Posts tagged Microsoft

My E3 findings

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I originally planned to do some step-by-step recap of the E3 conferences, with ratings and stuff. But after Void’s wonderful postings for each show and FireFish’s great (if not exactly mine) opionions (which you can read HERE) I decided to go for a more loose and essay-like recap and what I took away after some days of digesting, dislodging from imminent hype and getting things straight for myself. Let’s go, shall we?

 

Microsoft is trying to catch up…

I think no one watching the Microsoft show got a feeling of confidence from this company that managed to lose the goodwill and following of many million players of the 360 era in merely 12 months. Microsoft has since been unsteady in its decisions regarding the XBox and this was more obvious than ever at this year’s E3 show. It knows the PS4 managed to pull ahead immediately because many player’s (like myself) just wouldn’t buy a less powerful console for $100 more. They thought Kinect and TV functionality would be great technical investments and were all wrong about it. Now they announced what will be the most powerful console on the market but are again $100 more than the PS4 Pro while the redesigned XBox One S and PS4 Slim are sitting comfortably on mass market pricing. They also lost a lot of exclusivity deals with 3rd party developers and because their 1st party output is not even close to what SONY and Nintendo can do (and are doing) they decided to show just a load of games (many of them Indie and AA games) with some sort of exclusivity while trying to emphasize on the message that multiplatform games will look best on XBox One X.

 

…but they are still failing.

The problem with all of that is this: the 3rd party games shown don’t compete with the high production value exclusive games of SONY nor do they look as exciting gameplay wise as the exclusive games of Nintendo. They exist and that’s just not enough. Microsoft is also running into a problem with the XBox One X’s performance. While it manages to have 50% more GPU performance, the CPU is built upon the same bad architecture that PS4, PS4 Pro and XBox One (S) are based on. What does this mean? It means that while 3rd party games may be able to pull of a true 4k instead of lower resolution or checkerboard rendering of the PS4 Pro the results simply won’t be noticeable most of the time. The CPU is just not powerful enough for a 100% framerate increase compared to the PS4 Pro which means you will indeed get similar results in the end. The only games that normally profit from such a supererogation are 1st party exclusives that are built specifically for the platform – of which the XBox One X just doesn’t have that much. Forza 7 in 4k at 60 fps sure does look and will play impressive but a racing game alone won’t sell the console. That’s why Microsoft was trying to explain that any XBox One title will benefit from the performance because XBox One X will render them automatically at a higher resolution. That’s great but honestly no reason even for 4k TV owners like myself to pay $500. What’s also great is the cooling and form factor but I am being honest here: my XBox One S is the slickest and quietest modern console I have ever owned. The XBox One X may be even slicker and quieter but even I as someone who gets bothered by cooling noise easily (why, SONY, does the PS4 Pro need to be so noisy sometimes?) doubt the XBox One X will be a significant improvement over the XBox One S. And so I just cancelled my preorder of the XBox One X. Just now as I am writing these lines. Yup, Cancelled. What Microsoft needs to do is to heavily market the XBox One S as well. That’s a console you can get for $200 to play games like Forza, Gears of War, Halo, State of Decay, Sea of Thieves, etc. if you’re interested in them and don’t want to bother yourself with Windows 10 PC gaming. What Microsoft also needs to do is get some AAA high quality exclusive games again. Not timed exclusives and not with some exclusive content. They are doing a lot right in terms of coss buy (with Windows 10) and cross play (with Switch and Smartphones even), backwards compatibility (how much I wish I could just pop in my PS3 copies of Ni No Kuni and the Metal Gear Solid collection in my PS4), development tool quality and their id@XBox program. But if they really want to be a worthy contender to SONY again, they need to up their game (pun intended) and start getting those heavy hits in.

 

SONY is trying to deliver…

SONY’s show was pretty much what I expected. Many gamers are a bit frustrated because of the great E3s of 2015 and 2016 but here’s the catch: both years SONY announced a lot of titles that are far far away. It’s like a mortage for hype and SONY knows which is why they were focusing on stuff that comes out this year and next year. And that stuff has been announced already. Last of Us 2 is still very early in production and preparing an E3 showing does cost a lot of time and money which Naughty Dog already invested in Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. But PS4 is still a great primary platform for gaming with full 3rd party support and a lot of high budget AAA productions. They also try to push VR further (which is completely uninteresting to me at the moment) but they need to keep that going. It felt a little bit like when 3D and the Vita sections started to shrink. I hope I am wrong because VR could get really interesting to me with the next generation of hardware and the experience developers will have earned with VR by then.

