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Microsoft's clear message at E3: We've got the games

With the Xbox One's launch period plagued by a series of communication and strategy snafus, Microsoft satisfied its main demographic with an E3 presentation devoted solely to major games -- but few surprises.

Alex Wawro, Contributor

June 9, 2014

3 Min Read

“Today, we’re dedicating our entire briefing to games.” Freshly-minted Xbox frontman Phil Spencer opened Microsoft’s E3 2014 press conference with a clear message: the Xbox One needs software, and that’s what Microsoft plans to make a show of delivering in the months ahead. Although it's not a surprising strategy, it's sure to please fans nonetheless. Early messaging around the Xbox One focused broadly on the "entertainment altar" of the living room, highlighting multimedia and social features aimed at keeping the video game console the center of a rounded home media experience -- fans tired of hearing about Kinect and Netflix have been clamoring for the kind of core game-focused strategy that helped the company make its mark on the console business since the original Xbox. Microsoft is continuing to react to criticism of its Xbox division; the company announced plans to sell a Kinect-less Xbox One console and bring a bunch of popular entertainment apps to Xbox Live weeks before E3. Now, we know that was geared to let Microsoft focus its 90-minute press conference strictly on back-to-back sizzle reels and gameplay clips of upcoming Xbox games. Xbox One owners have a dearth of games to play on their new hardware, and the company needs to make a show of selling a box that can play a broad variety of games across the triple-A-indie spectrum if they hope to kickstart flagging hardware sales. Microsoft was savvy enough to devote the lion’s share of its big E3 event to hyping the Xbox One’s roster of developer talent. Absent the traditional parade of Microsoft executives engaging in awkward banter about Xbox entertainment apps and Kinect demos, the Xbox E3 stage played host to a steady stream of studio representatives — like 343 Industries’ Bonnie Ross, Platinum Games’ Hideki Kamiya and Insomniac’s Ted Price — talking up their games. The fact that Microsoft approved Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive trailer for its press conference is remarkable; the clip blatantly pokes fun at the melodramatic, bass-heavy gameplay clips of hard-faced men trading fire in dirty warehouses that have become a mainstay of Microsoft’s E3 showcases. In fact, the company actually started its showcase with a brutally loud and interminably long gameplay clip from Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, suggesting that while the company is comfortable doubling down on its core franchises — Call of Duty, Forza and Halo — it’s willing to make a show of taking (soft, playful) criticism for being risk-averse and predictable. Microsoft seems to be on its back foot this year — at no point during its E3 show did anyone say anything meaningful about sales, or promise to break ground with new hardware and software. What it did say, over and over, was that more games are coming, from both first- and third-party studios. The company gave ID@Xbox chief Chris Charla the stage for a too-brief window to talk up Microsoft’s work with indie developers, among them Other Ocean (#IDARB), Capy Games (Below) and Heart Machine (Hyper Light Drifter), but their work was shown in a rapid-fire montage of game footage that ensured no single game received an equal amount of screentime as the latest Forza 5 DLC. There was little new or unexpected, really, though there were a few surprises — Moon Studios’ Ori and the Blind Forest, for example, as well as a reimagining of the cult classic Xbox game Phantom Dust. Instead, Microsoft seems to be relying on the popularity of established franchises like Tomb Raider, Halo and Assassin’s Creed to bolster its fortunes in the year to come. Its indie titles were largely relegated to a fast-paced montage video. The company's main demographic is likely most excited about Halo: The Master Chief Collection, an upcoming re-release of the Halo series that includes a visually-renovated Halo 2, beta access to upcoming Halo 5, and other little perks -- including 4000 Gamerscore points. Doubling down on its most enduring owned IP is a wise strategy to please its main constituents and secure its legacy -- but can a new console generation be sold on more of the same?

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