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Roundtable: The winners and losers of E3

With two days of press conferences now in the rear-view mirror, which companies and games really made an impact?

E3 tends to start with a bang. Even before the expo opens the platform-holders and AAA publishers hold press conferences, aiming to grab the most mindshare among fans and the games press. It's all just so much chest thumping, a game of oneupmanship to see who can elicit the most "oohs" and "ahhs" from the audience.

There are times, however, when an entire presentation can feel flat, uninspired and even a little boring. As our own Rob Fahey rightly pointed out, in the digital era where everything is streamed the stakes are now dauntingly high. These days, a terrible performance at E3 can have lasting ramifications.

With this in mind, the GamesIndustry.biz team gathered 'round the virtual camp fire, roasted some marshmallows and discussed the best and worst of the last 48 hours.

James Brightman

"While most of the industry is fixated on virtual reality, augmented reality could be the trend that really takes off"

Following Monday's Xbox briefing I was prepared to proclaim Xbox the “winner” of E3. The mistakes that have defined the console's recent history are now largely in the past, and Microsoft made two very significant announcements: backwards compatibility for Xbox 360 games, and Xbox One Preview, a platform similar to Steam's Early Access. This is Microsoft learning from those mistakes, demonstrating more respect for its audience and the development community. Microsoft is starting to 'get it.'

Not only that, but while most of the industry is fixated on virtual reality, augmented reality (AR) could be the trend that really takes off. The mind-blowing demo of HoloLens running an AR version of Minecraft showcased that technology with aplomb. I can see entire families and friends gathering to play AR games. Of course, there's no mention of when HoloLens will ship, but it has serious potential.

As for the more immediate future, it was nice to see Microsoft Game Studios' first-party lineup deliver with a bit more 'oomph.' After the failed experiment that was Kinect, Rare is now free to flex its muscle again with the charming Sea of Thieves. Halo 5 looks sharp, of course, as does Forza 6, and the new Gears of War from The Coalition has promise. There were also some really strong indie games on display for the ID@Xbox program, with the brilliant, cartoon-styled Cuphead from Studio MDHR and Ashen from Aurora44 my two favourites. It's just too bad we didn't see and hear from even more indie developers.

However, just few hours later, Sony quickly answered with some mega-surprises of its own. Confirming The Last Guardian with Fumito Ueda still at the helm was a massive crowd pleaser, as was the announcement of Shenmue 3's Kickstarter campaign - a complete shock to everyone's system. Beyond that, Sony then showed its first-party strength with Dreams, a new, acid-trip inducing IP from Media Molecule, and a gorgeous new post-apocalytpic IP from Guerilla Games, Horizon: Zero Dawn. Sony also unveiled another much requested game from Square Enix: the remake of Final Fantasy VII.

Ultimately, this business is driven by the software, and when it comes to games, Sony's got 'em. In the competition between Microsoft and Sony, I'd call it a draw.

And then there's Nintendo, with a digital event that was utterly disappointing compared to the showcases from Microsoft and Sony. People cannot live by nostalgia alone, and yet that's precisely what Nintendo seems to be asking of its audience. More Mario RPG, more Mario Tennis, a new 3DS Zelda that looks just like Four Swords, and Star Fox, which Nintendo clearly believes is a more important franchise than it actually is. It's disheartening, like watching a former all-star athlete still trying to pull off fancy moves at age 40.

”Even after tempering expectations by saying there would be no NX announcements, Nintendo's briefing was still a disappointment"

Nintendo doesn't necessarily care about the 'battle' with Sony and Microsoft, but it desperately needs a fresh start. Frankly, information on the NX and its mobile gaming strategy really can't come soon enough.

Brendan Sinclair

High marks all around for this year's crop of E3 briefings. Microsoft and Sony had two of the best shows I've seen in years, with a tremendous diversity of games, tantalizing new IP on display, and a mix of familiar franchises and unknown indies.

