E3 2013: Selling the Xbox One, PS4, Wii U in a tough climate

June 15, 2013 | 8:48 a.m.
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Attendees wait in line at the AMD display at the E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo. (Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)

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Director Guillermo Del Toro stands next to a Jaeger, a cyborg character from the upcoming movie he directs "Pacific Rim."(Michael Nelson / EPA)

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From left, Ignazio Boschetto, Gianluca Ginoble and Piero Barone, of musical group Il Volo, play "Rocksmith 2014" at the Ubisoft booth. (Alexandra Wyman/Invision/Associated Press)

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Actress Jurnee Smollett, left, and actor Josiah Bell play "Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag" at the Ubisoft booth. (Alexandra Wyman/Invision/Associated Press)

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Actors Jon Heder, left, and Scott Porter visit the Ubisoft booth. (Alexandra Wyman/Invision/Associated Press)

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Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney, center, plays "Just Dance 2014." (Alexandra Wyman/Invision/Associated Press)

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A model dressed as Bayonetta, a video game character from the "Bayonetta 2," poses for photos at the Nintendo booth. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

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Show attendees watch a presentation on the video game "Project Spark" at the Microsoft booth. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

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Jonny Rice wears a "Minecraft"-themed mask while promoting a video clip he created. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

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Janina Gavankar plays "Watch Dogs" at the Ubisoft booth. (Alexandra Wyman/Invision/Associated Press)

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Nintendo video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, center, visits the Ubisoft booth at E3. (Alexandra Wyman / Invision / Associated Press)

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NBA player Ryan Hollins, left, plays "Just Dance 2014." (Alexandra Wyman / Invision / Associated Press)

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Jonathan Lipnicki checks out "Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag." (Alexandra Wyman / Invision / Associated Press)

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A person dressed as a character from PopCap Games' Plants vs Zombies video cracks jokes with an attendee. (Patrick T. Fallon / Bloomberg)

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Attendees play the "Punch-Out!" video game, developed by Nintendo Co., on the Hyperkin Inc. RetroN 5 gaming console. (Patrick T. Fallon / Bloomberg)

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A model of the Tyrael character from Activision Blizzard Inc.'s Diablo video-game series stands on display as attendees play on a console at the company's "Diablo III" booth. (Patrick T. Fallon / Bloomberg)

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Diggs, a detective from Sony PlayStation's popular game "Diggs Nightcrawler," is helped by assistants. (Michael Nelson / EPA)

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Pedestrians walk outside of the Los Angeles Convention Center, where the Electronic Entertainment Expo is being held. (Susannah Kay / Los Angeles Times)

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Disney Infinity's "Pirates of the Caribbean Play Set" trailer plays on the opening day of E3 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

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Jason Guandique, 4, stands at the entrance of the Disney Infinity arena. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

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A visitor gets her picture taken with comic creator Todd McFarlane, who was at the Xbox Halo booth on the opening day of E3 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

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A character from the Blizzard Entertainment game "Diablo" attracts cameras. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

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The crowd streams in on the opening day of E3 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

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A look at the interior of the Los Angeles Convention Center, site of E3. (Susannah Kay / Los Angeles Times)

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The video game "Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures" is advertised on a car outside of the Los Angeles Convention Center, which is currently hosting the 2013 Electronics Entertainment Expo, or E3. (Jevon Phillips / Los Angeles Times)

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Players line up next to the virtual playing field for "Battlefield 4." (Jevon Phillips / Los Angeles Times)

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A candy house, complete with witches, sits in the lobby of the Los Angeles Convention Center to promote the DVD release of "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters." (Jevon Philliips / Los Angeles Times)

The just-completed Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles is an extended tease.

It began early Tuesday with a promise from Nintendo, that an extremely important announcement would be coming at Nintendo’s E3 booth at 11:40 a.m. Press had been gathered before the Los Angeles Convention Center doors opened at noon for early looks at some of Nintendo’s fall slate of games. Nintendo execs walking the floor ensured the media that no one should leave before 11:40 a.m.

