COMMENTARY | Thursday marked the last day of the 2011 E3 expo, and the announcements pretty much mirrored what was projected. Nintendo’s next generation console, which was supposed to be an entry that targeted the hardcore gamer set the company missed with the Wii, was more of the same, in my opinion: a gimmicky controller that looks like a Game Boy wirelessly tethered to a Game Cube. In my younger days I was an avid Nintendo fan, shunning the Play Station to play Zelda sequels all the way up to Majora’s Mask on the Game Cube. As the third party developers expanded business operations in North America, the games for Xbox and Play Station improved dramatically, and I was separated from my Mario upbringing once and for all.
Still others have been more interested in Sony’s new handheld, the Vita, and its lineup of exclusive content. I for one think Sony’s exclusive IP is overrated. Especially the God of War franchise, which is often called the best exclusive title in gaming. God of War is great for a hack and slash action game, but the direction of the industry as a whole is moving away from that sort of title. Hardly anyone would say that Microsoft had the strongest showing at E3 this year, but the schedule Microsoft is keeping and the direction the company is taking gaming consoles in is definitely where the future lies.
I think XBox had the best E3 this year, however my reasons go past the stellar lineup of game previews and new games that use the Kinect peripheral in innovative ways. Instead, I am most excited about the new offerings related to Xbox Live, and the vast library of entertainment content available. I got rid of my monthly cable bill long ago by switching to a monthly Netflix subscription. Most of my friends followed suit, and others sold their Play Station 3 consoles to be on the same network. They then added Hulu and Zune to their instant offerings.
Microsoft announced at E3 that Bing search was coming to help navigate the vast entertainment offerings, along with an updated dashboard. While the other consoles offer much of this already, being able to search out a piece of media with voice commands and then choose between the multiple offerings available through each of the Xbox partners is new. Microsoft also promises to build on the already expansive library of available on demand movies and TV shows already available through Netflix or Hulu.
On top of expanding and improving on the content providers that are already available, Microsoft has inked a deal with the UFC, and Youtube will be available on the Xbox. Also in the works is a partnership with American cable providers to bring a service that is more comparable to traditional cable or satellite service to the console. Microsoft has been partnering with Sky TV in the UK, Canal+ in France and FOXTEL in Australia for the past two years. The company announced its commitment at E3 to expand access to live programming in the United States, so access to sports, news, and your favorite local channels will soon be just a phrase or hand gesture away.
So while Sony and Nintendo play catchup on the gaming side of things, Microsoft has taken the rare opportunity of a comfortable leading position to improve on the console’s value as an entertainment staple. At the same time mobile phones are trying to wipe out the handheld’s viability, Microsoft has taken the first steps at taking out other forms of media. The company definitely has the next generation Xbox in the works, but the 360 has a little bit more time to flex its muscles and make some money for Microsoft’s loyal following of third-party content providers.
As long as titles like Mass Effect 3, Assassins Creed Revelations and Modern Warfare keep coming, I for one can wait another year for a next generation console. It isn’t worth paying $500 to play one Zelda entry and a handful of lackluster titles on a console that’s best feature is the controller.
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