Welcome to Third Person's (timely) coverage of E3 2017. We'll have a podcast for each press conference going up soon, as well as usual weekly roundup on the conference as a whole and our thoughts. Be sure to check out the other articles and podcasts and let us know what you think! (Editor's Note: Having your editor in chief get very ill right as E3 ends is bad for #content.)
There were a lot of concerns going into Microsoft’s E3 press conference: would Project Scorpio deliver on the hype at a competitive price point? Would it be VR compatible? Would it make the Xbox One and Xbox One S obsolete? Would the company finally deliver on the promise of more and exclusive games? Only one of these questions is really, objectively, answerable. Microsoft debuted a lot of games, 42 to be exact (22 of which feature some degree of exclusivity). As for the other concerns, we need to read between the lines of marketing speak and sizzle reels to find some answers.
Xbox’s 2017 E3 press conference tells us a lot about Microsoft’s strategy moving forward: a diverse lineup of games running at high-resolutions, and most importantly, looking better than their direct competition – even if it comes at a higher cost. It’s a bold gamble predicated on Microsoft thinking they understand what gamers want out of their home console.
Despite low adoption rates for 4K UHD displays (anywhere from 10-15% of current US households per estimates, with more optimistic forecasts seeing a 50% market penetration by 2020), Xbox Head Phil Spencer and company clearly see 4K gaming as being the future of the medium. It was repeated at every possible opportunity, and reinforced by the idea that Xbox One X will be the best console to play third party games on, like Bioware’s stunning Anthem. This emphasis dovetailed nicely with their investment in timed exclusives for important third-party titles, chiefly, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
Curiously, there was no mention of VR compatibility. The omission might suggest that Microsoft either doesn’t think the market is ready is for it at current price points (the PSVR currently costs $399.99), or that the technology has yet to move on from its gimmick reputation. Microsoft had to pick their battles, and VR simply wasn’t one they felt like entering at this stage in the game.
The $499.99 USD price tag ($599.99 CAD, amazingly) is a bitter pill to swallow, but understandable when you realize the true cost of the components and craftsmanship Microsoft has put into their little black box (at a guess, Third Person’s Logan West posits a comparably powerful gaming PC would cost anywhere from $800.00 to $1100.00 CAD). This is a premium console by every stretch of the imagination, and one that Microsoft will surely be taking a big loss on.
The price point begets another problem for Microsoft: how exactly are they going to market this thing? Is it meant to compete directly with low-tier pre-built gaming desktops in addition to the PS4 Pro? How will the average consumer differentiate this with the Xbox One S? The messaging will need to be clear for consumers to understand that this is part of a family of consoles with the only major difference being performance (both visual, and under the hood)
Despite these concerns, Microsoft can pat itself on this back. This was a strong showing for a brand that desperately needed to regain the respect of its player base, and they didn’t need Halo to do it.
Microsoft made it very clear, right from the beginning of their press conference, what they wanted to focus on, and that’s 4K. Those old resolutions? They’re dead and gone ,and the Xbox One X is the future. Name aside, the Xbox One X is, a PC for your living room. It’s a very powerful console that has a decent price for the power it’s packing, with Microsoft selling at even more of a loss here in Canada. However, as someone with a powerful PC already, and no 4K TV to speak of, it didn’t get my attention.
What did, was Microsoft’s commitment to Windows 10, and releasing games there, as well as Xbox One. Overall, it was their dedication to games. Unlike Sony, Microsoft showed off a ton of games, from smaller indie titles to AAA releases like Anthem or Crackdown 3. Not every game landed for me, but it seemed like at Microsoft there was something for everyone. It was interesting to see Microsoft not talk about VR, and I wonder if they’re staying out of it for now, or in fact developing a PSVR competitor.
Taking in E3 as a whole, Microsoft emerges as one of the best presentations. They’re the underdog this generation, and I think they’re fighting hard to regain lost ground.
One of the most frequently heard criticisms of the Xbox One has been the lack of focus on gaming. Whether it was their heavy emphasis on their HDMI passthrough feature, to centre the Xbox One as an all-in-one living room solution, or their partnering with the NFL for… whatever football content ended up releasing, the early days of Xbox One were not gaming centric. Microsoft’s showing at E3 2017 has come to change that, decidedly and decisively. Other than the Porsche 911 reveal, the entire presentation was game after game, until the lineup of 42 titles had been shown. Overall, I was impressed by the pacing of the press conference. I was excited to be fed game after game, and seeing all of the “play anywhere” banners was exciting as well. As someone who has friends spread across PC as well as Xbox, buying one copy of a game, and getting to play with everyone is always appreciated. All in all, thanks for the ride Microsoft, yours has been the conference I’ve enjoyed most so far.