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Microsoft's clear message at E3: We've got the games
Microsoft's clear message at E3: We've got the games Exclusive
June 9, 2014 | By Alex Wawro

June 9, 2014 | By Alex Wawro
More: Programming, Art, Design, Exclusive, E3

“Today, we’re dedicating our entire briefing to games.”

Freshly-minted Xbox frontman Phil Spencer opened Microsoft’s E3 2014 press conference with a clear message: the Xbox One needs software, and that’s what Microsoft plans to make a show of delivering in the months ahead.

Although it's not a surprising strategy, it's sure to please fans nonetheless. Early messaging around the Xbox One focused broadly on the "entertainment altar" of the living room, highlighting multimedia and social features aimed at keeping the video game console the center of a rounded home media experience -- fans tired of hearing about Kinect and Netflix have been clamoring for the kind of core game-focused strategy that helped the company make its mark on the console business since the original Xbox.

Microsoft is continuing to react to criticism of its Xbox division; the company announced plans to sell a Kinect-less Xbox One console and bring a bunch of popular entertainment apps to Xbox Live weeks before E3.

Now, we know that was geared to let Microsoft focus its 90-minute press conference strictly on back-to-back sizzle reels and gameplay clips of upcoming Xbox games. Xbox One owners have a dearth of games to play on their new hardware, and the company needs to make a show of selling a box that can play a broad variety of games across the triple-A-indie spectrum if they hope to kickstart flagging hardware sales.

Microsoft was savvy enough to devote the lion’s share of its big E3 event to hyping the Xbox One’s roster of developer talent. Absent the traditional parade of Microsoft executives engaging in awkward banter about Xbox entertainment apps and Kinect demos, the Xbox E3 stage played host to a steady stream of studio representatives — like 343 Industries’ Bonnie Ross, Platinum Games’ Hideki Kamiya and Insomniac’s Ted Price — talking up their games.

The fact that Microsoft approved Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive trailer for its press conference is remarkable; the clip blatantly pokes fun at the melodramatic, bass-heavy gameplay clips of hard-faced men trading fire in dirty warehouses that have become a mainstay of Microsoft’s E3 showcases. In fact, the company actually started its showcase with a brutally loud and interminably long gameplay clip from Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, suggesting that while the company is comfortable doubling down on its core franchises — Call of Duty, Forza and Halo — it’s willing to make a show of taking (soft, playful) criticism for being risk-averse and predictable.

Microsoft seems to be on its back foot this year — at no point during its E3 show did anyone say anything meaningful about sales, or promise to break ground with new hardware and software. What it did say, over and over, was that more games are coming, from both first- and third-party studios.

The company gave ID@Xbox chief Chris Charla the stage for a too-brief window to talk up Microsoft’s work with indie developers, among them Other Ocean (#IDARB), Capy Games (Below) and Heart Machine (Hyper Light Drifter), but their work was shown in a rapid-fire montage of game footage that ensured no single game received an equal amount of screentime as the latest Forza 5 DLC.

There was little new or unexpected, really, though there were a few surprises — Moon Studios’ Ori and the Blind Forest, for example, as well as a reimagining of the cult classic Xbox game Phantom Dust. Instead, Microsoft seems to be relying on the popularity of established franchises like Tomb Raider, Halo and Assassin’s Creed to bolster its fortunes in the year to come. Its indie titles were largely relegated to a fast-paced montage video.

The company's main demographic is likely most excited about Halo: The Master Chief Collection, an upcoming re-release of the Halo series that includes a visually-renovated Halo 2, beta access to upcoming Halo 5, and other little perks -- including 4000 Gamerscore points. Doubling down on its most enduring owned IP is a wise strategy to please its main constituents and secure its legacy -- but can a new console generation be sold on more of the same?

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Merc Hoffner
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Quiet message: forget about Kinect.

I guess we really are going to be stuck with the same dual stick paradigm until we're dead. I don't think this is what Wesley Crusher was expecting.

Nathan Mates
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Anyone who chose the word "Kinect" for a drinking game during that press conference is probably still sober.

Ron Dippold
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We're stuck with dual stick till someone comes up with something better (Kinect and Wiimote weren't it). It's hard to beat 30 years of refinement on the gamepad.

Ian Fisch
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The problem with the kinect, from a gameplay perspective, was that it didn't allow you to truly explore or interact with 3d environments, which is what envelope-pushing gaming is all about.

Sure, you could do a crazy hand gesture to rotate your camera perspective, and do a skiing motion to move forward and back, but at that point, your input is just as removed from the actual act as pushing forward on a joystick.

