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What do the platform holders need to do to “win” E3?

Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo all have something to prove - and the only way to prove it is with innovative, original software

E3 isn't what it used to be - it's much, much more. While the show and its associated press conferences remain ostensibly trade-only affairs, that's a distinction that doesn't mean very much any more. After all, with the advent of Internet streaming video, the whole world can watch everything live - and with each passing year, more and more of the world decides to do precisely that. Where once upon a time, gamers waited to hear second-hand tales of what had transpired in Los Angeles from the journalists who'd been there to see it, nowadays everyone watches together, and the sheer impact of the press conferences has been vastly magnified by that change.

A big audience watching around the world raises the stakes. It means that a crap press conference, an ill-judged tone, an aura of arrogance or a litany of mishaps can have big ramifications. These don't just become bar-tale fodder for chuckling journalists - they're transmitted instantly to the precise people to whom you wish to sell. Tonal blunders and messaging problems in E3 conferences can cause image problems that sink games and even consoles. Many of the problems faced by platform holders in this generation and the last one can be attributed partially to terrible performances at E3; the underlying issues started out elsewhere, but how they were telegraphed to the world and how the narrative around them developed was decided, as often as not, on stage in LA.

Bearing this in mind, then, what are we expecting next week? More importantly, what do the three platform holders actually need to do if they want to either sustain or build momentum into Christmas and beyond? Everyone has their own personal wishlist, of course, but in real terms, what's the baseline that these companies need to achieve when the world tunes in next week?

"Sony actually has the toughest job of any platform holder this year, because its very success gives it such a high bar to reach - and its weak 2015 release schedule makes the bar even higher"

Let's start with Sony, whom you might expect to have the least to prove. In a sense, that's right; PS4 is still selling strongly and really doesn't have any rival in the home console space with the exception of Microsoft's honourable mention in the US market. The console's sales even remain ahead of the almighty PS2's at the same point in its life, so there's no question that Sony is entering E3 in a position of strength.

That same strength, though, builds expectations, and Sony will have to show off some pretty remarkable stuff if it's to live up to what will be expected of it. The focus absolutely must be on software; there almost certainly won't be a price cut (there's no need for one at present), although there's a good chance of a hardware bundle or two, and almost anything else that takes up significant time on stage will be a misguided distraction. Sure, Morpheus is cool, but it's a technology that doesn't lend itself at all to on-stage demos; if it's wheeled out, it should be brief, and unless we're close enough to launch for a date and a price tag to be attached to the device and some real games shown off, it shouldn't hog the stage for now. Spending too much time on stuff like PlayStation Now or any service offerings on PS4, too, will bore the audience and risk making Sony look complacent or unfocused.

Games, games, games, must be Sony's mantra, and new games at that. Uncharted 4 and its ilk will be lovely to see, of course, and god knows we'd all like an update on what the hell is going on with The Last Guardian; but what we really need to see is a few big, new games, preferably exclusives, that will whet people's appetites for what's coming in 2016. Sony's slate for 2015 is weak and it knows it; there's not much to be done about that. What it can do, and must do in order to sustain sales momentum into Christmas, is give people a vision of great stuff to come. In that sense, Sony actually has the toughest job of any platform holder this year, because its very success gives it such a high bar to reach - and its weak 2015 release schedule makes the bar even higher.

"Kinect is gone and largely forgotten, the TV-focused launch and DRM cock-ups are ancient history, the price is in a sensible range, it's just made some sensible, good-value adjustments to the model line-up; the Xbox One is in a good place right now"

Microsoft, on the other hand, might have its easiest and most comfortable E3 in several years - not because it doesn't have to seriously impress in order to continue the uphill struggle it's waging against the PS4, but because it's finally over the issues that plagued the Xbox One around launch. Kinect is gone and largely forgotten, the TV-focused launch and DRM cock-ups are ancient history, the price is in a sensible range, it's just made some sensible, good-value adjustments to the model line-up; the Xbox One is in a good place right now. It's only got one problem - with the PS4 being this generation's go-to platform for cross-platform games, justifying the purchase of an Xbox One isn't easy, and the exclusive software line-up just isn't there yet. Unless you're a big Forza fan, the biggest game on Xbox One right now is the Master Chief Collection; the biggest upcoming game is Halo 5. Now, Microsoft is hardly alone is relying on last generation's glories for its big hitters (Nathan Drake Collection and Uncharted 4, take a bow), but perhaps even more so than Sony, it needs to come out swinging with some original, interesting IP that's going to define Xbox One. It needs a new name that comes to the top of people's thoughts when they consider a console purchase; "I was going to buy a PS4, but I really wanted to play X". Halo is great, but it won't cut the mustard for yet another generation running.

