Last and quite possibly least in my 2013 E3 Preview Preview is Microsoft. The once proud software juggernaut has been reduced to a turd-juggling monkey. Although the Windows Phone, Surface, and Windows 8 OS may have made Microsoft the most talented primate in the zoo, they have done nothing to capture the imagination of consumers. I guess an ad filled with ethnically diverse twenty-somethings dancing on tables failed to communicate the worth of a Surface Pro. But the one area where Microsoft perpetually outperforms the competition is console gaming. That success is due largely in part to its strong third party support as well as its cohesive multiplayer functionality. It also means that Microsoft has the most to lose with this upcoming console generation.
The Kinect Effect
We’ll hear the new console’s official name at E3 2013. My guess would be Xbox Infinity which would tie in with their Windows 8 logo pretty well (just knock the 8 over). We can expect multiple SKUs as well as a subscription option for those willing to lease a new console for two years at a time as opposed to buying one outright. Look for the consoles to range from $499 to $599 with an option to commit to a two year contract at $100.00 for the hardware and a subscription of $19.99 a month.
Despite the lukewarm reception from the core audience, the Kinect has found a place among casual gamers and makes browsing content on the console less cumbersome. Microsoft will eliminate some of the issues with the original Kinect by including the upgraded version with every next generation console SKU. Developers won’t have to worry if everyone has a Kinect or not before adding key gameplay features. If the new Kinect fails to work this time around, it will be relegated to educational software and dance games.
The new Kinect will be able to register your movements more accurately than the previous version, but it may come at a price. That weird little robot may follow your movement around the living room even when the console is off. Sony was adamant about the speed of play with PS4 from the moment the power button is pressed to actual gameplay. Microsoft will look tired by comparison if it has to wait five minutes for both the console and the Kinect to boot up.
So What about the First Party Games?
That strong third party support has resulted in an anemic first party line up. Microsoft has Halo and Forza. Games like Perfect Dark and Viva Piñata don’t seem like strong candidates for reboots and the Fable series has been embarrassing itself for years. We could end up seeing an almost entirely fresh roster of IPs for their next generation console. Epic Games showed an impressive Unreal Engine trailer called Samaritan back at GDC 2011. They have a habit of converting tech demos into actual games and this title could replace the ageing Gears of War as their marquee franchise. Speaking of Epic, their Minecraft-meets-The Walking Dead-experiment Fortnite should be ready for a live-stage demo in June. You can look for Fortnite to launch with Infinity in early November. Samaritan will just miss the launch window with a spring 2014 release.
Once upon a time, 343 announced two new Halo trilogies. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Halo offshoot presented as a launch title while the numbered sequels leap frog every two years a la Call of Duty, which will also make an appearance at Microsoft’s E3 conference. EA will make its obligatory sports game presentation—the UFC license they acquired from THQ should be put to good use here. Ubisoft’s Assassins’ Creed: Black Flag will also make an appearance as Watch Dogs continues to get touted at the Sony booth.
The Fate of 360
The original Xbox was dropped unceremoniously when the 360 was announced. With an installed base ten times larger than the original Xbox, Microsoft would be foolish to let the 360 die off so quickly. It will take a year or so of transition before any of the next gen consoles gain traction. Microsoft will have an edge over Sony and Nintendo in transferring downloadable content from the 360 to the Infinity. You won’t be able to play your 360 disks, but all downloadable purchases should carry over seamlessly with your Xbox Live account. There’s no reason Microsoft would charge you again to download games you already purchased, right? Right!?
And the rest…
Halo: Subtitle Pending – Fall 2013
Forza 5 –Fall of 2013
A Wretched Kinect Game-Fall of 2013
?????????? – Winter 2014
?????????? 2 – Spring 2014