Microsoft did what it needed to do at its E3 press conference yesterday. Weeks removed from an Xbox One reveal that angered gamers with its insistence on multimedia features, and just days removed from a series of announcements that detailed the console’s unprecedented internet and used game restrictions, Microsoft needed to do the one thing that everyone in the video game industry loves to see. It needed to keep its promise. It needed to show us the games.
And that’s what it did. Almost every one of the 90 minutes Microsoft took up on the E3 stage was devoted to a new game, a known game, an exclusive game, a soon-to-arrive game, or some extra console capabilities that could be used to make games better. It was a fast-paced event, packed wall-to-wall with details, demoes and developers. Microsoft had a carefully crafted game plan, and it stuck to it. It executed. And now the Xbox One has a sizable lineup to its name. So all is forgiven, right? Right?
Well, sure, in some ways. Titles like Metal Gear Solid V, Battlefield 4, Forza Motorsport 5, Dead Rising 3, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt all look promising, and will all excite the millions of fans who love them. The new Halo will be a new Halo. Minecraft will be Minecraft. It’s hard to imagine any of them turning out poorly, either as games or as corporate investments. They’ll make money.
And then there were the exclusives, which were as plentiful as promised. Getting Insomniac for Sunset Overdrive marks a major coup from a studio that once called PlayStation home. Quantum Break is still plenty intriguing. Titanfall has blockbuster written all of it. Killer Instinct is a throwback to a beloved classic, again from a trusted developer.
Some of the non-game announcements will be welcome too. Ending Microsoft Points? Thank you kindly. Sharing Xbox Live Gold features amongst family members? Sign me up. Putting SmartGlass on a path to being truly desirable? Show me more, but much appreciated. Freshening up the Xbox 360? Good call. Making room for more Xbox Live friends? Sure, why not. Turning everyone into a potential livestreamer with Twitch integration? That could be huge.
Yes, Microsoft did many things right today. But the problem is that there’s a difference between doing what’s “right” and doing what’s “exciting” in this industry. And at the launch price of $499, with Sony now more reinvigorated than ever, the Xbox One needed much more of the latter.
This is a machine that was created for a meticulously researched mainstream. Not a gamer, but a Gamer, if you will. It’s made for the people that will love to trash talk and show off over Twitch. It’s for the people that will describe most of their uploaded Game DVR clips as “epic.” It’s for the kind that are cool with sequel after sequel after sequel.
It’s for the kind that are totally okay with the 200 quick-time events that were in that Ryse demo. It’s for the kind that still considers Minecraft an “indie” game. It’s for the people who have reliable broadband internet, still watch regular ol’ TV, and love the NFL too.
It’s for the kind of people that love, I mean love, shooting stuff. They love it in space. They love it on foot. They love it in mechs. They love it in the air. They love it everywhere, because they don’t care if it isn’t intellectually stimulating or richly crafted or anything like that. They just want their games to be fun, and if that means reinventing the wheel, so be it. It’s a game, right? Who cares?
Yes, the more yearning amongst us were thrown a few bones. The folks at Capybara Games, which is developing Below, are absolute rock stars in the indie community. Swery65 is the man behind the beloved cult game Deadly Premonition, so it should be nice to see D4 bring his brand of quirkiness to the Xbox One. Crimson Dragon and the aforementioned Quantum Break should fit this bill too. And it’s not like Metal Gear Solid or The Witcher, two games that will also be on Sony’s consoles, have ever felt stale.
But these were fleeting blips on a radar filled with the familiar and the bankable. The process and the emphasis were clear. Nothing inspired. It was just business.
All of this sounds like criticism. But as with the TV and fantasy football features it’s putting into the Xbox One, Microsoft is taking this route for a good reason: these people, this mainstream, exists. They’re real. People drink Mountain Dew. They don’t call it the mainstream for nothing; many people buy and enjoy shooters, sequels and things they’re comfortable with. They’re often very justified in doing so. The proof is in the bottom line. And Microsoft appears to have spent a long time looking at the proof. The Xbox One is for the most, not the all.
But when the Xbox One launches in November, Microsoft will be putting its vision of the Mainstream Gamer to the test. It’ll find out just how real it is. This player may like many of the things the Xbox One is selling, but will it pay $499 to get them? Does the gaming world really want an all-in one device? And will the Xbox base flatly refuse to deal with those despised DRM and anti-used game policies? At this point, the early signs point to two no’s and a resounding yes, especially when Sony is going for broke.
That’s a shame, because many of these games look just fine. But Microsoft seems like a company that’s so focused on the focus groups, so unflinchingly dedicated to checking off every box that a “modern” living room device could need, that it can’t get its research out of its own way. In the process, it’s managed to make the right thing feel a little more wrong than it should.