The days and weeks immediately following E3 are a great time to reflect on the event that has just been put behind us and attempt to extrapolate from it an idea of the future of what gaming will have to offer. This year’s event is no exception to this rule, although there is something different about it when compared to years past. Acting as the showcase for the two consoles that will duke it out for supremacy in the next generation, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and the games that will be released for them in the first years, we have had a glimpse at the philosophies that the various different publishers are adopting. I did not have the chance to follow E3 as thoroughly as I might have liked (having no easy access to a computer or internet will do that) but this is what I intend to explore here.
The general consensus is that Microsoft has made enemies of their core consumer base through their policies related to connectivity, but its greatest advantage is touted as access to the cloud. Having increased their server count dramatically, Microsoft has recently made a lot of noise about the benefits that cloud computing will bring to their system, namely that it will boost processing power to nigh-infinite levels. Never mind the hyperbole and the reality that latency will make it all but impossible for any core calculations to be outsourced, there is a huge amount of potential in the concept. As far as the games are concerned, Microsoft’s owned studios are playing things fairly safely at this point, with confirmation of new games in the established Forza, Halo and Kinect Sports series coming the console, alongside the resurrection or the Killer Instinct franchise in F2P form.
If this was all they had to offer, the casket would already be polished for the funeral, but the company has been reaching out to established third party studios for more inventive games, like Sunset Overdrive from Insomniac, D4 from Swery64, Ryse: Son of Rome from Crytek and Quantum Break from Remedy. This expands their offerings considerably, but Microsoft also seem intent on repeating the practises that really pushed them to sales supremacy in the beginning of the last generation by approaching third party publishers for exclusivity deals, timed or otherwise. We know that Capcom has agreed to make the expansive Dead Rising 3 an Xbox One exclusive, while Titanfall from EA and Respawn Entertainment will only be available on the Microsoft family of platforms (though it hasn’t been ruled out for a release on Playstation in the future). And nor is Microsoft abandoning their push at making Kinect relevant by partnering with Disney for Fantasia: Music Evolved. All things considered, although every major source seems prepared to almost write-off the Xbox One at this point, they have the software to pull them through and just as Sony’s hubris was destroyed by the early reception to the PlayStation 3, so too may Microsoft’s be.
Speaking of Sony, that company is currently in an enviable position, with their praises being sung by the masses due to their policies regarding the treatment of used game sales and no connectivity requirement. Coupled with a more powerful console and a lower price point than their major competitor, Sony may well have at least the first year of the next generation cinched up. Like Microsoft, they too are implementing cloud functionality, but this doesn’t seem to be as important to them as it will not be available from day one. What about their philosophy regarding games though? From what we know of their first party offerings thus far, they aren’t trying too much to push gaming forward. Killzone: Shadow Fall is as visually spectacular as its predecessors were, and reports indicate that it plays with the established formula of the series, but it still seems a rather bog-standard first person shooter. By and large, the same goes for inFamous: Second Son and Gran Turismo 6. The biggest shock seems to be coming from Japan Studio, which continues to pump out ideas, with Rain, Puppeteer and Knack all in the works from them. The real point of difference, however, may very well be the company’s decision to embrace the indie scene and allow self-publishing. This has created quite a bit of buzz and a number of console exclusivity deals, which will bring profiled titles like Outlast, Don’t Starve and Galak-Z to the system. With this mixture of old and new business practises, there is strong evidence to suggest that Sony knows exactly what it is doing and how it will go about pleasing its consumers for years to come, but they will need to continue to provide compelling and diverse content if they want to keep the goodwill. With arguably the strongest stable of first-party studios in the industry and the continued backing of Quantic Dream and Level-5, there should be no barriers to this.
Nintendo is the last of the so-called Big Three and they had a muted presence at this year’s E3. They chose to forgo a press conference in favour of a simple booth on the show floor, and this may have been their best option with the Wii U struggling to make an impact and a seeming dearth of content on the way. It is rather difficult to get an idea of the way that Nintendo is looking to the future as they’ve relied so long on the past, and continue to do so. With the pillars of their release schedule being new titles in the Mario Kart, Super Mario World, Pikmin and Donkey Kong Country franchises, it’s clear that they’re playing to their strengths by focusing on platformers. To be sure, quality has always been more important than quantity to Nintendo, but it is disappointing to see them so void of new ideas. It’s peculiar that this is the case when they were the ones to really grasp the potential of the next generation first by standardising the second screen, before promptly doing nothing with the concept. Nintendo has always played things rather close to the chest, but now it just seems that they don’t know how to keep up and it may leave them with no future at all.
