Author(s): Trevor Pardee
This year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) provided an interesting glimpse into the future of video games.
Microsoft announced some interesting elements that may foreshadow a dramatic change to the business model of its Xbox brand. First, later in 2016 it will launch a smaller Xbox One S console. Then next year it will release an Xbox One with higher-end specs including support for 4K and VR gaming, currently named Project Scorpio. This is a distinct change to how consoles are normally sold; typically, updates to existing models have the same basic specifications as their predecessors, with improvements in size or connectivity, for example. Microsoft appears to be part of a trend to upgrade the underlying hardware of a current platform.
By bumping up the hardware four years into its life cycle, the Xbox One will have more parity with the hardware capabilities of gaming PCs. When you factor in the increasing support for cross-buying titles (for example, if you buy a game on Xbox One you can also play it on Windows 10), the Xbox brand is less like a console and more like a PC. This is possibly Microsoft's way of slowly moving out of the game console hardware business, and getting gamers accustomed to the idea of Xbox now being a platform to play video games on a Windows PC, much like Valve's Steam service.
Additionally, Microsoft announced its Xbox Design Lab, which lets customers purchase a customised controller. Offering an official first-party alternative to a service already common among third-party accessory makers is a wise move. This idea harkens back to the early days of the Xbox 360, when Microsoft offered custom faceplates and matching themes were also made available. Custom gear for PC gaming is very prominent and it's a promising way for Microsoft to please their most loyal fans while also getting a cut of a proven market.
Though Microsoft's focus during the event was more on hardware, there are some exciting exclusive games in the pipeline such as Halo Wars 2, Rare's Sea of Thieves, and Dead Rising 4. Xbox boss Phil Spencer has done a great job righting the wrongs of his predecessors by understanding and delivering the type of experiences users want. As a result, the Xbox division appears to have long abandoned the PR issues that occurred with the launch of the Xbox One in 2013.
Nintendo appeared to be building momentum for its next-generation platform, codenamed NX, but it didn't have ground-breaking news beyond a few key announcements about its software. We finally got more details on the long-awaited Legend of Zelda: Breath of Wild title for the Wii U, which is set to be released in 2017. With the transition to the NX platform occurring not long after the release window for Zelda, this is likely the last hurrah for the Wii U. The other news from Nintendo was the announcement of the new Pokemon Sun and Moon titles for the 3DS. These games feature new Pokemon characters and look like a treat for loyal fans as it coincides with the 20th anniversary of the franchise.
As for Sony, we know that its PlayStation 4 console with upgraded specs is on the horizon, though this wasn't the main focus during the E3 event. Similar to last year, it focussed on delivering exciting, exclusive titles for its platform. We learned that PlayStation 1 icon Crash Bandicoot is officially coming to PlayStation 4, though this wasn't a huge surprise thanks to rumblings on social media and Naughty Dog's throwback to Crash in its recently released Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. Also, the team at Insomniac Games is developing a Spiderman video game for PlayStation 4. The footage shown of this game impressed many, and the use of its highly regarded game development studios producing the title should please everyone's favourite web-slinging teenage superhero.
Additionally, after an awkward parting of ways last year between famous game developer Hideo Kojima and Konami, Sony surprised everyone at E3 by announcing that it's working with Mr Kojima to publish his new game, Death Stranding. This sucker punch was a great PR move for Sony given fans' shock and disappointment at what happened to Mr Kojima. As the company has been through tough times over the past several years, it appears hell-bent on maintaining dominance in the console gaming space, and it's working out very well for Sony and its customers.
Digital Card Games
In hopes of getting a slice of the market for digital card games, which Blizzard pioneered with Hearthstone, Bethesda revealed more about its upcoming Elder Scrolls: Legends. And CD Projekt Red announced a card game spin-off of its Witcher series, called Gwent. It will likely be difficult to dethrone Hearthstone since it effectively established the genre for what a digital collectable card game should be. However, if it can find ways to make its titles unique or more enjoyable, then it could succeed. Looking at other e-sports genres like real-time strategy and multiplay online battle arena, the game of choice among players has shifted multiple times, so it could very well happen in this space as well.
Overall this year's E3 was a great show with lots of exciting games and some interesting hints at the future of gaming hardware. Though it's difficult to predict the future in the world of tech, at this year's show we got a great look at where many think the puck is heading.
For CCS Insight's thoughts on virtual reality at E3, please see Virtual Reality Makes a Big Splash at E3 2016.