The worst thing Microsoft could do - and in fairness, I don't think they're actually about to do this - is arrive on stage with nothing to show off but a big bag of money hats. I think the Microsoft of two or three years ago would have done precisely this, running an E3 conference whose primary message was "we've paid a load of third-party publishers for exclusivity" - an action which doesn't actually secure any more games or new experiences for Xbox gamers, it just denies them to gamers on other platforms. That's what happened with Rise of the Tomb Raider at Gamescom last year; Xbox fans didn't get a new game, Microsoft simply paid a load of money to stop PS4 fans from playing too. It's a petty, negative approach that sucks away resources better spent on making new, interesting things, and I hope that Microsoft leaves that particular playbook at home next week. (An exception can be made, of course, when a platform holder is rescuing a franchise or game from extinction by taking it under its wing, as Nintendo did with Bayonetta; this E3, I'll happily pin my personal winner's rosette on any platform holder that rescues Silent Hills from being trampled underfoot in Konami's mealy-mouthed retreat from console publishing.)

Finally, Nintendo. Of the three platform holders, Nintendo is the only one that's even remotely likely to have a price cut up its sleeve, but announcing that sort of thing now isn't very Nintendo at all; it's more likely to save any discounts for the end of summer (not least because it'll want to see where the currently very wobbly dollar to Yen exchange rate stabilises before committing to a new US price point for the Wii U). In hardware terms, expect to see precisely nothing about NX, and don't expect anything about mobile games either; the ink is barely fresh on the DeNA partnership and its first fruits are likely to be aimed at Japan anyway.

This will, then, be an entirely software focused digital event for Nintendo - a running theme through all the platform holders, in fact, if they play their cards right. But what software will it show off? I expect that 3DS will get more attention than Wii U, overall; it's by far the better performing platform (and by contrast, I don't imagine that PS Vita will warrant more than a passing mention in Sony's conference). Nintendo will of course be keen to demonstrate that they aren't abandoning the Wii U, despite its weak sales, but the only real "pillars" of future Wii U support that we know about are its open-world Zelda title (one would rather hope that there'll be more of that on show) and, arguably, Star Fox, with a few other games like Mario Maker and Yoshi's Wooly World filling in gaps. Xenoblade Chronicles X, yet to be released outside Japan, will also likely make an appearance in the streaming conference.

"[Nintendo] is actually in one of its most creative and innovative phases ever at the moment, which makes it a real shame that its home console is performing so badly"

The really interesting thing from Nintendo will be the stuff we don't know about, both on 3DS and Wii U. The company is actually in one of its most creative and innovative phases ever at the moment, which makes it a real shame that its home console is performing so badly, but does leave the door open to some really interesting stuff at E3. All eyes will be on the possibility of "this year's Splatoon" making an appearance; something different, new and innovative coming out of Nintendo's studios. Equally, though, it's worth keeping an eye on Nintendo's third-party relationships, which have been very interesting in recent years, and have produced some surprising results such as the Xenoblade series and the aforementioned Bayonetta 2. If Wii U wants to remain even remotely relevant over the coming year, it's going to need both of the above; innovation from within Nintendo, and some very strong work with third-party studios.

Each platform holder faces a challenge that's similar in broad terms but very different in its specifics. They all need games; Sony needs 2016 games to confirm to 2015 buyers that the future pipeline is promising; Microsoft needs a standard-bearer for a console that's much too reliant on the tired Halo franchise; Nintendo needs to keep the likes of Splatoon coming in order to keep the Wii U even marginally relevant. With pricing settled and hardware or service revisions likely off the cards for a while yet, this E3 will truly be all about the games - and if it's really innovation and creativity that will guarantee a "win" in LA next week, that's pretty great news for gamers and the industry alike.

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Latest comments (11)

Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend3 years ago
Bethesda have already won E3 as far as I am concerned. Fallout 4!!! Can't wait. :)

Not that bothered about any of the platform holders these days tbh, they are a little bit like squabbling children. PC has always been the stalwart of the gaming industry and where I spend most of my gaming days, so yea..... FALLOUT 4!!!!

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Darren Adams on 12th June 2015 10:11am

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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 3 years ago
Each company shall choose one representative who upon hearing his name shall enter the circle of doom. The rules are as follows: two men enter, one man leaves, single elimination rounds. Last representative standing will be crowned winner of E3 by Tina Turner.
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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend3 years ago
MASTER BLASTER FTW!!!! :D

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Darren Adams on 12th June 2015 11:07am

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Show all comments (11)
Daniel Hughes PhD Researcher, Bangor University3 years ago
A correction on Xenoblade: It's not the result of a third party partnership, it's the result of Nintendo buying a majority share in Monolith Soft, who are now a first party studio for Nintendo. Hyrule Warriors, The Wonderful 101 and Devil's Third are the result of third party partnerships, for example, and yes, I expect we'll see more of that from Nintendo. The interesting thing with those partnerships is whether or not they'll only be Japan-based developers, or whether Nintendo has picked a Western studio/publisher to work with.

