Microsoft @ E3 2014 – Stage Show Impressions

Earlier today Microsoft took the stage to open E3 2014 with a bang. As promised, their focus was “games, games, games.” Some were not exclusively Xbox properties, but the dominant theme of the show was definitely (re)building the Xbox brand. Just take a look at the list of titles Microsoft put on display, and you’ll see what I mean:

  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
  • Forza Horizon 2
  • Evolve
  • Assassin’s Creed: Unity
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition
  • Sunset Overdrive
  • Super Ultra Dead Rising 3 Arcade Remix Hyper Edition EX Plus Alpha
  • Fantasia: Music Evolved
  • Dance Central: Spotlight
  • Fable Legends
  • Project Spark
  • Ori and the Blind Forest
  • Halo: the Master Chief Collection
  • Inside
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider
  • The Witcher III: Wild Hunt
  • Phantom Dust
  • Tom Clancy’s The Division
  • Scalebound
  • Crackdown

Crackdown, Sunset Overdrive, Forza, Halo—all scream ‘Xbox’, and the inclusion of popular multiplat titles doesn’t hurt its image, either. Was this push the right move for Microsoft? I think both yes and no. After Sony’s critical success at E3 2013, the ball was in Microsoft’s court for this year. They’ve spent a lot of time and effort on repairing their image following the initial Xbox One controversy, but rather than convince us that their hardware is good now, I got the impression Microsoft just didn’t want us to remember anything bad about it. Hardware talk was essentially absent from the show. Instead the audience was bombarded with software, and while it all demoed very well, the show did leave me with a bit of a “that’s it?” impression. Guess they should have saved that Kinect-less Xbox price reduction announcement for E3 like everyone expected they would. That would have kept up the Playstation/Xbox war surely enough, but from the looks of things Microsoft isn’t interested in playing. That’s not a bad thing, but it does make one wonder if the stage presence was really necessary at all.

On the bright side, Microsoft is chugging forward after getting the Xbox One off to a rough start, and that’s the best thing they can do at this point. The Xbox 360 was nowhere to be found, unsurprisingly, and upcoming titles should give Xbox fans plenty of great reasons to upgrade if they’re still sitting on Microsoft’s last-gen hardware. Unlike Sony, Microsoft isn’t known for supporting outdated consoles long-term, and it looks like they’ve all but put the 360 to rest. That being said, what was shown today for the Xbox One in large part felt very familiar, but there were a number of new twists on old series and enough new IPs to make the Xbox One feel like a fresh and solid choice for gamers. There were no gimmicks (looking at you, Kinect), no cheesy stand-ins. Attendees were given LED bracelets that didn’t really enhance the show a lot, but it probably did make things look more interesting for the cameras. That minute detail aside, Microsoft this year was all about core gaming. It didn’t make for an incredible stage show–it was more or less just a long, busy string of commercials–but it makes one heck of a big step in the right direction. They stayed out of the battle with Sony for all intents and purposes, but that’s not to say they merely won’t lose now. Microsoft put the focus where it needs to be: back on the core gamer and the games they want to play. In theory it’s not very interesting, but in practice its the safest move they could make, and one I expect will play out well in the near future. Rest easy tonight, Microsoft–there won’t be any debacles to clean up tomorrow.