The E3 hype train continues to roll, and this week, Ashley Harrison and I are going to be discussing the presence of Microsoft at E3 (we covered PlayStation last week). For them, it’s an especially important event; troubles with a lack of quality first-party exclusives and a continued sales deficit to Sony’s PlayStation 4 means that they need to hit big. Microsoft are doing things a bit differently in 2018, moving their briefing to the Microsoft Center near E3. This location will also be used to host their hands-on game demos, and their usual E3 convention space will instead be used to push their streaming service Mixer. Yeah, I’m baffled too.
William Robinson: So, Ash: Microsoft time. As we talked about last week, Sony have already come out and said that they’ll only be showing 4 first-party titles, so Microsoft could have a big chance to be the big story of E3 in terms of surprises and reveals. Frankly, they need. Phil Spencer has to come out and convince us that Microsoft is working hard to be distinct in software as well as hardware – the Xbox One X is the most powerful console, sure, but without an equivalent to Horizon Zero Dawn or God of War over on PS4, what’s the point?
Ashley Harrison: If you figure that out, be sure to let me know. At the moment, my Xbox One S is just sat in its box in my cupboard, unopened in who-knows-how-long. As you said, the biggest criticism of Microsoft’s right now is the complete lack of console exclusives, both first- and third-party, so Microsoft need to ensure that’s their main focus of E3 this year.
WR: It’s interesting to think that they’ve been so focused on getting the hardware to be comparable – favourable, even, with the X and backwards compatibility – that the software hasn’t seen the same attention. The Scalebound cancellation, big names like Halo not finding the mainstream success Xbox would like… and not much else coming soon. We know that Crackdown 3 has to release, like, one day, but even that was met with a lukewarm reaction at the E3 2017 reveal.
AH: I’m genuinely not sure what to expect with Microsoft to be honest with you. Focusing on building a PC-level console with backwards compatibility can’t be a sustainable long-term plan, and at this rate, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this was the last Microsoft console.
WR: Massively disagree there – I think Microsoft has been building up goodwill with gamer-friendly choices that Sony isn’t willing to make (backwards compatibility, cross-play) and setting themselves up for a win next-gen. The losing publisher tends to do great in the next generation – look at PS3 to PS4, or Wii U to Switch. Having their backs to the wall makes publishers bring positive changes to the industry. However, like with Wii U and Switch, perhaps Microsoft is sacrificing a few years of exclusive space to have a great first year with the next system. I do expect to see some new exclusive announcements for the One this year, though – whether it is Halo 6, Gears of War 5, or something else.
AH: Nah, I’m going to have to disagree with you there too. Fair enough, we saw it with Wii U and Switch, as you say, but I just don’t see how Microsoft pull this one back; I don’t see a new generation of consoles for another 3 years or so. If Xbox players are already getting disgruntled as it is, how much worse is it going to be, should Microsoft still not release as many exclusives as it needs to?
WR: For those dedicated Xbox gamers, though, do you think Halo 6, Gears 5 and a yearly Forza is enough to satisfy them?
AH: Honestly, no. Halo is obviously a big franchise, probably Microsoft’s biggest, but it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than that to satisfy the very reasonable complaints about the lack of exclusives.
WR: Even Halo is on the downturn, though – it’s nowhere near the popularity of, say, Halo 3, when it was one of the biggest things in gaming. 343’s efforts (they worked on 4 & 5, after Bungie did the original trilogy – Bungie are now the developers on Destiny, and have their own issues… ) haven’t been as resonant, it’s clear to see. Microsoft is lacking that Zelda: Breath of the Wild or God of War game, to name but two examples. The game that isn’t just good, but essential, and necessitates having an Xbox. There was rumours of a new Fable game going into formative production, and that could be the type of expansive, rich game they need.
