Strategy Laid Bare: Reviewing the Big Three E3 Press Conferences

We’re already well into the 2012 Electronics Entertainment Expo, and man, there’s been a lot of news so far. Too much news, in fact! Really, the press releases are flying through the internet, clogging up email boxes. Well, let’s take a break from the news rush – as the day is starting to finally die down – and take a closer look at some of the big press conferences we’ve seen so far. What’s really being announced? What sort of strategies are the various companies getting at? Find out after the click.

Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft all made their main plays already. While all three showcased a variety of exclusive and high-demand titles for their respective systems, the meat of their press conferences set them all apart.

One hot new title on the way to the Wii U!

Let’s start with Nintendo. I’d say that the real surprise out of the Big N was that, despite the Wii Ubeing slated for release later this year, Nintendo seemed to downplay their hardware in favor of just plain showing off titles. On the one hand, that’s not too surprising since the hardware has already been discussed once in the relatively distant past – we can’t really expect someone to get up there and make a big deal about the touch-screen controller a second time. On the other hand, the third party title showing was a little on the weak side. I’m looking forward to the next Mario and Pikmin as much as anyone, but I think it was to Nintendo’s detriment that titles like Mass Effect 3 and Arkham City were coming off as prominently placed in the third party lineup. Showing off ports of already-released games for a system that’s not due out for months is a strange move, even if it was only part of what was on display.

While Nintendo came off as playing a game of catch-up for a system not even out yet, Microsoft was hitting from multiple angles. Some high-demand titles – Halo 4, the next Splinter Cell, Fable: The Journey and more. Very solid on the software front to say the least. Of course Microsoft also continues to push the Kinect heavily, and this time around there was major emphasis on the voice recognition aspect of the hardware. I don’t have a Kinect yet, and I haven’t felt a major urge to go get one – I always got the impression the focus there was on gimmick, party titles, or kid stuff – but for a piece of hardware that’s big selling point is “recognizing your motions”, it’s the voice aspect which I find interesting. If Microsoft can get to the point where calling out orders and commands in a game is not only reliable in terms of recognition, but superior to controller interactivity, this could easily become a major part of gaming. The fact that this is also being implemented into non-gaming applications on the 360 – media library sorting, mostly – will just serve to get more and more people used to the idea, assuming it’s a smooth experience.

You know what your TV viewing experience needs? Two more screens!

Even more interesting was Microsoft Smartglass. On the surface, it doesn’t seem tremendously groundbreaking – really, the ubiquity of tablet PCs and iPhone/Android devices has resulted in this kind of interactivity slowly emerging practically on its own, entirely outside the console world. Microsoft clearly intends to take a trend that’s already going and push/ride it to the next level, with regards to both games and greater media (Game of Thrones being prominently represented here.) What went largely unspoken, however, is the direct threat this poses to the Wii U experience. Remember that one of the selling points of the Wii U is the included tablet/controller which will display information about the game you’re playing and offer different ways to interact with said game. Well, as near as I can tell, Microsoft’s Smartglass system can in principle do everything the Wii U’s controller can do, and do it with already-existing tablet PCs and phones rather than a piece of proprietary hardware. It’s too early to say whether this is going to seriously compete with the Wii U’s functionality, but Nintendo should be keeping an eye on this and figuring out how they’ll handle it all.

That brings us to Sony. As with Microsoft, Sony came out playing the software and exclusives cards in a big way – the next God of War, Little Big Planet 2, Beyond: Two Souls and more. Great stuff, and lots of hot titles to look forward to. I’m tempted to say that of all the big three, Sony was the one that really pounded away at the “hot new software” aspect of things the most – while Nintendo was emphasizing the availability of titles on the Wii U, and Microsoft spent a lot of time playing up the features (more than the titles) of the Kinect and Smartglass, Sony hammered away at the new titles themselves in a big way. Maybe it’s making up for that time when the whole “PS3 Has No Games” meme was going around the Wii and 360 fan circles. Message received loud and clear, guys: the PS3 is loaded with titles now. Good ones.

Cross-play makes it easier than ever to photoshop convincing marketing pictures!

The software flood from Sony wasn’t just for the PS3 itself, of course – the Move and Vita were both well-represented, along with an emphasis on cross-functionality between the PS3 and Vita. From what I’ve heard the Vita’s still experiencing some difficulties as far as winning new owners goes – that’s a result of a number of factors, but I’d personally peg the rise of the iOS and Android devices as the #1 problem – so it seems that Sony’s strategy is to play up the interconnectivity between their very popular home console and their wants-to-be-popular handheld, and hope their established userbase can be convinced to further entangle themselves in the tentacles of Sony hardware. It’s a potentially winning strategy, but a risky one: they’d have to add features to their PS3 games that makes owning a Vita an asset at no or minimal additional charge, yet not make PS3 owners who don’t have a Vita feel like they were buying a hobbled game. And just as with Nintendo’s Wii U, it remains to be seen if the sort of functionality being offered with Microsoft’s Smartglass will at all change how gamers look at Vita’s touted cross-functionality.

And that’s where we stand on the Big Three front at E3: Sony and Microsoft coming out with a swarm of titles, Nintendo trying its best to play up the Wii U’s offerings, Microsoft’s Smartglass serving as an intriguing wild card for their two competitors future plans, and a common theme of “handheld cross-connectivity” being played up heavily for all three of the major console developers. We’ll see just which of the three ends up being the big winner as a result of these machinations, or if the iOS and Android platforms turn out to be the biggest winners of all.

Victor Grunn has been a gamer since the days of single-button joysticks and the Atari 800XL. When not lamenting the loss of the Ultima series or setting people on fire in Team Fortress 2, he's an aspiring indie game developer and freelance writer.

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