Also, why is no-one picking up on Mario Maker and Mario Bros 30th Anniversary? Mario Maker is the pack-in title Wii U should have launched with, and you can bet at least part of the Digital Event will reveal how Nintendo plans to mark that anniversary. Remakes, an all-star pack or new titles for Wii U and 3DS are possible. I'd also expect Nintendo will focus more on Wii U, purely because 3DS doesn't need the air time. It might be the bigger seller, but Nintendo consistently devote more time to their home consoles at E3 unless they have a new handheld to talk about, which they don't this year.

EDIT: Zelda will definitely not be at the Digital Event, Aonuma confirmed as much a couple of months ago.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Daniel Hughes on 12th June 2015 1:31pm

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Adam Campbell Game Manager, Azoomee3 years ago
I'm never too sure how relevent an E3 "Win" is as the years pass by and the channels to promote new content and announcements only increase. However, its usually been down to who has the most in-house software and presents it in an exciting manor.
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Jordan Lund Columnist 3 years ago
Microsoft - Show some amazing in game footage of a new exclusive title. Everyone agrees it's impressive. The audience is wowed. Then they announce "See, we told you nobody cared about 960p, 30fps. Yes, what you just watched was 960p, 30fps." Don't dodge having lower spec, make the lower spec look awesome.

Sony - I don't think there's much Sony can do to win E3, it's theirs to lose. I've been grossly disappointed about the lack of Vita stuff during the last two shows (last year it got bounced from their conference so they could talk about the Powers TV show and the year before that it was bounced for the f'in Wonderbook. I don't see that changing this year what with the "legacy platform" discussion. But if they bounce the Vita and the PSTV, they better have something substantive to replace them.

Nintendo - Like Sony, only at the other end of the scale. Nothing they can do will actually win them E3. Maybe if they do an early reveal of the NX, it's hard to say. The Wii U s a distant, distant 3rd in this generation. They've already stated that Legend of Zelda Wii U won't be at the show.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.3 years ago
Ah...the subjective "winning E3". Also known as the Brand Allegiance Brag About.



But I'll tell you who wins anyway. Gamers do.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 3 years ago
No one "wins" E3 anymore. It's all about showing up with stuff that's actually good as opposed to bragging about how great and peachy-keen a line up is no one is interested in all that much. We're at the point where even some big AAA titles are going to be "niche" to many because they're no longer interested in the usual suspects doing what they usually do (only with shinier visuals now on those new systems).

Eh, we'll see what happens, but I don't predict anyone walking away with anything but the usual journo-based awards for biggest and best whaddever (*yawn*).
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James Coote Independent Game Developer 3 years ago
E3 typifies the way (this part of) the industry is driven by perception
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 3 years ago
Sony will have to show off some pretty remarkable stuff if it's to live up to what will be expected of it.
Games, games, games, must be Sony's mantra, and new games at that.
Doubtful. Sony has yet to launch any amazingly original or innovative software and yet it's still outselling XBO by at least 2 to 1 and the Wii U by around 3 to 1 or more. If Sony hasn't needed to focus on amazing exclusive software to achieve those numbers then why start now?
Spending too much time on stuff like PlayStation Now or any service offerings on PS4, too, will bore the audience
That's already a given. Like previous years Sony's show will be a full two hours, which is an extra half hour longer than the other conferences and that extra half hour is nothing but boring filler.
Sony actually has the toughest job of any platform holder this year, because its very success gives it such a high bar to reach
Not really. The PS4 is selling at a record setting pace without a single system selling game to call it's own. With that kind of success they could pretty much just show a picture of a PS4 with the words "more games coming soon" under it and the people at the conference would still applaud. Like I've been saying all along, the PS4 is defying the myth that games sell hardware.

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Paul Jace on 15th June 2015 1:39am

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Paul Jace Merchandiser 3 years ago
The worst thing Microsoft could do......arrive on stage with nothing.....but a big bag of money hats..."we've paid a load of third-party publishers for exclusivity" - an action which doesn't actually secure any more games or new experiences for Xbox gamers, it just denies them to gamers on other platforms. That's what happened with Rise of the Tomb Raider at Gamescom last year; Xbox fans didn't get a new game, Microsoft simply paid a load of money to stop PS4 fans from playing too. It's a petty, negative approach
I completely agree with that. When Sony paid to have two multi-platform game series(Silent Hills from Konami and Street Fighter V from Capcom) become PS4 exclusives and to have exclusive content from Bungie's Destiny, all I could think of was how they were denying fans of those series on other platforms from playing those games. That's such a petty, negative approach by Sony to dish out money hats like that. PS4 fans weren't getting new game series, Sony simply paid a load of money to stop Xbox fans from playing too....wait a minute, were we only suppose to make fun of Microsoft for using that practice while giving Sony yet another free pass? I guess I'm a nonconformist from the majority of the internet and will never acknowledge Microsoft as inherently bad while pretending Sony is inherently good when they continue to actively take part in similar business practices and have been since before the original Xbox even launched.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Paul Jace on 13th June 2015 7:32pm

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