“You won’t want to miss this,” one of them told me.

Except by the time the announcement came and went, I wished I had missed it. The info-disguised-as-news was simply that the human avatar in Wii Fit would serve as a playable character in “Super Smash Bros.” for the Wii U and the recently unveiled 3DS editions of the game. Cute, but not worth turning off a game session of the oddly crazy superhero action title “The Wonderful 101″ to hear.

But E3 is about the corporate message first, the games second.

Companies such as Microsoft and Sony had to persuade fans that the leap to a next-gen console is a significant one, arguments that have been confusingly made by focusing on cloud computing, social networking and motion-control abilities, many of which were largely missing-in-action at E3. Nintendo’s case was a simpler one, as the company was here to promise that it’s dried-up tap of Wii U games would start flowing again.

There wasn’t necessarily a clear winner or loser in the above, but for consumers wondering if it’s worth investing between $344.99 (deluxe Wii U) and $499.00 (Xbox One) in a new console, E3 likely raised more questions than it answered.

And don’t expect those questions to be answered anytime soon. Sony tabled info on its cloud service until 2014, and even a seemingly innocuous question, such as who’s directing the live-action scenes in the Xbox One’s part show/part game “Quantum Break,” was met with a “we’re not discussing that at this time” answer.

The Xbox One console. (Microsoft)

The Xbox One console. (Microsoft)

In the tightly controlled environment of E3 — interviews are often conducted in less-than-ideal settings, with PR reps present with their own recorders running — Microsoft arguably came to Los Angeles with the most to prove. Unlike Sony and Nintendo, Microsoft has been largely keeping its slate of E3 games under wraps, and just prior to the event the company disclosed some of the details surrounding its cloud functionality.

Microsoft is pitching a console in which some of the game content will live locally on one’s home Xbox, and some of the content will live in the cloud on Microsoft’s servers. In, say, a multiplayer shooter such as “Titanfall,” the artificially intelligent (AI) enemies will live entirely on “Titanfall’s” dedicated servers.

“Offloading all that removes the boundaries a little and lets us think a little different,” Respawn Entertainment head Vince Zampella said. “We don’t have to rely on the box in front of you. We can offload and it gives us more freedom in filling up that world with tons of AI.”

In a tech demo. Xbox One’s engineering manager, Jeff Henshaw, attempted to walk journalists through the benefits the Xbox One’s largely always-online features at E3. Using data from NASA, the Xbox One was able to “calculate, map and render the exact position and orbital trajectory” of supposedly any asteroid between Mars and Jupiter.

What reporters saw displayed on a TV was data from about 40,000 asteroids living on the Xbox One. Then — stay with us — Microsoft’s cloud data started feeding the Xbox One 500,000 updates per second, Henshaw said, which brought an additional 300,000 asteroids to the display. This data lived entirely in the cloud.

So, how does this benefit game developers?

“They can use all of the local horsepower to ensure their game is responsive, instant, fun, intense, but for things they want to make sure are completely accurate but don’t want to burden the console itself with, they can offload to the cloud,” Henshaw said.

"Titanfall" is coming to Xbox One in 2014. (Respawn Entertainment)

“Titanfall” is coming to Xbox One in 2014. (Respawn Entertainment)

“Things like local foliage, blades of grass, atmospheric effects, gunfire,” he said, “those type of things can all be offloaded because they’re going to be in your immediate periphery and you want them to look hyper realistic, but not necessarily something you want to burden the console with.”

Now here’s where things get tricky.

Those who have played massive multiplayer online games know there’s risk in a connection dropping, but someone playing a single-player campaign with in-game content augmented by cloud visuals may suddenly find their game looking rather different should a connection waver.

“It’s largely up to the game developer to decide how they want their game to react in different conditions,” Henshaw said. “Sometimes you’re going to have full bandwidth [with] the cloud, sometimes your bandwidth may get constrained and at other times it may go away all together.”

