Xbox @ E3 2019

Demonstrating potential.

It is only April but I wanted to get a jump on all the E3 speculation. In case you missed the news, Sony won’t be attending E3 this year (for the first time ever). Nintendo will be doing their usual E3 Direct but won’t have a traditional show so that leaves Microsoft as the sole console manufacturer physically in attendance. As such, I will focus all of my speculation on Xbox. There has already been a ton of leaks and just as much speculation about what Microsoft will show off during its conference this year. I have even seen some people suggesting that Microsoft should hold back this year since Sony won’t even be there. I wholeheartedly disagree. Xbox has been the underdog this generation and Microsoft needs to be at E3 in a big way to generate excitement for its future plans. I believe the show’s theme should be about demonstrating potential: the potential of Microsoft’s future services and hardware, the potential of its existing franchises, and the potential of its new studios.

Show Don’t Tell

One rumor that really caught fire earlier this year was that Microsoft was going to bring its games (maybe through its Game Pass service) to Switch using streaming. We already know that Microsoft is actively developing its streaming service, codenamed xCloud, and that it wants the service to be on everything. It isn’t too much of a stretch of the imagination to wonder if that includes the Nintendo Switch since it is a handheld device. I don’t think it would hurt Microsoft’s gaming efforts at all if this turned out to be true. It would simply be yet another way for Microsoft to get the Xbox name in front of more consumers.

In addition to the inevitable introduction of xCloud, Microsoft has explicitly said that it will unveil more details on its next-gen hardware plans at E3. I personally hope they discuss some of the features that will be present on whatever hardware comes after the Xbox One. I specifically hope that Microsoft makes it clear that backwards compatibility will be a feature on all systems going forward. I don’t think they will go too much into detail (e.g. pricing, specs, etc.) but I think we may get a glimpse of what the next system(s) will look like.

Now, I mention both Microsoft’s xCloud initiative and its future hardware under the same heading for a reason. Microsoft’s people, when making new announcements, have the tendency to yak on for minutes at a time using what I like to call corporate speak. You’ve heard it before: “We’re committed to making Xbox the best place to play…;” “Xbox will always be the best place to play…;” “Blah blah blah blah Xbox blah blah blah.” This is my concern for E3 when there are rumors floating around that all of these announcements will occur there. I hope that Microsoft’s team learns from the Switch announcement trailer back in 2016 and only shows a few minutes of footage demonstrating how xCloud will work across multiple devices ending with a shot of people playing on the next-gen Xbox. This would be more effective, in my humble opinion of course, than having someone standing onstage droning on for minutes on end wasting precious time needed to show games.

The Usual Suspects

There has been a lot of criticism of Microsoft (with good reason) in recent times that the only exclusives on Xbox are games in a series that begin with the words Gears, Halo, or Forza. Well, I’m going to make a bold prediction here and say that these three franchises will definitely be onstage this year as well. We already know that Gears 5 is coming out later this year so I suspect we will see another story trailer with gameplay. In addition, 343 Industries has confirmed that Halo: Infinite will be there as well. The gameplay reveal will most likely happen this time around since the game was announced at the E3 2018 conference. Since Forza Horizon 4 released last year, it’s time for the series to swing back into Forza Motorsport territory so I fully expect the eighth installment in that series to be announced.

Just like what I said about Microsoft’s future gaming plans, I hope they don’t spend too much time talking about these titles. If it was up to me, I would spend no more than five minutes on each game. Why? Because although these titles may be popular with the hardcore fanbase (they wouldn’t be making them if they weren’t), they really don’t have the potential to convince new people to buy an Xbox console. If they haven’t been convinced by the first few games in each series, then they likely won’t be interested in the latest installments of each series. That’s how I view these franchises. If I was completely wrong about this, then Gears 4, Halo 5, Forza Motorsport 7, and Forza Horizon 4 would have already made the Xbox One more popular. The potential to increase the relevance of the Xbox brand will come from new studios and properties, not from the old ones.

New Blood

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or two, let me remind you that Microsoft acquired or founded seven studios in 2018. The Initiative, Playground Games, Undead Labs, Ninja Theory, Compulsion Games, InXile Entertainment, and Obsidian Entertainment are all a part of Xbox Game Studios now. I would argue that this is Microsoft’s biggest strength going into E3. The announcement of these studio acquisitions caused the most excitement last year by far. The Xbox One has had an exclusives problem since its inception and it seems Microsoft is finally fully committed to fixing it. If you don’t believe that people think that Microsoft and the Xbox One have an exclusives problem, then I suggest you check out the comments on this video.

The big problem Microsoft has is that all these studios were purchased last year. It’s a problem because many of these studios recently released games so they haven’t had enough time to work on projects that are ready to be revealed. In the case of Obsidian and InXile, they both have games that are being developed for other systems in addition to the Xbox One. Although this certainly won’t help the Xbox One, I would say that this actually won’t matter too much at the end of the day either. This E3 should be about Microsoft demonstrating potential, remember? Therefore, I say Microsoft should put InXile’s Wasteland 3 and Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds front and center in its E3 show. Microsoft needs to show the gaming world what it will be missing out on once all future games from these studios release only for Microsoft’s platforms. This would be a powerful reminder of Xbox Game Studios’ capability. Doing this will probably not kill the stereotype that Xbox has no games but it will provide evidence that Microsoft will bring the games in the hopefully not-so-distant-future.

