Facing criticism that their consoles have become more about general entertainment and less about gaming, the biggest players in the video-game industry are launching a full-on offensive to win back their core customer base.
In what has become somewhat of a rarity, the focus of the big three console-makers at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles this week was almost exclusively on games. For several years, Sony Corp., Nintendo Co. Ltd. and Microsoft Corp. have used much of their stage time at the video-game industry's biggest annual trade show to talk about hardware, online stores and, increasingly, non-game features such as video rental services and social networking.
But, facing a shortage of appealing titles for the newest generation of consoles, the companies took a different approach this year.
"This week we share a common purpose with our friends at Sony, Nintendo and developers and publishers in our industry," said Phil Spencer, head of Xbox at Microsoft.
"That purpose is to showcase the passion, creativity and potential behind the fastest-growing form of entertainment in the world: games."
In November of last year, Sony and Microsoft kicked off what is commonly referred to as the eighth generation of gaming consoles with the launch of the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One. Along with the Wii U from Nintendo, the consoles represent the latest reset of the multibillion-dollar video-gaming market, much as new generations of high-definition or 3D TVs tend to kick-start a new cycle of consumer purchases – both of hardware and content.
However, since the launch of the Microsoft and Sony consoles, many gaming fans have complained that there is still a serious dearth of new gaming titles for the consoles – a significant impediment to consumer adoption, especially given that the new consoles can cost more than $500.
Part of the problem is cyclical – it usually takes some time for major studios to build games that can take advantage of the new and improved hardware (which, in the case of the Sony and Microsoft consoles, includes everything from brawnier computer processors to multiple input mechanisms, such as voice recognition and motion control).
But the lack of games comes at a time when both Sony and Microsoft, unlike Nintendo, are attempting to position their consoles not only as gaming machines, but as the hub of all digital entertainment. Indeed, prior to this year's E3 conference, Microsoft and Sony had spent considerable time promoting the non-gaming entertainment features of their devices, such as movie stores, content-sharing and social networking integration.
But while the Xbox and Playstation brands may have evolved into powerful multimedia computers, they are still best-known as gaming devices – and so far, games for the newest versions of the hardware have been hard to come by.
This week, the companies behind the consoles sought to change that perception, unleashing a slew of launch announcements and deliberately avoiding much discussion of non-gaming aspects.
As has been the case for years, some of the biggest titles on display at E3 were sequels or spinoffs of tried-and-tested blockbuster franchises. Microsoft announced a new iteration of the massively popular Call Of Duty game and a remastered bundle of its Halo series of titles (ahead of an expected sequel). Sony showed off new games in the Little Big Planet and Far Cry franchises. Nintendo's keynote contained myriad appearances of its many well-known characters, such as Mario and Yoshi, in various new games and sequels.
Although most big-budget titles on display at E3 this week were based on existing franchises, there were also various new blockbusters on display, such as the Xbox title Sunset Overdrive, and dozens of independent games that will be available on the Sony and Microsoft digital content stores.