The verdict is in. Sony won, Microsoft lost, Nintendo stayed the course and we can all go home because Jack Tretton dropped the microphone.
If only it were that simple.
Despite the repeated invocation of the trope, console wars are largely irrelevant and have been for a decade. Almost everything developed outside of the Mario bubble appears on multiple platforms so selecting one to be the centerpiece of your personal entertainment shrine is a matter of preference.
I don’t expect that to change with the coming generation. Most of the non-Nintendo games displayed during E3 will debut on the Xbox One, the PS4, and the PC, and those that don’t probably won’t remain exclusive forever.
So how are we supposed to know who won E3?
It’s probably Sony, though I don’t think it was the landslide it’s been made out to be, especially in the wake of Microsoft’s latest U-turn. The console wars have always been about subjective opinion rather than objective quality. Sony’s ‘win’ merely reflects the fact that there’s a difference between what I want, what games journalists want, and what people at large want from a console.
Me personally? The PS4 presentation offered everything I’m looking for in a console. Sony’s approach to game ownership and DRM is most in line with the freedom I’d like to enjoy as a consumer, and their commitment to independent games ensures that the PS4 will be able to cater to any tastes. The focus was on the games (and the playing thereof), which is all that really matters during a gaming press conference.
Microsoft had games, too. It just didn’t have any that I’ll be excited to play (Capy’s Below being the notable exception). But I’m not representative of anything in particular. Some people (read: Twitter users) believe that Microsoft won the ‘games’ portion of the show based on the strength of Titanfall and Halo alone. Those people shouldn’t be ignored. They’re the reason Microsoft will still be a major player during the holidays.
That also shouldn’t be a surprise because it’s a continuation of the current generation. With the 360, Microsoft has enjoyed lucrative success despite generally ignoring gamers like me. I’m more interested in story than multiplayer, so the big Xbox tittles – Gears of War, etc. – aren’t reflective of my preferred gaming perspectives. I’ll borrow a console if I want to play through Master Chief’s campaign.
The PS3, meanwhile, has traditionally offered far more variety. There are action games with various mechanics and aesthetic designs (Uncharted, God of War, Infamous), kid-friendly platformers (LittleBigPlanet), a slew of interesting indie titles, and offbeat experimental stuff like Heavy Rain and Journey. You might not like all (or any) of those games, but where one genre is inadequate another might suffice.
While that suits me just fine, it doesn’t work for everyone. I play dozens of games a year and I usually don’t pay for them. I’ll gladly put up with a horribly flawed title as long as it’s not a clone of something I’ve already experienced. Other people don’t want to take such chances. They’ll buy one or two games a year, and at $60 a pop, they want a reliable product they know they’ll enjoy. There’s nothing wrong with that. Should that be the case – and you’re a fan of shooters – you should probably stick with Microsoft because Killzone isn’t nearly as good as Halo.
That’s what made all of the claims about Sony’s ‘victory’ so absurd, even before taking Microsoft’s about-face into account. Halo and Gears of War sell so well that Microsoft is essentially able to compete with all of Sony’s exclusives based solely on the sales of a handful of blockbuster franchises. If Microsoft is able to hang onto that core audience, then the used games policy won’t matter. People won’t be returning Titanfall if it’s the one Xbox game they own.
Despite the criticism, there’s compelling logic behind Microsoft’s approach of putting a few golden eggs in an otherwise empty basket. With its ex-Infinity Ward pedigree, Titanfall is poised to be the one new IP that breaks through to the Call of Duty sales tier and that alone could be enough to drive the new console off store shelves. Microsoft expected a connection-required console to be a complete non-issue for fans of online multiplayer, and that still strikes me as a reasonably safe assumption.
So why was the games press so eager to hand the crown to Sony? I can’t say for sure, but I suspect it has something to do with the people covering the event. The PS4 conference was a godsend for games journalists because it promised years of material in relation to games (both independent and triple A) and the issues that will face the industry in the next decade. Assuming the Japanese conglomerate wanted to hit the salient talking points, it couldn’t have crafted a more perfect showcase for a press corps often starved for content.
But opinions won’t matter once product is moving through cash registers in December. For all of the to-do about indie games and the openness of the Wii U and PS4 as publishing platforms, Microsoft has wrapped up major properties like Halo and Titanfall, and is likely to remain the platform of choice for Call of Duty and Bethesda. Microsoft could win the console war as long as that remains true.
Sony’s E3 showing was strong enough to warrant most of the praise, while Microsoft’s change of course is a pretty damning admission of fault. But that’s also why declarations of defeat were so pointless to begin with. Microsoft has won back some positive PR only a week after its E3 disaster, serving as a reminder that console wars aren’t won during skirmishes in June. It’s far too early to say anything with any certainty, and it’s also worth remembering that the gaming press is talking about the storylines we find interesting, which are not necessarily the games you’ll find entertaining.
You want my advice? Ignore the critics (and the fans). Find the games you want to play, and make your purchasing decisions accordingly.