E3 2015: open questions and predictions

I expect stability and predictability from the big three (Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony) E3 pressers this year. First, we’re a year and half into this generation. It’s past the bumpy launch window, but not far enough for new hardware iterations. PS4 and Xbox One sales are already strong, which reinforces a conservative playbook. And many games for the show have been formally revealed early or leaked. Yet there are unknowns that the pressers next week could help answer.


Will we see movement beyond the traditional AAA space?

Even without any surprises, has a strong first party lineup heading into the holidays. Gaming’s core demographic has great coverage: first person shooters (Halo), action adventure (Tomb Raider, Fable, likely Gears), and racing (Forza). Sports could round out the package; I suspect we’ll see Joe Montana Football popup as counter-programming to Madden. AAA exclusives should push Xbox One sales ahead of PS4 for Q4 2015.

Yet there’s little diversity in these offerings. I don’t see a “breakout” title that can widen the console’s appeal over the long run. This playbook has historically worked well for Microsoft, but it’s time for a shakeup. What about a third party partnership or exclusive with Rockstar, Valve, or Blizzard? Or a new AAA-level Minecraft expansion?

Any indie shockers?

Ori and the Blind Forest made a splash, but otherwise it’s been quiet for Microsoft’s ID@XBox. Indie games are an underrated selling point for consoles, especially via word of mouth. Sony already has a had a solid year with titles like Hotline Miami 2 and Axiom Verge. That’s likely complemented by No Man’s Sky, Rime, and The Witness later this year. It would be great to see Microsoft punch back with something exciting here.

What about Windows and HoloLens news?

As Eurogamer noted, Microsoft has leeway with Windows 10, HoloLens and integration. Are we getting a throwaway sizzle reel to keep the focus entirely on Xbox games? Or something much larger and more central?

I’m hoping for the latter. An emphasis on cross platform compatibility would give Microsoft mobility in the gaming space. As Xbox One sales slow (either due to the PS4 or , the Xbox can pivot. There’s the Windows 10 connect to PC gaming on desktops, laptops, phones and tablets. On the more speculative side, HoloLens and VR (with the Oculus) provide another venue. Microsoft had a bold concept of what a console could be in 2013, and then they backtracked. I want a return to form.


Confirmed: Halo 5, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Forza 6, Fable Legends. Likely: Gears of War Remaster, Gears of War 4, Joe Montana Football, Battletoads, Rare unannounced title


How will Wii U remain a viable console?

Nintendo’s next console, the NX, is out of discussion this year. So all eyes are on the Wii U’s endgame. Star Fox and Mario Maker are a given. Given Nintendo’s pedigree, they’ll likely sell great and be wonderful titles. But what else? Are there some surprises like a Metroid or F-Zero to prop the console up for a bit longer? Maybe a price cut or extra game pack in to convert the undecided? Unfortunately, I suspect few things will happen. Nintendo will cut their losses on the Wii U and move all their resources to the NX. I’d expect a big push and hints of major IPs for the new system (e.g. Metroid, Zelda) in 2016.


Confirmed: Star Fox, Splatoon and Mario Kart 8 DLC, Mario Maker, Fire Emblem Likely: Lots of Amiibos


What is going on with Sony’s first party AAA?

Sony’s has positioned the PS4 as the console “for the gamers” since its launch. So far, with it’s commanding sales lead over the Xbox One, it’s been working. Yet there’s a sizable audience that wants more than indies, remasters, or PC ports. They want a big first party offering that feels “next gen”. On that front, Sony has been a disaster. Only Bloodborne has stood out as a critical and sales hit. MLB: The Show, LittleBigPlanet 3, and Infamous: Second Son also got attention, but have smaller fan bases.

In fairness, third party titles should keep PS4 sales strong and many gamers happy. Sony already has marketing deals for Batman: Arkham Knight, Metal Gear Solid V, and Star Wars: Battlefront. There’s also rumored partnerships with Call of Duty and Destiny expansions. Bundles, big ads, and some DLC exclusives will appeal to holiday buyers and existing owners.

Unfortunately, I suspect Sony’s strategy results in few first party titles this year. There is a chance we’ll get The Last Guardian slotted before the end of 2015. The rest of the calendar will focus on third party titles and a few stronger indies. But otherwise Sony’s big release hype moves to 2016; Uncharted, Ratchet & Clank, and hints of a new Gran Turismo or Hot Shots Golf.

Can No Man’s Sky be a mainstream hit?

No Man’s Sky is in the unique position of being a tiny studio (four people!) behind an ambitious, hyped game. There’s endless exploration, strong graphics, procedurally generated worlds and a unique look. Sony pushed the game hard on last year’s presser. I predict that we’ll get more detail this year and a release date around the holidays. But that’s accompanied by concrete demos and hands-on impressions. After E3, we’ll get a better sense if No Man’s Sky is just another indie title or a system seller. Sony seems to position it more towards the latter. Is it a strategic choice, or more to fill a void with few other first party titles?

What’s the rollout strategy for Project Morpheus?

Sony has distinguished themselves with their hardware design; I’m confident we’ll see a slick implementation for their VR offering. Yet Sony has a spotty track record with game peripherals. Both the PlayStation camera and PS Move failed to gain much traction. I’m concerned Sony will repeat itself with Morpheus. There could be too few compelling launch titles or limited third party partner support. Or the price might be too high. A strong presentation at E3 might be an opportunity to change that narrative.


Confirmed: Uncharted 4, Ratchet & Clank, No Man’s Sky, Street Fighter V. Likely: Hot Shots Golf, Guerrilla unannounced IP, Quantic Dream unannounced IP, The Last Guardian (a long shot but it’s time)