AH: I’d love a new Fable game personally, but I don’t think that’d come anywhere close to being the Super Mario Odyssey or God of War-level game that’s needed. Let’s face it, Xbox gamers aren’t exactly known for being the biggest fans of RPGs, as much of a stereotype that is, so Fable isn’t the best idea in my opinion.
WR: Fable Legends, let’s remember, was another first-party cancellation for Xbox One – a game that lent into multiplayer. Getting back to their E3 presentation itself, what do you make of their change of venue? Perhaps a hint at trying to make a new kind of impact?
AH: It’s a pretty smart decision if you ask me, they have a whole building dedicated entirely to whatever games they’re showing. Plus, they don’t have to compete with the other companies on the show floor in the main building.
WR: How about that Mixer booth though, huh? Hype?
AH: It’s only worth it if they use it as a joke to play some really annoying song all week. Otherwise, it’s a completely stupid idea I see no point in.
WR: I just hope there isn’t a “PLEASE TRY MIXER PLEASE” message over every trailer, like last year…
AH: You know it’s going to happen.
WR: Microsoft knows they have a first-party problem, but is it too soon to see anything from that? Those types of games take 3-5 years to develop nowadays, so the problem for them is wether they’re realistically able to show anything yet.
AH: Nah, it’s not too early at all. Microsoft will have surely anticipated the lack of games, and they must’ve have been working on stuff behind the scenes to change that. They can’t genuinely just be sat doing nothing, can they?
WR: Do you think that started years ago, then? Enough time for them to have something new? The cancellations of the games mentioned earlier must have sprung them into action, I suppose…
AH: Without a doubt, it started years ago. I’m looking through the Wikipedia page right now, and there’s only a handful of games Microsoft have published themselves each year that the Xbox One has been on sale. And with only two games listed for release this year from Microsoft Studios (Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and Crackdown 3) along with the cancellations of other games, I would hope Microsoft have been working on other games for this year.
WR: We’ve had Sea of Thieves and, now, State of Decay 2 so far this year, with Crackdown 3 and Forza hopefully inevitable. I’d ideally like them to come out with some sort of more story-driven game; those games have stories, sure, but they don’t tackle them with the sophistication of a God of War or The Last of Us. They feel distinctly throwaway, and to get people interested in buying an Xbox, you need something more meaty for solo players.
AH: Is a meaty, story driven game the thing that would sell on the Xbox though? I know the majority of my friends who have an Xbox buy it for the “big” multiplayer games, such as FIFA/Call of Duty etc.
WR: Those big multiplayer games are everywhere, though. Think of what sets apart Nintendo and Sony – their more intimate, solo experiences. Switch? Zelda and Mario, which are about playing alone or with friends around you. PS4? I think of Uncharted, Horizon, God of War – again, games that have little or no online focus. I think Halo can still be that, if they come out with a really strong and original approach. I’ve been tempted to get into the series before, and if I heard of an amazing Halo 6? Sure, I’d be interested in getting an Xbox One X, the Master Chief Collection, and catching up in glorious 4K. Similar to how the hype for Uncharted 4 led to me catching up via the Nathan Drake Collection.
AH: I just don’t see it, myself.
WR: What would you need to see to become more invested in your Xbox, then? Specifically, what do you need to see?
AH: To be honest with you, I’m not quite sure. I just want something that blows me away and makes me go “holy sh*t, I need this game”.
WR: Perhaps if they somehow managed to get the rights to show, or even get exclusively, a massive third-party game such as the next Rocksteady project? Then again, if they did, they’d have to message it better than Rise of the Tomb Raider. Microsoft has the money to make a deal like that, even if the game itself is a loss. If it drives people to the system, it’s a necessary move.
AH: That’d be insane if it did happen, but would definitely turn the tides and would sell Xbox consoles. And what bigger company to get an exclusive from than Rocksteady?
WR: Imagine the salty fans. People would lose it, but if it was a DEFINITE exclusive, they’d buy the console.
AH: Of course they’d buy the console. Imagine if Microsoft just threw a ton of money at Rockstar to get Grand Theft Auto VI, given Grand Theft Auto V is the best selling game of all time.
