Gaming Confessional: Microsoft at E3 2019 Broke My Heart

As a PlayStation fan, it’s naturally difficult for me to develop an interest in Microsoft’s platform. As you can imagine, I’m not one to be excited for Microsoft’s E3 conferences. However, I define myself as a gamer, so I erased all preconceptions I had and focused on what mattered most: the games. I built up a healthy amount of hype and geared up for the nearly two-hour conference. My expectations were elevated to a level often reserved for Sony conferences. Did I get new exclusives? Definitely. Did some games look cool? Absolutely. Were there some epic moments? Certainly. Did I leave the conference satisfied? Now that’s where the affirmation stops.

I thought Microsoft’s conference had some good moments. While I cannot be thrilled over everything they announced, I found myself having a good time with it. After the post-conference honeymoon subsided, I can summarize the presentation as being run-of-the-mill. It was just a regular E3 conference with a fair share of surprises and cool trailers. It didn’t feel like the bombastic showcase of Sony’s three years ago where they announced four major exclusives from their first-party studios. Sure, they blew their load, which caused their subsequent conferences to weaken, but 2016 was near perfection.

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Of course, Microsoft fans would feel the same about this year’s presentation and, honestly, that’s perfectly fine. If you freaked out over Phantasy Star Online 2 coming to the West or when Keanu Reeves is revealed to play a huge part in Cyperpunk 2077, I share some of that excitement too. I love when gamers flip their lids at E3. Isn’t that what makes E3 amazing in the first place? However, in many other people’s opinions, it was not enough to make them laud this as one of the greatest conferences. What was missing? Was it the leaks or the lack of captivating gameplay? I think it’s something a little more amorphous than that. I failed to find any substance in it.

Some of the most damning moments of the conference were the uneventful Gears 5 and Halo Infinite trailers. Gears 5 is three months away and they’re reserving gameplay for a later presentation? Halo Infinite is about a year and a half away as an Xbox Scarlett launch title and no graphical showcase? Why? Imagine if Sony revealed Uncharted 4 in 2015 and just had a two-minute cinematic that vaguely discussed the narrative and world; at the end stating it will release in early 2016 and have an extended look after the conference. Wouldn’t that confuse PlayStation fans? What’s stopping Microsoft from investing ten minutes in having a deep dive into what Gears 5 or Halo Infinite is like? Hell, if they showed off early footage of next-gen tech, I would totally delete everything I’ve written and prepared an appraisal piece.

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Contextually, Microsoft showing up Sony (their greatest competitor) by truly showcasing what Scarlett is capable of on the E3 stage floor would be a huge deal. Lately, Sony has acted ominously concerning their future plans. They ditched PlayStation Experience and E3, opting for the less impressive State of Play episodes. Not only that, but Sony offered an exclusive interview with Wired Magazine about the PlayStation 5 out of nowhere. Many questions have been answered without the need for an extravagant performance on stage. Backwards compatibility, cross-generational play, stronger network infrastructure, and impressive technical specifications have all been confirmed. This unusual move is still fueling discussions today. The Spider-Man demo, Sony partnering with Microsoft, and constant rumors about their launch lineup effectively solidified the PS5 as the hot button topic of the year. So what did Microsoft do?

Well, they basically said “ditto” about the tech Sony showcased and showed off a cinematic of the next Halo game that’s maybe probably somewhat running on next-gen hardware. They even used the same set when they “revealed” the Xbox One X a few years back. Sure, Halo as a launch title is a great move as is, but Sony can easily best that. Have a Horizon sequel with groundbreaking graphics in addition to some second-party exclusives and that unannounced San Diego project and you automatically have a better launch lineup. Nothing from The Initiative? Nothing from Playground Games? They don’t need to have gameplay ready, just answer the question looming on your fans’ minds by showing a logo or briefly describing what they have in store.

Microsoft is a massive corporation. They can afford to take risks. They promised to ‘go big’ at E3. Bigger than they ever have before. This was a moment where they could dominate the conversation and people left the conference talking about a game coming to PlayStation as well. I wholeheartedly believe Microsoft entered E3 this year with the philosophy that they were going to flip the table on their competition. I wanted to think that in the next twelve months, Xbox was going to have an incredible year until next E3. Game Pass is going to do well, but I can’t muster the same excitement for Xbox’s game as I do for Sony’s. By next E3, if the rumors are truthful, Sony would have launched their “big three” exclusives: The Last of Us Part II, Ghost of Tsushima, and Death Stranding would release within a year. In addition to that, Final Fantasy VII Remake would also release in that timeframe, which is a timed exclusive for PlayStation 4.