 

…but needs to be careful with that rising arrogance.

I feel like SONY should focus more on features that are not only for the majority of gamers. Being able to change the PSN nickname is a feature that people are demanding for years now, backwards compatibility is another. SONY also tries to explain why they wouldn’t allow cross play with other platforms than the PC with reasons of protecting kids which is insane considering both XBox Live and Nintendo are far more protective than Steam or PSN itself (on Xbox One you can set exactly what your kids can play, how they can interact online – on PS4 it’s just all or nothing). Everyone is aware that SONY just doesn’t want the competition to profit from their big PS4 playerbase. That’s nasty and not exactly for the players, but it’s reasonable from a business point of view. Just don’t pretend you have your own player’s well being in mind when that’s clearly not the case. At least be honest so it won’t be as comical when you should need to make some exceptions in the future (because your version of Minecraft will be worst because every other platform – including Nintendo Switch! – is connected and DLC will work across all of them as well).

 

Nintendo learned a thing or two from SONY…

“How to win an E3 in 25 minutes” has already become kind of a meme. Nintendo’s show – 3 months after the Switch’s release – was decent with Xenoblade 2 and Mario Odyseey releasing this year and Yoshi and Kirby coming 2018. But what really excited many fans was a logo and some spoken announcement. Metroid Prime 4 and a main Pokemon game are both coming for the Switch. No one knows when exactly, but they are coming. Nintendo took a page out of SONY’s playbook here because those kind of announcements are very unusual for Nintendo. The company likes to announce games that are already pretty far in development and can be shown off easily, yet neither Metroid nor Pokemon had even some alpha status kind of screenshot or gameplay trailer. Nintendo finally understood that sometimes fans just want to know that the thing they are asking for is coming. Acknowledgement. It’s important.

 

…but will still not compete directly with SONY and Microsoft.

Nintendo is doing a lot right lately, which even got them some praise from 3rd parties. Still, the Switch – with it’s unusual premise – will not be able to compete directly with PS4 and XO. We will certainly see more and more 3rd party games coming to Switch as sales of the system continue to grow (especially from Japan where the Switch is the best selling gaming platform each week since its release) but developers will be very careful which game they will spend their ressources on. Games for Switch need to benefit from the portability so the ports will be reasonable sidesteps instead of unwanted steps backwards. Skyrim is the type of game that definitively makes sense because of all the content that can be leisurely be experienced on the go or at home (like Breath of the Wild). Call of Duty that you really need to focus on and get everything from its blockbuster audiovisual presentation? Not so much. Anthem with its online community focus and high quality graphics? Neither. And the problem is this: as Phil Spencer from Microsoft already mentioned more than once more and more games are planned as a service to keep players engaged and connected and monetized. The Switch is pretty much the opposite of that; sure: games like Mario Kart and ARMS (that I am planning to write a review for artsygamer on) are much less interesting when not played online, but they work great with local multiplayer as well which was one of the Switch’s design goals apart from being able to take it with you and play on the go.

 

For me, nothing has changed.

This year I am coming out of E3 just as I went in. Sure, new and exciting games like Wolfenstein II have been announced. But my gaming setup will not change. The Switch will still be my daily companion and primary platform for all games that are great to play on the go, the PS4 is still getting sweet AAA games exclusive to the platform and Microsoft is still trying to transform XBox to something that goes beyond being a hardware platform while still trying to keep the hardware relevant and competitive somehow. The biggest surprise to me was honestly how much fun Mario + Rabbids seems to be and that Ubisoft is able to deliver a good E3 show in general. Everything else I pretty much knew before. That means not many pleasant surprises. But that also means almost no unpleasant suprises as well. To me, that’s enough to be a good E3. But for next year, I want more again.

Patches that change the product you bought…

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I think the issue brought up here is very interesting philosophically and personally. Weather it is a game changing for the worse, adware that gets patched in, or gameplay that gets altered this is becoming an issue. I’m still fighting hard to get to continue using my Windows 7 despite Microsoft’s horrible efforts to mess it up for me and force me to go win10, and similarly i feel very happy with my Photoshop CS6 (would’ve even with a cs4) and am fighting not having to buy a subscription service. Interesting fight between producers and consumers, where the producers have the advantage of all digital distributions becoming the norm giving them absolute power to unilaterally change the chair you bought into a sofa, and then through a later patch into a table+blender combo, even if you had preferred just a chair or were expecting just a chair with a bit more polish and less squeaking.

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