Microsoft promises a lot going into E3 each year- they’ve done this for a while now, at the very least ever since the disastrous debut of the Xbox One two years ago. But this year felt different, this year felt… special. With the Xbox One being outsold by the PS4 by a factor of 2:1, with Microsoft losing the ground they made with third parties last generation back to Sony, with the PS4 threatening to become the de facto gaming experience this generation, Microsoft would have to pull out all stops at E3 this year.
Did they? Well, I would say that that is largely a matter of perspective. Microsoft’s E3 2015 press conference was a solid showing, and we got to see them double down on real, actual exclusive game, and deliver upon us some unexpected surprises. We saw them debut exciting new technology, and consolidate their first party. We saw them work with third parties to deliver value for Xbox gamers, and leverage their unique strengths to counter the PlayStation and Nintendo ecosystems the latter had been working on for a few years.
It was a very good conference, all said and done. It just lacked that one, gut wrenching, punch to the rib announcement that is often associated with a successful E3 presser.
But just look at everything we got here- Halo 5: Guardians, Forza Motorsport 6, Fable Legends, and Rise of the Tomb Raider were all demoed extensively, and got release dates. Fallout 4 was given another thorough demo, and we also learned that the Xbox version of the game would have access to the mods from the PC version, for free; The Division also got another trailer. New third party game debuts included Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, and, unexpectedly enough, Dark Souls III.
They announced value for Xbox owners, by confirming that Xbox One versions of several anticipated third party games would include their Xbox 360 predecessors on disc too. Microsoft’s own new debuts included Recore, a new action adventure game by Armature and Comcept (the makers of Metroid Prime and Mega Man, basically), Gigantic (a new MOBA for Xbox One and Windows 10), Sea of Thieves (a brand new IP by Rare, which is a pirate themed MMORPG), Rare Replay (featuring 30 of Rare’s biggest hits, all remastered for the Xbox One), Gears of War Remastered (the first Gears of War game redone for Xbox One), and Gears of War 4, which has been announced for next year.
All of this, in addition to the requisite indie game section of the game, the debut of a brand new, modular controller that looks seriously sick, and brings an unprecedented level of customization to console game control. Microsoft also took the time out to debut HoloLens, which looks like something right out of the future- I am still not sold on virtual reality, but Microsoft’s vision of augmented reality via HoloLens has me floored.
All of this, and I am still not talking about what, according to me, was the biggest announcement of the entire show (yes, bigger than even Dark Souls III)- Microsoft announced, in a drop the mic moment, that backwards compatibility would be coming to Xbox One, natively. No streaming solutions necessary, you just put your disc in, and you play the game. Any game that you have digitally will show up in your library automatically, too. No effort is needed on the publishers’ part, except for them approving their games to be enabled for backwards compatibility this way.
Backwards compatibility will also be subject to a whitelist, but Microsoft has already promised a hundred titles when it goes live, with more being whitelisted frantically. And, taking a leaf from Sony’s book, they also took this opportunity to drop a potshot at their rival- ‘we won’t make you pay for games you already own.’ Good going there, Microsoft.
Overall? This was a good conference. It hit all the right notes, made some great announcements, showed off some good stuff, and managed to keep its fans happy. There was a lot of new stuff announced too, stuff that is atypical of Microsoft and the kind of lineup they usually present. They added value to their services and proposition, and consolidated their ecosystem across PC, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. All said and done, they did a good job, and continued to prove why there is a place for the Xbox in the market.
It wasn’t a slam dunk, but maybe one wasn’t needed. For what it was, Microsoft’s E3 showing this year was stellar.