June 13, 2014
The Big Three At E3 – The Arrogant, The Desperate And The Clueless
The Electronic Entertainment Expo is in full swing and once again the three console makers prove one is arrogant, one is desperate and one eternally clueless. As a reporter who attended and covered E3 for years – this is the first time I didn’t actually fly to Los Angeles to take in the sights and dare I say “smells” of the show – I’ve grown accustomed to the noise, the hype and the empty cheers.
Back at the 2005 E3, I spoke to some video game industry colleagues about the three press conferences – Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. Each presented something a little different. Sony was riding high with its PlayStation 2, which had been released in 2000; while Nintendo was struggling a bit with its GameCube, which was released in 2001. Microsoft had entered the video game market in 2001 as well with the original Xbox.
I was asked, “What do you think?” and I made a statement that I’ve repeated a few times – and which had seemingly made the rounds.
I dared to suggest: One company was arrogant, one company was desperate and one company was clueless. Back in 2005 it was clear that Sony was arrogant. They (author’s note: normally a company should be “It,” but in this case “They” makes it a bit more personal) had knocked Sega out of the fight completely and had managed to do what seemed impossible. They had the top selling console two cycles in a row with the PlayStation and the PlayStation 2.
Sony’s press conferences were notoriously long. They showed games, they showed hardware, they touted numbers; simply put: they gloated. They were as arrogant as a company could be. This was their industry.
Microsoft was desperate at the time; they had established Microsoft Game Studios as a serious PC publisher with sports, action, racing and strategy games. Then they entered the console arena. The Xbox wasn’t a bad system, it was a good system — but the Xbox was playing catch up and it never caught up.
So Microsoft introduced the Xbox 360 in 2005 – just four years after the introduction of the Xbox. It was a game changing move and it paid off. It gave Microsoft a year lead over the Sony PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii.
Back then Nintendo was clueless. The company had been clueless for years. It had a chance to use Sony’s CD technology for the Nintendo but opted not to do so. By ditching Sony’s technology, Sony launched the PlayStation!
After 2005 Sony became more desperate. It launched the expensive PS3 in 2006 with Blu-ray compatibility. It helped the company win the Blu-ray war against HD-DVD, and that was a shrewd move for Sony, but it did so just as streaming video was taking off.
Microsoft surged ahead thanks to the year’s lead over Sony and Nintendo and became more arrogant. It was so arrogant it made a number of bad moves with the Xbox One – not the least was its name! It was originally to require an always-on Internet connection and couldn’t play used games. It also cost $100 more than the Sony PlayStation 4.
Arrogant isn’t a good place to be.
That brings us to E3 2014. I didn’t have to fly out to Los Angeles, but watched the press conferences online. I’ve spoken to industry analysts and I’ve followed the story.
It is clear that Microsoft is now desperate. Its E3 press conference was dominated by games – big, flashy games — and it disconnected the built-in Kinect motion controller to drop the price. Microsoft has sold five million units to Sony’s seven million, so maybe it is too early to be desperate, but it is hard to see desperation sometimes from the inside.
Meanwhile, Sony — yes, the arrogant Sony — was back this year. It had a nearly two-hour-long press conference where it pulled out all the stops. Just like the old days, it didn’t leave you wanting for more so much as wanting for a bathroom! Most movies today are shorter than Sony’s press conferences.
Sony of course can’t help be arrogant. They have outsold Microsoft after all.
So that leaves Nintendo.
Last year Nintendo pulled the plug on its press conference at E3, replaced by a so-called “digital event.” This year the company offered a peek into a slew of games, yet what seemed missing were any casual games.
We need to back up. Back in 2008, Nintendo was selling strong and had become a popular platform for casual gamers. The Wii found its way to retirement homes, cruise ships and community centers. Nintendo was riding high, but as I’ve written about a few times, it didn’t get the cheers it wanted at E3. So in 2009 it went back to focusing on core games and got back the cheers!
Hurrah! Who needs sales when you have cheers from the fanboys in the audience at E3?
Then, in 2012, Nintendo stopped with press conferences altogether. Sure, it was a fun presentation and even called in the talents from Cartoon Network’s Robot Chicken to help produce it. Yes, it looked good, but meanwhile EA has stopped supporting the Wii U and Ubisoft is taking a wait-and-see approach.
It is almost as if there is a certain amount of arrogance in their cluelessness, and while Sony and Microsoft will flip flop on their positions, Nintendo is thus clueless to the end.
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