The third-party publishers, long a weak point in the E3 conference gauntlet, also had good reason to puff their chests and tout their wares. Fallout 4 and Doom seemed to get the Bethesda faithful going (even if they didn't do much for me personally), EA supplemented its big guns with Unravel and Mirror's Edge: Catalyst, and Ubisoft rolled out another new IP in For Honor and the most interesting Tom Clancy game in years with Ghost Recon: Wildlands. Even Square Enix had a lineup worthy of its own media briefing, with big games for fans of its Eidos-labelled Western games (Hitman, Deus Ex, Tomb Raider), as well as the company's original Japanese franchises (Final Fantasy, Nier, Kingdom Hearts).

Nintendo, however, struggled badly. Even after tempering expectations by saying there would be no Nintendo NX or Quality of Life platform announcements, Nintendo's briefing was still a disappointment. There was no mention of its move into mobile games. There was no open-world Zelda. Apologies to Star Fox fans, but the highlights of the company's conference were Mario Maker and Yoshi's Woolly World, which coincidentally enough were both playable highlights of its E3 2014 showing. The only product with any buzz is the company's line of amiibo toys, and fan passion for those has turned ugly due to Nintendo's seeming lack of interest in meeting consumer demand for certain figures.

But hey, at least the puppets were cute.

Steve Peterson

All three of the platform-holders had strong points, but Microsoft hit all of the right bases in its presentation. Strong fall lineup with solid exclusive games? Check, with Halo 5 leading the way, and Forza 6, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Fable Legends, Gears of War Ultimate Edition, and Rare Replay following on. A big surprise announcement that will help move hardware this year? Yes, the Xbox 360 backwards compatibility will at least gain Microsoft some credit from those with a lot of 360 games, and quite possibly move a few units of the Xbox One. New technology? Check, with the Elite controller, a killer Minecraft for HoloLens demo, and lots of Windows 10 support. Something to look forward to in 2016? Plenty, including Ashen, Gears of War 4, and Rare's Sea of Thieves.

"Sony certainly had some impressive announcements, but exclusives for 2015 were a major weakness"

Sony certainly had some impressive announcements, but exclusives for 2015 were a major weakness. The best it could muster was a handful of "exclusive for PlayStation 4" additions to multi-platform titles. Nice, but it does tend to piss off gamers on other platforms. New technology? Nothing really. Project Morpheus got a mention, but some new information - like a price, an exact ship date, or a specific product lineup - would have added some excitement. Yes, 2016 could be amazing for PlayStation 4 owners, but the wait will be hard.

Nintendo had to deal with the fact that everyone knows it's working on new console hardware. In that context, mustering enthusiasm for new software is far harder, but there was plenty for the company's fans to look forward to nonetheless. The presentation has its usual family-friendly vibe, leveraging Nintendo's famous IPs to appeal to kids of all ages. Indeed, a deal with Activision to introduce beloved Nintendo characters to Skylanders underscored just how much Nintendo is trying to appeal to younger demographics again.

Who wins E3? All three can claim victory among their fans, but it sure looked to me like Microsoft was strongest overall.

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Latest comments (16)

Evan Barnett Social Advisor, EA5 years ago
I was pretty surprised at Sony's press conference - I felt it started out very strong, by quelling concerns about The Last Guardian and then showing off Horizon Zero Dawn (which is my game of show), but then segued painfully into paid exclusivity deals and the very out of place Call of Duty reveal. All of that while having no answer for how PlayStation Now will hope to compete with Microsoft's free backwards compatibility. Overall there were excellent highlights, but the absence of PlayStation Now, a service desperately in need of attention, and the bipolar showing of Call of Duty (even Destiny felt like it fit better within their show) left me with mixed feelings after the show.