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That means, for next E3, Sony won’t talk about their “big three” anymore. They’re going to show their next wave of major exclusives in a 2016-style blowout. Where’s Microsoft in this situation? If they show the projects from The Initiative and Playground Games with compelling gameplay, then they would have a fair shot at stealing the attention of gamers. However, those projects would likely still be a few years out by next year. Sure, they can show the vast majority of third-party games and indies for the third or fourth time in a row, but that’s not much of a reason to invest in the Xbox brand, unless, of course, people decide to subscribe to Game Pass because of it.

There’s another big issue people took with Microsoft’s E3 conference: it’s how they presented their games. I think it’s hyperbolic to claim there was “no gameplay” at their conference, but I do agree there should’ve been more. Having a substantive conference at E3 requires a healthy dosage of meaningful gameplay. Even if the gameplay itself is scripted, it gives people a reason to pay attention to those games in the future. Nintendo and Sony seem to understand this philosophy well. Nintendo always presents their games by showcasing interesting concepts and snippets of what people can expect when they play their games. They don’t necessarily have major deep dives into their games like Sony did at E3 last year, but they edit the gameplay so concisely that it tells you enough about the game.

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The gameplay reveals for Ghost of Tsushima and The Last of Us Part II in 2018 should have been the treatment that Gears 5 and Halo Infinite received. We know that Ghost of Tsushima is going to have a jaw-dropping open-world with intense samurai gameplay, so we are hyped for that. We know The Last of Us Part II is going to have an emotional story with remarkably gory violence, so we are hyped for that. We know Gears 5 and Halo Infinite will be sequels to their respective franchises, so we are fine with that. Halo Infinite will have Master Chief and Cortana. I never doubted that, but it’s nice to have confirmation, I suppose. Gears 5 will have multiplayer and a campaign. Again, that’s not necessarily exciting, but I’m not doubting it will be a good game. However, neither of them feel special as a result of it.

“Wait, isn’t God of War 2018 just another sequel?!” Yes, but when it was revealed, they proved that it would take a dramatically different direction from the Devil May Cry-style gameplay. It wasn’t a standard sequel, it was essentially a rebirth. “Well, Death Stranding was mostly cinematics!” Yeah, and while I concede they should have shown more gameplay, the world that was showcased looked like nothing else out there. Additionally, Sony recently released a more comprehensive trailer for Death Stranding including a release date and people are hyped beyond words. If you personally aren’t excited for any of Sony’s “big three” exclusives, you are entitled to your opinion and I welcome any dissenting thoughts.

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Unfortunately, it appears that Microsoft might not be the aggressive adversary I envisioned them being to Sony and this E3 proved that. While I don’t subscribe to the infantile system wars the gaming community loves to engage in, it’s a little disheartening to see the industry lose its foundation. Every console manufacturer has their own philosophy, but when they’re all deviating from each other, what does that mean for the industry? The three pillars of the console market used to force each other to change their course of action and ameliorate themselves for the consumers. However, when the actions of the three pillars don’t impact the others, how is that a win for consumers? Will there just be dozens of subscriptions down the line? Or would Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo do perfectly fine in the future?

Microsoft succeeds in their initiative to make their products available to everyone in every facet, Sony succeeds in providing the highest quality living room gaming experience, and Nintendo succeeds in refining their newfound Switch philosophy. If that’s what the future entails, then I have no concerns. However, this E3 sort of leaves me saddened. I’ll miss the console wars. As immature as it seems, it’s fun to see these companies fight for the consumers’ wallet. The goal was discernible and tangible: the most people that have your box wins. Perhaps I’m too cynical and need to rid myself of the nostalgia. Perhaps we’ll find greatness from each of the three pillars without the heated race to the finish line. Perhaps the industry will lose focus and have to endure a massive reboot, harming consumers and developers in the process. Ultimately, who knows?

What’s your opinion on the matter? Do you think the console wars are meaningless or do you think it’s important that the industry has a distinguishable goal in mind? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!

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