Forget Console Wars: Sony & Microsoft Can Both Win Next Generation

Congratulations, gaming fans. You can do it!

All of you.

After Sony’s somewhat messy reveal yesterday of many things PlayStation 5 plus Microsoft’s announcements last week regarding the Xbox Series X|S platforms, the foundation of gaming’s next console generation are starting to fall into place.

With these announcements and a subsequent trickle of details, both manufacturers are solidifying their individual strategies. Sony with its more direct platform marketing and big-budget exclusive software compared to Microsoft’s two-tiered hardware plan plus service as an ecosystem play.

And I believe that both of these can, and will, work out for them.

Starting with Sony, the Japanese tech giant shared that the PlayStation 5 base version starts at $499 with a Digital Edition set for a quite competitive $399. The only difference being the latter doesn’t have a physical disc drive. Both release on Thursday, November 12th in seven markets, then November 19th in the remainder. Launch lineup includes games like Demon’s Souls and Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales (which now has an Ultimate Edition with a remastered version of 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man), with the most notable point being increased prices compared to last generation. The broad video game price increase is officially underway.

Sony’s showcase also had brand new announcements like Final Fantasy XVI from Square Enix and Warner Bros’ Hogwarts Legacy then capped off teasing a new God of War title in development from its Santa Monica Studio. Overall, it was a tight, informative presentation albeit missing a number of key details for things like software release windows and pre-order timing.

Messaging from Sony has been all over the place in the time since this reveal. First off, Sony allowed retailers to dictate when pre-orders went live despite saying that they would provide “plenty of notice” previously. Also in the past, executives like Sony Interactive Entertainment’s President & CEO Jim Ryan have stressed how the company believes in generations. That is, targeting games for strictly the new console as opposed to cross-generational type releases.

Then yesterday, the garbled communication accelerated. The team said PlayStation 5 games including Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Sackboy A Big Adventure and even next year’s flagship graphical powerhouse Horizon Forbidden West will also have PlayStation 4 releases. An inconsistency with seemingly its underlying strategy of established generations. Now, this makes all the sense in the world from a business standpoint. There are 112 million PlayStation 4 consoles in the wild, most owners of which won’t upgrade for a number of years. A clean-break generational move is antiquated in 2020, when backwards compatibility and maintaining a library is important.

Early adopters are going to buy the shiny new box regardless. It’s more about people six months or years from now that will determine the trajectory of sales. These companies have to consider those just as much as the enthusiasts.

In another twist, Ryan said in a couple interviews with media that the overall catalog of games is less significant than having “new, great” software offerings. Combine this with the massive $100 million or more budgets for its first party projects, Ryan doesn’t think that launching games into a subscription service is sustainable.

The irony is that I believe bridging the gap between PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 is one of the reasons why Sony can be successful in the upcoming cycle. Maintaining continuity with its legacy owners and their libraries will allow people to upgrade without fear of losing access to their favorite games, especially with many titles being live services now and not providing clear upgrade paths. Early adopters are going to buy the shiny new box regardless. It’s more about people six months or years from now that will determine the trajectory of sales. These companies have to consider those just as much as the enthusiasts.

Another reason I believe Sony can achieve is competitive pricing, especially the Digital Edition at $399. This model comes without sacrifice in the power department, it’s just that it only allows for digital downloads. Sony apparently had locked in the idea of getting at least a version to the same launch price of PlayStation 4, and they succeeded. The question comes down to availability, and anecdotal evidence says the digital version is much harder to find despite Sony saying that the PlayStation 5 will have more units overall at launch than its predecessor.

Finally, and it’s no secret, Sony’s software prowess is near unparalleled in modern game development. Its studios are among the most talented in the business. With projects like Horizon Forbidden West and God of War 2021 in the pipeline from internal teams, Sony seems to be leveraging a similar software strategy as last generation in quality, single-player experiences.

It’s also making key partnerships with external publishers, such as the aforementioned deal with Square Enix for Final Fantasy XVI console exclusivity plus its work with Bluepoint Games on major remakes, to round out the portfolio. There’s also a new service offering as part of its PlayStation Plus membership: PlayStation Plus Collection, where legacy titles will be available for PS5 owners.

