E3 2014: Quick Thoughts on Day 1

Tons of great reveals, demos and other great content on the 1st day of E3 this year! Some quick thoughts on the various press conferences:

 

Microsoft: Phil Spencer said that the focus would be on games, and he delivered strongly on that promise. Tightly focused on end-to-end content with strong AAA exclusives such as Forza Horizon 2, Sunset Overdrive, Crackdown 3 and more in combination with featured indie games such as Kickstarter projects Hyper Light Drifter and Mighty No. 9 as well as haunting new debuts such as Inside, Microsoft’s show was the antithesis of the convergent multimedia, showy presentation style and executive presenter heavy format that Don Mattrick brought to previous Microsoft E3 conferences (and most competitors still heavily use).

The demonstrations of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Tom Clancy’s The Division were really exciting, and Halo: The Master Chief Collection deserves a special shout out for providing an insane amount of content for a single game price. The entire 90 minutes was “all killer, no filler” and deserves a strong grade of A, which other respected voices such as ex-PlayStation leader Jack Tretton also endorsed Spencer and team with.

 

Electronic Arts: I don’t understand what happened here. Mass Effect was teased, but in a generic manner that was sandwiched between other odd reveals such as Criterion Games trying…something new with a lot of different vehicle types, a really long and often socially insensitive (to put it mildly) trailer for The Sims 4 and a belated entry into the MOBA genre with Dawngate.

The sports strategy in particular is confusing, and heading in a direction that is particularly uneven. The UFC and NHL 15 games were covered with trailers released before EA’s show, Madden NFL 15 focused on defensive gameplay tweaks without addressing other game elements and PGA Tour seems to have morphed into Powerstar Golf. FIFA 15 looks great, but overall this core part of EA did not present well: between the overall lack of new content for the press conference and the entire absence of NBA Live, this division needs a lot of work.

Mirror’s Edge 2 and Battlefield: Hardline are still cool ideas, but this felt like a press event compiled using disparate content blocks without a cohesive overall flow. Almost every title covered was part of an annually releasing franchise and still managed to reveal relatively little in details or points of excitement, I felt this earned a grade of C- which may historically prove generous.

 

Ubisoft: Well, that was…something. The trailer for Tom Clancy’s The Division looked great and the final reveal of Rainbow Six: Siege (which likely spelled the end for Rainbow Six: Patriots) would have stood out more without a lot of time spent on generic titles such as Just Dance Now and the offensively presented Shape Up. The Crew looks promising and the extra work put in during their additional development time appears to be producing tangible positive results, but I fear that missing the current console launch window (and tentatively launching after Forza Horizon 2) will be insurmountable obstacles to overcome.

The company has some really strong shooters between the Tom Clancy franchises and Far Cry 4 as well as an annual juggernaut in the Assassin’s Creed universe (wasn’t there supposed to be a last generation complement to the current generation exclusive title Unity, though?), but the presentation and selected game demonstration choices hampered what could have been a much stronger showing. I think their event merited a B- grade, but it could and should have been much higher with some minor tweaks: there are some great presenters within the company’s leadership group such as Jade Raymond and Michel Ancel who should be on-stage at every E3 briefing, and I hope it happens in the future.

 

Sony: Some great exclusive reveals such as Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, and some really rough ones like The Order: 1886 which definitely need more work. Sony did a good job in bring some huge official reveals like Grand Theft Auto V on current generation hardware and extended looks at Destiny, Batman: Arkham Knight and Mortal Kombat X among others, but those titles still launch day and date on the Xbox One.

What really hurt the message here was a distinct dearth of Sony exclusive PlayStation 4 content that would be launching in 2014, especially after the Microsoft briefing in the morning clearly delineated between games launching this year and in 2015 (or potentially beyond). Expanding their run time to nearly 2 hours ended up hurting the pace of presentation and diminished the impact of each reveal or presentation piece. Perhaps more significantly, the stark contrast between Spencer’s vision with Xbox which proved enormously popular in the morning with the executive heavy, much slower paced and often adversarial rather than conversational tone when addressing their competitors on Sony’s end have presented gamers with distinctly different approaches to the future of video gaming…an approach that may not work out in Sony’s long term favour.

There was a lot to like, but the misses such as the complete absence of The Last Guardian, new Vita content or more than a cursory reference to the Project Morpheus virtual reality hardware revealed at GDC 2014 were all detrimental to the overall Sony ecosystem. I think their presentation merits a grade of B, but it’s worrying how much of that is the middle ground between some A element segments (namely, anything involving Adam Boyes and especially the letters segment) with some gaping holes in their overall message.

 

On a more general note, I really enjoy the increasingly friendly relationship between Xbox head Phil Spencer and recently departed PlayStation head Jack Tretton. The deep respect and admiration that Spencer has professed for other gaming companies has not only been a genuine breath of fresh air in an often overly insular and competitive industry, but really makes the industry more welcoming and human as a whole. In time, it’s a lesson that I hope the Sony entertainment group can learn from as well.

I’m sure there will be more exciting reveals in the remaining days of E3 2014, and I’ll have some quick thoughts on each of those days as well…!

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