As such, I have to agree with Steve that Microsoft came out stronger than Sony. While Recore didn't have gameplay shown like Horizon Zero Dawn, it's got some impressive developers at the helm, and Microsoft has already started making backwards compatibility a positive thing by making it at least partially audience driven - and this is ignoring the rest of their lineup, which was impressive in the ways it needed to be.
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David Canela Game & Audio Designer 5 years ago
Backward compatibility for Xbox One is sweet, for sure. I do wonder how much it really matters, though. There are so many new games coming out all the time, along with HD remakes of old games. Are there that many people that want to keep playing the old ones ( talking mass market here, not folks like probably most of us who comment here )? More importantly, in that population, is there a large group that somehow have sold their old Xbox 360 but have kept the games? As I said, it's definitely nice, and in the long run, when the 360s start to die, you'll still be able to play those games, that's certainly awesome. But I doubt if it'll have a big impact on sales or public perception.

It's certainly an easy PR win vs. Sony's expensive streaming approach to the same issue, if nothing else.
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Iván Ortega Head of Customer Support, Now Computing5 years ago
Am i wrong or there were barely 6 seconds of in show time for the PSvita and 3 vocal mentions? Poor little and impressive device.
Very good E3 overall, i feel. Good games, good impressions, and good games for the future. I hoped a little bit more for the PC Showcase but i am sure things will grow if other publishers/developers see an interesting potential. I feel it can be quite good for the PC market so it gets "stablished" a bit and reclaims a space of its own.
Being a Nintendo fan, i was quite baffled as well. I really liked the beginning of their Direct, but to be honest there was too little content to show. Some surprises here and there, but nothing deal-breaking. It was so sad to see that there was almost no third party support for them, specially compared with the other gaming devices. They really need to take a new chance and play side by side with the big ones to become more relevant. I love my WiiU, but i do not see many things beyond Xenoblade 2. I would have loved a new Mario title besides Mario maker.
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Show all comments (16)
Evan Barnett Social Advisor, EA5 years ago
@David Canela -

In my eyes, I think it will have three effects:
1) 360 players who haven't upgraded yet now have a good reason to stick with Xbox, as part or all of their collection might carry over
2) Please the crowd looking to play classics, while hopefully cutting the costs associated with officially creating a remake/remastered version
3) Opens a major door for the EA Access service, as it could possibly add fan favorites from 360 into "The Vault"

I'm not quite sure exactly how relevant the first point is, as I haven't kept track of numbers related to how many players (especially in America, Xbox's largest market) haven't upgraded yet, but I could see it having a temporarily noticeable effect on the numbers once the first wave of 360 games are made backwards compatible. Whether it will be a sustainable increase, I definitely think that's questionable, especially as next-gen development is really starting to ramp up.

As for the second point, I think the crowd requesting remakes and remasters of their favorite games from the last-gen consoles is smaller than they'd like to think they are, but they're definitely vocal, so giving them what they want (and having it be player driven, to boot) will likely create some strong brand evangelists.

Overall, though, I agree it's likely more of a PR win, especially at the moment. I'm interested to see how it plays out, though, because I think Microsoft is doing lots of things right with their approach.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Evan Barnett on 17th June 2015 11:10pm

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Caleb Hale Journalist 5 years ago
My takeaways from Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo:

Xbox: I think it has finally cleared the messaging hurdles that hampered the Xbox One's launch and is trying to double down on its own identity as a gaming machine. It's playing it safe right now, leaning heavily on its tried and true exclusives (Halo, Forza, Gears) and the backward compatibility of titles from its 360 glory days; walling off Tomb Raider as a timed exclusive is its power play for the moment, and the Rare Replay title is some low-hanging fruit the company apparently just realized was there after about 13 years. Xbox also seems to be trying to appeal to an audience that might desire a PC gaming experience, without the stress and expense of configuring a PC to run games optimally.

Sony: A solid performance on par with its offerings in the PS4 era, but I don't think I saw a 2015 release date attached to any of the major showcased titles. I expect a lot of these games to return to the show floor for E3 2016 actually. The Call of Duty partnership is probably something Sony has wanted for a while; I just think they got it about three years after the majority of the gaming audience stopped caring. Project Morpheus showing was surprisingly short, but I think very few of the games in development currently that support the device are going to justify whatever undoubtedly high price tag gets thrown on this thing later in the year.