WR: I think both of those are probably too optimistic. Xbox also would be wise to go for the start of a series – with Tomb Raider, it was an anticipated sequel, and so immediately alienates those who played it on PlayStation. For Rocksteady, it could work, as they have finished the main Batman: Arkham trilogy. Another very interesting idea would be if they could get the Square Enix Avengers game exclusively. That’s more realistic to me, and whilst it could be a big gamble for both parties (Square Enix, y’know, being the Tomb Raider publisher) it could pay off massively. Xbox got a taste of what this can do with PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds; their was noticeable word of mouth that came from them getting the exclusively on console. Bloodborne is an example of a major third-party exclusive on PS4, and Xbox could do with an equivalent success.
AH: Yeah, Grand Theft Auto VI is probably being too optimistic, but it gets across the idea of the caliber of exclusive Microsoft need. The Avengers game being a Microsoft exclusive could be a good gamble, especially if the game is actually half decent, given how big the superhero genre is right now.
WR: Especially Avengers. Master Chief becomes an Avenger? No, forget I said that. DON’T DO IT, MICROSOFT.
AH: Do it, Microsoft. It’d be hilarious.
WR: Getting past the big game announcements, I’d like to see the indie support continue too. Cuphead and the Ori series have been big wins for Microsoft.
AH: I think Microsoft definitely recognise that for sure, too. Whilst Ori and the Blind Forest was an Xbox exclusive, the fact that the second game is also an exclusive shows that Microsoft are down with Ori, in my opinion.
WR: Yeah, Cuphead in particular worked out for them – there is a big fanbase around that game, and the long wait was rewarded. Microsoft is making smart decisions left, right, and centre, but it just needs that magic bullet: a killer first-party game that refuses to let you say no.
AH: Throw in three killer first party games rather than one if you ask me, and it’s a great start to recovering the Xbox as a major player in the console game.
WR: I would ask about hardware, but honestly, I think they’re leading Sony on hardware. They’ve sorted the system out, and they just need to talk games, games, games. Agree?
AH: Oh, definitely. I don’t want anything about hardware, or extra features (remember the reveal where it was all just “look, TV!”). That’s not what Microsoft need, it’s games. I want 100% of the conference to be games and release dates.
WR: I’ll always be most excited for Nintendo – who we’ll talk about next week – but this year I’m honestly most interested by the Microsoft press conference. Sony seem to be taking a backseat after buying all their reveals; Phil Spencer and Microsoft have to know that they have a big chance to dominate the conversation this June. I’d love to see them come out swinging, as a competitive game industry is a healthy one.
AH: To repeat the point we ended on last week, Sony are presenting Microsoft with an open goal by announcing their plans in advance, let’s just hope they don’t do a Torres and completely miss.
WR: Ah, Chelsea reference! The problem is, however good they are, Nintendo are there to slide tackle them with Pokémon, Smash Bros. and Metroid to steal the spotlight. Man, I really would like another Mario Strikers game.
AH: Nintendo could genuinely have their E3 conference be a 90 minute long actual football match of Mario characters, and I would be like “best conference ever” if it ended with “Mario Strikers Switch, Coming Soon”.
WR: Let’s keep the rational predictions for next week, yeah? Before we sign off, I’d like one thing from each of us: one reveal we’d most like to see from Microsoft. I’ll start with something i mentioned earlier: a really story-heavy Halo game that entices me to delve into that world, and makes it feel unmissable (in contrast to Halo 5: Guardians, which came and went).
AH: Banjo-Threeie. Come on, Microsoft.
WR: I’m rooting for you, Microsoft! Impress us!
AH: Until next week!
Next week is part 3 of the great Tanuki Talk pre-E3 super-chat! We’ll be tackling Nintendo, so, as ever, that means unrealistic hopes and dreams…
You can read previous Tanuki Talk articles here!