At its conference kicking off the E3 Media & Business Summit, Microsoft showed a new focus on the family for Xbox 360 through partnerships with Disney and Scene It
, Gears of War
for PC, Games For Windows - Live support built in to Unreal Engine 3, and a new Halo 3
model Xbox 360, but the surprise all expected -- a model-wide console price cut -- was not to be found.
Microsoft corporate vice president Peter Moore started the conference by touting the fact that Microsoft's was the first E3 briefing in which every demo and every game (with one exception) was coming this year.
Its lineup was "packed with biggest blockbusters, and most exclusives" calling it, as company executives did during its recent warranty investor call, "the greatest holiday lineup in video game history."
A 360 For The Family
Starting with a live demonstration of Harmonix's forthcoming Rock Band
- marred only by Moore getting so far into his own groove that he accidentally paused the game - Microsoft's first focus was to show that its console could take on the Wii in the family-friendly/party arena.
Following the demo, the company announced Viva Pinata Party Animals
a new title in Microsoft and Rare's own franchise promising some 50 minigames with players taking on the role of their own favorite pinatas.
The Numbers Game
After a short demo of BioWare's Mass Effect
, Moore quickly moved on to a demonstration of numbers, first noting that this year, people would be spending more money on games than they would on music.
Console sales are driving that growth, said Moore, proudly showing that, according to NPD data, the Xbox 360 currently had the largest installed base of this generation, with over 5.6 million units sold in the U.S. -- outselling the PlayStation 3 by nearly 2 to 1.
But, said Moore, the Xbox 360 was also selling more games than its competitors. Since the launch of the PlayStation 3 and Wii, he added, the Xbox 360 has sold more games than both consoles combined.
Moore was quick to point out that the numbers game wasn't simply tilted in Microsoft's favor, showing that two-thirds of all next-gen third party games are sold on 360, and, in fact, since November, third party games had cracked the overall NPD top ten 18 times on the console, versus a resounding zero for both competing consoles.
2.4 billion dollars has been spent at retail on Xbox 360 hardware, software, accessories, said Moore, as much as competitors combined, with the console "driving the industry" with nearly half of all current gen spending going toward the console.
Focus, Again, On The Family
After a montage of coming Xbox 360 titles, Moore introduced corporate VP of global marketing Jeff Bell, who made a new announcement that popular DVD game Scene It
would be coming the console, "built from ground up to be fully interactive," with new trivia questions, movie clips in HD, and a new exclusive peripheral.
Calling it the "first controller designed for everyone," Bell announced that the game would come packed with four controllers and the game -- similar to Sony's own Buzz
trivia games -- for the standard price.
Bell then showed off Ubisoft's anime-licensed Naruto: Rise of a Ninja
, and brought out the New Orleans Saints' Reggie Bush for a quick (and decisive, in Bush's favor) bout of Electronic Arts' NCAA Football '08
The Live Effect
Where the company was leading in sports, it was also leading in the online world, said Bell, noting that by now, Xbox Live had reached 7 million new members - a rate of one every 8 seconds, and predicted the service would reach 10 million by E3 of 2008.
Following a montage of the company's forthcoming XBLA output, including Bomberman Live, Undertow, Hexic 2, Track & Field
, and, surprisingly, a port of Bungie's original FPS, Marathon: Durandal
, Bell announced that arcade ports of Sega's Sonic The Hedgehog
and Golden Axe
were now available on Xbox Live.
Going To Market
Bell then ran through the statistics of Microsoft's Xbox Live Marketplace, noting that 28 networks have come aboard, with 2000 hours of video, 500 of that in HD, amounting to a library more than twice the size of the nearest cable provider that's seen $125 million spent on content since launch.
Bell then announced its latest partner, Walt Disney Studios, which will be providing all of its hit films in high definition starting tonight, and will continue to bring its forthcoming body of films directly to the service.
Finally, Bell added after months of anticipation, the Xbox Live Video Marketplace will be launched in both Canada and Europe by the end of the year.
What About Windows
Shane Kim then took the stage and, after another montage of forthcoming Xbox 360 titles, took his time to promote Microsoft's Games For Windows initiative.
Kim announced for the first time two new Games For Windows titles: Rare's Viva Pinata
, and, "surprise..." Kim deadpanned, Gears Of War
, which will come to the platform this holiday season with five new single player chapters, an in-game map editor, and new multiplayer modes, arenas, and achievements.
While uptake for the Games For Windows Live service has been somewhat slow, Kim revealed that three major publishers - Sega, Eidos, and THQ - had all signed up, promising more than a dozen titles total from the three by the end of the year.
More importantly, Microsoft announced that it had partnered with Epic Games to add Games For Windows - Live support to Epic's Unreal Engine 3.
Back To The Console
After another montage, this time of the company's Games For Windows lineup, Moore took the stage again to introduce a number of developers to give demonstrations like Infinity Ward, who showed off their upcoming Call of Duty 4
and announced a forthcoming online multiplayer beta, the details of which can be found at charlieoscardelta.com
Moore than proudly noted that though the forthcoming Grand Theft Auto IV
would not be console exclusive, all footage of the initial two trailers released were captured in real-time from the Xbox 360. He also again reiterated that the console would be the only one to receive two new exclusive episodes by spring of 2008, making it "the only console where you can get the complete Grand Theft Auto
Big In Japan
While nearly all of the titles shown thus far had come from Western developers, Moore made special pains to point out that all major publishers in Japan had begun supporting the console.
Sega's Virtua Fighter 5
was online and exclusive to the console, noted Moore, with Namco Bandai offering Ace Combat 6
and Eternal Sonata
(aka. Trusty Bell
) exclusively, and Capcom bringing Devil May Cry 4
to a Microsoft console for the first time.
Moore then used that momentum to show off the one title of the night that would not be arriving on the Xbox 360 this year -- a trailer for Capcom's Resident Evil 5
, which will also be making its way to Microsoft's corner of the world for the first time.
Finally, after a typically impressive demonstration of Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed
, Moore showed off a quick snippet of director Neill Blomkamp's vision of a live action Halo
world, not yet noting the status of the on-hold project, a stylish yet quiet set of scenes showing Warthog assembly lines and the faces of new recruits.
Calling the forthcoming September 25th launch "the biggest launch in entertainment history," Moore revealed a "new console for the Halo
Nation," a Master Chief-green Xbox 360, adding that a full line of Halo 3
accessories would follow.
Finally, Moore left the stage leaving the audience with what everyone knew would be coming, an extended trailer revealing footage of Halo 3
's yet-primarily-unseen single player campaign.
But Didn't They Say--?
While the night revealed a number of surprises, the one thing notably absent from the entire demonstration was the one thing numerous analysts had predicted would be the 'key takeaway' of E3 -- a console price drop to match Sony's recent $100 drop of its 60GB PlayStation 3 model.
We'll have more coverage of E3 and any further announcements from Microsoft or its Xbox 360 and Games For Windows third party partners to come in the week following.