Prior to E3, I made a prediction that Microsoft was going to tease their new console during their press conference. While I was most certainly wrong, the content of the Redmond, Washington giant’s presentation was very telling. There aren’t many games in the pipeline for the Xbox 360, with focus instead put on “entertainment” utility rather than a core experience. With the news that they will also be skipping both Gamescom in Germany (August 15-19, 2012) and the Tokyo Game Show (September 20-23, 2012), Microsoft’s plan for the near future is coming into focus.
I still feel that Microsoft has delayed too long in moving beyond the Xbox 360. It’s not that there aren’t still good games coming for the system, it’s just that so few of them are exclusives. Sony, on the other hand, is still pumping out titles that can only be played on their systems: Sly Cooper, God of War: Ascension, Sony PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, a new Ratchet & Clank, LittleBigPlanet Karting, The Last of Us, and Quantic Dream’s new project. Microsoft only brought Gears of War Judgment, Halo 4 and Forza Horizon. Yes, I’m discounting Kinect titles since Dance Central is one of the only series worth playing with the device. Put simply, Microsoft doesn’t have the bridge titles to set up good gamer sentiment going into next generation. After the past three years at E3, the focus has been drifting away from the system-sellers that core players are looking for.
I predict that both Microsoft and Sony will announce their next generation plans with very little lead time before launch. E3 2013 will likely see two consecutive press conferences displaying new hardware, software lineups, launch windows and pricing schemes. More importantly, I expect that both consoles will launch in fall 2013.
It seems that the changing industry, due in part to mobile (especially given the focus by the Big 3 this year on that segment) has made them timid. The end of a console generation typically heralds a significant slowdown in sales, as those that haven’t yet made a purchase might choose to simply wait for the next big thing. An extended lame duck period for this generation could prove devastating in an already softening market.
The problem for Microsoft is that their success in this generation was catapulted by two factors. First, they got a year-long jump on Sony. Even pushing hardware out with absurdly high fail rates didn’t stop them from capitalizing on the time advantage. In hindsight, the decision to push imperfect hardware to market early was a wise one. Not only did they have the attention of early adopters with only one choice, but they had the benefit of third-party developers ready to forge ahead. Titles like Assassin’s Creed, Bioshock and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion ended up only being timed exclusives.
Should we see a head-to-head competition, Microsoft will not have that advantage. Third parties won’t pledge allegiance to a single platform, especially due to increasing development costs. The Xbox 360 lives and breathes by it’s non-Asian support given how poorly Microsoft has been received in Japan. If Sony doesn’t give Microsoft the head start they did last time out, they will take a bite out of that big green stronghold.
It doesn’t matter that Sony often looks on better on paper than they do in execution. “On paper” matters heading into a new generation. “On paper” sells systems before most have actually had a chance to put one in the living room. And, right now, “on paper,” Sony is still committed to a diverse, full range of exclusives across genres while Microsoft is relying on the same four franchises.
Of course, time will tell, but based on Microsoft’s lack of focus on games, they are in for a rough 2012-2013.