The man sitting next to us fell to his knees.
He clutched his head in his hands, started shaking and repeated the words: ‘Oh my God. Oh my God.’ in a distinct American accent.
What could have provoked such a reaction? PlayStation just announced a Final Fantasy VII Remake.
It’s easy to make fun of such excessive over-reaction, but to these people gaming is a religion, E3 is Mecca and the likes of Andrew House and Phil Spencer are their preachers.
E3 2015 was filled with moments like that one. There was the roar that greeted the news that Xbox One would be backwards compatible, the tears that followed the unveiling of The Last Guardian, and that stunned silence which turned into ecstatic squealing at the mere words ‘Shenmue 3′.
Our E3 review last year went with the headline: ‘257 games, no surprises’. If we followed that template this time, we’d have written: ‘Over 300 games, lots of surprises’. This was the E3 the industry expected in 2014.
There were seven conferences (eight if you include Nintendo’s digital event), a tonne of blockbuster reveals (and not all of them leaked, either), new VR technology, and an excitement lacking from games since the PS4 and Xbox One first launched back in 2013.
This was great,” says PlayStation European president Jim Ryan on Sony’s exuberant conference. I’m thrilled with the response online and in the room, which struck me as being up there with two years ago [when PS4 first reached E3].
I feel very heartened for the industry generally. I enjoyed EA’s conference the most that I’ve enjoyed it for quite some time. I always like Ubisoft’s event – and again, I enjoyed that more than I have in ages. There were lots of good stuff everywhere.”
"The response to us at E3 struck me as
being up there with two years ago."
– Jim Ryan, PlayStation
This E3 has been a long time coming. The games have taken longer to launch on PS4 and Xbox One than expected. Despite the familiar architecture of the new machines, developers have struggled to keep their ambitions in check, and the result has been a long wait for the big titles to arrive.
That’s fair,” agrees Ryan. But generally developers are now starting to get comfortable and confident with the new consoles – not just PS4. Hopefully that’ll manifest itself in great games this holiday and certainly into next year.”
There was plenty to discuss about E3 this year, from the role mobile games played (see Mobile Finally Shines At E3), to the impact of VR (read more on page 6). But at the heart of the show was the battle between PlayStation and Xbox.
Xbox held its strongest E3 conference to date. The marketing slogans that echoed around the stadium were: ‘the best line-up in Xbox history’ and: ‘Xbox One exclusive’, as the company focused primarily on its first-party games – titles such as Halo 5, Gears 4, Forza 6, and Fable Legends.
We think we put our best foot forward [at E3],” says Mike Nichols, corporate VP and chief marketing officer at Xbox.
As a marketing guy I was worried that maybe there was a bit too much hyperbole when we were saying this was the greatest line-up in Xbox history. But we will deliver on the claim. In fact, if you think about everything we are doing, perhaps we are underselling it, especially when you take into account the third-party games. It might be the best games line-up for a console ever.”
In terms of 2015, Xbox One appears to have the edge over PlayStation – at least on paper. PS4’s first-party schedule includes Until Dawn, Tearaway Unfolded and Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection – all decent games, but hardly Halo beaters. Most of the blockbuster titles Sony showed at E3 are not actually due until 2016.
It’s hard to deny that our first-party slate isn’t the strongest we’ve ever had in 2015,” admits Ryan.
All I’d submit is that we are half way through the year and certainly in the region I manage, we’re very happy with the way things are going. So far this year, Bloodborne was exclusive, The Witcher 3 was a very pleasant surprise. We’ve just had Batman. In the eyes of most gamers, it doesn’t matter whether it’s first- or third-party. We have strong partnerships and they’ve been carefully tailored to help us in 2015. Thus far they are doing that.”
What Sony lacked in exclusive games at E3, it made up for in third-party deals – many of which included PS4-exclusive elements. Third-party games that appeared during PlayStation’s conference included Star Wars: Battlefront, Hitman, Destiny, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and – most surprising of all – Call of Duty: Black Ops III.
PS4 owners can now access Call of Duty DLC first, which is an arrangement Xbox historically had.
Our greatest achievement from the Call of Duty announcement? It didn’t leak,” says Ryan. It’s a fantastic IP and it was almost a no-brainer to do the deal.”
That’s not to say Xbox abandoned third-party deals entirely. Rainbow Six: Siege, Fallout 4 and Dark Souls III were among the big non-exclusive games on-stage during the Xbox event.
We have been more selective with our promotional partnerships because our first-party line-up is so strong this year,” admits Nichols. But that said, Call of Duty will be great on the system, FIFA will be great, and there are the games you’ve seen here like Fallout 4, where you’ll get extra features.
The way we look at it is a combination of first-party games that push the platform, third-party titles – such as EAs games you can play first via EA Access – and we have backwards compatibility, too.”
"We have been more selective with our
promotional partnerships because our
first-party line-up is so strong this year."
– Mike Nichols, Xbox
Ah yes, the big E3 announcement from Microsoft: backwards compatibility between Xbox One and 360. It was a complete surprise, received the biggest reaction in the room, and it has a lot of potential.
In the UK, around 3.7m Xbox One and PS4s have been sold. By comparison, there has been more than 15m Xbox 360 and PS3s shifted – 9m of which were for Microsoft’s machine. Backwards compatibility could be quite an enticing reason for some of those 9m people to stick with Xbox.
If you are an Xbox 360 customer, we just put our best foot forward about why now is a good time to upgrade to Xbox One,” continues Nichols.
We have an Xbox Feedback site and this was the No.1 request from fans for as long as we have had that website. We challenged the team about a year ago and said: ‘Hey, can you make it work?’ A couple of months back, they magically managed to get it running. We just looked at each other and said: ‘Whoa, we have to do this’.”
Microsoft has effectively created an Xbox 360 emulator, which means users can re-download their 360 games or put a disc into the tray and the title will download. Over 20 games are available, although many more will follow. Some publishers (Ubisoft and Bethesda) are even using the feature to give away last-generation games to entice players to buy their new releases.
Best of all, this functionality is being offered to gamers for free.
Nichols says: The rationale is that you have already bought this content, so why should you have to buy it again? That’s why we decided to make it free, which is unique in the category.”
Will Sony be