Nintendo: Reviving the Nintendo World Championships this year made more sense after viewing Nintendo's E3 show. Without the contest, Nintendo would have gained very little attention from its planned line up for the rest of 2015 and early 2016. I've learned not to completely discount the company and its games, as titles are often more dense than they first appear. However, I can't help but feel the real development horsepower of Nintendo is currently engaged on its NX platform, leaving the Wii U to die a rather protracted death over the next year and a half, maybe longer.
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David Canela Game & Audio Designer 5 years ago
@Evan Barnett

You make some good points there.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 5 years ago
Microsoft seemed very eager to point out the value proposition of the Xbox One throughout the entire show. Sony was mostly coasting and someday somebody might now what the heck Nintendo was doing. Probably providing Youtube dubbing material for years to come. Which they then co-monetize for billions of Dollars, causing MIcrosoft and Sony to do their own versions.

EA definitely won E3 Bingo by being innovative, listening to the fans, having a card game a team shooter and the most artsy fartsy game of them all that is unlike anything you have ever seen, i.e. a puzzle platformer, BINGO! We also saw how old Pele got and how young Hoth still can be.

Ubisoft had the best stage presenter by far, but also Co-Op, then some more Co-Op and last but not least lots and lots of Co-Op. By the time the show hit Assassin's Creed the shocker was the lack of Co-Op being mentioned once every thirty seconds.

Doom4 was the saddest puppy. It looked liked a hastily uprezzed version of Doom 3 that regained some of the original's speed, but then decided to pander to the crowd and break the flow by interrupting the action with one canned animation after another filled with violence that is soon to get old. At first glance, during the show you want to bring the Doom4 puppy home, but then you realize that there waits this older, meaner Doom wolf and it will mercilessly kill the Doom 4 puppy as soon as it tries to nestle in for the first time. Once more, you then end up digging a hole at night in your back yard under your nosy neighbors watchful eyes, but what else are you going to do, in your heart you still know that giving the Doom4 puppy a proper burial is the right thing to do, even if that means having to talk to the police for suspicious nighttime gardening, again.
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Patrick Frost QA Project Monitor 5 years ago
Can I point out that we all thought that Nintendo was saving it's development horsepower at the end of the Wii's life because software completely faded away. And then it turned out they weren't.

I was far more underwhelmed by the Xbox conference than everyone else seems to be. I don't really think of the 360 back catalogue as much more than consumable entertainment, certainly not things that I want to hark back to enough that I'd get excited.
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Marty Howe Director, Figurehead Studios5 years ago
Doom4 was the saddest puppy
Hi Klaus, Doom looked the most fun. I mean, relentlessly blasting monsters is pretty old school, but I wish more games were like this. Pure, simple fun. No long cut-scenes that interrupt gameplay etc.

By comparison, in Gears of War 4, the characters are just walking, and talking. It looked boring.
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 5 years ago
Nintendo gets props for announcing a new Metroid. But they deserve to get heckled for the muppets.

As for Sony's conference, these were my top three highlights: A) the awkward countdown on stage during the Shenmue 3 announcement that culminated in....nothing, except for a close up of a very confused fan that appeared to be strung out on something. B) the complete 180 of the crowd's reaction to Sony announcing an exclusive video game partnership with Lucasfilms to their reaction they had when the Disney Infinity logo appeared on screen and C) that truly amazing Uncharted 4 demo.....the first one where Nathan Drake was stuck in place looking like a doped up creeper suspiciously staring at the crowd.