So the game world may start to look downgraded. Perhaps, said Henshaw, a fog rolls in, or a field of vision gets shorter. Microsoft didn’t demo what happens when a connection drops (they’re not ready to show that, apparently). But this reporter lives down the street from the E3 site, and it’s rare that I can watch a video in HD via Hulu or Netflix, despite paying for the fastest Internet my cable company will sell me.

Phil Spencer, vice president of Microsoft Studios, said I needn’t worry about games losing connections or content suddenly shifting.

Gameplay on the new Xbox One. (Microsoft)

Gameplay on the new Xbox One. (Microsoft)

“What you’ll find,” he said, “is that the bandwidth … required for the kind of games that we’re talking about is not as large as streaming a full-screen, high-def video. For someone watching Netflix in their home, they’re not going to have any problem with this system.”

Still, it’s a concept many consumers may need to see in someone’s home before they are willing to embrace it. No game at the Xbox One E3 booth showed it in action and even Zampella, who is fully onboard with the Xbox One, said explaining its benefits can be a bit tricky.

“It’s hard,” he said, “to one-point bullet-point it and say, ‘This is what this thing is.’ But really, this generation goes beyond the hardware that’s in front of you. It really encompasses what support you can get. You don’t even have to know it exists. That’s the power we want to harness.”

Some developers are taking a wait-and-see approach. Tetsuya Nomura is video game royalty, designer of the “Kingdom Hearts” series and numerous “Final Fantasy” games for Square Enix. He’s confident in the technical specs of each system, but when it comes to offloading parts of a game to a cloud, he has no current plans.

“I was interested in learning more about online, but so far I think they just look so complicated,” said Nomura at E3 via a translator. “Both of the consoles have an online capability, but they seem to be complicated. They mention ‘cloud’ all the time, but I want to make sure that that’s easy to understand. Then I can start thinking about it, too.”

"Beyond Two Souls" is scheduled to be released in October. (Quantic Dream)

“Beyond Two Souls” is scheduled to be released in October. (Quantic Dream)

The complexity of the topics is perhaps why Sony focused its E3 on its game slate, although many of the company’s most adventurous offerings look destined for the PS3 and Vita, whether it the patient narrative of “Beyond Two Souls,” the noir-ish lyrical dream of “Rain,” or the zany “Puppeteer.”

Sony devoted a significant portion of its booth to indie games, and the comic, anime-stylings of “Transistor” were hard to resist on the big screen. The PS4 game that had me most smitten was the one that required no lifelike renderings whatsoever, the Pixar-influenced “Knack,” and Sony dodged close-up looks at its hardware by playing up its differences with the Xbox One in regard to online requirements.

To be fair, all of the PS4 and Xbox One games shown looked spectacular. It’s impossible to judge a game during a five- or 10-minute play session, and perhaps that’s why so much attention was drawn to the visuals. During a quick demo of the PS4’s “Infamous: Second Son,” when I asked what made the game work on a next-gen console, I was told to look at the detail in the rain puddles. That wasn’t the hard sell I was looking for.

Executives know this is a hurdle.

“I don’t think a game has ever really created a huge mega franchise based on purely graphics alone,” Microsoft’s Spencer said. “There have definitely been games that have seen the light of day because of their graphic capabilities, but once gamers get their hands on a game they know if it has a soul or not. They know if there’s a game there.”

There weren’t many games there when Nintendo launched its Wii U last winter. The Wii U, it was reported, failed to meet its initial sales expectations, having sold 3.45 million units through March. Initially, the company hoped to move about 5.5 million consoles in that period.

A scene from "Super Mario 3D World." (Nintendo)

A scene from “Super Mario 3D World.” (Nintendo)

Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo of America’s president and chief executive, said the company miscalculated in releasing just two must-have games at launch  — “New Super Mario Bros. U” and “Nintendoland.”

“It was only two games, and we didn’t follow that up with more games of that super high-bar, super high-quality,” he said at E3.

