Saturday, June 8, 2013

E3 2013 Primer

The Electronic Entertainment Expo kicks off this week, and this is a particularly newsworthy show.  Sony and Microsoft are both bringing new hardware to the convention, and Nintendo is expected to show what the second round of games delivered for their recently released Wii U will look like.  All of the different 3rd party publishers are also clamoring for top billing on at least one of the systems.  With the next generation of gaming comes privacy and consumer concerns as well as pricing and release questions.  So what should people look for during this year's expo?

The Hardware

Sony held a press conference earlier this year to announce their new console, the PlayStation 4.  The focus of the event was on same day digital releases, cloud functionality, and easy access social media sharing, in addition to some new games planned for the console.  The general reception was reasonably positive.  Their console will also be shipped with an improved PlayStation Eye peripheral, which will function similarly to Microsoft's Kinect, which gets mentioned shortly.  Sony has promised 40 games at this year's expo for the PS4, but has not specified whether they are all exclusives or not.  I suspect some are multi-platform titles with a few key exclusives sprinkled in.  My top "game to watch" on Sony's system is Destiny, the latest from former Halo development house Bungie.  This will be a multi-platform game, but it sounds like Sony is giving Bungie some floor time during their press event.  Also expect Sony to provide answers to some of the questions Microsoft is currently getting hounded over.

Microsoft also recently announced their new console, the Xbox One.  I will not rehash some of the heated debates littering the internet of the One's muddied announcement.  Microsoft has dug itself a hole by stating the new console requires an internet connection to play games due to licensing and authentication process requirements, only allows games to be loaned to a friend once (and those games you lend can never be given back, nor can they be given to anyone who has not been on your friend's list for a minimum of 30 days), and does not support game rentals.  They are also leaving it up to publishers to decide if "participating retailers" can resell used software.  Additionally privacy advocates have raised alarms over the upgraded Kinect peripheral.  The peripheral is always on and must be connected.  Per Microsoft the Kinect device will not record or upload conversations, but it is always listening for the command "Xbox On" for start up.  For more details visit Polygon, whose coverage has been incredibly thorough.  They also have an excellent opinion piece on their site regarding the consumer concern with an always on / always connected console.  My top "game to watch" for the One (ridiculous name by the way, not sure how people can still say the Wii U is that bad of a name) is currently just a rumor.  Rare, developers of classic franchises Banjo Kazooie and Perfect Dark as well as Viva Pinata, are supposedly reviving an old favorite for the new hardware.  If it is a new Banjo Kazooie game, that would be interesting.

The Games

I mentioned what to expect with Microsoft and Sony, but what should we expect from Nintendo?  Nintendo is not releasing new hardware this year, since both their 3DS handheld and Wii U home console are still relatively new to the market.  The 3DS has a full head of steam, with an install base approaching 32 million worldwide.  The Wii U has been lambasted by industry pundits for a lack of releases post launch and lack of engineering prowess when compared to the hardware mentioned above.  For a deep dive on the Wii U launch, read my analysis here on the blog.  I actually have two "games to watch" on Nintendo systems, and really I guess you could say there are four games total.  Sega and Nintendo announced a partnership to bring Sonic exclusively to Nintendo hardware over the course of three games.  One is an Olympics tie-in; another is unannounced but rumored to be a Mario-Kart + Sonic & All Stars Racing mash-up.  The other game in the agreement is Sonic Lost Worlds.  Lost Worlds will be released on both 3DS and Wii U, exclusive to those consoles.  I want to see the functionality between the two versions.  Is there multi-player across platforms?  Can you save on one device and pick up where you left off on the other?  I have similar questions about another unrelated game with the same premise.  The new Smash Bros. game, developed in collaboration between Nintendo and Namco Bandai, will make its debut, also exclusive to 3DS and Wii U.  I have the same questions for it.  Is there a compelling reason to buy both versions, or better yet can Nintendo capitalize on the install base of the 3DS to help sell Wii U hardware?  It would also be interesting to see if Mario will be battling Goku of Dragonball fame due to the development partnership with Namco Bandai, but I do not expect to hear the full Smash Bros. roster this week.

Outside of the major hardware sellers, the 3rd party front looks largely familiar.  EA will be pushing its latest sports in-game engine, called Ignite.  Ubisoft will be bringing the promising Watch_Dogs to the event along with the latest Assassin's Creed title.  Activision has promised the next Call of Duty and Skylanders titles.  Disney will be bringing its Skylanders alternative Infinity to the show as well.  Warner Bros. will be sure to have the latest footage of the next Batman title, dubbed Arkham Origins.  Konami has a new Metal Gear, where the lead character will now be voiced by Kiefer Sutherland.  Platinum games should have some new details on Bayonetta 2 as well.  I would love to see some Indie developers surprise us or see the new players in the hardware space like Ouya, GameStick, or Oculus Rift show off something exciting, but the games mentioned above will probably take the lion's share of the press space outside of the discussions generated from the new consoles themselves.

Hopefully the above keys readers into a few of the hot topics going into this week's conference.  Every year people are surprised by one or two titles and let down by others.  It should be an interesting year due to the current video game market as well as the new hardware and technological advancements.

- Scott

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