That’s how Sony can win. Solid hardware pricing to sell volume of both editions, new foundational games on console then PlayStation Plus and even PC on the back end down the line. It just needs better and more honest messaging, clean up the pre-order process ahead of November and share information on upgrade paths like it has with Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales in that the game moves with players from PS4 to the upcoming generation.

Switching to its main competitor in Microsoft of course, its Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S consoles debut a bit earlier the same week on November 10th in a simultaneous global launch, for $499 and an utterly aggressive $299 respectively. Both are also available via what’s called the Xbox All Access financing program, for $34.99 and $24.99 per month each. This comes with a subscription to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, an immediate library of software. Which is a key part of enticing especially new buyers, not having to drop so much money up front like generations of the past.

As I’ve stated before, the American software and cloud conglomerate’s modus operandi is ecosystem and services. Lowering the barrier to entry, offering games and subscriptions on a variety of devices beyond its consoles, embracing cloud as a complement to traditional gaming plus connecting everything in its Xbox brand. Its Xbox Game Pass catalog of games monthly subscription service is arguably the best value in the industry, considering that all new first party titles launch simultaneously into the service on their retail date.

Then there’s Project xCloud. Microsoft formally launched the cloud streaming offering just earlier this week for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate members in various countries for use on Android phones and tablets. It’s a play on the future direction of the industry. Despite some critics prognosticating otherwise, I don’t believe it’s a replacement for traditional games. It’s a complement that will offer yet another way to play console and PC quality software. Which means it won’t cannibalize sales, it will be accretive to the business line.

“We really built this strategy around that – play the games you want, with the people you want, on the devices you want or already have,” said Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox. “The high-level goal for us is can we build a platform where more people want to play more games more often?”

What this means is that Microsoft is foregoing one-time purchases up front to make it up in volume, monthly fees and player engagement. It hopes to monetize on an ongoing basis, and keep people in the ecosystem whether using hardware, PC or even mobile via cloud.

So, what does this have to do with winning? Everything.

A holistic approach makes Microsoft less dependent on core hardware sales and major, blockbuster exclusives than ever before. Its hyper-competitive pricing tier for Xbox Series S gives the most realistic entry point for various slices of the market: lapsed gamers, those on the fence about an upgrade and even PlayStation owners looking for a way to try games not available on that platform. Sure, the company is chalking up a loss on hardware and even generating less revenue up front with service discounts. It’s still built up a user base of 10 million strong for Xbox Game Pass as of last month, many of which have or will renew even when their discounts expire. And according to various accounts, this leads to people not just playing more games but also buying them, bumping up software sales alongside the subscription.

Xbox has also been much better about messaging and marketing, sending a clear signal with both its pricing and retail packaging. Its social media team is on fire, rolling with the punches during leaks and summarizing perfectly the contrast between its console models. While some argue that offering two models with similar names is confusing, I strongly disagree and think that tech consumers are more knowledgeable than that in the age of multiple iPhone models and countless TV iterations. The pricing alone tells the story: Xbox Series S is for those looking to enter next gen at an affordable price, Xbox Series X is for the enthusiasts that are much less sensitive to cost.

A holistic approach makes Microsoft less dependent on core hardware sales and major, blockbuster exclusives than ever before. Its hyper-competitive pricing tier for Xbox Series S gives the most realistic entry point for various slices of the market

The main question (and it’s a big one, no doubt) surrounding Xbox is its software lineup, at least early in the cycle. Without games like Halo Infinite, Forza Motorsport or Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 at launch, it will lean more on smaller titles like The Medium from Bloober Team and Ebb Software’s Scorn, older first party games like Gears 5 and Gears Tactics plus external, multi-platform releases such as Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and Destiny 2: Beyond Light. With the amount of studio acquisitions and announced games like the aforementioned bunch plus Rare’s Fable and Everwild, I anticipate a more beefed up portfolio within two years of launch. Which is really the time that’s most make-or-break for sales.

Microsoft is one of the world’s largest companies, and while Xbox is a key brand segment, it’s a small portion of the overall business. We’re still talking about an $11.5 billion or more annual revenue generator here, one where Microsoft is clearly investing in parallel to its Cloud offerings. The firm can sustain a hit from discounted Xbox Game Pass and All Access programs, as long as the opportunity is there to keep players over time. These are meant to build up the audience base and benefit over the longer term, even if shorter term it appears to be slower than its competition.

