2013 E3 Expo Home Console Wrap-up

SSCN3830The 2013 E3 Expo in Los Angeles wrapped up on Thursday, June 14, 2013 and was somewhat of a paradox.  While it was without a doubt significant, there was noticeable difference in the vibe from previous years.  This is in part due to Nintendo’s decision to skip their typical Tuesday morning press conference.  The video games business is down from its high just a few years ago and there has been a concerted effort to consolidate.  Bankruptcies and contraction aside, Sony and Microsoft have staked out completely different positions with their new consoles.  With the major players taking such divergent paths, it’s likely that someone is going to be seriously wrong.

Microsoft always kicks off the E3 Expo with their keynote and this year they had big news.  The Xbox One will be released this November and at a premium price of $499.  Criticized after their early reveal in May for not talking about games, they used the media briefing to show a number of impressive titles and improvements in gameplay that will soon be possible.  Loaded with features, except backwards compatibility, gaming related and not, the price is hardly surprising.  Where things get controversial, is that the new system requires internet access and moves decidedly toward a licensing over ownership model with games.

The internet issue is a bit of a red herring considering the fact that if you have a thousand dollars to spend on a new system, games, and extra controllers to go with second screen device, you probably have internet access.  The new dilemma over whether or not you own the games requires some objectivity to rationalize.  Many computer users and even iOs device owners have dealt with this issue for awhile now.  You can’t sell your iTunes music collection or you copy of “Autodesk” either.  In many ways it ties in to the backwards compatibility issue.  The truth is that almost no one plays ten year old games.  You didn’t spend that kind of money on a new system to play the same games you could play on your old system and ten years from now, when “Destiny 3” is out, you’re not going to want to play “Halo 3” instead.  Some people will disagree, but the research says it’s a very small percentage that actually does use backwards compatibility.

Sony’s press conference is always a controversial event, usually fueled by Sony’s love hate relationship with the media.  This year, they also revealed their console early and were criticized for not actually showing the machine.  When it came time for the media event, they directed the message directly at their core fans.  They went straight at Microsoft for their online requirements and new licensing business models and when it came to actually selling their own system, they relied heavily on price and longtime publishing partner Square Enix.  “Final Fantasy” and “Kingdom Hearts” are iconic Playstation titles and even though they are not console exclusives, Sony fans were happy to see them showcased.

Comparing Microsoft and Sony’s press conferences is tough to do objectively.  You could argue that Microsoft’s console price is inflated by unnecessary features like the new Kinect, but you could also make the case that Sony didn’t do enough with their next-gen console.  That all that the Playstation 4 does, is fix what was wrong with the Playstation 3.  Considering the recent headlines, the “big brother,” camera connected, always online aspects of Xbox One could be concerning.  Microsoft‘s Xbox One does appear to have more exclusive titles, but that is what happens when a company wins the previous generation.  It is worth noting, that Microsoft is really gearing the Xbox One to the technophile at this point.  An example of this is that the Xbox One has no analog audio or video outputs.  It’s strictly HDMI.

Nintendo has been able to do little with their year head start on the other two console manufacturers.  Much of that isn’t really their fault though.  Many companies decided to rerelease older games instead of coming up with new games for Nintendo’s system which was bound to limit sales.  It is tough sell to get people to spend another $60 on games they finished six to nine months ago.  That being said, Nintendo has been slow to get first party games to their own system, which is typical of both Japanese companies.  At this point, the pressure on Nintendo is to sell their console to publishers once again and the only way to that is to fix the software issue themselves.  They’re going to have to beef up the catalog of Wii U games to the point where more customers want their new system.

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