Thursday, May 3, 2012

[E3 2012] Predictions For Microsoft's Press Conference

[UPDATE] If you caught this when it was originally published, things may look a little different. That was before I learned that EA and Ubisoft have conferences lined up as well as the Big 3. I updated my posting, but leaving the original content in-tact.

[ORIGINAL POST] With Microsoft's announcement earlier today about their press conference being broadcasted live simultaneously across the country on June 4 at 12:30 EST on Spike and on Xbox LIVE, it had me realize that E3 is just one month away as of tomorrow.


That realization had me start to think about what would happen at E3 with Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony. Seeing as Microsoft is the first out of the gate to announce their conference time, I figured it'd be appropriate to let them lead the pack in my predictions.

So, without further adieu, I give you said predictions for Microsoft, laid out in a way that is vastly different than previous years:

For starters, Microsoft has gone on record to say that there will be no major hardware announcements (read: no Xbox Next/Durango) at E3, however, since their French division marketing director, Cedrick Delmas, said "it's too early to say" with regards to hardware. I'm thinking that set-top-box aimed specifically at apps - or even, Kinect apps - would be announced; think of it as Microsoft's own Apple TV, but Xbox/Kinect branded. Either way, it doesn't effect me, because my wallet is looking pretty thin with the Wii U coming out at the end of the year. With no hardware getting in the way, Microsoft is going to be focusing primarily on their software; half on games, the other half on apps.

With regards to games, we can expect the flurry of announcements, with Halo 4 taking the prize as the show-stopper for Microsoft. They'll more than likely have someone from 343 Industries on stage to talk about it, and, hell, they'll go ahead and give us a brand-new trailer and gameplay footage for Halo 4, showcasing the new improvements we heard from Game Informer's cover story, plus reiterating the November 6 release date. Since Microsoft is so adamant about the Kinect, I'm thinking that Fable: The Journey will make another appearance, but they'll also reveal the release date for it as well (and some lack-luster crowd reactions). Will Lionhead announce Fable 4? Doubtful, but will Peter Molyneux talk about what he's been doing with his new studio, 22 Cans? Again, doubtful. [Addendum] Looks like he's already announced it, that project being 22 Experiments.

Will Rare come on stage and give us a taste of what they've been working on outside of Avatars and Kinect Sports? It's more than likely a long shot, but with their experience with the Kinect, Rare may come out and bring us a flurry of new games, but don't hold your breath. If they do show off anything, Rare won't introduce anything beyond a new entry in an already established franchise, but not a smörgåsbord of new games. That game could be Banjo 4, Perfect Dark 2, Killer Instinct 3 (Kenn Lobb has stated that Rare wants to make a KI3, or even the KI port to XBLA may happen), or just a simple Kinect Sports: Season 3. Whatever it may be, expect it to have some kind of Kinect support (not sure what KI would have, but the others, just copy-paste from other games in their respective genres).

Of course, they're all about their third-party support (and making money), so, just like with Black Ops a few years ago, expect to see a live demo of Black Ops 2 on stage. Activision may hold off on giving away too much info, as they may want to show off more during their own press conference, if they do have one, that is. With Call of Duty being the reigning king of third party games, that shouldn't stop others from appearing. Capcom will bring the guns with a live demo of Resident Evil 6, showing off what exactly they have been doing to bring back fans since RE5. Don't let Capcom walk off stage yet, because I see them showing off Lost Planet 3 footage, as well. Speaking of Resident Evil, I'm not expecting Shinji Mikami with his newly founded Tango Gameworks to show up and show off Project Zwei, so neither should you. [Addendum] Can't forget about this little guy! Rockstar is going to give away some finer details on Grand Theft Auto V, mainly the release date, main characters and details on the settings.

With rumors flying around another sequel, EA will bring out their survival-horror guns and show off Dead Space 3, along with the rumored ice-planet setting, but don't let them forget about Crysis 3, either. Finally, rapping up the whole third-party support package, Ubisoft will show off their babies, Assassin's Creed 3 and Splinter Cell: Retribution (keeping with Xbox-Only tradition). Rainbow Six: Patriot is a possibility, what with little on-screen time, but since FarCry 3 was announced last year, I doubt it'll be on stage. [Addendum] I was not aware that both EA and Ubisoft would have their own press conferences this year, and Activision has not made an announcement either. With that in mind, Ubisoft and EA's presence on Microsoft's stage may be minimal, only showing off one or two titles each. Ubisoft will most likely show off Splinter Cell: Retribution, considering Sam Fisher loves only Xbox, and Assassin's Creed 3. Anything else from Ubisoft would be left for their conference. EA, on the other hand, may only show off Crysis 3 or Dead Space 3 (something that EA has quasi-officially announced recently), but not both. Hell, they could throw us a curve ball and (finally) announce Mirror's Edge 2.