As noted throughout, we now know how both Sony and Microsoft are throwing down aggressive pricing this holiday season for some powerful next generation boxes. Both are investing internally, mapping out marketing, purchasing studios and making partnerships in attempts to win mind-share and, most importantly, dollars.

Sony promises more PlayStation 5 consoles at launch than PlayStation 4, offers an enticing Digital Edition upgrade for PS4 owners while also solidifies a more impressive launch lineup of software even if its messaging has been jumbled. Microsoft’s message has been direct: Its Xbox Series S is the most affordable of the bunch and both consoles are available via a financing option for folks that might not want to pay up front or have been impacted financially by coronavirus.

It’s not quite time yet for my detailed forecasts, though this piece should give an early indication of where I’m at in that I expect both manufacturers to sell out of launch stock then move into the later years of this generation with unique offerings that absolutely will attract buyers. Even some that will overlap. If I had to pick, I’m slightly more bullish on Sony’s prospects especially if they can supply enough Digital Editions to the market at that extremely attractive $400 point.

That doesn’t mean its competition can’t also win. Each has something the other doesn’t, which means victory is attainable for all. Most of which, console gamers. Even if they’ll probably continue to fight among themselves for eternity.

Stay safe all. Thanks for reading!

All prices reference above in U.S. Dollars. Local pricing available at manufacturer websites.

Sources: Fast Company, GamesIndustry.Biz, Microsoft, Sony, TechRadar, Washington Post, Xbox Wire.

-Dom

Microsoft Reveals Xbox Series S, Leaks Hint to Series X Price & Release Date

Updated: September 9th.

It’s now around two months before next generation gaming consoles are set to release, and one of the manufacturers has finally moved publicly on price.

Well, sort of.

In the middle of the night here in the States, Microsoft formally unveiled its “smallest Xbox ever” in the Xbox Series S, the counterpart to its higher powered Xbox Series X platform. The leaner, more cost-friendly Series S will launch at $299 with a financing option at $25 per month via Xbox All Access.

Its existence has been the worst kept secret in the industry for a year or more, originating at the same time speculation began about Microsoft’s new generation approach featuring multiple, simultaneous console launches. Last night this intensified, mainly due to a post at Thurrott.com showing leaked promotional packaging for the Series S.

According to another leaked Series S promo posted by WalkingCat on Twitter, this time a full on video ad, Microsoft is certainly going for the segment of the audience that might want to upgrade or enter the Xbox ecosystem, doesn’t care about physical discs and refuses to break the bank in order to play the newest games.

Series S is an all-digital box, which means no disc drive, and it’s 60% smaller than the beefy Series X. While it has a quick-loading solid state hard drive (SSD), it’s only 512GB which is restrictive in terms of internal storage space. Especially for a console that only downloads or streams games. Its specs are of course reigned in compared to any next gen version so far, though targets comparable output in terms of performance. Supports high frame rates, 4K upscaling and more as you’ll see in the commercial.

Furthering the fervor, Windows Central dropped even more major news in that its sources say the powerful Xbox Series X will launch at $499 with a $35 per month financing option.

AND that both Xbox consoles will be out on Tuesday, November 10th.

(Edit: Microsoft has confirmed that at least Xbox Series S launches this day. I anticipate both will be at the same time.)

(Second Edit: Microsoft revealed that Xbox Series X will also release on this date, at $499.)

Whew. After months of snacking on crumbs, we now have a lot to digest. First, let’s talk timing.

This all sounds legitimate. Friend of the site Jez Corden and his team at Windows Central are reliable for most things Microsoft and this is consistent with the company’s own marketing of a November release. Plants it squarely before the holiday rush and right during the windows of big third party titles like Destiny 2: Beyond Light, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Cyberpunk 2077.

(The irony of a Bungie game that isn’t Halo being effectively a launch title for an Xbox console isn’t lost on me!)

And, this timing just might be before its rival Sony PlayStation 5 as well, which is rumored actually for later that week on Friday, November 13th.

If the simultaneous Xbox release happens to be November 10th, then it’s a few days after my prediction. I thought the console would hit on a Friday, though Microsoft is seemingly opting for a Tuesday strategy. Similar to its Xbox 360 debut in 2005. Really, the exact day of launch is less important in the grand scheme than is moving first and having it ready to go before Black Friday and holiday shopping begins in its major markets.