Nintendo used its E3 to highlight what it hopes will be a barrage of must-have, first party games.  The highlights: “Super Mario 3D World” will be released by the end of this year; “Mario Kart 8″ is coming in spring 2014; a previously unannounced “Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze” is due in November, and the Wii U remake of GameCube title “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker” is due in October.

Fils-Aime is confident Nintendo’s core crop can withstand the new competition from the Xbox One and the PS4.

“They’re talking a lot about the promise and what’s to come, but where’s the game? Where’s the game that I have to have and therefore I’m going to buy the system? That’s the key to this industry, and you’ve got to be able to string the hits together for a consumer to feel good about spending a few hundred dollars on a system.”

– Todd Martens

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex

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Comments


25 Responses to E3 2013: Selling the Xbox One, PS4, Wii U in a tough climate

  1. Kaihaku says:

    Why is no one talking about Monolith Soft's X? It's the reason that I decided to get a Wii U and is still the most exciting game on the system for me. It's like Monster Hunter, Phantasy Star Online, and Xenogears combined under the awesome world design and fluid battle system of Xenoblade.

  2. @Bunnyking77 says:

    I think it doesn't have to be so hard. Just give the players what they want. I think XBOXone missed the memo. Their user unfriendly digital rights management policy is the complete opposite, and the extra $100 attached to the price tag is not something most gamers are interested in.

    PS Kaihaku, I am also excited by X. I was gonna trade my Wii U in for a PS4 but, I will be keeping it and just buying a PS4 as well.

    • Spencer C. says:

      The Xbox One is the extra hundred because it comes with the Kinect at launch. I am going to wait till the release just the console and buy that. (Also I too hate the DRM, hopefully they can take that out before release)

      • Phil says:

        At the moment it doesn't function without the kinect attached so I doubt that will happen

      • penguinpusher1 says:

        but it has worse processors, graphics, has a used game fee, you have to be online to play, higher monthly payments for internet, no major controller changes, worse exclusives, and its 100 dollars cheaper. And even if you buy the playstation camera, a game, and another controller, its cheaper than the xbox one with those same things. There is not a single aspect of xbox one that is better than ps4, therefore i will be buying the playstation 4.

      • prometheanregret says:

        If you don't like the Xbox One and decide to purchase the Playstation 4 instead, very well. However, when trying to lay out the reasons why you feel the PS4 is the superior choice, at least use facts and not personal bias.

        There is no used game fee charged to players. The system checks Xbox Live once every 24 hours, not continuously. Xbox Live is pricey, though it offers considerably improved social functions that many gamers actually use such as the universal chat system. Project Spark and Forza Motorsport 5 will generate large followings. As for the DRM and online policies, Xbox's website clearly states what they are and how they work.

        I admit, the PS4 is a promising system and you should buy the one you prefer.

      • Zach Burkhard says:

        They got rid of DRM check youtube

  3. Slaytanic says:

    Why is Nintendo even in the conversation??? Wii U is a flop now and will get destroyed when the Xbox One and PS4 come out. BTW FIRST!!

  4. Allen says:

    What is interesting about all of this Microsoft and Sony talk is that nobody is actually paying attention to the words that Sony is saying/using. Yes, they say the PS4 won't need a 'constant' connection, guess what, neither does Xbox One, just once in 24 hours. Guess what not a single person has asked asked Sony? Yes, Sony has said you can buy/sell/trade PS4 games, but guess what no has bothered to listen too? It applies to only Sony published games. You can bet all other publishers are going the way of Microsoft. Why? Think Steam. Only Sony is going to continue to offer 'games discs', everyone else is going to offer 'software', think PC software. The facts are Microsoft is being upfront about what the gaming industry is headed towards. PS4 fans and those who switch are in for a rude awakening when their games are 100% controlled by the publishers. Guess what, Microsoft is already making deals with publishers for what their gamers can do with that software. And what has Sony said about this? Only that other publishers (non-sony) can do what they want with their 'software'. Read between the lines before it is too late people, 'game discs' are a thing of the past. As for Nintendo, I personally believe they can sit back and let Sony and Microsoft destroy themsevles. You see the Wii U, nor any of Nintendo's systems have the (PC) power of the other gaming systems. They will always be a 'game disc' system and I hope they stay that way. If publishers rule the gaming industry gamers are, for a lack of better words, screwed.

