Here we are, on the verge of E3 2013. Gaming has changed quite a bit since this time in 2012 and promises to change even more in the year ahead. From Nintendo launching its “next generation” console to Sony and Microsoft announcing their own, 2013 will be the most intriguing year in gaming since 2006.
For those of you who don’t remember last year, here are my impressions of each presentation by Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo from E3 2012. This time around I’ll be going through each opinion and will spotlight key events that have happened in the last year.
As a reminder, my preferences run mostly contrary to David’s: I prefer Sony to Nintendo and like Microsoft the least. What has changed, however, is that I’ve now been using my Xbox 360 for over a year instead of just two months, giving me a better feel for the ecosystem.
The Wii U’s launch late last year was one met with great anticipation by Nintendo fans. However, I was not and continue to not be a Wii U owner. The system had middling appeal to me at E3 2012 and its launch did nothing to change that, though mostly due to a lack of games rather than a dislike of the features. The little time I’ve spent with the console in demo areas and with regular folk implies that the system is just one killer app away from me getting it. While that could have easily been Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, its release on 3DS kept me from taking the plunge.
Since the system’s launch, Nintendo has done quite a few “Nintendo Direct” presentations to announce upcoming games and solidify release dates. Unfortunately, none of them have grabbed my interest in a significant way. With a strong focus on Mario and the characters that make up his world, I just don’t really care enough to get excited. All that could change if Nintendo manages to announce a good Kirby game, though that has yet to occur. Let’s hope it doesn’t take Nintendo several years to revisit the pink puff like it did on the Wii.
Amidst all of that negativity, there’s hope yet for the Wii U: Recent developments have made me considerably more interested in it compared to the competition. Those developments will be covered after all three retrospectives.
As for the 3DS, Nintendo made great strides and has finally made me excited about the system again. With the eShop localization of Guild01 titles, the announcement of Bravely Default‘s localization, renewed third party support, and the announcement of a sequel to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, I won’t ever be selling my 3DS. They even managed to patch better performance into the system, something that gets immense praise from me. While it’s not enough for me to double down and trade in my 3DS for a 3DS XL, it’s more than enough for me to hang on to the little guy and keep using it for the foreseeable future.
Then there’s the Wii. Poor thing didn’t get much love at E3 or the conferences surrounding the event, but got a massive amount of JRPG love in the last year. Pandora’s Tower is taunting me from my desk as I type this, though it also seems like the last time I’ll ever have a Wii game taunting me in such a manner.
The PlayStation 4 was announced with a two hour conference that left me feeling confident that Sony would continue feeding me with IPs I prefer, but somewhat bored by how much time was spent explaining development details. As a developer I was unsatisfied by the vagueness of what was being stated and as a gamer I was unsatisfied by how much “behind the curtain” was being exposed or explicitly pointed to during the conference. In all honesty, I don’t really want to hear developers spend time showing off their “wet asphalt” effect and how it’s only possible on PS4. I either want them to casually point it out or go into full detail of how they can do it. The middle ground they took was just… boring.
Boredom aside, Sony showed off the new DualShock 4. With its central trackpad, dubious Share button, and lit up front end for Move/PlayStation Eye support, I just don’t see the possibilities for most of those additions right now. The Share button I understand perfectly, since it’s embedded in almost every single mobile and social application available right now. However, I’m just not seeing how Twitch.tv support or posting to (read: annoying people on) Facebook is a big plus. If I could livestream my gameplay to Twitch.tv via that button, great. If it just records my last gameplay session and uploads it, that’s absolutely pointless and I’d prefer YouTube integration instead.
As for the track pad and lit up front end, I just see those things as battery drains right now. I just can’t think of a reason I’d want to use a track pad over analog sticks, especially if I need to take my thumbs off the sticks to control it. Same goes for the lights in the front, which might make for a cool low-light glow while I’m gaming, but don’t really matter since Move has officially become a complete and utter failure.
When the conference ended, some unanswered questions were sent Sony’s way, only to get cryptic responses. The buzz surrounding the PS4 restricting gamers by having a constant internet connection were completely debunked, but that’s the only straight answer gamers got. However, recent events have brought another question to the forefront that wasn’t really that important back in February: Used game sales. While I’m going to cover my feelings about Microsoft’s strange handling of the subject in their own rundown, it needs to be said that Sony has not offered any solid details concerning what it plans on doing with the used games market. That is cause for concern, since anyone without a plan would simply say “nothing will change”. As such, their silence is suspect.
