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E3 2021: Xbox has everything to prove, it's time to show off the fruits of its software investments and there's little margin for error

May 9, 2019
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[...] Let's start with Sony, because it's by far the easiest of the companies to assess. It isn't technically taking part in E3, though it'll undoubtedly have various things to showcase in the coming weeks, having started off with a gameplay stream of Horizon: Forbidden West a few days ago.

Sony is easy to assess precisely because it's by far the company with the least to prove right now -- which may also explain why it isn't doing E3 to the same extent of its rivals. It entered this generation not only as market leader, but with an incredibly well-respected and successful first-party software pipeline pumping out hits on a reliable basis. PS5 is a solid console, the pipeline is doing its job and providing a good line-up of exclusives on the way. Supply chain issues aside, there hasn't been a major stumble yet. If Sony's plan for PS5 was "do the stuff that made PS4 successful, but more," then it's executing on it as solidly as anyone could have hoped.

There's actually an instinct to try and pick holes in that situation, which I think owes a lot to our learned expectation that market leaders should stumble at transitions. It should feel totally natural to us that last generation's leader would maintain its lead into this generation, but we've seen such major mishaps from leaders at previous transitions (PS2 to PS3, Xbox 360 to Xbox One) that it feels rather novel to have a situation where incumbent advantage is really in play again. At some point down the line Sony is going to have to change up its strategy -- not least because it needs to figure out how the hell to combat Game Pass -- but for now, re-emphasising the first-party pipeline and perhaps dropping some announcements and teases of new things on the way is about all the company needs to do.

Microsoft is in quite a different situation. It came to this generation as the underdog, and its execution around the hardware, launch and service offering for Xbox Series X isn't just "solid," it's been outright spectacular. The backwards compatibility support is astoundingly good, which seems like a slightly odd place to focus so much effort until you see how well it combines with Game Pass' offering of an enormous library of back catalogue titles -- a combination of technology and service that's entirely unrivalled by any other platform. The jaw-dropping impressiveness of that offering, however, can't quite cover for the company's problem: as of right now, it's set to come out from its own supply-constrained period with an actual software line-up -- in terms of first-party and exclusive games -- that's far, far weaker than Sony's. That's a problem big enough to overshadow everything else Microsoft has achieved with Xbox in the past year; no matter what your service offering is, I don't think the logic of "games sell consoles" has changed a single bit since the 1980s.

That's why Xbox comes to E3 with a much, much more pressing need to prove itself than PlayStation, despite the largely neck-and-neck performance of the consoles (both commercially and technologically) and Microsoft's clear lead in services. The company knows it needs to prove itself on this front; it just dropped billions of dollars on Bethesda for precisely that reason, buying some of the software pipeline that it simply doesn't have time to build from scratch. Even so, the timing is tricky; the Bethesda acquisition is still fresh and I wouldn't expect much beyond perhaps some logo/artwork teases for any Bethesda exclusives at this stage, but the company needs to start building anticipation and belief in its future pipeline sooner rather than later. We know that Xbox has been building out its game studios for several years now; E3 is its chance to start proving to the world that this is going to turn into a software pipeline that can go toe-to-toe with what Sony's doing.

In this regard Microsoft is the company with the most serious need to make a big splash at E3 this year; it's done half of the job of catching up to Sony's commanding lead with just how smart and well-implemented almost everything about the Series X is, now it needs to start revealing the other side of the puzzle, the software line-up. The worst-case scenario is that we end up watching Halo Infinite, Forza, and a bunch of multi-platform third party titles, in a higher-fidelity re-roll of Microsoft's less inspiring E3 events of the past. In the hopefully unlikely event that that happens, it'll be time to start getting worried that the company's Damascene conversion to first-party development might have come too late to give it a fighting chance against its competition.

Nintendo finds itself, entirely unsurprisingly, in a totally different situation from either of the other companies. Switch is in a sense the dominant console right now, and while its future software slate isn't terribly full, the company has earned itself the benefit of the doubt on that front to some extent, with some pretty big software releases being announced and launched on very short timescales in recent years.

Its bigger problem, unlike Sony or Microsoft, is hardware-related. The expectation that a Switch Pro will come down the pipe later in the year appears to have become widespread enough that it's starting to put pressure on sales of the existing Switch; nobody wants to buy a console that's expected to be replaced with something better only months down the line. The company may well view E3 as being too early for that announcement, since the hardware isn't likely to turn up until late autumn or early winter -- but it's going to need to say something sooner rather than later.

