This is, by far, the most awkward E3 for Sony and Microsoft. They both took different tactics, as Sony didn’t show up, and Microsoft did. People expected Microsoft to come out of the gate hard, but it didn’t happen. People were, frankly, wrong to think that it would. It is effectively the last E3 of the current generation. Next E3 will be all about new hardware reveals, kicking off the next generation hype, but this year is the weird murky middle ground where the consoles we have are the ones we have, not really the ones we want.
Probably one of the biggest reveals would have been for PC Game Pass, but that news had already broken by that point. We got some general talk about Project Scarlet, which will eventually become the next Xbox. We had some xCloud stuff, some indie games, and a couple of reasonably big game reveals. The biggest pop of the night was reserved for Keanu Reeves, who seemed to have great fun with the crowd on stage, and surprised us all by being in Cyberpunk 2077. Even the shine from the moment is landing more on CD Projekt Red that on Microsoft, however.
At this time in the console cycle, the developers with access to dev kits are already working on next-generation titles, and have been for a while. The industry is firmly looking towards the horizon, at what comes next. Sony and Microsoft are both shaping up for the next round of the Console War, and without a sparring partner, there was little for Microsoft to actually do. With no one to swing at and nothing to throw, they were left shadow boxing on the stage with the ghosts of their own past mistakes.
We had a lot of talk about their improved focus on PC, and their narrowed focus on games, the reason people buy consoles in the first place. This is more powerful than you think because it shows that this is their focus moving into the next generation. The overarching philosophy of a team during the development of any product shapes that products future. The original Xbox One announcement was a complicated affair as it lacked that core message. Games seemed almost secondary, mild addition to a multimedia machine that nobody asked for. Sony kept their PS4 reveal strictly centered on gaming, and they were the ones who seemed to win more people over. I get the impression that Microsoft will not be making that same mistake again.
It is also a little unfair to expect to learn too much about the new hardware when we are about a year and a half away from launch. Most elements simply won’t be finalized yet, so we were never going to learn specifics. We heard about ray-tracing, SSDs, and support for up to 120Hz refresh rates. This wasn’t designed to get us hyped; it was just letting us know that Microsoft is aware of what people expect their next console to be able to do.
What we saw on stage was Microsoft warming up, letting us know that next year they will be coming to the stage to convince us all that they are moving in the right direction. They are learning to correctly leverage the worlds of PC and console, which will make them a much stronger contender that if they continued to ignore the PC platform. Things like Game Pass, combined with xCloud, could be devastating to Google Stadia, and Microsoft can almost instantly become the major playing in game streaming if they handle the launch correctly. Microsoft quietly positioned themselves as a vital part of the future of gaming, which is exactly what they should be doing. They let us know that they don’t just plan on competing with Sony, they plan on competing with everybody.
As such, I have no choice but to let any disappointment I felt about their press conference go because the only reason I was feeling it is that I simply expected too much.