|The annual Electronic Entertainment Expo took place at the Los Angeles Convention Centre earlier this month, and as always the video game trade show was preceded by briefings from the major players: Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony.
After last years events, I was excited about the PlayStation 3, curious about the Xbox 360 and underwhelmed by the new Nintendo console, then code-named Revolution. This year, I returned from E3 with a radically different perspective on what the future may have in store.
In terms of the next generation of video game entertainment, Microsoft was first to get their hardware onto shelves, which gives them a nice head start. "We feel great about not being beat to market," said Jason Anderson, group marketing manager for Xbox Canada.
Bill Gates spoke at Microsofts press briefing, at the famed Graumans Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, about how Microsoft is creating its new Windows Vista operating system with gaming in mind, so that you can play select upcoming games on either your PC or your X360, and go online against players from either platform. The richest man in the world has a vision of a future when the Microsoft profile you use for Hotmail and Messenger will follow you to your X360 and even your mobile phone. He calls it Live Anywhere.
With their next-gen console already released, Microsoft can get back to doing what theyre best known for: software. "The future of gaming involves software," quipped Gates.
So before either of the other two console manufacturers release their next-gen units, Microsoft will have around 160 games available to play on the X360. As for Microsofts true killer app, a trailer for Halo 3 premiered at the briefing. The game is expected sometime early in 2007.
Microsoft, which attempted a simultaneous global launch of the X360, experienced dramatic supply problems, something for which even Gates apologized. Sony hopes to avoid similar problems with its launch on November 17 into North America, Europe and Australasia just a few days after the machine becomes available in Japan. Matt Levitan, marketing manager for Sony PlayStation Canada, said that theyve already learned how difficult it is to distribute worldwide from their launches of the PS2 and PSP game machines, and hes convinced they will be ready come November.
Sony is the undisputed market leader (there are more than 100 million PS2s in homes around the world), so anticipation for their third-generation game machine runs high. With substantial power for processing, support for HD display and a built-in Blu-ray Disc, on paper the PS3 looks like the best machine. But Levitan admits its a challenge to explain to consumers the benefits of the new technology that is the framework for the PS3.
"Gone are the days when you can pick up a controller and press one button to jump and one to fight," said Levitan. Truer words have never been spoken, as everyone including Levitan and his staff was surprised when Sony announced that the controller for the PS3 will feature a six-axis sensing system, so it will be able to translate its position in the real world onto your screen.
And as promised, the PS3 is priced at a premium. The machine youll want to purchase, with a 60 GB hard drive and full peripheral functionality, will cost you $659 Cdn. A scaled-down model with a 20 GB hard drive is being priced at $549 Cdn.
At the Sony briefing at Sony Pictures Studio 15, the effusive Kaz Hirai, president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment of America, cautioned that "technology is just an enabler," echoing the concern that everyone in the industry has about slumping numbers and the need to encourage and develop new gaming audiences.
But while Sony talked about the need, Nintendo showed us how theyre going to do exactly that.
Only a few weeks before, Nintendo announced that the name of their next-gen console, until then known as Revolution, would be Wii, pronounced "we." A promotional video screened at the Kodak Theatre press briefing showed, from the perspective of a television looking out at the living room, gamers of all ages, genders and cultures playing Wii games. Grandparents conducted orchestras, mothers played tennis with their sons, sisters used the remotes to compete in wacky party games.
Nintendo president Satoro Iwata talked about the companys history in producing disruptive technology and insisted that the best way to change who is playing is to change the interface with which gamers interact with games: the controller. As such, the Wii controller is in two parts, a remote and a nunchuk, and the motion of each is mirrored by the games.
When asked what he thought of Sonys revelation about their joystick, Pierre-Paul Trepanier, director of marketing for Nintendo of Canada, was nonplussed. "Sonys new controller validated our direction," said Trepanier.
One key difference between them, however, is that the Wii remote and nunchuk make the first truly ambidextrous controller in the history of video games. So my southpaw brother (and many more like him) can wield the nunchuk in either his left or right hand, whichever is most comfortable. Also unlike Sony, Nintendo refused to announce a release date or price for Wii, although most analysts are predicting a $300 price tag and a release in late October or early November.
Trepanier is quite happy to have the Nintendo brand to work with. In Quebec, he explained, the companys name is synonymous with video games, so gamers tell their friends, "Je vais jouer au Nintendo."
"This is not the next generation," said Trepanier. "This is the new generation."