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There was no E3 – but Microsoft won it anyway | Opinion

Just by treating the summer showcase events as a serious competitive opportunity, Xbox has come away with its best public image boost in years

There is at least one long-standing E3 tradition that has now outlived E3 itself: the picking of winners and losers from the event.

This is a distributed, largely subjective process of judgment and evaluation which has on some occasions been quite spurious and misguided, but at other times has genuinely set the tone for the competitive landscape of the year to come. Whatever failings ultimately sank E3 – and there were many, many failings – the show's position on the calendar was no accident. It remains perfectly balanced right at the point when companies have locked down their holiday release schedules and are ready to start looking forward to the following year's tentpole titles; with or without a trade show to anchor it, the start of June is always going to be a milestone games companies are focused on.

Consequently, it's always going to be an opportunity to take the pulse and temperature of the industry's market leaders – if not to declare outright winners and losers, then at least to get a sense of where we're going in the next 12 to 18 months.

All of this musing is not really required this year, I suppose, because this is one of those rare years in which there's an obvious winner: Microsoft.

Microsoft 'won' whatever this echoed remnant of E3 is, and it wasn't even close. You can measure that by just about any metric you fancy, if you want to get all quantitative about it; the games Microsoft announced and showed off garnered the most attention and acclaim no matter what yardstick you choose to use. Perhaps for the first time since the Xbox 360 generation, Microsoft is walking away from (the ghost of) E3 with a forward software pipeline that's very clearly head and shoulders ahead of its rivals' offerings thus far – an incredibly important shot in the arm not only for public perception of Xbox (which has been having a tough time in the past year) but also, no doubt, for confidence within the company itself.

The caveat – and it's a big one – is that one other thing that was very clear over the past week is that there are a bunch of different visions for what Not-E3 is and what role it should play, and there was a strong sense that Sony had prepared a set of announcements for a very different event to the one Microsoft envisioned.

That's Sony's mistake, if so; Microsoft came to the table with an incredibly solid presentation that stacked high-profile, fan-favourite titles one after the other in a way that would easily have ranked as a top-notch E3 event back when E3 still existed. Sony's more meagre offering felt like a pretty standard announcement livestream shoehorned into a fortnight of larger events, and it's fairly likely that that's what it was (and quite likely that Nintendo's Direct event in the coming days will be similarly low-key).

One good event won't fully turn around public perception dented by studio closures and ill-considered statements, but it finally feels like Xbox is ready to offer genuine competition to PlayStation

This creates a visibility problem; we know that Microsoft took the Not-E3 opportunity very seriously and has shown us a pretty significant chunk of what it's got in the pipeline (which is great), but it's really not clear how much of Sony's upcoming software roadmap we've actually seen, and it's unlikely we'll get more than a cursory glimpse of Nintendo's plans. The discord between these companies' visions of what the June showcase season means and what it's for is an echo of the wider discord that ultimately spelled the end of E3 itself, torn between too many competing visions of what the show could be and should do.

None of that detracts from Xbox finally getting to put on a genuinely fantastic show. On the strength of what we've seen so far, Xbox is the platform to beat in terms of software offerings for the next 12 to 18 months. This is the first time that it's really felt like Microsoft's incredibly expensive acquisition spree is paying full dividends; there's still a lot of work for the platform to do (one good event won't fully turn around public perception dented by studio closures and ill-considered statements), but it finally feels like Xbox is ready to offer genuine competition to PlayStation in ways that actually matter. The last time that was the case, we were all a hell of a lot younger. Then, too, the stars aligned in a similar way; Microsoft finding its feet as a software publisher just as Sony stumbled, falling victim, in many ways, to its own success.

Of course, it remains possible that Sony has far more to show, especially with regard to the 2025 pipeline – this year is already something of a write-off, the success of Helldivers 2 and the buckets of charm of Astro Bot notwithstanding.

Microsoft has an impressive line-up of titles due in the next 12 to 18 months

One of the consequences of this new, disjointed and disparate set of summer events is that there's no consensus on what you do and don't announce at Not-E3. Take hardware, for example; Microsoft mentioned some new SKUs of its consoles, but Sony didn't whisper a word about the spec-bumped Pro model we know is coming later this year, and we already know that we won't see anything about the Switch successor in Nintendo's Direct event next week.

In E3's heyday, these new hardware reveals would have been a given (at least for Sony; Nintendo has always been unpredictable in this regard, doing weird things like revealing new devices at the Tokyo Game Show, despite not even having a booth at the show itself).

The lack of any mention of new hardware, then, makes you wonder what other editorial choices were being made. Sony chose to lead on hero shooter Concord, which looks like a perfectly fine game but in retrospect was a poor choice for showcase flagship, given the tough contrasts with Microsoft's hit-after-hit approach, announcing a ton of major titles one after the other. Microsoft even dodged the bullet I was already flinching in anticipation of, namely turning at least one of those huge announcements sour by making the game live service.

The assumption most consumers who followed the showcases (which is a lot of people – the cumulative views on the various versions of these events uploaded to YouTube are immense) will come away with is that Sony's big franchise updates and new titles from its most valued studios are still too early in development to show off, which could speak to a very quiet 2025 release schedule – not a great look for the market leader – but this could just be an editorial decision.

This is no Giant Enemy Crab moment, but it's very rare to see PlayStation look so weak in terms of its pipeline

Maybe there's a plan to announce a bunch of upcoming games alongside the PS5 Pro reveal at an event later in the year. Gamescom in late August and TGS in September are both well-timed options for something like that; equally, the online nature of modern showcases and announcements means Sony could just throw a dart at a calendar and pick a date that suits it, which was never really an option until relatively recently.

All of this speaks to very divergent visions of what Not-E3, or some eventual E3 replacement, should be from the three platform holders who matter most – and it's worth noting that some other very important platform holders, like Apple and Google, weren't really there at all; it remains a little unfathomable to me that with the exception of a brief nod at Apple's WWDC event, the mobile platform holders don't try to elbow into this space with game showcases of their own.

Yet at the same time, there's no denying that the past two weeks have had a little of the old E3 magic, at least viewed from where I sit all the way over on another continent, in a very inconvenient timezone. The appetite from consumers for these showcase events is very clear, and many publishers seem to have really decided to focus on this as an opportunity for major announcements in a way that's been absent for quite a few years. The value of this point on the calendar as an opportunity to bring a ton of eyeballs to the games that the industry is teeing up for the rest of the year and beyond has not faded – but the biggest market players of all are taking very, very different approaches to what that means.

It will be very interesting to see how this year's event shapes the evolution of companies' attitudes into next year. Sony is far out in front as market leader, but it would nonetheless be foolish not to feel at least a little bit shaken by the stark difference in the public reception to its event and to Microsoft's event. That really should spur something of a re-examination of its strategy towards this showcase season.

It's not the worst slip-up – this is no Giant Enemy Crab moment, by any means – but it's been very rare in recent years to see PlayStation look so weak in terms of its forward pipeline by comparison with its rivals. Sony should be very wary of letting that perception last long, or worse, letting it be reinforced by future events. No matter how far in front PlayStation may be right now, it's still up against a fiercely competitive rival with nearly $100bn of studios and publishers in its back pocket, and Sony cannot assume that it will get to set the rules and the pacing for public announcements and showcases in future.

The summer showcase season should be a competition, and every major company should be bringing their A game; perhaps it's precisely in that rekindled spirit of industry competition that we might, in time, find a coherent form for a true successor event to E3.

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Rob Fahey avatar
Rob Fahey: Rob Fahey is a former editor of who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.
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