E3 2013 Platform Report Card
The dust has pretty much settled from this year’s E3, and in miraculously quick fashion I might add. The press conferences generated a lot of excitement and disappointment on Monday, which led to a lot of clarifications and surprises in interviews on Tuesday. With most of the cards on the table it’s time to take a look at how each platform fared in perhaps the most important E3 in the history of the industry. Brand new platforms are only announced once every seven years or so and with the industry evolving at a breakneck pace the future was at stake.
Nintendo’s latest handheld had a rough start, but a price drop, Ambassador Program, and some quality games turned the tide. Just like the DS and GBA before it, the 3DS is this generation’s most successful handheld, and the only current platform that’s up year over year in sales for 2013. It felt like Nintendo’s 3DS had a lot of momentum going into E3 2013, but its showing wasn’t stellar. The system should be in its software sweet spot right now, and despite games like Project X Zone, Sonic: The Lost World, Smash Bros., the Link to the Past remake, Pokemon X and Y, and Disney Infinity all on tap, the show didn’t feature an avalanche of impending hits. Obviously, games like Pokemon and Smash Bros. Will eventually butter Nintendo’s bread, but there simply wasn’t a big story for the system at the show. It also appears that its 3D functionality has fallen by the wayside with the current crop of games. Not a bad show, but not mind-shattering, either. Still really glad I have one, and A Link Between Worlds looked a lot more enticing than I thought it would.
The master race was gloating a bit over the last couple days with the revelation that the Wii U will be the only console left with free online play, but perhaps its biggest boon was the fact that the massive Xbox One “exclusive,” Titanfall, will also be coming to the industry’s oldest platform. Outside of that, the biggest games coming to the PC will also be available on other platforms. Even The Elder Scrolls Online is jumping ship. While there will always be PC rigs that will display superior visuals, what we saw from the Xbox One and PS4 is certainly comparable to today’s best-looking personal computing experiences. At E3 2013 we saw the advantage of programming on a closed system with powerful, but not elite, specs. We returned back to where the gap between consoles and PC is hard to quantify. It’s the natural cycle of things in this industry, but E3 didn’t offer a ton of incentive to build a beefy new rig.
Sony had the advantage of knowing the entire Xbox One ecosystem before taking the stage at E3. It was able to read angry fan comments and respond accordingly and boy, did it ever. It drew one of the largest rounds of applause in E3 history for its no-DRM, used-games-rock stance. Microsoft put the ball on the tee, and Sony drove it to the green. The PlayStation 4’s form factor was finally revealed and most agreed that it looked up to snuff, and gladly, it was a bit smaller than Xbox One. The games were essentially a more detailed look at what SCEA showed previously, which isn’t a bad thing, but an extra exclusive or two would have been nice. Then again, Sony said that it has 30 PS4 games in development and 20 will be released within the first 12 months. Twelve of those are brand new IPs. That’s pretty darned impressive, and when word came that The Last Guardian was put on hiatus it didn’t sting quite as much.
The day after the press conference it came to light that Sony would begin charging to play games online, though even that was muted by the fact that you’ll also get the excellent PlayStation Plus service for that cost. Then there was some confusion over the fact that third-party publishers might be able to actually stop used game sales, but even EA then went on record to state it had no plans to do so. While Sony had distinct advantages in going last, it certainly made the most of them, and it topped everything off with a price tag of $399, but later admitted that it did not include the new PlayStation Eye. Just another positive that was later dulled a bit. Sony was smart about how it presented its information without later looking like it was misleading.
Things started off great for the Vita as Sony actually dedicated some time to it off the top of its presser, but hope soon turned to despair as very little was announced that would lead consumers to believe that Sony is still 100 percent supporting its product. A new Killzone was shown along with a new Batman game, but if you were looking for exclusives there wasn’t much to talk about. The Walking Dead was a nice bonus, but it’s also perhaps ironic that it was one of the few games of note at the show. Sony said there would be 85 new games for Vita by the end of the year, but you sure couldn’t tell based on its showing. Remote play for PS4 games might have ended up being its saving grace, but things honestly weren’t looking up for Sony’s awesome piece of tech at E3 2013.
Mircrosoft really took it on the chin at E3 2013. The old adage that any publicity is good publicity definitely did not ring true. Fans raged on and on about the required once-per-day online check-in, the smashing of used games, and the steep price of $499. As more details began to trickle in about the PS4 the price didn’t seem quite as outrageous, but the company came off as pompous and callous both during its press conference and in the interviews that followed. The bottom line is that none of Microsoft’s new policies were consumer-friendly, and considering a lot of its customers made a hard decision to leave the PlayStation camp and support the 360, it didn’t show a lot of appreciation. All that said, it was hard to deny that it delivered on the games.
While it showed little software at its initial unveiling, at its E3 2013 press conference the floodgates opened. There were surprises for fans like Killer Instinct. Debuts for games like Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive. And then meaningful exclusives like Dead Rising 3, Titanfall, and the next Halo. Sure, Titanfall will hit the PC, but it’s not coming to PlayStation 4. Smartglass practically usurped the Wii U. Project Spark, while a shameless rip of LittleBigPlanet’s premise, looked like a very powerful tool. Xbox One’s peripheral functionality looked superior to that of the PlayStation 4. Games sell consoles and Microsoft had a lot of them that looked good and will only be available for its box. I think people are going to be surprised at how successful the Xbox One launch will be despite the current sentiment.
It’s hard to remember a Nintendo console having a rougher start than the Wii U. With no real killer app over half a year into its life and two brand new competitors being shown for the first time, many thought this E3 would be a make-or-break proposition for Nintendo. In such a crucial time it decided to axe its annual press conference extravaganza in favor of a Nintendo Direct presentation live streamed across the world. Prerecording the video likely kept it from being able to react to Sony and Microsoft’s press conferences the day before and the stream crapped out in the US. Fans were left scrambling to find another feed. Yeah, it was bad, but Nintendo could have made everyone forget about the sloppy execution if it delivered something the Wii U sorely needed—great games. They were in short supply in the disappointingly terse presentation, and with the exception of Donkey Kong Country Returns 2, the entire lineup was already known. And even that game was met with disappointment because many hoped Retro Studios would have worked on something else. It did look great, though.
What became obvious at E3 was that Nintendo was not prepared for HD video game development. Based on games like Mario Kart 8 and Super Mario 3D World, it’s learning, but some of these games have been in development for years now. The third-party support for the Wii U was absolutely abysmal. Most publishers had just a couple lines in the water to see if they could get a bite. Even the miserable failure that was the GameCube had more support than this, and it also had games like Smash Bros., Zelda, Mario, and Pikmin. That’s the thing. It became apparent at E3 2013 that Nintendo had no chance of competing with Xbox One and PlayStation 4 with the Wii U. It doesn’t matter. When all its big properties hit the machine its legion of 40 million fans worldwide will buy it, and its financial future will be secured with software sales. The difference with the Wii U is that third-party publishers figured it out a lot more quickly this time.
Every E3 is full of disappointments, and the 2013 edition was no different. Yet, it appears that all the prophets foreseeing the death of the console industry were a bit misguided. By all accounts, streams and major web sites have had record numbers the last couple days, and anecdotal evidence was there too as it was great to hear from old friends once again who had stopped contacting me about the latest video game news two years ago. The hype and excitement are there, the machines and services are almost ready, and it was great to see the gaming industry re-establish its place as the premiere entertainment platform once again.