Microsoft's E3 press conference had two purposes: to show dominance in the very narrow category of violence-driven male-targeted enthusiast action titles, and to launch Kinect, formerly known as Project Natal, in a stab at the wide market for its newly redesigned Xbox 360.
Blood 'n' Guts
The trailers and demos that led the conference highlighted the real drive towards action and explicit violence that Microsoft has made the cornerstone of the Xbox 360's audience along with its third parties: Call of Duty: Black Ops
(fireballs aplenty), Metal Gear: Rising
(choose-your-own-vivisection, spine-yanking), Gears of War 3
(exploding Locust with glow-in-the-dark blood splatter.)
The lineup included a teaser for a new, exclusive game by Crytek (Codename: Kingdoms
) and a lengthy, polished demo of Bungie's Halo Reach
-- which despite constant gunfire seemed a bit sedate compared to the other games, frankly.
Alongside an announcement by MS senior vice president Don Mattrick that "all Call of Duty
add-ons and map packs will launch first on 360" through 2012, all of this was designed to show the core audience of the console that the style of gaming they want will continue to be defined and delivered by Microsoft's platform.
On the absolute other end, of course, were the presentations of the company's Kinect camera controller, which will ship
in North America on November 4.
In fact, if there is one major takeaway from the presentation, it's that there's very little middle ground in Microsoft's lineup. While games like the latest Forza Motorsport
and Fable III
were highlighted, the bulk of the presentation was visceral violence or the fun party atmosphere of Kinect.
And the Kinect presentation went a little better than I'd anticipated. While the first few games were obviously driven of a desire to mimic Nintendo's success -- Kinectimals
is transparently the Microcats to the DS' Nintendogs
-- Ubisoft's Your Shape: Fitness Evolved
is less of a copy and more of a shot across the bow of Wii Fit
, taking impressive advantage of what the Kinect can do.
Harmonix's Dance Central
also one-ups Dance Dance Revolution
handily, though it's unclear if its focus on learning real dance moves and completing complicated routines will have the same casual appeal as current genre king Just Dance
Still and all, Microsoft's clearly very hungry for a general audience and will pursue it aggressively -- the question remaining after the conference whether or not paying for it will be a problem. The redesigned Xbox 360, unveiled at the tail end of the presentation, stays at $299, and the price for Kinect was not disclosed -- which is a bit worrisome as regards its affordability, particularly as a total package for a new audience.
The two terms that were said over and over again throughout most of the presentation were "living room" and "social". Kinect dominates the living room, and makes it social; movie-watching, which the platform offers, becomes more social via video chat, and the impressive new ESPN service
, which brings over 3,500 sports games to the platform, is living room fodder (and a cable service killer, perhaps, alongside Netflix and the Zune Marketplace, as well as a way to pull in even more men to the Xbox 360 platform.)
Marc Whitten, corporate vice president of Xbox Live, promised that Kinect, thanks to its camera and microphone-driven interface, makes the living room "simpler and more social than ever before". Kinect creative director Kudo Tsunoda promised the camera will make games "social... where your relationships to each other are key." This point was echoed again and again. The buzzword of 2010 is "social", and Microsoft wants the Xbox 360 to become synonymous with the term.
It's unclear whether or not this is so; or how the Kinect, even with its video chat and multiplayer games, in fact makes the living room any more social than any other game platform (or in fact a Monopoly board, or a bottle of wine.) What is clear that despite brief mentions of existing Facebook and Last.fm partnerships which date to E3 2009, there was no mention of enhanced social networking
integration for the console -- the focus is on real-life interaction, and Microsoft's increasing obsession with dominating the living room, this year.
In the end, Microsoft had a good but predictable showing: the only surprises were the Crytek game Codename: Kingdoms
(which didn't show) and the fact that Metal Gear Solid: Rising
may no longer be an exclusive to the platform -- it showed before
corporate vice president of Microsoft Game Studios Phil Spencer everything we'd see from that point was exclusive to the 360 platform.
In other words, there wasn't much to shout about; but the lineup of Kinect games may be enough to pull interest if the price is right and the marketing is effective. The slate of titles like Gears of War 3
and Halo Reach
are enough to keep gripping the audience that's made the console a success so far.
Nintendo, with its 3DS unveiling and rumors of a new Wii Zelda
will be able to coast through its presentation barring any terrible errors -- any "last-generation" feel engendered by its Wii casual lineup will be offset by the fact that Microsoft is basically looking to it for leadership in the casual idea space.
Sony will have a harder time comparing to Microsoft, its archrival; its Move lineup and first-party games will have a lot to prove, and an ESPN-sized partnership may be hard to beat.