Big Picture Mode
Industry issues given the widescreen treatment
Nathan Brown prepares for the Electronic Entertainment Expo
So long, Kinect. The new generation’s whitest elephant is as good as dead, and I’m still not entirely sure who I feel the most sorry for. Is it the developers making games for it on the understanding there would be one in the box with every console? The early adopters who were sold a lemon on what always felt like a load of false promises? The beleaguered Microsoft PRs trying to put a positive spin on yet another humiliating policy change? Clearly, Xbox One’s camera is far from the only casualty here.
Not that there aren’t positives. Microsoft has clearly returned its focus to games. New Xbox division leader Phil Spencer seemingly has greater clout than his predecessor, Marc Whitten, and it appears that the new-look Xbox division itself will be less troubled by the needs and wants of other Microsoft departments. And the timing of it all suggests we’re in for quite the E3.
The cheaper, Kinect-free Xbox One will be released on June 9 – the same day as Microsoft’s conference. It launches, then, on the day on which, at E3s past, it would have been announced. Dropping Kinect ahead of time doesn’t only suggest Microsoft is going to spend its E3 briefing focusing squarely on new games, it tells us much about how the conference itself has changed, too.
E3 was born as, and notionally remains, a trade show: a place where videogame makers and marketers gather to show their wares to press and retailers. Yet from the moment the first broadcast camera was set up at the back of a platform-holder press conference, that has been changing. Today, E3 is a consumer show that just happens to be attended by the trade – though given the number of people that wander the floor with swag bags dangling to their ankles, clearly a few enthusiasts still manage to wangle their way in.
Where a conference used to begin with a lengthy update on a console’s sales performance, now it starts with a dubstep explosion. E3 is no longer about graphs, but graphics: the people up on stage aren’t talking
No doubt Phil Spencer had to fight hard to kill Kinect as a packed-in requirement, but it was his most obvious target
to a roomful of writers and retailers – the people who would be most excited by news of a Kinect-free Xbox One – but a live worldwide audience of millions of players. Over the years things have had to become slicker, more stage managed, and publishers and platform holders have struggled to adjust. Hence Mr Caffeine, that Wii Music drumming GIF, and Kaz Hirai’s “Ridge Racer!”
Nintendo’s struggled more than most, actually, from Iwata’s PowerPoint mania in the Wii and DS era to Katsuya Eguchi’s tortuous Nintendo Land presentation, Reggie Fils-Aime’s smilingly intimidating sales pitches, and Cammie Dunaway in general. Little wonder, then, that Nintendo has decided to withdraw from the pomp and bombast of the biggest videogame show on Earth. It’ll still be at E3 – with, as usual, one of the largest booths on the show floor – but there will be no press conference. In its place will be a special Nintendo Direct broadcast.
Certain corners of the Internet – corners that simply can’t get enough of Geoff Keighley’s Photo-Shopped Doritos mitre and putting the words ‘game journalism’ in sarcastic single quotes – have taken this to mean that Nintendo is finally washing its hands of a press corps that has gone too far. Others see Nintendo admitting defeat, retreating from the console war frontlines. To me, this is Nintendo doing what it’s always done, and innovating on its own terms, because it understands how E3 has changed. The goal – communicating with players – is the same, but the delivery mechanism is different. Why put on a lavish, costly stage show when you can put Satoru Iwata in a Kyoto boardroom with a camera and a bunch of bananas and achieve the same results?
I’m not about to add my voice to the tedious annual swell of those calling for the death of E3. It’s a fantastic show, and this year’s promises to be one for the ages – one, to borrow Sony’s tagline, for the players. Nintendo facing what is probably its last shot at saving Wii U. Sony seeking to build on a remarkable 12 months and cement PS4’s position as market leader. And Microsoft, with every criticised Xbox One policy sent to the grave, returning its gaze from services to software with a conference that should be packed full of big announcements. No doubt Spencer had to fight hard to kill Kinect as a packed-in requirement, but it was his biggest, most obvious target. Now things get tough. When he takes to Microsoft’s stage on the morning of June 9, we’ll find out what kind of big game hunter he really is.