This story has been expanded to include feedback from’s E3 Digital Event. The original story, about whether Sony or Microsoft won E3, has been left mostly untouched.
At its press conference last night, Sony casually sauntered on stage, slipped its hands nonchalantly into its pockets, offered up an expressive French shrug, and won E3 2014. Microsoft and its legion of fans could do nothing but look on with envy as Sony unveiled hit after hit for the PS4. For all of Microsoft’s talk about games, the only platform exclusive that might be a critical success — Halo 5 — was reduced to a 60-second-long pre-rendered clip. The Division looked fantastic, but it’s a cross-platform game. There were some smaller, art game-like titles that looked good — but nothing that Microsoft felt warranted more than a scant few seconds of gameplay footage. Sony, on the other hand, essentially showed off everything a gamer could want at E3: A new white PS4 (to celebrate the release of Destiny); a release date for PS Now and the PlayStation TV streaming box; more details about the Morpheus VR headset; the beautiful art game No Man’s Sky; and actual in-game/in-engine footage from two massive exclusives (LittleBigPlanet 3,4) and many more smaller titles (No Man’s Sky, a remake of Grim Fandango).
Nintendo, with what appeared to be in-engine footage of the upcoming Wii U Zelda title and some fun new IP called Splatoon, actually did surprisingly well. If Nintendo can deliver on its promise of an open-world, Skyrim-like Zelda title, then we could be looking at a massive hit. Likewise, Splatoon looks like it will be the funnest new game to be revealed at E3 this year. But that’s a lot of ifs and buts: I am a lot more confident that Uncharted 4 and LittleBigPlanet 3 will actually be awesome, as opposed to possibly awesome.
With all that said, it’s not unusual for one of the console companies to come out ahead at E3 — but this isn’t just Sony winning by a nose; it’s a landslide, and such huge disparities are rare at E3. How did Microsoft get it so wrong? And what can Nintendo do to stay in the game?
Games, games, games!
“Today we are dedicating our entire briefing to games,” began the head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, to huge cheers from the E3 2014 audience. But, if you put all of your eggs in one basket, you better be damn sure that you have a very strong basket — and Forza at 1080p and a pre-rendered clip of Halo 5 do not a strong basket make.
The question is, why did Microsoft decide to make games the focus of its E3 presentation, even when it knew it had nothing big to show off? Bear in mind that Microsoft almost certainly knew about all of the games that Sony intended to display, and so it knew full well that it was going to be eviscerated by core gamers for a weak showing.
But… what else could Microsoft do? Following its backtracking of every single policy and feature that made theunique, all that’s left is games. After de-bundling Kinect, Microsoft couldn’t then take to the stage at E3 and show off some amazing Kinect-based game. Likewise, in the words of our associate editor James Plafke, Microsoft couldn’t really show off another peripheral such as IllumiRoom after the Kinect debacle.
Microsoft could’ve showed off a new console, though — if it rushed a cheap, slim version of the Xbox One, that would’ve given gamers something to talk about. Or it could’ve announced some exciting updates to the Xbox One dashboard. Or it could’ve re-introduced digital game sharing, or something else equally crazy.
Presumably, Microsoft figured if it focused on— games — it actually stood a chance at beating Sony at something. Now that Sony has shown its hand, we know that isn’t the case. In short, games were the crux of Microsoft’s E3 presentation, and thus games were the crux of its failure.
Nintendo: Quirky as always
Like last year, Nintendo instead opted for a pre-recorded presentation instead of a flashy main-stage E3 event. As it turned out, this was a savvy move that kept expectations low and increased the impact of some fairly big games. The Wii U Zelda title,, Hyrule Warriors, Bayonetta 2, and the new IP of Splatoon were all quite impressive. That Nintendo chose to unveil them in a series of quirky interviews and claymations was an interesting choice, but the overall impression is that Nintendo had a strong E3.
Nintendo has always relied on killer games to sell consoles — and right now, the Wii U only really has two games that make the console worthwhile (Mario Kart 8 and Super Mario 3D World). Individually, almost all of the games shown off by Nintendo at E3 2014, if they’re as good as Nintendo promises, would be reason enough to buy a Wii U. Personally I bought the Wii for Mario Galaxy and Twilight Princess, and I would buy the Wii U for Zelda — if it delivers. Judging by the Wii U, I doubt I’m alone in that thinking — and likewise, I suspect Nintendo is counting on it.
Unfortunately, though, the Wii U Zelda game still isn’t due until 2015 at the earliest — and Smash Bros and Hyrule Warriors aren’t due until the holiday season, either. Nintendo definitely put in a good showing at E3 this year, but I suspect it’s a matter of too little too late. Life-long Nintendo fans will pick up the console to play their favorite franchises, and Splatoon might bring in a little new blood, but we’re not going to see a crazy resurgence in console sales.
While Microsoft’s E3 presentation was full of obsequiousness — “you are shaping the future of Xbox, and we are better for it,” said Xbox’s Phil Spencer — Sony oozed confidence; the kind of confidence that comes from knowing that you almost have theof the console war sewn up. Sony already had the lead in sales and consumer confidence, but it needed this E3 to show gamers that it can capitalize the advantage — by golly, that’s exactly what Sony did.
Not only did Sony beat Microsoft in the primary arena of games, but it also won the secondary conflicts by default because it didn’t focus solely on games. PlayStation TV (previously Vita TV), PS Now, and the white PS4 are all very cool additions that will only increase Sony’s sales lead. Perhaps this is Microsoft’s biggest problem coming out of E3 2014: The only real thing that will drive more Xbox sales is Halo 5, while Sony announced at least three or four games that are have the potential to become Game Of The Year. There’s a possibility that Sunset Overdrive — the only original IP announced by Microsoft — will become a runaway hit, but I still think Sony is in the lead by some margin.