Steve Peterson echoed my feelings about Microsoft's conference. And as James pointed out, one could look at the line up between Sony's show and Microsoft's show as a draw. However, what gives Microsoft the advantage is: A) they have a ton of exclusive's coming this holiday season and Sony's 2015 line up simply can't compare, B) Microsoft not only showed games that are coming out this year and stuff that's coming out next year but they also had games at their conference that were available immediately, namely the Gears of War: Ultimate Edition beta and all the games in the EA Access vault and finally C) Microsoft performed the most poetic mic drop moment when they simultaneously announced 360 backwards compatibility while also pimp slapping Sony with their jab towards PS Now when they said they won't charge their fans for their version of backwards compatibility.

What does Microsoft get for this victory? A whole lot of nothing but hopefully their many game announcements for 2015 will afford them increased Xbox One sales in the remainder of the year.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Paul Jace on 18th June 2015 7:54am

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Daniel Hughes PhD Researcher, Bangor University5 years ago
Personally, I thought Microsoft were most convincing, Sony had no slip-ups and some easy PR wins, and Nintendo did a terrible job of pointing out that Wii U has 8 varied exclusives coming before the end of the year, and that 3DS now has software support stretching into 2016.

Sony, I think, made no errors, but I have to question the lack of scrutiny in the press over their use of Kickstarter to gauge interest in a project they, as a platform holder with a large network of development studios, could easily have afforded to fund themselves. Other people have argued far more eloquently and convincingly on this point that I am able too, but the failure of games journalists to pick this point up troubles me. Sony are potentially undermining a valuable source of funding for studios and developers that simply cannot afford to fund themselves, and that, despite my overwhelming joy at Shenmue 3 finally happening (I played one and two on my brother's Dreamcast), is something that should concern us all. The lack of exclusives this year, particularly in comparison to Xbox One, means PS4 isn't a must-have for me, in the near-term, though I'm sure the eventual arrival of The Last Guardian will change that.

Microsoft gave their most convincing pitch of what Xbox is for five or six years, I think. Big multi-platform titles, great looking indie games, a line up of exclusive software from now until the end of next year, and a forward-looking version of backwards compatibility. Add to that a tantalising cross-platform future with Windows 10, and a willingness to work with others to bring VR to market, and they did a great job. As soon as I can afford the initial outlay, I will be getting an Xbox One. There's no better indictment of a good E3 than that, I think. If any company has successfully changed the sales battle for the remainder of 2015 and 2016, I think Microsoft are the one. Not enough to overhaul Sony's ongoing sales lead, but enough to boost Xbox One, I think.

Nintendo I feel, have turned back the clock to the years when they did a terrible job of showing people they have good games. Yet that doesn't excuse Steve or Brendan's lazy dismissal of their showing. Brendan, we knew before E3 Nintendo weren't going to show mobile or Zelda. And, ultimately, Wii U is a commercial failure, yet it has a varied line up of exclusive games, a handful of family friendly third party releases, and continuing indie support until the early months of 2016 at least. Mario Maker, Yoshi, Starfox (Platinum co-developed, and with a bonkers new control scheme, hardly the nostalgia fest Steve made it out to be), Xenoblade and Mario Tennis should all turn out well. There's unusual stuff like Devil's Third and Fatal Frame V, too. 3DS now has a line up of strong exclusive software stretching into 2016, which impressed me. Fire Emblem: Fates, Mario & Luigi, Yokoi Watch, and Bravely Second are the highlights of 3DS's fifth year line up; no mean feat, considering some people thought the system wouldn't last a year or two.

Nintendo's failure to promise more big blockbusters for Wii U beyond Zelda (presumably cross-platform) stings a little, but then we're talking about a system yet to hit the 10 million mark after two and a half years on the market. That Nintendo have stood by--and will stand by Wii U till the end of its third year at least--is not something many platform holders would have done. Sony left Vita to sink or swim 18 months ago, for example. Nintendo's failure this E3, is once again a failure of managing their message. Given both 3DS and Wii U were written off, I think Nintendo will have done well to keep 3DS on the market--and selling decently if not brilliantly--for five years, and Wii U for three to four years. Yet, given the choice between supporting your format with time consuming and expensive blockbusters which will not boost the install base meaningfully, or preparing your best teams to move onto something new to get that product off to the strong start Wii U and 3DS lacked, what would you do?

