E3 2008: Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft Press Conferences

E3 is typically the time of the year where most developers and publishers attempt to show the best they have to offer in hopes of wowing the press and gamers alike; or at least it was until the annual convention was reformed and ultimately cut down because of the cost, time, and stress it contrived upon those within the industry. Now we’re left with the remnants that are rather lackluster compared to what the event once was. The highlight of the event is typically the press conferences held by Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo each year which usually gives room for each respective company to unveil games, hardware, and any other surprise up their sleeve (figuratively speaking)… I was not able to attend the event, nor do I think I ever will at the rate the event’s going and the distance between where I reside and the actual Summit takes place. Thus, I sat at the computer and watched the coverage via live streams and gameplay videos courtesy of a couple media sites on the web… Without further elaboration and extensive rambling, I present my thoughts on each press conference and where I stand on each companies outlook in the industry.

Microsoft was the first to kick off the event with their press conference and the recurring trend I saw throughout each conference began here. The overall idea was features with the introduction of a new dashboard, a avatar system (Think Nintendo Mii but reshaped for the 360), Netflix plug-in, Lips (Reminiscent to Sony’s Singstar), and a push on downloadable content within games. As for the games themselves, Microsoft did not unveil anything new at the conference and instead opted to cover already announced and multiplatform titles as well. Resident Evil 5 and Fallout 3 were shown in a playable form and further cemented the notion that this E3 was essentially all sequels to past titles. Games for a younger audience were showcased by Rare that included Banjo & Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts and Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise which further shows just how out of touch Rare has become from their core ever since they were bought out by Microsoft and forced to develop games only on the Xbox hardware. Fable 2 was showcased, which is the successor to a title I originally found intriguing as a concept, but ultimately riddled with gimmicks and time consuming gameplay that does not deliver. Guitar Hero 4 and Rock Band 2 were shown and ultimately hold little interest to myself as the last Guitar Hero (the third installment developed by Neversoft) ultimately felt devoid of originality and the quality from the first two installments of the series while Rock Band is far too elaborate and expensive. Music games laced with rhythm seem to be the new appeal in the casual crowd of gaming and while I did find it enjoyable at first, their welcome has been wore down and there’s ultimately not much more new ground that could be tread upon without feeling repetitive and the equivalent of a rehashed concept. The one bright point of the conference was new footage from Gears of War 2 which looks like it improves upon the sequel and ultimately brings a few interesting things to the table in terms of gameplay tweaks and enemies. The conference ended with what was perceived as a large bombshell as Square-Enix announcing that they’ve indeed gave in (read: sold out) and will be publishing Final Fantasy XIII on the Xbox 360 in North America and Europe. More power to them, I suppose.

Nintendo was the next company to hold their annual press conference which was more or less a self proclaimed smug fest filled with sales charts, gimmicks, and more sales charts. Nintendo seems relatively pleased that coping out to the mainstream crowd has brought them a lot of success with the Wii and the DS has continued to ramp up in sales as well with the dawning of the hardware revision granted to give it a sleek visual outlook (to compete with the PSP). The big hardware reveal was ultimately the “Wii MotionPlus Accessory” add on that essentially increases the motion sensing capabilities and further inflates the gimmick Nintendo is trying to sell to it’s audience. To accompany this “leap” in hardware, Nintendo also showcased “Wii Sports Resort” which is essentially Wii Sports but with a few more mini games and support for the “Wii MotionPlus” add on. Nintendo also showcased “Animal Crossing: City Folk” which reshaped the series with some new features and shoe horned the new add on called the “WiiSpeak” microphone which allows users in the proximity to talk to others across the network. Nintendo also showed some highlights from third party support that essentially appears to be dumbed down graphics and gameplay laced with gimmicks. And Nintendo ended the press conference with “Wii Music” which essentially gives you over 50 instruments to play via your “imagination” and the Wii controller… Nintendo appears to be aiming solely at the casual crowd and has essentially told their hardcore devoted fanbase to piss off. There’s nothing particularly intriguing coming down the pipeline and the press conference did not change anything.

Sony’s press conference took place shortly after the end of Nintendo’s rather lackluster press conference. The beginning recapped the general history of the Playstation brand and eventually led up to Sony launching a new SKU in the Fall that will align Sony and retailers back to a single SKU environment rather than having multiple units on the market. Sony also announced a brand new addition to the Playstation Network that will serve as a branch that sells various films via digital distribution (which was launched later that evening after the conference). More focus on the Networks digitally distributed titles seems to be at a greater focus as Ratchet and Clank: Quest for Booty, PixelJunk Eden, Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic, and Fat Princess were a few of the highlights emerging on the network in due time which ultimately feels like a mixed bag. Resistance 2, LittleBigPlanet, inFamous, and Killzone 2 were showcased in a playable form and God of War III and M.A.G. were two games ultimately unveiled for the first time at the conference. Sales charts and figures were briefly mentioned but ultimately shown with a slight twist. Instead of the usual graphs and numbers, Sony had Media Molecule create a level in LittleBigPlanet solely devoted to providing the various sales figures as the developer played through it. Sony also mentioned it’s MMORPG line up as well with DC Universe Online and The Agency. “Life with Playstation” (think Google Earth) was touched upon and Home’s release date was inevitably pushed back with a public beta promised by years end (which has no backbone to begin with).

The big three’s (Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo) press conferences were ultimately a let down. There were no sudden leaps in hardware or huge surprises that stole the show. Ultimately, features seem to be the key to E3 this year when the focus should be more on the gaming aspect of each console. Sony and Microsoft had a much better showing than Nintendo by far. Yet there was still a overall feeling of mediocrity throughout each conference. It seems the big three are either holding out for future events or there really was not anything in a polished state to showcase(perhaps a little of both). In the end, E3 is not nearly up to the caliber it once was and I doubt we’ll ever see the Media event return to it’s original state due to the many issues surrounding it. The essential take home message is as follows; Nintendo is a sinking ship for hardcore gamers, Microsoft and Sony are implementing features to keep up with one another instead of focusing more upon the games, Third Party Exclusives are essentially dead (with a couple exceptions), Sequels and Remakes appear to be the big selling point at E3 this year, And third party support appears to be quite strong this year in comparison to first party support. Overall, a few bright moments covered in mediocrity and lackluster support.

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