I opted to sleep on Microsoft’s E3 2019 Xbox presser before sharing my thoughts on the showcase, but even after taking the time to digest it all my feelings haven’t changed: Microsoft fluffed its big moment and failed to follow-up effectively on last year’s conference.
Nothing about what I’d seen left me feeling that Microsoft succeeded in convincing consumers that Xbox is the platform that they should be playing on, or that they effectively communicated why it’s the ecosystem gamers will want to be involved with moving into the next generation.
It’s all rather shocking, really; partly because we’d all expected Microsoft to really make the most of Sony’s absence by knocking it out of the park, and partly because the rumors and leaks in the days and weeks before all pointed to that being a likely outcome.
But it just wasn’t. There was so much wrong with this presser, from the disappointing lack of gameplay to the puzzling void of substantive information — and all despite the fact that it was such a long presentation and with so many big-name franchises and developers involved.
I’ll start with the trailers themselves because I still can’t quite get over how much CGI we sat through last night. At over 90 minutes, this was one of the longest conferences I’ve watched, and yet I left the room feeling as though I hadn’t seen a single video game.
Where was all the gameplay? The show was a giant montage of teasers, and, bizarrely, mostly for games that we already knew existed.
It’s one thing to drop a short CGI trailer as part of a debut reveal or to remind us of some long forgotten project, but not for Halo Infinite and Gears 5 — two games that we’ve had on our radars for 12 months already, and one which, incredibly, is launching in three months time!
Honestly, to not show Gears 5 gameplay felt like a strange and worrying lack of confidence in the product.
Thinking back to some of the great E3 press conferences of this generation, like, say, Sony’s back in 2016, the gameplay presentations are what made each reveal so impactful.
Remember being thrust into the unusual open world of Horizon Zero Dawn without knowing anything about what we were seeing; the buzz of seeing God of War’s revamped combat, or the intrigue of Sony Bend’s Days Gone after so many years of radio silence? Letting the gameplay speak for itself is how you generate excitement for new games.
That just wasn’t a takeaway from Microsoft’s effort last night, and it’s ironic to think that the biggest moment of the conference was arguably the reveal of a multiplatform game’s release date by one of Hollywood’s most wooden actors (sorry, geekdom) — which, incidentally, was also another CGI showcase.
Making all of this all the more frustrating was that the trailers were peppered in between these PR-friendly spiels from various Xbox personnel that really didn’t give us much tangible information.
The section about Project Scarlett, in particular, was disappointing in this regard. What an absolute load of waffle that all was, and I do wish Microsoft would stop with those cringe-worthy montage sequences.
Gamers are after facts, not soundbites explaining in buzz words why features like better loading times, more stable frame rates, and higher resolutions are a good thing. We know that already.
But, of course, Microsoft needed that montage to flesh out the section because there really wasn’t much information to share.
The key facts are that Scarlett will run games natively at 4K resolution and 60 FPS, is 8K capable, has an SSD hard drive, and will support ray tracing technology. This is all great news, but it’s really nothing more than what we already suspected and are virtually identical specs to what Sony listed a couple of months ago with its own soft reveal.
I really thought Microsoft would seize the opportunity to showcase next-generation gameplay for the very first time. Now wouldn’t that have made the Halo Infinite demonstration incredible, after having announced it as a launch title for Xbox Scarlett?
At least we heard a little more about what Game Pass has to offer moving forward, with the Ultimate version including the new PC initiative and at a reasonable $14.99 price point. The service is really transforming into one hell of a deal, especially after Microsoft did well to highlight that they have studios dedicated to churning out Game Pass content over the coming years.
And yet, like the acquisition of Double Fine, the remaster of Age of Empires II, and the Gears of War smartphone game, it’s a peripheral sort of project that really shouldn’t be comprising one of the key takeaways of the conference. But with so much bloat and so little substance, that’s what we’re left with.
Look, I’ve been harsh on Microsoft’s efforts, and I want to make it clear that the conference wasn’t terrible. It was a fine, serviceable effort that served a purpose in advertising Xbox on a world stage. I’d just hoped for more than just a commercial this time around and I expected a show that would really have their great Japanese rivals regretting the decision to stay home.
Instead, I think Sony will be rather pleased with their decision.