Xbox at One: E3 2014

So today Microsoft dodged a bullet.

A year ago Microsoft came to E3 (the BIG gaming show) to formally debut the Xbox One after an initial showing a few months before. It was the start of the next generation console wars and let’s just say it didn’t go that well. First there were complaints that the Xbox One was concentrating too much on entertainment; then it was the problem with “Always On, Always Connected”; then there was the issue of how Microsoft handled the backlash from hardcore gamers. Sony of course did everything opposite of Microsoft and thus in this next gen has been “winning” the console war.

Microsoft in the preceding year has had to shift tactics and roll back its original plans (last of which was to unbundle the Kinect). Microsoft also lost its former head of Entertainment and Devices Don Matterick and his replacement Marc Whitten in a short period. So now it is a year later and once again Xbox finds itself the first to bat.

So how did they do?

Before I recap the Xbox briefing I want to discuss the new chief of Xbox Phil Spencer. Spencer is 20 year vet of Microsoft and was previously head of Microsoft Studios (Redmond’s homegrown gaming studios). He has been on the Xbox team almost from its inception. He is also the last man standing after a massive re-org that ended the Entertainment and Devices group and a revolving door of heads of Xbox/Microsoft consumer hardware.

In some ways Phil Spencer is taking over a much different Xbox from the one that launched the Xbox One. The Xbox is now split between the Operations Systems group for software, and the Hardware group handling the console itself.

Spencer has been quick to put his stamp on the Xbox ; quickly pivoting away from the entertainment/apps side of the Xbox One to pushing gaming. In many ways his actions and his statements are about pushing the Xbox brand as a serious gaming platform over anything else. Personally, I think this is prudent for where the Xbox is now. The Xbox needs to sell units; having a terrific platform for Netflix is fine but not if no one buys a console. So it shouldn’t have surprised anyone when today’s press event was focused only on gaming.

Now I am writing this after the first day of E3; so in addition to Microsoft were software developers Electronic Arts (EA) and Ubisoft and fellow console maker SONY.

Games, games, and more games in a rapid ire procession is how best to describe Microsoft this morning. For about two hours, the Xbox team showed off its lineup for 2014 and 2015 (It takes a minute to write these games). A lot of people walked away thinking Microsoft did okay; solid games but nothing that wowed people. From my perspective Spencer and his team achieved their number one priority: not repeating E3 2013.

So no TV, no apps, and absolutely no mentioning of the Kinect. 

Microsoft showed off gameplay for games announced last time (Sunset Overdrive), future releases (HALO: Guardians), and a few revivals (Phantom Dust). Ubisoft showed off  Tom Clancy’s the Division and 2K showed off Evolve (Space animal hunting). Additionally Microsoft showed off new titles under its ID@Xbox indie game program. In addition to HALO and Phantom Dust, Xbox also showed off Countdown another older game being revived and brought to the Xbox One.

Unlike SONY which had the benefit of doing well last E3, Microsoft’s goal was to regain its footing. So the tone was conciliatory (Spencer has been a much better man than I would’ve been) and the focus was on showing that the Xbox understands what it customers want, games. Lastly the Xbox team, following in the steps of other groups in Redmond, opened up a user voice site (God have mercy on their souls).

So Spencer and his team brought it home even if no one fainted and had to be taken out to the hospital.

 

PostScript(sort of): I haven’t gamed in like forever but E3 always wants makes me want to jump back in. I mean SONY showed off nice content with Uncharted 4 and Little Big Planet. Then there is this game, Cuphead, by Studio MDHR. It is done in the style of cartoons from the 1930’s (think Betty Bop and early Mickey Mouse) it looks trippy and fun. Can unpaid bloggers write off the Xbox One as work expense?

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