The Big Three at E3: Who Won?

E3 has a lot to offer. It has to since it’s the biggest gaming event of the year. E3 is the Detroit Auto Show of gaming. E3 has it’s big players same as the auto industry and they go head-to-head each year to roll out the best concept and production vehicles they can to wow the public revealing their lineup for the coming year.

Just as with the auto show, there are forgettable mistakes like the Gremlin and triumphs like the Shelby Mustang. E3 has its big three, and they won and lost as follows.

Sony came in third place almost immediately after its press conference. Not the strongest exclusive lineup of games. The new God of War Ascension looks like a four out of five to me. They also failed to instill any confidence in me that the PSN (Playstation Network) is any more secure or robust. Also, the Playstation Plus package looks weak and half-cocked. If you’re going to drop a pay to play package on an audience used to free service, your pitch should be better than free PSone titles; don’t lead with old stuff as a selling point.

Sony also failed to impress me with what they featured. OK, an Assassin’s Creed title for the Vita, but I’m not impressed. Not impressed that you glorified it as a package deal with a new Vita this fall. Also, don’t care that it can be a great controller with full functionality for the PS3; that’s a $300 controller my friend. Ouch.

Sony’s biggest bust, one that shows how out of touch they are with their gaming base, is the Playstation Wonderbook. Who thought integrating a book into gaming was a good idea? Utilizing their augmented reality system, between the book and a camera, a 3D image appears on the television screen. The big selling point was the launch of a Harry Potter themed game where you learn spells from the book using the Playstation Move ice cream cone as a wand. The demo barely worked, and the major drawback is that you have to sit on the ground five feet from your TV to use it. I’ve got a coffee table and a small living room, where the hell is my kid supposed to play his book game? It was a poor choice to reveal this at an event as large as E3 and got only polite applause from the audience.

Sony made a poor decision in attempting to move Vitas and interactive books; it felt like a sales pitch, not a press conference. They didn’t bring out any new tech for the core of the gaming audience. The core, mind you, is an average age of 34 years old. Yeah, my kid might want the book, but why invest in something that looks like a device with little replay value? Unless titles are cheap downloadables, this is a piece of hardware that will have a short lifespan. How diverse can the title lineup be if they all must be restricted to this book format? This looks like another piece of hardware that will sell well initially, and then fall off sharply like what happened with the Vita.

Nintendo came in second place this year in the console wars. With offering of Kingdom Hearts 3D among other bankable titles, and the relative success demoing Wii U, Nintendo upped their street cred. The Wii U as a device seems to be getting used fairly well initially. The console has its limits after seeing much of the specs, but the Wii U game pad adds another dimension to a console that will support all other interfaces like the Wiimote and the Pro controller among others. This was savvy on their part to keep support for all the controllers people already own and are used to. Between all of these remotes, this might become a very dynamic console. From Assassin’s Creed III to Pikmin 3 and the M-rated ZombiU–the most interesting use of the tablet–there seems to be some great content out there that will highlight its particular skill sets.

Nintendo has been losing a lot of ground among hardcore gamers as they have been appealing to casual gamers. Nintendo looks strong with hit games like Just Dance 4 as well. JD 4 looks to sell a ton of copies as the world’s best-selling dance game. The Wii U game pad is integrated into gameplay as well. Don’t forget Rayman Legends, showing some serious power and fun gameplay. For what it is, if this is the kind of item you enjoy, then it has been well thought out and there is a game for everyone.

Nintendo will always command the handheld market. The Vita price point is too high and Microsoft could care less. Mobile phone and tablet gaming had a huge presence at the expo as well, so this should make Nintendo a bit nervous since the tablets I got to play on had some very impressive processing power for games that were pretty expansive. The 3Ds has had less than stellar sales after the initial cycle. Some of this can be blamed on a terrible launch title line and flooding the market with games instead of peppering them out of a longer period. Nintendo will still hold on to that part of the market that wants to just game and not mess around on their phone for little games that are free or at most a couple bucks. The 3Ds and other mobile gaming platforms won’t flop, and many of the games on display seemed strong and from franchises one can plan on moving a lot of copies.

This might be the year that Nintendo gets it right and gets back in the black. The public’s understanding of what the Wii U actually will be is important, along with a reasonable price to convince people to buy a new console at launch.

By elimination, this means Microsoft is this year’s winner. It’s not by a close margin, either. Microsoft did three things right. They led with console content, a game people are losing their shit over, and some great tech.

There were few flaws in the Microsoft plan of attack. Leading with content, they blew the competition out of the water with all the major sports on their platform. MLB, NFL, live ESPN, NHL, and more. HBO is coming to XBOX, and other movie providers. They are also redesigning the XBOX desktop for easier searching. They are also bring the internet to the XBOX. True surfing through Kinect will be possible to find information, YouTube videos, and other content. XBOX established itself as the media center powerhouse among the competition. No one comes close to the moves Microsoft is making as a media platform in the home. They seemed to go in to this console generation with this in mind, and have easily kept one step ahead while a company like Sony seemed to add it as an afterthought when Blu-Ray players became affordable and Nintendo seems to be almost ignoring diverse media support.

Microsoft then hit us with Halo 4, and will have almost every major title on their console this season and into next year. Besides God of War Ascension, they have everything people are going to want. Halo 4 will be the runaway hit of the year and it seems to be a well-crafted start to another cash cow trilogy of Halo games.

Now for the sweet tech. It is almost laughable how stupid the Wonderbook is compared to SmartGlass tech. I almost saw a smug smile on their faces when they demoed the tech at the press conference and on the floor. Savvy to use a HBO hit show for the demo, too. SmartGlass takes all the items you already have–tablets, smart phones, and XBOX, TV–and makes them work together. Uninterrupted change from tablet to TV in video playback. Tablet support for gameplay like drawing up plays in Madden. When making the switch from tablet to TV viewing, the tablet will instantly switch to supporting information about the film or TV show you’re watching in real-time.

SmartGlass is a savvy move on many fronts, but most of all it’s just software. This is where Microsoft got brilliant. Instead of making a piece of hardware, getting it past all the dev time and inspections, shipping, maintenance, warranties, customer service calls, production cost, and most of all persuading someone to buy yet another thing, they just decided to create enough code to make it all work together. It really is genius. No ad campaign for a new piece of hardware…just download this. Apple has you buying iEverything to work seamlessly, but Microsoft will make any phone and any tablet work with an XBOX. This appeals to current XBOX owners and coupled with their content lineup and games coming out, it will topple anyone on the fence about buying a console or switching teams.

Microsoft knocked this E3 out of the park with a savvy tech decision that compliments everything else they do well. Kinect worked beautifully with games demoed and with surfing their XBOX desktop. They have a lush and vibrant lineup of new games and content providers which will appeal to a lot of people, gamer or not. Now that a Blu-Ray player costs $50 at Walmart, it’s not the selling point it used to be for Sony. Microsoft really excelled at forcing someone to think if a $50 Blu-Ray player and an XBOX might be the way to go in the future–those things will be one thing in the next console generation, mark my words. They will also sell the shit out of games this holiday season. They’re gonna have a good year.

Most shocking of all was that I felt like Microsoft didn’t try to sell me anything. This is key. They didn’t try to package anything up to sell a Kinect or a console or a new tablet or some Wonderbook you need a camera and a Move controller to use. Microsoft simply showed off new tech, new games, and new content. While Sony played the role of carnival barker and Nintendo was talking up the merits of the Wii U, Microsoft played the sales card close to the chest and just showed us great stuff. No sales pitch needed. Great stuff sells itself. Game, set, match. Microsoft.

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