Away from the console manufacturers, we’re seeing a proliferation of ideas and philosophies. Activision, for example, seems content to continue the practises that have worked for them so well in this generation. The Call of Duty franchise is going on in full force with this year’s new sub-series Ghosts, but bringing in a few new ideas, such as a new AI form in Riley the dog, and assistance from Academy Award winning screenwriter Stephen Gaghan to bring things forward. Skylanders is also continuing with Swap Force at the end of this year, which will introduce a new set of toys for kids the world over to annoy their parents to buy. Finally, they have Destiny, the new IP from Halo creators Bungie as part of a ten year deal. They’ve proven capable at popularising and monetising their franchises, and there’s little reason to doubt that this winning strategy will change as we move forward through the years. As for their publishing partners Blizzard, we know that they have a new MMO and a console version of Diablo III in the works but like Nintendo, they’ve always played things close to the chest and focused on quality. What’s the future for Activision Blizzard? The smart money would be a continuation of their established practises.
Electronic Arts seems intent on seeing games as an on-going service by really hammering home the idea that connectivity is essential. Their flagship franchise these days is Battlefield, and the latest in that series is promised to have a hefty offering in both single player and multiplayer. The single player side of things is said to be incorporating elements of multiplayer and you can rest assured that there will be continued expansion through additional map packs. Further to this, the console multiplayer will be fused with social elements in Commander Mode. It follows the examples set by Mass Effect 3, Dead Space 3 and Need For Speed this generation of blurring the boundaries between the two different formats of gaming and seems to be the core philosophy of EA going forward, as Titanfall and Star Wars: Battlefront will also receive similar treatment.
Ubisoft’s seems awfully similar to this as evidenced by their intentions with their newest franchises Tom Clancy’s The Division and The Crew, both of which will feature single player oriented gameplay set within the framework of a persistent online world. Watch Dogs will have multiplayer systems similar to those found in Dark Souls in that it will be a seamless integration of online and offline play with players possibly being unaware that someone else is in their game. Their flagship Assassin’s Creed franchise will continue for at least another two years, with recent confirmation that the entry following Black Flag is already in the works and that there are a total of three teams working on the series. Aside from these, the publisher seems to be striking a balance between new franchises, as those listed above, and the continuation of older ones that aren’t nearly so reliant on new age philosophies.
Heading to Eastern shores, there is almost no indication of what Capcom is doing, although they have previously expressed a desire to shorten their development times compared to the past and they seem interested in reviving the practice of third party console exclusivity in Dead Rising 3 and Deep Down, which are reportedly only to be available on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 respectively. With Resident Evil 6 and DmC: Devil may Cry failing to meet sales expectations, the future of those two series are in danger, even though they have historically been the company’s most revered and profitable. The only approach that we can safely take is to reserve judgement until we find out more and hope that that is sooner rather than later.
The same goes for Sega. We know that they’ve inked a deal with Nintendo to make the next three Sonic games exclusive, as well as Bayonetta 2, but little more. The Creative Assembly is busy with a new Total War game, and a new project set in the Alien IP universe, while Sega Japan is working on a Football Manager-esque title for the Playstation 3 and Vita, among other unrevealed titles. With the publisher in dire straits, they seem content to focus on their core successes for now, but that can only work for so long. At this point, the future doesn’t seem very promising.
Finally, there is Square-Enix. They’ve fallen out of favour over the past generation due to the abuse of their revered Final Fantasy series, focusing on spin-offs for the Kingdom Hearts series and putting out a rather abysmal selection of titles as the remainder of their offerings. Rebranding Versus XIII as Final Fantasy XV doesn’t seem to have won back any of that goodwill as it is simply too different from what fans want, though the announcement of Kingdom Hearts 3 has helped somewhat. In many ways, for this company, the axiom “everything old is new again” seems to be the one that they are most interested in adhering to. They resurrected Hitman and Tomb Raider in the last year, have Thief and likely a new Deus Ex in the works and all of this, in concert with what they announced at E3, makes it clear that they’re happy to continue trying to recapture the past.