    • Zach Burkhard says:

      I hope you know Microsoft got rid of the DRM so no more 24 hour check and you can sell used games freely now, ever heard of youtube?

  5. John says:

    I think it's okay to take the "Wait and see" approach with the PS4. Sony has already increased it's predicted sales, so it will sell out. People will be testing it out on a global scale ,then we can see what goes wrong and right. Let them work out the bugs.

  6. Nujabes says:

    Interesting commentary. Frankly, among game enthusiasts and tech fans, there seems to be wide consensus that Microsoft had an abysmal showing this E3. Your commentary is far kinder than Microsoft's DRM strategy deserves given the position it represents regarding the rights of consumers, and I think the sales for this generation of consoles will reflect that.

  7. Beth says:

    is that Vince Zampella from *Respawn* Entertainment, not Remedy….?

  8. Nathan says:

    Microsoft is the innovator of these 3, not afraid to take risks. Nintendo can come out with the same games, though awesome, time and time again…Sony, a full generation behind for paid multiplayer and next generation they will follow what the X One is doing this generation. Sony will just let Microsoft take the heat for it then follow behind quietly. Just how Microsoft took heat for paid Live and now is getting it for DRM and 24 hour checks. Sony will follow soon. Again.

  9. skunk says:

    sony already said you can play single player without EVER connecting your system, do the research, a bunch of MS fanboys here, your all in denial, get over it i used to be a 360 guy but then they personally ripped me off they don't give a damn about their customers.

  10. @robnesler says:

    What an odd article. He stated that there was not a clear winner or loser – even though Microsoft has been universally criticized for their "Xbox One" fiasco. He then goes on to try to sell us on "always on", but never mentions that the primary purpose of "always on" is DRM. And not a single mention of the anti-consumer restrictions the "one" is saddled with.

    Remember when reporters made an effort?

  11. Wayne says:

    Regardless, The Xbox One will be an amazing system, so will the PS4, period. The PS3 to me bombed when it released, no good titles, the only reason I bought it was for MGS4 but it got better. This happens with all new consoles. Its something we don't yet understand. I used to be hardcore Sony, til I was let down by the PS3. I will buy the Xbox One, and probably eventually the PS4..they both will be amazing systems, but everyone has to judge and throw there two cents in where ever possible. The DRM will not be as big of a deal as people are thinking. I support the idea, so what I can't trade games in or buy used..oh well..people will complain either way. I am excited by the lineup of new systems, and the possibilities they bring to the gaming market.

  12. KFED says:

    PS4 better product, better performance engine, better price and therefore a no brainer in a console choice unless you are trying to please just the kids or waste extra money

  13. KG- says:

    It is funny how people want their thoughts heard ~kinda like I'm doing now~. All this "MS/PS fanboy" bashing. Who cares what console some random person that you don't even know buys? If you want an X1 then get it, same goes for PS4. When X1 originally came out with their DRM policies I said I would switch to PS. But watching E3 I realize that PERSONALLY I prefer titles on the Xbox as well as the controller and online play. If you like PlayStation, then great, your opinion does nothing to effect me. Honestly wouldn't more "kids" get the PS since it cost less and hardware is very similar. "Adults" who complain about the prices can easily avoid the problem buy not spending the money. Sure everything would be better if things were always less expensive. But the price is the price. If it's too much, then don't buy it. If you want it, then get it and enjoy. When one "fanboy" goes on about how much better their console is all they are doing is stating there opinion. Overall it does not matter who much better PS4 is than Xbox One or vice verse. Get the console you will be happy with. I'm sure policy may change and updates with occur within the first couple months of each console being out, the same thing happened when the last generation debuted.

  14. IApprove says:

    I approve of ps4 and wii u.

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