E3 2012 is fast approaching, and as usual, the big three platform holders will be holding their respective press conferences on Monday and Tues (June 4 and 5) right before E3 itself officially opens its doors. There have been tons of rumors about Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, but what should we realistically expect to see?
GamesIndustry International rounded up several leading games analysts to get their take on each of the console manufacturers. In part one, we'll take a look at Microsoft. In parts two and three we'll showcase Sony and Nintendo (which is the actual order of their briefings.)
Microsoft arguably is in the best position (certainly in the US, where the company's Xbox hardware continues to outsell the competition) and at this point in the cycle, it's all about maintaining momentum while trying to expand the audience via Kinect and Xbox Live.
Here's what the analysts had to say.
Jesse Divnich, EEDAR
Microsoft is in a very comfortable position at the moment. I believe their E3 will be focused more on the total entertainment experience the Xbox 360 can deliver. But yes, the typical Halo, Forza, and Fable trailers are likely to be shown, on-top of a few family focused Kinect titles.
The console manufacturer under the least amount of pressure is Microsoft, so I expect them to stick to a similar script as last year. I don't foresee them announcing anything too jaw dropping or off-the-wall. The ball is really in Sony and Nintendo's court to break the current momentum Microsoft has and I don't foresee Microsoft sabotaging that momentum by their own doing with some outside of the box presentation--sorry, Cirque du Soleil is unlikely to make an appearance again.
David Cole, DFC Intelligence
One of the biggest things Microsoft is pushing is the diversity of the Xbox 360. In the new DFC Intelligence report Consoles as Entertainment Hubs, we noted that in March 2012 Microsoft announced that over 50% of time on Xbox Live was spent in non-game related activities. Microsoft's goal is to increase that ratio even more so that the Xbox 360 is a central entertainment hub of the living room. There is a major race to bring entertainment services to consumers both on television sets and mobile devices. While Apple and Google may have an advantage on mobile devices, the Xbox 360 gives Microsoft an edge in the living room.
"Microsoft must also demonstrate greater influence in the much larger casual games market. Many hardcore gaming enthusiasts probably won't like the coverage of casual games"
So Microsoft will clearly focus on the diversity of the Xbox 360 and I expect to see a lot of Kinect products, including unique uses for the Kinect that are non-game related. With that being said I think it is important for Microsoft to show they are not leaving gamers behind. So to that expect to see a focus on a handful of big titles like Halo 4 and some big third-party titles like Call of Duty Black Ops 2.
Billy Pidgeon, M2 Research
I think Microsoft will focus on software and network services at E3 2012. There will be a strong emphasis on hardcore titles including Halo 4, and there will be at least two previously unannounced first party games. I'm also expecting several big third party titles with downloads, characters, modes, or other assets exclusive to Xbox 360.
Although the press event will stress software and services for hardcore gaming, Microsoft must also demonstrate greater influence in the much larger casual games market. Many hardcore gaming enthusiasts probably won't like the coverage of casual games, but Microsoft will throw out some hardcore red meat at regular intervals to keep hardcore fans engaged. Microsoft will demo some quality casual and family entertainment (often with Kinect) and we'll likely hear more about the value of the subscription-subsidized $99 Kinect bundle offer for all sectors, including family and mass market. It's possible Microsoft will announce additional consumer value bundles to stoke hardware sales going forward.
Microsoft will likely showcase multiple improvements and new features for the Xbox LIVE network. These could include games and entertainment features provided by partners for tiered pricing models similar to premium cable deals. Tiers might include game and entertainment features provided by partners such as EA, ESPN, Netflix. I'd also like to see Microsoft add more value to the free and Gold levels of Xbox LIVE. Free casual games would add great value and would help Microsoft better prepare for competition with upcoming services from Apple and Google.
As Xbox LIVE has systemic connections to other Microsoft networked services and direct connections to web, PC and mobile devices, Microsoft typically promotes these connections to make a case for games as a proprietary cross-platform service. This has been more marketing than action to date, so I am hoping to see a more impressive integration of Xbox LIVE services into web, PC and mobile this year.
"I think part of Microsoft's E3 positioning will be to try to preempt demand for Wii U."
Unlikely but wouldn't-that-be-cool surprises Microsoft could unveil: a compelling demo of Kinect control in a hardcore game, an exclusive deal with a cable provider to offer Xbox 360 as a set-top box option, or a peek at next generation software or hardware.
Lewis Ward, IDC Research Manager
For Microsoft, I think we'll hear a lot more about new XBL content, planned feature/UI enhancements, and their broader vision for opening up digital distribution. There will be blockbuster game trailers and demos to please their core customer base community, but I don't see them taking their foot off the gas in terms of the strategy to go after the entire family and casual gamers with content and services, the "$99" Kinect bundle and so on. That may sound a little vague but I think part of Microsoft's E3 positioning will be to try to preempt demand for Wii U.
I think people will be disappointed by the lack of news about their next-gen Xbox. I could be wrong about this, and there's been a lot of speculation, but I think E3 2013 will be where that big reveal happens. I think cloud gaming will be a significant piece of that platform, so I don't think we'll hear about "instant-on" game availability this year, but I could be reading the tea leaves wrong on this as well.
Scott Steinberg, TechSavvy Global
Expect big news surrounding new everyday entertainment features for Xbox 360, as well as new Kinect games that speak to broad (and potentially enthusiast) audiences too. Microsoft Game Studios will also have a number of large announcements surrounding in-house retail games products, DLC content and downloadable titles for Xbox Live as well.
Further expansion into casual and mainstream markets is expected, as the company continues to pursue its strategy of becoming a bigger part of the connected home living room ecosystem. Limited noise is anticipated around PC titles this year, though news surrounding Windows Phone and its associated features and titles should be prevalent. What you likely won't see is much in the way of information about the next generation of Xbox console systems, with Halo 4 and other properties expected to get a bigger push and the company loathe to cannibalize surrounding media and consumer attention.
Certainly, there will be greater emphasis on an expanding feature set for both Kinect and the base Xbox 360 console set itself, as well as more announcements on the digital and downloadable front. To this extent, news may break surrounding free-to-play gaming, expanded downloadable content offerings and upgrades to the overall Xbox user interface, front-end experience, and Web and multimedia browsing functionality. Expect the company to push both partners' titles (e.g. offerings from Electronic Arts and Activision) and its own unique offerings and franchises, as well as of course provide a marked showing of support from third-party publishers, designed to promote the idea of continued interest in the system even as it enters late maturity in its lifecycle.
Announcements surrounding new entertainment-focused content (e.g. streaming TV options) and online music services are also anticipated. The manufacturer's core messaging will likely center on system differentiation, and future-proofing, with refinements to the Xbox 360's user experience and multimedia capabilities placed front and center.
Stay tuned for Part Two this week when the analysts put the focus on Sony's E3 showing.