, exercise and waggle their way into a console purchase. The Wii U wasn’t ever going to re-enter Nintendo into direct competition with the ‘hardcore’ consoles, it was only ever going to be a console designed to inspire an upgrade from the massive, massive number of Wii owners out there.
With no real threat per se, Microsoft and Sony could continue to squeeze their current consoles while watching Nintendo very carefully. After all, what better way to check out whether or not the water is safe to swim in? Have someone else jump in first. Nintendo have to enter this potentially volatile market first, I their own way and with their own crowd – why would the others do anything but sit back and see how they go, fiercely taking notes so they know what they’re up against when it does come time to launch their new offerings?
Nintendo is the only manufacturer of hardware whose sales had finally wound down. It may not have wanted to test the waters, but it didn’t have much of a choice.
So what are the other pair doing?
Well, Microsoft took the rather cynical move of announcing a software integration solution which will allow your Xbox to talk to your mobile and tablet devices (including Apple devices, which was a huge coup). It’s cynical in that it replicates (at least on a surface level) what the Wii U appears to do – it allows a second screen in the palm of your hand. Notwithstanding the Wii U similarities which are clearly designed to take a little of the wind out of Nintendo’s launch, the message of integration is clear: whatever you do while watching TV on your handheld device (and we all do tool around on our phones while watching stuff), Microsoft will be there.
Jay Wilson, the director of Diablo 3, once told me that if players are already doing something, you should help them do it, not get in their way. Microsoft is doing exactly that.
Sony, on the other hand, is making a direct attempt to reduce its dependence on first party. It’s never been as dependent as say Nintendo in this department, but Playstation Mobile is an earnest move on behalf of Sony to get as many smaller, independent developers working for its consoles. It wants certification on Playstation platforms to be easier, so that it can start to enjoy the benefits of having massive amounts of content across PSN and PS Vita.
To an extent, Sony can also be seen to be pushing in a Wii U like direction by emphasising the compatibility between the PS Vita (as a controller for example) and the PS3.
Both Sony and Microsoft learned their lesson when they failed to replicate the original Wii’s control scheme. Neither wants to get caught with their pants down again by not having some kind of approximate equivalent to the Wii U’s gimmick this time around. They’re both playing it very safe, taking a very hands-off approach this E3, and playing the waiting game while Nintendo carries all the risk.
New core IPs were lacking, some of the iterations in new franchises were a bit familiar, but given that we’ve never had a console generation last this long before, from a certain perspective, this was one of the most interesting E3’s out there.
By Leigh Harris - Bio