Here we are yet again; just under a month away from the gaming worlds biggest trade show, E3, where the biggest announcements from the biggest companies are made each year. Plenty of fellow fans, bloggers, and press have begun weighing in on what their predictions are for the three big companies — Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo — and what we might be seeing at this year’s show. So, I thought it’d be worth it to talk about what others are predicting, as well as my own thoughts on what to expect at E3.
Starting with Sony, there’s been quite a lot in the news lately. First off, Sony has confirmed there will be no talk of their next home console this year. There were, however, two huge Ps3 titles recently unveiled — God of War Ascencion and Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale (long name..). As these are both big announcements for the company, it surprising to see them shown off close to E3. IGN writers Greg Miller and Colin Moriarty are both convinced this could mean we’ll see a much stronger emphasis on Sony’s new handheld system, the Playstation Vita. I’m inclined to agree. While it’s not uncommon for many of the company’s announcements to surface prior to their press conference at the show, the Vita has been lagging in sales compared to Nintendo’s 3DS handheld — their biggest competition. With total sales for the 3DS over 17.13 million, the Vita’s 1.8 million — by no means a failure — seems lackluster.
This is largely due to a lack of titles post-launch. Despite the system having one of the strongest software lineups of any console launch, it’s failed to supplement that initial batch of games with quality games. The Vita is not an iPhone; it can’t sell itself on its (high impressive) hardware alone. It’s a gaming platform and needs more games.
That’s why I believe Sony’s E3 conference will focus heavily on the Vita, specifically new titles to persuade new buys, and reassure early adopters — such as the recently revealed Soul Sacrifice. On top of that, I have a feeling Sony may announce either a bundle or price drop for the system. Starting at $249 for the system ($299 for 3g internet model) and another $20-$100 for a memory card, and $30-$40 per software title, the Vita has a steep point of entry (for comparison, a 16gb Playstation 3 now runs at about $299 MSRP, and $50-$60 for software; the 3DS sells at $160 per system, and $30-$40 per game). In order to drive up sales numbers, Sony needs to either drop the price of the system and/or memory cards to a more reasonable level, or offer bundles that include a decent sized memory card and retail games.
In a recent earnings call, Sony optimistically projected an anticipated 10-16 million more Vitas sold this year. If that’s really going to happen, we need a price drop, and at the very least, more games.
Ironically enough, the one system I own is from the company who is rumored to have the least to show this year. Microsoft have been sitting easy these past couple years, remaining on top as both the entertainment and gaming hub of this console generation. Microsoft will probably do what they can to maintain that image, says industry analyst Michael Pachter, opting to focus less on core gaming, and more on their successful Kinect device and their growing presence as an entertainment hub.
Microsoft also have stated they have no plans to show off any new hardware, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise; they’re currently on top in the North American market because their system appeals to a wide audience. The Xbox 360 currently boasts a large number of apps from companies and services like Netflix, ESPN, Hulu, UFC, HBO GO, Bing, and even beginning to work with cable providers to bring content directly to Xbox 360 users. Microsoft have found widespread mainstream success — much like Nintendo with the Wii. While Nintendo’s success was driven by the Wii’s user-friendly interface, Microsoft have evolved that functionality with the Kinect, and applied it to media beyond just videogames.
At this point, the Xbox 360 is becoming almost like an Apple device; it hold many uses and applications, not just one. While Microsoft’s bread and butter is still their gamer audience, they also have the benefit of mainstream appeal. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in the past couple years, that often means the core gamers get overlooked in favor of furthering their mainstream success.
I doubt we’ll see much in terms of new or exclusive software titles from Microsoft. We’ll probably get a look at a new dashboard update for the 360, and more details on their new $99 plus subscription model for Xbox. Other than that, in terms of videogames, I don’t think we’ll see much besides Halo 4.
Probably the most talked about of the three, the gaming industry has their eyes on Nintendo for one reason: the Wii U.
The only one of the three hardware developers to actually show off their next console iteration, Nintendo have a lot to prove. Launching a year or more before the competition, the Wii U has been under scrutiny by the games press. IGN’s Rich George, along with numerous others in the press, are both excited and apprehensive about the new console. George laid out a list of points Nintendo needs to hit in order for the Wii U to be a success, mainly first third party support, and a reasonable price point. Nintendo’s other recent hardware launch, the 3DS, despite an overall highly successful turnout, began its life cycle with an uncertain future. A high price point and lack of first party games stalled the system’s sales, until a price drop and second batch of games gave it a much needed boost.
The Wii U cannot repeat this, and Nintendo is well aware. But while E3 will be where we undoubtedly see the true power of the new console, and see some much needed new titles, we won’t know the release date or starting price for the Wii U until closer to the system’s Fall 2012 launch window.
I’ve already said I’m looking forward to Nintendo’s press conference, and have hopes we’ll see some good games, I also feel they have the most to lose an are taking the biggest risk launching their system so early. And being heavily marketed at core gamers, I doubt they’ll see the same success with the Wii U that they did with the original Wii. If I were to make one suggestion for the company, it would be to create a new IP that shows off the strengths of the system and validates the need for a tablet controller, but also shows Nintendo is serious about getting back the core gamer audience. We’ll see if they can pull it off.
Overall, this year has potential. The full unveiling of a new console from Nintendo, the possibility of tons of new software from Sony, and new media and entertainment announcements from Microsoft will make E3 2012 an interesting one for sure. I’m sure we’ll come away impressed, but at this point I doubt we’ll see anything unexpected.