If Nintendo wants to keep Switch standard model sales somewhat alive in the meanwhile, it would also be good to get some idea of how software compatibility will work. Will the Switch Pro simply upscale existing Switch games, without breaking any compatibility across the line-up? Or will this be a repeat of the messiness we saw around the New Nintendo 3DS, which had a small number of high-profile games like Xenoblade Chronicles and Fire Emblem Warriors that only worked on the upgraded hardware, and indeed the Switch Lite, whose different hardware profile meant some Switch games couldn't be played properly on the device?

From what we know so far, it sounds like keeping the Switch Pro's software fully compatible with other Switch devices should be less challenging technically -- but as long as there's any suspicion that a Switch Pro will have exclusive software, not just upgraded hardware, it's going to be a major disincentive to consumers thinking of jumping into the platform in the months to come.

Ultimately, however, E3 week is almost certainly going to be all about Microsoft; it goes into the show with the most to prove, and the most obvious ways to prove it. If everything goes as it should, the gaming world should all be talking about Xbox by the end of the week -- and if we're not, it'll raise some pretty big questions about how the XSX is going to fare once this very peculiar console launch period gets past its supply constraints and the early sprint settles down into the marathon pace of real platform competition.


I agree with the article. I think just hearing about studio acquisitions and what games are coming to Game Pass isn't enough to really drive sales of the Xbox Series X. While Sony and Nintendo can also do some things better, as the article points out, Microsoft has more to prove in the long run.
 

Punished Miku

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They have laid the groundwork for success. No one can really even deny that at this point. So that's a huge accomplishment.
But yeah, people's allegiances to a system ecosystem are decided early - and if they don't start making their software lineup irresistible, people will invest in the other system.

The main thing not on their side right now is time. Having that many studios will eventually pan out, but the question is just how long it's going to take.

I don't think anyone thinks things are ready yet. So they better have a few good demos and CG trailers at least, and start putting names on these unannounced projects. Sony got away with that at E3 with showcases that didn't pan out for several years. But their initial showing was very strong, even in CG trailer form. That's basically what Xbox needs at E3 this year, as a best case scenario.
 
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BabyfaceRe

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Jun 12, 2020
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Don't expect any AAA first party games from studios purchased in the last 2-3 years. AAA takes around 4 years these days, 1st party quality (tlou, GoW etc) take considerably longer.

Buying studios doesnt make games magically appear out of thin air, even though everyone seems to think that lol

"It's now or never for xbox" seems to be a common thought. Just not one based in the real world.
 

LordBlodgett

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I agree completely with this article. Backwards compatibility means I've been buying all my third party games on Xbox, and Gamepass means most of my time has been spent on Xbox, but I'm definitely more intrigued by the first party games heading to PS5. Halo is the known, and I love its multiplayer, but that isn't going to get too many converts. They need to show some of the fruits of their purchases over the last three years and really wow people. I really want to see game play from Halo, Starfield, Forza, Psychonauts 2, and FS2020. They are going to need more though. We shall see......
 

skit_data

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Read it a couple of days ago, wasn’t sure if it would be considered console warring to make a thread about it
 

peter42O

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My final predictions for Xbox Game Studios and Bethesda showings -

<Not listing any Game Pass predictions because we know there will be a bunch of them, third party titles or acquisitions>

- No Shows
Alpha Dog Studios, Compulsion Games, Id Software, InXile Entertainment, Ninja Theory, Roundhouse Studios, Tango Gameworks, The Coalition, The Initiative, Turn 10 Studios and Undead Labs

- 343 Industries
Halo Infinite (campaign and multi-player, November 12th, 2021) *opener*

- Arkane Studios
Project Omen (Austin studio - cinematic and gameplay trailer, 2022)

- Bethesda Game Studios
Starfield (cinematic trailer and gameplay trailer, Fall 2022) *closer*
The Elder Scrolls VI (gameplay teaser trailer) *closer*

- Double Fine Productions
Psychonauts 2 (gameplay trailer, September 2021)

- Machine Games
Wolfenstein III (cinematic and gameplay trailer, Spring 2022)

- Mojang Studios
Minecraft new content segment

- Obsidian Entertainment
Grounded (full release version trailer, new content, July 2021)
The Outer Worlds 2 (cinematic trailer)
Avowed (gameplay trailer)

- Playground Games
Forza Horizon 5 (cinematic and gameplay trailer, October 2021)

- Rare
Sea of Thieves new content segment

- World’s Edge
Age of Empires IV (short gameplay trailer, PC, October 2021)

- ZeniMax Online Studios
The Elder Scrolls Online segment

- Global Publishing
Project Typhoon
Flight Simulator (Asobo)
Star Wars KOTOR remake (Aspyr)

I believe that Halo Infinite opens the showcase with a short gameplay trailer for the campaign and then show some stuff from the multi-player. Starfield ends the show completely but I wouldn’t be shocked to see a gameplay teaser trailer of The Elder Scrolls VI after Starfield. If the above happens or mostly happens, it will already surpass last year easily and be one of their better showcases in the last decade. Looking forward to the showcase in general and looking at all the other showcases, only Nintendo could surpass it.
 