On the PS3 front, Sony kept things fairly close to what it announced. However, my interest in gaming on the PS3 was heavily crushed when my system broke last year, forcing me to have it replaced by a similar system (for only $150, which is the upside of the maintenance). As for what happened on my PS3 during the last year, I was gifted enough money to buy PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, which I did in order to appease a friend. Much like my first impressions, the game was nothing short of a borefest that was incompatible with my interests, which explains why the game is sitting quietly at the bottom of my pile of PS3/PS Vita games. I’m somewhat happy I got $60 worth in pre-order costumes, but that doesn’t justify how uninteresting it was to me.
Where Sony scored some huge points last year was how many games ended up being free on PS Plus. For a service that costs as much as an Xbox Live Gold subscription per year, I’ve scored well over five times that amount in free retail games, let alone free PSN titles, for both PS3 and PS Vita. Adding to that are the massive (for Sony standards) 75% sales on Ultimate Editions: I’ve managed to get games with all pre-order content and DLC for less than their retail price. Sure they’re digital, but the kinds of games that have gotten the Ultimate treatment are ones I don’t see myself going back to once I complete them from top to bottom.
As for the PS Vita… Well, the system still exists, I guess. The past year was very hard to endure as a PS Vita owner. With low sales in Japan and even lower sales overseas, the system’s support is slowly drying up in a way that Nintendo 3DS support seemed to back in 2012. However, I don’t see Sony being able to turn the tide like Nintendo did, which means I’ll just have to enjoy the last few games coming out for it. While yes, I love Soul Sacrifice and am heavily anticipating Muramasa: Rebirth, there aren’t any other true PS Vita exclusives announced that either interest me or give me hope the system will survive another year of bad performance. Then again, there’s always the chance Sony will strong-arm a gigantic Monster Hunter deal away from Nintendo or get a sequel to the million-selling Dissidia: Final Fantasy onto the system, but those prospects are very slim in the light of Sony having to deal with the PS4’s launch.
Let’s face facts: I’m still not as used to the Xbox 360 as I should be. The ads are distracting when I’m navigating the main menu and the controller really doesn’t agree with my hands. I’ve tried gaming on the thing but have found that the system just doesn’t feel right. While yes, it’s sleeker and performs better than the PS3, I just can’t shake the little things that make the 360 awkward compared to its competitors.
As for Microsoft’s performance in the last year, I haven’t bought a single new game for the system. Even in the event of my PS3 breaking down, I used my 360 as a device to play old, admittedly amazing Japanese RPGs. When not gaming, all I could ever stomach doing on the device was watch DVDs, which made me fairly frustrated as someone whose library is intermixed with DVDs and Blu-ray titles. It felt odd that I could watch Casino Royale, but couldn’t watch Quantum of Solace in the lead up to Skyfall.
With the lack of game purchases also came the lack of accessory purchases. I felt no need to buy an Xbox Live Gold subscription, nor a Kinect. I did, however, try out SmartGlass for a short time with so-so results. I just don’t see the need for using my smartphone (in this case, an iPod Touch since my phone is too old) to get an “enhanced” experience with the 360, especially when I can just use my iPod/smartphone to do the very tasks I want without tethering it to my console.
Then comes Microsoft’s own “next generation” announcement. Saved for last, because it managed to turn me off of Microsoft’s entire ecosystem for the whole next generation to come.
Unlike Sony, Microsoft came out swinging with the announcement and unveiling of the Xbox One. A sleek, liquid black box that rivals the awesome look of certain supercomputers, it’s by far the console’s best aspect. While others call it reminiscent of a VCR and hate its size, I see it as an incredibly simple and effective form factor which conveys what seems to be concern for good airflow (the bane of the Xbox 360) and makes it clear that the machine needs a lot of space to keep cool.
Then things fall apart.
While I’m fully aware that this was supposed to be a hardware and feature unveiling for the system, the inordinate amount of times the words “TV” and “television” cropped up was astounding. Showing off feature after feature that made less and less sense for a game console and even less sense for anyone who already owns a Smart TV, I got progressively bored with the announcement.
From Skype to Internet Explorer, it kept showing features that I would only ever use on a computer or smartphone but never on a TV, except if I connect one of the aforementioned devices to a TV. I don’t need to surf the internet on my screen while I’m playing, nor would I appreciate anyone interfering with my gaming or TV watching session to surf or contact someone on Skype. The multitasking shown off was jarring in how it did things so poorly when compared to Nintendo’s two screen approach.
