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What Microsoft got right and wrong at E3 2018

Microsoft invests in games, has shift definition of ‘exclusive’

Gears 5
| The Coalition/Microsoft

The Xbox One X might be the most powerful console on the market, and it might be on sale right now, but Microsoft has a real shortage of software with which to fight the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.

This is what the company had to address with its press conference at E3 2018, so let’s take a look at what Microsoft did right, and wrong.


FromSoftware/Activision

Right: All those games!

Microsoft had to fight the perception that the Xbox One platform is hurting for games, and it did so effectively with a show that focused on game after game after game. The use of the word “exclusive” wasn’t all exactly on the up-and-up — we’ll talk about that a bit later — but it got the job done. Microsoft needed to focus on games, and that’s what it did. Thank the maker.

We Happy Few Compulsion Games/Gearbox Publishing

Right: Buying all those studios

We know that Microsoft is struggling when it comes to exclusive games, and the company needed to get the checkbook out to fix it. Microsoft has acquired Ninja Theory, Undead Labs, Compulsion Labs, PlayGround Games and has opened a brand-new studio called The Initiative. These are smart buys, but more than that, they were absolutely necessary if Microsoft is hoping to be competitive at all. Microsoft needed to spend some money, and this is a good slate of studios to pick up.

Forza Horizon 4 Playground Games/Microsoft Studios

Right: Forza Horizon 4!

Forza Horizon 4 looks beautiful: The weather and season information is shared across all the players so you’re all racing in the same conditions, and the environment changes depending on the season. It’s coming to Xbox One and PC, and ... I don’t have much else to add. It just looks like a seriously fun racing game, and is an exclusive. Seeing this game on display made me glad I have an Xbox One X hooked up to a 4K TV. I’m into it.

Right: The future seems like a bright place

Microsoft is working on a cloud gaming service so you can play Xbox Games on your phone, there is another Xbox system in the works, and Microsoft has invested a lot of money in a large number of studios. There’s something called “Fast Start” coming to the Xbox Game Pass that’s supposed to use machine learning to let you start playing your games faster.

A lot of these things sound like what EA is cooking up, and it increasingly looks like players will be subscribing to a number of services in the near future if they want to play games first or not worry about buying them $60 at a time.

The downside about all this is that we live in the present, not the future. Microsoft is investing in making things better across the next few years, but it’s still likely to be a cold rest of 2018.

Dontnod Entertainment/Square Enix

Wrong: Multiplatform games

Which of these games were exclusive, which were timed exclusives and which were just coming to the Xbox along with the PC and PlayStation 4? The voice may have said “exclusive,” but the text on the screen would sometimes say “console launch exclusive.”

Some of the games were just being shown for the first time at Microsoft’s show, but didn’t have any kind of exclusivity at all. Some of the games had the “optimized for Xbox One X” logo at the end of the demo, and that’s about it. No one wants to advertise its competitors, but no other company tries to stretch the use of the word “exclusive” as far as Microsoft.

The Division 2 Massive Entertainment/Ubisoft

Wrong: Ubisoft role-playing its way through The Division 2 demo

No one talks like that when they’re playing a video game. No one acts like that when they’re playing a video game. It’s so relentlessly phony and embarrassing that it’s hard to watch. Ubisoft is particularly bad about using this trick during press conferences, and I wish they would just give it up.

The Division 2 looks good, but the fake voice chat made me cringe through the presentation. “Great idea, let’s just die,” a character says at some point. We’ll go with that.

Gears of War 5 The Coalition/Microsoft Studios

Wrong: Gears 5

If you had told me the trailer for Gears of War 5 was Gears of War 3, I would probably have believed you. And the crossover between Gears of War and Funko Pop looks like something someone cooked up to make fun of both brands.

I’m not sure how Microsoft can shake up the Gears of War franchise in an appealing manner, but holy heck does it it need to get on that.

Wrong: Remember the Xbox One X?

The Xbox One X is probably Microsoft’s best competitive advantage right now, and outside of HDR and 4K text at the bottom left of some of the demos, it was barely mentioned at all. Having more power only gets you so far without games, and Microsoft seems to have grasped that limitation. It’s pretty early to be thinking about the next Xbox, but it’s going to be very telling to see if Microsoft chases the raw power advantage so aggressively again.