We tackled Nintendo yesterday, and now it's time for Microsoft. What's it going to take for Microsoft to win E3?
What we mean by "win"
For the purposes of this article we'll define a "win" as a press event that energizes existing fans and will help to bring in new fans while helping the company in question improve their bottom line. If the show gets everyone talking about games and initiatives that will cause both existing and new fans to get out their wallets, that's a "win." This isn't a zero-sum game, where one win means that someone else loses; it's very possible at the end of the show that each company will have "won."
Microsoft in a nutshell
Microsoft announced the Xbox One with a disastrous event that showcased all the worst aspects of the company's digital strategy without having a plan in place to discuss its strengths. The Xbox One launched at a higher price point than the PlayStation 4, and it's not as powerful. The company has had to all but admit the Kinect was an expensive failure, and the hardware has been removed from most Xbox One bundles with what seems to be a complete stoppage of Kinect-related games. The company has been playing catch-up to the PlayStation 4 since day one.
Microsoft is doing the right thing
Microsoft is making some really nice moves lately. The latest Xbox One price drop was announced before the show, and the new controller allows you to connect standard audio devices instead of requiring the company's proprietary adapter.
You won't catch anyone even saying the word "Kinect"; it's as if the peripheral never existed. And Microsoft is jumping into bed with Oculus to deliver Xbox One streaming to the Rift, and it's my pet theory that the Rift could become a full-fledged Xbox One peripheral with full VR games, should there prove to be a market for such a device.
Microsoft is, in fact, acting like they're in second place and they know it. The company has cut off as much fat as it could, decoupled many services from Xbox Live, and you can now pick up a great Xbox One bundle for $350. This is a welcome, somewhat deliberately paced course correction, but a necessary one.
Without the digital strategy, without the Kinect and with a number of exclusives already missing from the show, Microsoft is going to have the same struggle it always does: How does it make the Xbox One not just look good but better than the PlayStation 4?
, you say?
MIcrosoft purchased Minecraft creator Mojang for $2.5 billion last year, and this puts Microsoft in an interesting situation. The company obviously wants to use one of the most popular games in the world to further its own interests, but Minecraft is a franchise that is insanely popular and profitable, and every platform it's on. It's huge on mobile, PC and on consoles.
While Microsoft won't shut down the other forms of the game, is there a way to make Minecraft on Microsoft devices the best version of the software? Is there some great feature it could add to make Xbox One the No.1 destination for Minecraft players?
Probably not. Minecraft was a great purchase for Microsoft, and will more than justify the purchase price in the coming years, but it's a franchise that puts a powerful Microsoft-owned product on every platform in existence. That's great for the bottom line, but its ability to be used as a weapon against Sony is limited.
New media functions? No thanks
My advice is to stay away from this trap as much as possible. Microsoft is sure we want to turn the Xbox One into the place we watch everything, and I'm just not sure that's something anyone has ever asked for. We're here to play video games, so focus on those.
Although announcing an HBO Now app wouldn't suck, or at least a date for one. Let's make allowance for that one. Everything else? Run away.
Remember SmartGlass? That was sure a thing for a minute.
Halo andand Forza
These are the three exclusives that Microsoft is going to bank on to drive most of the excitement during the show, barring any huge announcements that we're not expecting. These are the games that you're going to need to buy an Xbox One to play, at least until the Tomb Raider timed exclusive runs out. For now though, this is the three-barreled weapon Microsoft will use to take on Sony, at least during this event. Games like the latest Crackdown will be shown later this year.
Is it enough? The question is what games Sony has that are bigger this holiday season, and keep in mind Sony is now the more expensive option at the base level. The combination of three big exclusives, if more aren't announced, and a $50 advantage at the register is a great way to go into the show.
We know more Gears of War is coming, and showing a remastered Gears of War that will be ready soon and comes with guaranteed access to a Gears 4 beta would be a great one-two punch to keep that franchise going. That's also a franchise that Microsoft owns completely, which is another way to sell fans on the Xbox One.
And brings us into the uncomfortable bit for most fans...
The best weapon Microsoft can buy for itself are exclusives. Exclusive content, exclusive games, early launches ... big-name things that you will need to buy an Xbox One to play. It's not like the company can upgrade the hardware, and it's priced as low as possible for the time being. The best thing to get people motivated to actually buying one is games that you can't get any place else.
Of course, people hate exclusives. The announcement of an exclusive is always met with anger online, but who cares as long as the anger doesn't keep people from pulling out their wallets? Microsoft's path forward will likely be exclusives, so expect to hear a few announced, from both the big-name and indie worlds, and expect people to be very angry about it.
Microsoft is giving away Windows 10 to just about everyone, and the company seems keen on marrying the operating system with the Xbox One; we can expect a large amount of the press conference to this aspect of the company's strategy. The real test for this strategy is software; the Xbox division rarely sees Microsoft-published games released on the PC in any timely manner, if at all.
If you have an Xbox One, it's very likely you have a Windows PC. That's an advantage that Microsoft has barely leveraged in the past, and this is a good excuse to do just that. Can you imagine if the company was able to institute a PC and Xbox One cross-buy system for Halo and Gears of War?
Microsoft, more than anyone else this year, has its work cut out for it. We wish them luck.
Safe prediction: Gears remastered shown along with a Gears 4 announcement
Hail Mary prediction: Oculus Rift as a full-on Xbox One peripheral, complete with slate of Microsoft-published games