Microsoft’s E3 Press Conference was on Sunday and by all accounts, it has gone down well. They released all the salient information about Project Scorpio, or should I say the Xbox One X. The latest game in the Forza franchise, Forza Motorsport 7, was revealed alongside the first public showing of Porsche’s new 911 GT2 RS. They then went on to show off 41 other games over the following 90 minutes. This has been applauded by most people, but I have to say, it left me feeling a little disheartened, let me explain.
I firmly believe that Microsoft was forced into this move. For the past few months, Xbox has been coming under flack for the number of exclusives coming to the system. PlayStation 4 has had an exceptional first half of 2017 with an array of top-notch exclusives like Gravity Rush 2, Nioh, Persona 5, Horizon Zero Dawn, Nier: Automata, and MLB: The Show 17. During that time, the only notable Xbox exclusive was Halo Wars 2, which while a good game, does not compare favourably to many games in the PlayStation camp. Another thing that happened was the very public cancellation of Scalebound, Microsoft’s collaboration with Platinum Games. All of these elements and circumstances have conspired to put considerable pressure on Microsoft.
Xbox is already facing a big battle this generation because of the huge lead that PlayStation has. One of the complaints made against the Xbox One is that the PS4 is more powerful, and with Sony having introduced the PS4 Pro, the Xbox One is somewhat lagging behind. Microsoft’s response to that has been to develop Xbox One X, and to reclaim the title of ‘the most powerful console ever’. The idea of a ‘mid-generation refresh’ for Xbox One was probably in development before Microsoft heard that Sony was thinking the same thing, but when they did realise, I’m sure a decision to double down was to taken to ensure that they weren’t lagging behind again.
With all this pressure building up, Microsoft needed to come out swinging at their E3 Press Conference. They moved the presentation from their regular slot on the Monday of E3 so that they could command a longer news cycle. They announced that the presentation would reveal the name, price, and release date of their new system. All of this led to thousands of people watching the event, waiting to see what was coming up for Xbox One. What followed was a whistle-stop tour through the upcoming game library for the system. While this approach made it clear that there are numerous titles coming to the system, it felt rather hollow.
Microsoft has been working hard to get a lot of exclusives on to their ecosystem, but I want to know more. Crackdown 3 is their huge game for the holidays and we know next to nothing about the game. State of Decay 2 is one of their big hitters coming in early 2018 and, again, we know very little about it. Super Lucky’s Tale looks like it could be a fabulous platformer coming towards the end of the year and all we know is what we can glean from the short trailer. The only exclusive games they spent time on were Sea of Thieves, which needed the improved clarity that this gave, and Forza Motorsport 7. Even as the biggest Forza fan I didn’t see the need to spend so much time on this franchise and not the others. The Forza series is akin to the FIFA & Madden series in that people already know if they’re going to buy them and there is very little you can do to change people’s minds.
Two other games were focussed on during the presentation, Assassin’s Creed Origins, and Anthem. I understand the necessity of trying to link franchises to the Xbox ecosystem, particularly as Sony has snatched up FIFA and Call of Duty endorsements from under Microsoft’s nose, but this could have been done with a trailer and then more comprehensive demos during their own publisher’s press conferences. When Assassin’s Creed Origins was shown in the Ubisoft’s presentation they even said that it was being demoed on Xbox One X.
I understand Microsoft feeling that they need to emphasise that Xbox is a place that is going to get just as many games as their competitors, but this came at a cost. The presentation felt shallow and lacking in information for the titles that we really care about. Microsoft showed off 42 games, 19 of these were in an ID@Xbox sizzle reel and this type of thing could easily have been done for some of the other titles as well. Phil Spencer’s “games, games, games” philosophy for E3 press conferences is admirable, but it shouldn’t be to the detriment of depth.