Personally, I hope to hear more about what Playground Games’ second studio is up to and what Ninja Theory’s next project will be. Even though it hasn’t officially been confirmed, I hope and pray that Playground Games has been working on Fable IV. The reveal of this game would bring joy to my aging, pessimistic heart. I just hope that, if this is what Playground has actually been working on, it retains the look and charm of the very first game in the series.

As for Ninja Theory, rumors (again with the rumors) on the street are saying that the studio will reveal its next project at E3. Not only that but it may come out early next year which would be great. Ninja Theory’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was an excellent game so I can’t wait to see what they’ve been up to since it’s release. Out of all the studio acquisitions, I was most excited by the purchase of Ninja Theory (besides Obsidian) and I hope the purchase bears fruit soon.

I hope you all noticed that I didn’t mention The Initiative at all (except in the list above). This is because the studio was literally started from scratch early last year so I really don’t expect it to make an appearance at E3. I believe that we may see something from them next year after the official unveiling of the next Xbox console. I’m interested to see if the studio has been building a multiplayer game or a single-player experience. Regardless, it should be exciting to see either way.

I’ll mention these three titles here since they occupy a weird space between Microsoft’s first-party efforts and its indie scene: Battletoads, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and Cuphead. In development at DLaLa studios, Battletoads was a surprise announcement at E3 2018. People who aren’t usually excited about Microsoft exclusives were elated at the announcement of a new Battletoads game. Hopefully we’ll see some gameplay and maybe a release date if that’s not too much to ask? I also think it’s fairly safe to assume we’ll get gameplay footage and release dates for Ori and the DLC for Cuphead. Although these are smaller titles being developed by small indie teams, it is important that these titles are present to show that Microsoft is still committed to smaller titles. Not to mention that Ori and Cuphead have been the most well-received Microsoft published titles this generation so it would be good to keep showing support for them.

Indies

In case you hadn’t noticed, Microsoft has been stepping up its efforts to court indie games for both its Xbox and PC stores (as a side note, the excellent Operencia: The Stolen Sun just came out on Xbox and I encourage everyone to check it out). I personally hope that Microsoft highlights Tunic, Session, The Outer Wilds, Ooblets, and The Last Night. Remember The Last Night? In case you don’t, here’s the trailer for it. I haven’t heard anything about that game since it was announced two years ago. The creator is going through some legal troubles so I hope it is still being made. Anyways, back to the matter at hand! All of these titles I mentioned are supposed to be console exclusive to Xbox and I hope that this is still the case because all of these games look awesome and I can’t wait to see more about them.

Third-Party Content

Since Sony won’t be at E3 this year, Microsoft has an opportunity to have a ton of third-party content on its stage. Many people (particularly on YouTube) say that Microsoft should take advantage of this fact and put as much as they can on display. I don’t completely disagree with this assessment but I do think Microsoft should be smart about who it allows onstage. I think Microsoft should only court those publishers who aren’t well-known for their support of the Xbox One. In order to grow the appeal of Xbox, Microsoft must show that it’s dedicated to expanding its gaming catalogue. As an example, It won’t make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things if the next Call of Duty is shown off at Microsoft’s conference. That game will sell well on Xbox no matter what. Microsoft must work to get those publishers and games that, if shown off with Microsoft at E3, would provide a surprise.

Fortunately for Xbox, I do believe that Microsoft’s teams are doing just that. Phil Spencer (head of gaming at Microsoft) recently tweeted that he was meeting with studios in Japan and Korea and that he was discussing E3 with them. This fact was even brought up on the latest episode of Inside Xbox which leads me to believe that a few Asian studios will be included in the Xbox conference. I’m a little biased here but this is music to my ears. Microsoft has done a good job over the past year or two in bringing Japanese games to the Xbox One. I hope this trend continues because there is a whole boatload of Japanese titles that have completely skipped Xbox this generation. There can never be too many Japanese games on a console in my opinion.

Screenshot_20190417-163259

Sony’s decision to skip E3 this year represents a big opportunity for Microsoft. I believe that Microsoft should go all in and show off what its new studios have been working on, what its indie partners have been up to, and have third-party publishers on its stage that are outside the norm. It’s all about demonstrating the future potential of Xbox as a platform and if Microsoft is serious about gaming then I hope it follows most of what I have laid out here (though I do hope Microsoft has a few big surprises up its sleeve). This is the time to not only broaden the appeal of the Xbox One but to also lay the foundation for the next generation. Microsoft’s Xbox team should swing for the fences; I just hope they don’t miss.

 

Thanks for reading! What do you all think Microsoft will reveal at its E3 2019 briefing? Should they follow my plan or do you think I’ve completely missed the mark? Let me know!

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