Viewpoints

Viewpoint: E3 2017 Predictions – The Evolving Battle for Next-Gen

E3 2017 is fast approaching and like every year gamers want to know what they can expect aside from the official plans announced by industry giants Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. This article is going to focus on what we believe the console colossuses have in store for fans this year.

Based on what we know, it looks like E3 2017 will focus heavily on content and services over new hardware aside from Microsoft’s big reveal of Project Scorpio. Even Microsoft, however, will focus most heavily on features and titles rather than the raw power of the new system in order to stay ahead of Sony in the console market.

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Sony:

With Microsoft showing off “Project Scorpio”, Sony will need to demonstrate they still have a competitive edge. However, likely they will play their hand close to their chest, emphasizing content over new hardware. We can expect to see a vast array of new titles, with special emphasis on approaching AAA hard-hitters such as The Last of Us 2, Death Stranding, God of War, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, and Days Gone.

With the recent release of the PS4 Pro, and the PS4 still sitting under the average five-year system lifetime, it would be prudent for Sony to keep any big announcements about the next system (tentatively, the PS5) under wraps until after this year’s conference. The new importance placed on S-model systems, in the same vein as Apple’s iPhone launch model, is likely to extend the launch window for new generations. After releasing an upgrade to it’s current gen system, Sony has to keep consumers feeling like the upgrade was worth the purchase, and announcing a new system so soon would likely inspire those not yet convinced they need a 4K capable system to simply wait it out. Or, delay their purchase until the launch of the PS5 when they can get the Pro at a discounted price.

Sony will likely also hold off on releasing a new version of PSVR, which already had a performance upgrade of sorts with the PS4 Pro. PSVR has done well overall, selling more than 915,000 units as of February of this year. Sony will continue to ride this success, giving additional incentives for consumers to embrace the headset, and rewarding early adopters. We will likely see a PSVR and PS4 Pro bundle offered at a discounted price, along with an expanded library and a couple of larger titles. The motion controllers are long overdue for an upgrade, however, so it will not be surprising if Sony announces a newer model. Better controls matched with more titles and a couple of AAA hard-hitters will help move Sony’s VR headset into more homes and build consumer confidence.

One of the major questions about Sony’s conference, that has been circulating the internet recently, is whether Sony will make a major announcement concerning the Final Fantasy VII remake. Of course, making any predictions about the remake is a little like playing darts in the dark. Our gut instinct would be “no,” but during an interview with Gematsu back in January, FFVII Remake director Tetsuya Nomura revealed plans to divulge more information on both FFVII and Kingdom Hearts III some time this year:

“We’re steadily progressing on production. While we are making them, I apologize that the wait will be a bit longer for Kingdom Hearts III and Final Fantasy VII Remake. I am very sorry, but to that degree I will make a game that will meet your expectations.

“Last year, I didn’t put out much information on either title, but this year I want to show our progress at an event somewhere. The release of the titles themselves still have a way to go. But there are many titles releasing this year, if you can wait for any ‘surprises.’”

So, it wouldn’t be too far fetched to speculate that some new gameplay footage will make its way into this year’s E3 presentation. Though the game is still in progress (and would be a spectacular launch title for the next-gen PlayStation), it would still be a strong card to play for Sony this year even if only to give fans a little more to chew on.

Finally, will Sony announce a replacement for the PS Vita? With their recent removal of the PlayStation Now streaming service from the system and the overall poor sales (only a little over 15 million units sold world-wide), along with the rise of mobile gaming, it seems likely Sony plans to continue to deemphasize the handheld. At most, we might see a remodeled Vita with only slightly better specs, or more colors, but likely Sony is trying to move away from the handheld market altogether and won’t put much weight on the system aside from titles announced that will also be available on the Vita.

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Nintendo:

We already know that Nintendo plans to focus heavily on Super Mario Odyssey, much like they did at E3 2016 with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The other two titles that will garner most of the attention will be the upcoming fighting game ARMS and the squad-based multiplayer Splatoon 2.

Much like last year, Nintendo will showcase only a handful of new titles aside from those mentioned above, with the usual reveal of a reboot or new iteration of an older title. Likely, Nintendo will try to freshen things up by bringing back a recognizable, but less often updated classic akin to a new Kid Icarus.