Then there’s the lack of games. All I got from the announcement was that we would get more of the same: Sports titles that I really don’t care about, Call of Duty: Ghosts, which isn’t even exclusive nor restricted to “next generation”, a new Forza, and a creepy fusion of live-action TV with horribly blended video game action in the cryptic Quantum Break. The latter is built to be a fusion of TV show and video game, something the MMO/TV series Defiance is doing. Considering how many layoffs hit the developer of the video game, it’s safe to say this sort of experiment is doomed from the get-go.
Then Microsoft dug itself into a grave.
Following the announcement show, Microsoft was pressed by journalists about its used games strategy. Unlike Sony, who only ever gave one cryptic answer and shut up about the subject until further notice, Microsoft went ahead and blurted out that it was going to restrict used games outright. Only it wasn’t. Except it was, but had a deal with retailers. Except not the deal we think it does. Except… well, you see, Microsoft can’t shut up about the subject and has muddied the waters in ways that got a lot of gamers angry and concerned, myself included.
The news of games being shareable between account holders on a single console is of little consolation (heh), since I personally have a habit of sharing games with my long-moved out sibling and friends. What is currently known about Microsoft’s system would effectively make that either impossible or extremely complicated, which is something I won’t endure.
What’s more, while I don’t typically resell my games (unless I develop a deep loathing for the title), I do buy used games. However, it’s not for cost saving: I buy games used when I have no other option, which happens quite often due to my taste in games. Japanese RPGs often get very small initial print runs, which makes them very difficult to find new after six months to a year. Since I’m not made of money, I tend to scoop up some games later than their release date for a price already fairly similar to their initial retail run.
This also applies when I buy a console far later than its launch date, like the 360: I bought many, many titles used because they were long out of print and not available on Xbox Live for digital purchase. If I were to do the same thing with the Xbox One, I would essentially need to pay Microsoft’s price for the games, not whatever retailer’s bulk sale price. Unless Microsoft plans to reach Steam prices, that’s completely unacceptable.
More recently, it has been put forward that Sony itself will follow suit and restrict used games in some fashion. If such a system were put in place, it could easily kill my interest, perhaps permanently, in the PS4. While I love their games and would probably be first in line to pre-order the system, I just can’t support a console that implements such a system. That is, of course, unless it makes things *better* and *easier*. Trading or selling “used” DLC or digital games would be a great place to start. If the used game system doesn’t actually allow that alongside its restrictions, I’ll gladly go back to PC gaming and pick up a Wii U whenever its game lineup grows to the tipping point.
So last year was a doozy. With Nintendo already bathing in next generation waters, it has the first-to-market advantage of having developers be in the second year of post-launch games development for the console. With the used games debate looming over Microsoft and Sony, Nintendo has already shown that it won’t take the route of restriction. Microsoft already shot itself in the foot and got me forever uninterested in their console, while Sony has yet to say anything more than “it will be allowed”. If Sony actually says anything more than that, it had better be “and nothing will change”, else they might find themselves in the same hot water Microsoft threw itself into this week.
While I’m more forgiving of Sony due to my attachment to the PlayStation ecosystem, I’m not blindly faithful. If the PlayStation 4 ends up being as bad or worse than what is currently known of Microsoft’s system, I’m likely not going to buy into their next generation of consoles. If it’s less problematic, it will depend on *how much less* before I make a decision. If they keep things the same as they have been on PlayStation 3, they instantly win my vote… and pre-order.
What I’m Expecting
Microsoft: Short of backtracking completely on your used games policy or whatever you have in store, I don’t care about the Xbox One anymore. Sure you’ve backpedaled on Kinect being creepily always on and have now reaffirmed your support of indie developers, but you need to address used games at E3 or risk me not caring when you ever do clarify.
Sony: Just don’t restrict used games. If you do, make sure it’s the least intrusive and most consumer friendly approach ever, short of not having any restrictions. If it’s anything more than that, I will not buy the machine at launch and might even sit out the generation in favor of PC gaming.
Nintendo: Know what you did with the 3DS? You should do that with the Wii U. Announce gangbuster collaborations, get indie developers on board with making games like Sony did with the PS3, but most importantly… make a Kirby game.
So there you have it, my views on what last year brought and what I look forward to seeing in the year to come. Microsoft has already fallen from grace and Sony is in a very dangerous position with its silence on one key subject, while all Nintendo needs is a better game lineup in order to win my faith for this next generation of gaming.
See you again after E3, where I will once again be giving my thoughts on the Big Three’s showings.