Nintendo deserve criticism for some of their questionable spin-offs, particularly the Amiibo Party Animal Crossing game that should just be titled "cash cow", though again, I expected their showing would largely consist of spin-off titles. It is, as Reggie pointed out at the broadcast, a year of transformation and transition for Nintendo, and I don't think the transformation he was referring to was on show at E3. It's still to come, 12 months time. Given the circumstances, Nintendo could and should have managed a better presentation. But when it comes to content, Wii U and 3DS in particular look like they will have a few, odd spots of glory before they are put out to pasture.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Daniel Hughes on 18th June 2015 11:33am

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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 5 years ago
@Marty
Granted, compared to Gears4, Doom 4 looked like a lot of action. Compared to Doom1 and Doom2 it lacked flow. gl_finishingmoves 0 and gl_echoepuzzles 0 ist all I say about that. Thank god for mod support.
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Shane Sweeney Academic 5 years ago
Not to be captain fun kill. But everyone did well, everyone was pretty humble and the gamer reaction was appropriate and reserved and didn't go on the attack (that I saw) in a fanboy way against any other company. This was the best E3 in years.

I'd hoped we wouldn't have the annual roll out trying to pigeon hole companies as winners and losers. Maybe we haven't come that far though.
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Daniel Hughes PhD Researcher, Bangor University5 years ago
@ Shane

I think the winners this year are gamers, and the losers are our wallets, ultimately!

That being said, there still are problems with the way gamers respond to things they don't like. Check out the 5000 people who have signed a petition demanding Nintendo scrap the Metroid Prime spin off, because it's not the game those people wanted. I feel sorry for Next Level games, their last two projects were both excellent.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Daniel Hughes on 18th June 2015 2:58pm

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Evan Barnett Social Advisor, EA5 years ago
@Shane Sweeney -

While I agree that from a consumer standpoint it's not entirely relevant who "won" or "lost," I think it's not something the industry can avoid discussing - the various platform holders are definitely going there to win. Microsoft doesn't want anyone to buy a Sony platform, not really, and vice versa.

The way I see it, the discussion of winning and losing is more about which platform holder set themselves up to entice the most new customers, and retain their older ones, and how did they do that - this is where the question becomes relevant to software developers. Microsoft introducing backwards compatibility perhaps opens doors to continue a series that hasn't transitioned to Xbox One, but was a cult classic on the 360, for example.

And I think it depends a lot on how you frame and phrase the discussion, as well - while the concept of winning and losing is a bit aggressive, admittedly, I think it's also an easy and colloquial way to talk about the inherent conflict that exists between platform holders. And one thing I liked about this article and the ensuing comments is that they didn't really talk about a loser, they just talked about who was stronger, which I think is the appropriate way to phrase the discussion.

I guess the tl;dr is that I think it is very appropriate to discuss which platform holders had strong or weak showings at E3 and why, but I agree that the discussion needs to be framed appropriately. Hopefully the mindset shown on this page can be taken elsewhere to flourish.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game5 years ago
I can only speak for myself, but after two generations of owning Xbox, that disasterous reveal two years back left me pretty sure when I could upgrade I'd get a PS4, especially as first party non arcade releases seemed to fall into either kinect or usual suspect releases. I actually had a PS4 ordered, but had to cancel it last week, after the Microsoft conference on monday, now own an Xbox one.

I also really like Phil Spencer's message just as I hated Matrick's. I really respect that he gives credit where credit's due to Sony, rather than going with trash talk too. Peter Moore's reveal of EA vault surprised me too, he really showed it to be value for money, a feeling I'd lost from EA over the last few years with the microtransactions on full price game approach. Really enjoying the trial too. I've yet too watch EA's conference, but I look forward to doing so.

As for Hololens, just wow!
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