Matsuchezz

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I want them to show Hellblade 2. And that is it. Their games exclusives and first party games are not very interesting to me, i found them lacking in production values, voice over and concepts. I really do not like western RPGs, so I hope they show hellblade at the very beggining so I can skip the rest of the conference.
Additionally they have already proven themselves, that they can spend lots and lots of money and still deliver underwhelming games. So i am expecting consistency in that regard.
 
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MastaKiiLA

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Why keep building up the importance of this event? It only worsens the disappointment, as the expectations get wound way beyond what can realistically be delivered.
 
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Freeman76

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They are doing good things imo. Phil bringing the Japanese scene to Xbox has been great. MS being on the backfoot, with their huge wallet, has really benefitted imo. Bringing PSO2 to Xbox was amazing for me, and Phil being around my age and such a fan of PSO was heartwarming.

Everything is smooth, cloud saves, BC, everything. Sony on the otherhand, their cloud system being attached to PS+ meant when my Pro died and I hadnt subbed to PS+ for a year, when I got my PS5 I had lost an entire years worth of saves, some like MHW with 700+ hours, left a sour taste for me.

If they can bring some good new shit to the scene, the XSX will be my go to this gen, with the PS5 used for Sonys awesome exlcusives. What a time to be gaming imo!!
 

Spidey Fan

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Wait and see... even their management is a bunch of cluless bullshitters....

Remember last year Phil Spencer "claiming advantage" after SONY's showcase.... then Halo became joke of 2020....
They dropped zenimax ball man. what you smoking.
 
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Coolwhhip

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deja vu women GIF by Half The Picture
 

MvCSpiderman

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Don't expect any AAA first party games from studios purchased in the last 2-3 years. AAA takes around 4 years these days, 1st party quality (tlou, GoW etc) take considerably longer.

Buying studios doesnt make games magically appear out of thin air, even though everyone seems to think that lol

"It's now or never for xbox" seems to be a common thought. Just not one based in the real world.
Half MS studios they brought usually have games out in 2 years. 3 at most. Not all of them are inflated blockbusters studios.
 

SlimySnake

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Can't believe I'm saying this but MS can save next gen and inject some excitement back into this industry which has become very by the numbers and corporate.

Let's show us the future of games. Something we can't even imagine. A true generational leap. The MGS2 leap. Sony is MIA. Nintendo is literally three gens behind. Third parties are chasing fads as usual. Rockstar is MIA. It's time for Microsoft to grab the opportunity and run with it.
 

Bumblebeetuna

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They’ve already shown the fruits of those acquisitions though? We know the games are coming. They just take time.

Most of the studios they bought had prior commitments. Now that those are mostly done, we know what they are working on.

inXile was making Wasteland 3, now they are making an RPG shooter.

Obsidian was making Outer Worlds, now they have five projects in the works including Avowed and Grounded.

Double Fine was and still is making Psychonauts 2, and they have at least two other games in the works.

Ninja Theory has Hellblade 2 and Mara coming.

Playground has Horizon and Fable coming.

Compulsion was making Happy Few, they have a new game.

Undead was working on SoD2, we know they have SoD3 coming.

343 of course has Infinite.

Coalition supposedly has multiple non-Gears titles in the pipelines.

Bethesda has Starfield and Indy coming, among other games, plus the PS5 timed exclusives they are honoring.

Initiative has Perfect Dark.

Turn10 has FM8.

Mojang has something MS.

Did I miss anyone? They have a shit ton of fruits. However, I think people will continue to be unrealistic in terms of patience. People expect these games to have one or two year dev cycles or something.
 
Dec 10, 2020
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Can't believe I'm saying this but MS can save next gen and inject some excitement back into this industry which has become very by the numbers and corporate.

Let's show us the future of games. Something we can't even imagine. A true generational leap. The MGS2 leap. Sony is MIA. Nintendo is literally three gens behind. Third parties are chasing fads as usual. Rockstar is MIA. It's time for Microsoft to grab the opportunity and run with it.

