It occurs to me that I don’t think I’ve written my own personal thoughts on E3 and the stuff therein yet. Allow me to rectify that.
Let’s start with the Xbox One. While it would be tempting to just write “HAHAHAHAHAHA” and leave it at that, Microsoft’s strategy, if you can call it that, bears some examination.
The Xbox One was received very negatively when it was first announced, thanks to the reveal’s focus on the box’s TV aspect. Things didn’t get much better when Microsoft revealed an FAQ document detailing the fact that yes, the things everyone had been fearing — the console needs to “phone home” once every 24 hours via the Internet; publishers may choose to restrict the resale and/or trading in of games if desired; you can “pause” Kinect but you can’t turn it off — were all true.
The company’s E3 presentation was reasonable, but didn’t show anything that particularly blew me away. We had Call of Duty: Roman Wars, sorry, I mean Ryse: Son of Rome and a host of other stuff so uninspiring that I can’t remember a goodly proportion of it. The few things that were genuinely interesting and outside the “norm” were glossed over; Below, a new title from Sworcery and that weird Might & Magic puzzle RPG that was actually really good developer Capybara was given a minute-long trailer with no explanation, for example.
However, as I wrote over on USgamer the other day, these press conferences aren’t designed for people like me — they’re designed for people who, for want of a better term, don’t know any better. They’re designed for the more casual gameplaying public and shareholders, in other words, and consequently need to show off the biggest, the best, the most exciting-looking. It’s unfortunate that a significant proportion of the “core” gamer population is growing increasingly weary of the biggest, the best, the most exciting-looking, particularly as their favourite studios regularly suffer rounds of layoffs when, say, their five million-selling game “isn’t performing to expectations” or some such nonsense.
All in all, I was left underwhelmed by Xbox One. I didn’t see a single title that sold the system to me, and Microsoft’s determination to make the platform even more closed off and irritating than it already is is just baffling. It’s like they’re looking at feedback and then doing the exact opposite. That can’t be good business, surely.
As for the PS4, I was impressed. I can live without all the social nonsense, though I can see that being a bit of fun on occasion — so long as you can turn it off. The fact that Sony simply said “we’re doing things the way we do now” and they got a round of applause says it all, really, though; it’s not a case of people being “set in their ways”, it’s a case of people actively wanting to resist the suspiciously anti-consumer practices that Microsoft are trying to put in place.
Let me go off on a tangent to explain for a moment.
I like owning my games as physical copies, particularly on console. I feel less strongly about this on PC for a reason I haven’t quite worked out, but given the option between getting a physical copy and a digital download on console, I will always, without fail, go for the disc.
The primary reason for this is that I want to always be able to play this game, even if, say, PSN no longer exists one day in the distant future. A secondary reason is that I enjoy displaying my collection the way a movie buff displays their DVDs, a music lover displays their CDs and/or records, and a book lover displays their books. There’s a growing movement to “declutter” our lives from all this stuff we’ve collected over the years, and I really dislike it, because it encourages us to think of things as impermanent. While it can be a pain to store and move all this stuff, I know that if I got rid of any of it, I’d regret it. Sure, once I’m done with, say, Ar Tonelico Qoga it’s unlikely that I’ll go back to it in the immediate future, but what about five years down the line when I hear a snipped of EXEC_COSMOFLIPS and think I’d really like to relive Aoto’s adventures?
I’m saying all this for a reason: PS4 fills me with more confidence than Microsoft does in this regard. Xbox One will have disc-based games, sure, but it’s abundantly clear that Microsoft mean business on the whole “you are licensing this piece of software, you don’t own it” thing that everyone ignores in EULAs these days. We still don’t have a straight answer in place for them on what happens when Xbox Live goes down, or when you don’t have Internet access, or when your account gets banned or hacked… or years into the future when the Xbox One is a “retro” console and Xbox Live doesn’t exist in the same form, or perhaps at all. Can you still play your games? Or does the lack of authentication render them completely useless?
Video games are the only art form where I see this discussion happening, and we’re drifting in the wrong direction. As modern games get more and more advanced, they become more and more worthy of preservation as genuine works of art. And yet with each passing console generation seemingly determined to get more and more restrictive and based around connectivity, it’s a real concern to me that some of these titles will one day be lost forever.
Anyway. It remains to be seen whether Sony does anything stupid between now and the PS4 coming out — because this is Sony, let’s not rule it out — but at present, I’m feeling much more confident about them than Microsoft.
As for Nintendo, well, they’re Nintendo. Nintendo has always been happy bumbling along doing its own thing… and I’m absolutely fine with that. I have no need for them to try and compete with PS4 and Xbox One or try to become yet another Call of Duty machine. I have no issue with the third-party support that people were whingeing about all the way through the Wii’s lifespan but which didn’t hurt its profitability at all.
What Nintendo machines do are provide “pure games” — experiences which tend not to have any aspirations to be considered “art”, but which provide excellent examples of simply entertaining and fun things to do. For this reason, I’m actually relatively excited to see things like Wii Party U, as Nintendo Land is a big favourite any time friends come over; having something with even more games to play together will be even better.
Anyway, I’m not sure if anyone “won” E3 for me, because I didn’t really come away from the show thinking “I MUST BUY THIS GAME THE SECOND IT COMES OUT” with regard to anything, but it was certainly an interesting show. The coming console generation is going to be an intriguing one to watch, and I have a feeling that Microsoft is going to get its nose bloodied more than once in the process. Whether that will take them down completely or just relegate them to the position Sony spent most of this generation in remains to be seen, but it’s going to be a hell of a fight to watch.