Enough of games, let's move on to Kinect, apps, and Xbox LIVE as a whole. Since Microsoft is so in-love with apps, they'll be showing off a handful of new apps. What these apps are, I wouldn't have the slightest. One app, however, if you were to believe recent rumblings, would be Internet Explorer. Seeing as how bad browsers are on gaming systems, I wouldn't be looking too far into this. Something else Kinect-related we could see would be that fitness tracking system that was unveiled recently. Now, talking about Xbox LIVE as a service, if we bring in Exhibit C of evidence into the fray, that being a LinkedIn profile talking about "further monetizing Xbox LIVE subscriber base", that could lead to a few different things:

  1. First off, to make Xbox LIVE more satiable for fans, current owners, and fence-sitters, Microsoft is going to introduce a new tier of Xbox LIVE. What it is to be named is anyone's guess, but I'm going with a reintroduction of Silver; I mean, what do you make of that LinkedIn profile a few months ago? With XBL Free, you just have access to Xbox LIVE and the Marketplace. With Xbox LIVE Silver - what the Free service used to be called - Microsoft will allow their gamers to get in on the app bandwagon at a lower fee than what we're currently paying for Gold. Say, $30-40 a year? Now, a lot of people believe that Microsoft should not be asking their Xbox owners to pay to use applications, especially when some of those already have subscriptions attached to them (Hulu Plus, Netflix, Xfinity/FiOS, etc.), so a lower membership level would help bring those naysayers in, despite still charging for it. Besides, I'm not the only one who believe this could happen...
  2. It's a doozy, but if no Xbox LIVE Silver, then we could finally see them put the axe in Microsoft Points' back and finally start slapping actual currency price tags on all Marketplace offerings. Now, this doesn't come out of left field (unless your definition of "left field" is "5 months ago), as some rumblings back in January point to it. This seems more likely.
  3. Finally, the third possibility of "further [monetization]" of the service is something that was hinted at in that same January article, then reared it's ugly head yesterday: a discounted Xbox 360, but with a 2-year contract attached. Sure, it's pretty disgusting, as Joystiq points out, since it will cost $460 after the contract is over ($100 upfront, $15 a month after), but, hey, they've gotta make their money, amirite? [Addendum] This was actually confirmed recently, as Microsoft unveiled it's plans for the $100 contractual Xbox 360, with all the scratched-out details being true. However, it's only limited to the 16 Windows Stores out and about.

Getting back to the service, Microsoft is, apparently, in the process of rebranding it's Zune brand, codenamed Woodstock, so I expect them to talk about Woodstock at E3. Something that's akin to Spotify, it will bring a heavy social integration between it, Xbox, Windows 8, and Facebook.

With what Microsoft could do with Kinect is shrouded in mystery. They're doing weird shit with it that I wouldn't have expected them to, but I would like a major software update to the Kinect that would help with calibration, voice recognition and overall fixes for the Kinect. Trust me, after demoing the Kinect to customers in a retail environment for nearly a year, I can tell you it needs work. Outside of a software update that addresses the Kinect, I'm not sure what to expect. Perhaps more core games - especially those due out later this year - utilizing the Kinect, to be branded with that purple "Better With Kinect" banner we've seen on games such as Mass Effect 3 and Forza 4.

Speaking of software updates, Microsoft could talk about what's in store for a software update for, not just Kinect, but the Xbox 360 as a whole. We're talking easier navigation, fine-tuned search parameters, easier-to-find content, and maybe even something to do with Achievements. Anything is a possibility when it comes to software updates on the Xbox, as Microsoft has transformed the system into a completely different machine than what it was nearly 7 years ago. Keep that in mind, as whatever they do introduce, it should address many issues people have had over the years, even after major updates.

I'm at 20+ predictions, so I think it's a safe bet to end the predictions there. Here's a quick-n-dirty list of what to expect in a month's time:

  • Hardware
    • No Xbox Durango
    • Possible Xbox set-top-box aimed at apps
    • Major Kinect/overall system-wide update
  • First-Party Offerings
    • Halo 4 on stage with new trailer/first gameplay footage
    • Fable: The Journey makes an appearance
    • Fable 4? 22 Cans? Probably not.
    • Rare makes a comeback with something that doesn't involve Avatars
    • More core games will utilize Kinect under the "Better With Kinect" brand
  • Third-Party Games
    • Black Ops 2 demo
    • Resident Evil 6 demo/trailer
    • Lost Planet 3 demo
    • No Shinji Mikami/Project Zwei
    • Grand Theft Auto V
    • Dead Space 3 unveil
    • Crysis 3 demo
    • Ubisoft-gasm
      • Assassin's Creed 3
      • Splinter Cell: Retribution
      • Rainbow Six: Patriot?
      • FarCry 3 doubtful
      • Mirror's Edge 2 a longshot
    • Minimal EA/Ubisoft Presence; They Have Their Own Conference
      • Perhaps only one or two games, each
  • Xbox LIVE
    • Handful of new Xbox apps
    • One of three:
      • Xbox LIVE Silver reintroduced; cheaper LIVE tier aimed specifically at apps
      • No more Microsoft Points, but cold hard cash
      • Discounted, contractual Xbox [Already happened]
    • Woodstock unveiled