 

Vasto

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Can't believe I'm saying this but MS can save next gen and inject some excitement back into this industry which has become very by the numbers and corporate.

Let's show us the future of games. Something we can't even imagine. A true generational leap. The MGS2 leap. Sony is MIA. Nintendo is literally three gens behind. Third parties are chasing fads as usual. Rockstar is MIA. It's time for Microsoft to grab the opportunity and run with it.

Real talk right here. :messenger_ok:

You guys are killing me with these avatars. :messenger_tears_of_joy:
 
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mortal

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Literally all they need to do is just show off gameplay for the games they've been developing up to this point.They have over 21 developers for fuck's sake.
I couldn't care less about their latest acquisition if it amounts to waiting years just see a measly gameplay trailer, let alone actually getting to play the game.

No outsourced CGI trailers, no in-engine cinematic trailer with zero gameplay spliced in, no phony target renders. Just give me the real deal of what to expect from my experience.
I'm over that shit, especially if a company is going to constantly boast about how powerful their hardware is.
 

GuinGuin

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Can't believe I'm saying this but MS can save next gen and inject some excitement back into this industry which has become very by the numbers and corporate.

Let's show us the future of games. Something we can't even imagine. A true generational leap. The MGS2 leap. Sony is MIA. Nintendo is literally three gens behind. Third parties are chasing fads as usual. Rockstar is MIA. It's time for Microsoft to grab the opportunity and run with it.

You think Dreams and Returnal are by the numbers and corporate? Oh, boy.
 

martino

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Both critized the same day for things they can be critized for
It's almost a good day for game journalism.
 
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Logic dictates 2022 and 2023 will be way better than 2021 unless there's massive global publishing deals or acquisitions that nobody expects, just based on when all the studios finished their last games.



Putting all this pressure on 2021 is either going to set people up for disappointment or give ignorant fanboys something to brag about "all those studios and that's the best you can do?"



I expect this e3 will simultaneously be the best e3 of the last several years and the worst e3 of the next several years
 

reksveks

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I do wonder if Microsoft released Flight Sim, Halo and Forza this year along with indies like 12 minutes, Tunic and the Gunk followed by the gamepass release of BF6 whether that would be seen a bad second half of the year for xbox.

Totally ignoring Psychonauts 2 but think that's going to be a great game as well.

Also forgot AoE4 as well
 
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elliot5

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I do wonder if Microsoft released Flight Sim, Halo and Forza this year along with indies like 12 minutes, Tunic and the Gunk followed by the gamepass release of BF6 whether that would be seen a bad second half of the year for xbox.

Totally ignoring Psychonauts 2 but think that's going to be a great game as well.
If forza pans out, I am totally satisfied with Halo, Forza, P2, indies, AoE4 and whatever else comes along like BF
 
S

Shodan09

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They literally have everything in their favor right now bar a strong first party lineup. The integration of cloud gaming, backwards compatibility, smart delivery and, as another poster mentioned, even the handling of saved data have been game changing this gen. Now they just need a solid lineup of great looking and playing exclusives so that I can play a new Perfect Dark on the main TV, on my bedroom TV and most importantly on the toilet, seamlessly. The foundation they've constructed is far superior to Sony's but they really do have to make good on their promises now otherwise I think all the good will they've generated will vanish and I don't think people will be willing to give them another chance this time round.
 

captainraincoat

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Ms could have a show where bill gates returns and personally gives everyone $1000 and a hooker and there would still be people in here critiquing it.

just enjoy the ride…they have a metric fuckton of first party studios working on stuff and their output will probably be almost 3 times what Sony is offering which is what makes certain folk around here a little nervous as a trickle of first party ain’t going to cut it anymore…the tap will be turned on this year
 

Black_Stride

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Unless they have some big surprises im pretty sure we all know what to expect from their E3.
Tuning in for whatever surprises they have in store for us.

I cant imagine they drop the ball after Halo Infinite missed the Series X launch.
And with the whole crossgen till 2022 thing, it would be nice to get confirmation of games like Senua and Everwild being nextgen exclusive.
Hell throw in Forza Motorsport as a nextgen exclusive too.
It's usually true. They just always go for "break."
If MS had broken their E3 of the past as you are stating, the Xbox wouldnt be a thing.
So clearly they arent breaking shit.
Make or break is an expression meaning you either survive or are fucked.....if you think Xbox division is fucked you probably havent been paying attention.
Hyperboles aside, everyone(normal gamers) keeps hoping Microsoft will have some X360 level E3, effectively the promise that they could is why everyone tunes in.
Tis why even adamant Xbox haters watch the show.....just in case.
 
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