Bob Johnson
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yeah 2 problems I thought Kinect had were same as wiimote.

The input wasn't reliable enough and to make it reliable, motions had to be pretty simple. Second, you had to do the action first before it could register in game. So there was a delay there.

And yeah touching stuff in the air without feedback doesn't feel that great. Kinect Adventures comes to mind where you are trying plug holes in 3d space. It doesn't feel good and is sort of random.

Alot of these new techs in gaming have been kind of flakey and have drawbacks. Kinect, voice commands, wiimote, glasses-free 3d.

George Menhal III
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In the short amount of time that Phil Spencer has been running the show, the news for Xbox One has been getting better. Microsoft did a pretty good job today, and put the focus of their presentation exactly where it belonged. Much better than last year.

Sunset Overdrive and Evolve both looked great, and I can't wait to see some gameplay from the next Tomb Raider. Nice reveals overall, but nothing mind-blowing.

Ron Dippold
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We've got all the games: guns AND cars.

Snark aside, looks like Phil has them back on track after two years in the woods. And lots of good indies flew by. If this had been E3 2013 they'd be in great shape. I'm certainly interested in next gen Crackdown with the usual caveat that we haven't seen actual gameplay yet.

In fact, most of the stuff was just cinematics and no gameplay aside from a few features like The Division. But that keeps the momentum going.

Jed Hubic
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This was awesome this year! Lots of in game (or at least engine) footage, and all games. This was the type of E3 showing that 10 years ago as a kid would make me giddy. I've accepted there are cynical joyless people that will disagree, but I thought this got my excited to own an Xbox. I hope Sony keeps it rolling, they won't have the luxury of cheap shots to hide their showings this year!

Jed Hubic
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And let's hope pc gaming gets some love too!

Dane MacMahon
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It was nice they focused on games but I didn't see any exclusives to Xbox One that really lit my fire. Especially since Jeff Gerstmann said the Halo collection had a PC interface as well.

Bob Johnson
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Meh. IT all screamed wait until next year for next-gen to begin.

coolest thing to me was graphic style of Sunset Overdrive (not so much the gameplay) and the indie honor roll if only because I don't know enough to not be interested.

gameplay wise ...i kind of liked a few things I saw in CoD. That shield that rolled down when you shot. But....I mean I know most of the stuff they will do will be window dressing for the same game so....

Ujn Hunter
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Games games games, great I guess, except most of the games they showed with actual gameplay are all games that I'll be playing on my PS4. Seemed to me that their message wasn't really about games, but money hatted DLC. As someone who doesn't even like DLC... someone who won't touch DLC until it's 75-80% off... the whole "We have DLC first!" nonsense is worthless to me. Sad about Platinum Games making an exclusive for Xbox One, but not enough to warrant buying one. Hopefully some of these MS exclusives come to PC.

Jim Thompson
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Kinect + Oculus will be fun.

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I actually think Microsoft's press conference was lacking quite a bit. They played it safe with quite a few games, only offering a few unique titles. Otherwise, it was more of the same uninspired bullet points:

*We have Call of Duty DLC first
*We have another Halo game, and Halo collection!

And they showed the Witcher 3 off as if it was going to be a system changer.
They offered up a few indie surprises, sure, but otherwise it was ho - hum.

I'm still waiting on the fence between both systems, in terms of both developing and playing. PSN looks more tantalizing to me, as I can spread a game to both Vita (which is going the way of PSP it seems anyway) and PS3/PS4. Although it is personal preference, I wouldn't say Microsoft is "all about the games". All they did was rehash what everyone knew was coming out, and a lot of it was multiplatform games anyway, such as Assassin's Creed Unity, GTA: V, and Batman: Arkham Knight.

Albert Thornton
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"The fact that Microsoft approved Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive trailer for its press conference is remarkable; the clip blatantly pokes fun at the melodramatic, bass-heavy gameplay clips of hard-faced men trading fire in dirty warehouses that have become a mainstay of Microsoft’s E3 showcases."

This statement brings up something that annoys me.

I have nothing against Insomniac - they make good games, Sunset Overdrive looks like it will continue that trend.

But celebrating the trailer for making fun of tropes doesn't make a lot of sense, if the way you're making fun of tropes is just another trope.

That tinted-hair snarky jackass talking to the camera thing just doesn't scream 'creative!' to me any more than a grizzled guy with a gun. More than once I cringed watching the trailer because they were trying so hard to be in-your-face and alternative. Reminded me of the Poochie episode of The Simpsons.

Game will probably be fun, but the marketing is just the opposite end of the same crap spectrum.