In March of this year, My Nintendo offered rewards celebrating the 5-year anniversary of Kid Icarus: Uprising, which released in 2012, including videos and discounts on the Kid Icarus series. The series has had few entries, but has maintained a strong following over the years. While this doesn’t necessarily point to the arrival of a new Kid Icarus for the Switch in 2017, Nintendo would be remiss to let the opportunity pass by and a new adventure for Pit would add to a strong lineup for the new system. If a new Kid Icarus is already in development or in the planning stages, we will definitely hear about it at this year’s E3.

Aside from games, we will finally hear details on the Switch’s online service, which will launch later this year. One of Nintendo’s major focuses since the Wii has been interconnectivity and bringing people together around their system. There will be heavy emphasis on how this new service will benefit buyers not only through online multiplayer but through connectivity services such as chat, sharing, daily task management or life-style management integration, and streaming services.

The Switch has already done incredibly well in sales, with consumers purchasing 2.74 million units from March 3 to March 31 alone. Nintendo knows what works well for them, so we can expect more of the same this year, and likely until Nintendo sees another sales slump similar to that of the Wii U.

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Microsoft:

Project Scorpio.

Right, but you already knew that.

Microsoft will be using their new system as their heavy-hitter. This means a handful of (tentative) launch titles will be announced along with the big system reveal in order to wet the appetites of fans. We will finally get to hear the actual name of the system, its price, and release date. This presentation will likely not focus too heavily on specs (which have already been publically released), but more on demonstration and some developer spiels on how much they love working with the system (as we have come to expect). You can also reasonably presume to see the new Forza running in crisp, clear 4K resolution as a demonstration of the system’s power and performance since the series tends to run in two-year cycles. However, Project Scorpio likely will not take up a major portion of the presentation so Microsoft can focus on two areas in which they either already have the competitive edge on Sony, or on which they are trying to build an edge.

Backwards compatibility has become a major focus and Microsoft has been giving fans what they wanted with the XBOX One by building a library of XBOX 360 games that can be played on the system. A few strong titles added to this collection (preferably a few from the original system) will be a major selling point for both the XBOX One and Scorpio, and will help bolster the image Microsoft has been building of being a more consumer-friendly company than their competitor.

Another major focus will be features that will build off of the original pitch for the XBOX One, which was making the console the center of the home. Though this pitch never materialized, largely due to the failure of the Kinect, integration with Microsoft’s digital assistant Cortana could truly put the system at the center of the living room. Users could utilize the system much like Google Home or Amazon Echo, except with the added benefit of controlling console features. If the system’s Cortana integration will be able to use features when the TV is off, then this would give Microsoft a way to push consumers to keep the console connected to the internet at all times. The original “always on” requirements for the XBOX One did not go over well with consumers, so Microsoft had to take a step back. If the system could be utilized as a hub for things such as home control, home monitoring, or even voice search using Cortana when the TV is off (either through a Bluetooth speaker or system speakers), then consumers would have motivation to keep the system connected online at all times without it being a requirement.

We can also expect to see what Microsoft has up its sleeves regarding virtual reality. Now that Microsoft has had the leisure of observing Sony’s success with VR, E3 2017 will be an ideal time to announce plans for their own dive into the VR market. Microsoft announced a partnership with Oculus in 2015, and it is unlikely that the company would sever that relationship to go on it’s own when working with Oculus has already proven lucrative. The partnership gives Microsoft an edge on the PC VR market they might not have if they went solo. We can expect to hear about future Microsoft cooperation with Oculus for PC. In addition, Microsoft is more likely to announce a lower-end headset for use with the XBOX One and Scorpio consoles created in cooperation with Oculus much like Samsung has done with the Gear VR.

Conclusion:

Microsoft has the greatest opportunity this year to direct the future of the console market, particularly if they can achieve the home-integration they originally envisioned for the XBOX One. Sony will press harder on the content side using variety as a selling point for their existing systems. Nintendo will carry on with the same structure they used last year and we can expect to see at least one new title (a new Kid Icarus seems likely, but we shall see).

The battle for the latest and greatest next generation system is evolving. Upgrades are coming faster, but in smaller leaps with the introduction of S-model systems. But, raw power alone will no longer cut it. Companies have to demonstrate an ever-increasing stream of content, interconnectivity and home integration. This E3 might not feature any huge surprises on the hardware front, but it will definitely set the stage for the future of the ongoing competition for console king.

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