Still, what continues to stand out to me is a distinct lack of exclusive, first party launch games now that Halo: Infinite is delayed to next year. The timing tells me that Microsoft is leaning into those aforementioned third parties, updates from last generation software and its Xbox Game Pass service to entice people to upgrade. Perhaps when Microsoft officially reveals the date, it will also have a surprise announcement for a new launch game. (Not betting on it.)

There’s also the question of future-proofing, which is why this latest set of consoles try to target things like 8K resolution and 120 frames-per-second at the top end. These boxes need to be relevant years from now. Can the Series S accomplish this with its current specs? Probably not. Which is why we’ll likely see a mid-generational upgrade like we did last time around, so future-proofing isn’t as important as it once was.

Next up, that pricing!

The first word that came to mind when hearing these revelations is: Aggressive. Like, extremely so.

Earlier this year, I speculated that $499 would be the minimum price for Series X based on its specs and likely build cost. I’m on record saying I expected $349 for a cost-friendly Series S with the option to reduce based on its specs (which we never knew in advance, in my defense). Microsoft reaching or beating these, especially the $299 Series S point, clearly shows a strategy of making next gen affordable for as many people as possible even if the lower end specs aren’t dazzling.

These days for the $11.6 billion in annual revenue Xbox gaming division, it’s just as much about attracting buyers to Xbox Game Pass. The two-tiered console approach covers a significant part of the market now. Enthusiasts will always upgrade early, that’s the audience for Series X. It’s the more casual audience, those that are platform agnostic or even lapsed gamers that are most likely to bite on that juicy $299 price tag.

Another smart move from a marketing perspective is Microsoft starting with the price announcement of only its entry level version. Putting that in public mind-share on its own, rather than showing both at once. Taking this sort of staggered approach injects a sense of affordability in the market, saying to consumers that it really isn’t crazy expensive to move into the next generation of console gaming.

I fully expect to see at least a version of each console bundled with Xbox Live, Xbox Game Pass and even the streaming service Project xCloud, the last of which is an especially intriguing play for the all-digital Series S. An Xbox Series S bundled with an introductory subscription to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate could be the best bang for the buck early in the console cycle.

In terms of general sales predictions, I’m still cautiously upbeat on early prospects in November and all of the fourth quarter calendar year. For both console manufacturers, mind you. We still don’t know price or timing for Sony’s PlayStation 5, so I’m hesitant to go on record with figures or comparisons at this stage other than to say I’m expecting demand to be steady though unsure about production quantities.

Even so. With the confirmation of an all-digital version in the next gen Xbox family, Microsoft sales should shift towards that lower-margin model which means slightly lower overall revenue generation. I still fully expect early adopters to upgrade to the Series X. The question becomes how many of the people that might not have upgraded, or might have picked the PlayStation 5 Digital Edition, will now buy Series S? That will dictate sales even more than the hardcore players.

Of course it also comes down to production, which we know will be impacted by coronavirus and availability of parts. In 2013, Xbox One sold a million units in a day to be the biggest launch in Microsoft’s gaming history. And that was priced $100 more than its competitor. Between the two models this time, there’s potential for setting another record internally.

So, what now?

Microsoft ended its Twitter reveal saying that they will share more soon. Windows Central notes the likelihood of Xbox holding a press event in the near future, after which time I assume pre-orders will also go live for both versions. Expect this to be *very* soon, like within days now.

While overnight we saw our first glimpse of next generation pricing, plus received all-but-confirmed rumors of cost and timing for the Xbox suite of devices, we’re now waiting for that official confirmation.

Then, it’s Sony’s move. My “almost” final prediction for PlayStation 5 Standard Edition is $499 and Digital Edition is $399. Which would be great for that Series S entry point. When will we know? Well, right after Microsoft’s event seems like a sure thing.

I’d bet the house.

Stay tuned here or Twitter for more news, commentary and sales talk on next generation consoles plus everything in gaming. Thanks for reading!

All prices quoted in US Dollars. Sources: Microsoft, Thurott, WalkingCat on Twitter, Windows Central, Xbox Wire.

-Dom

Now That We Know Specs, How Much Will PlayStation 5 & Xbox Series X Cost?

The short answer: We still don’t know. Yet that won’t stop us from speculating!

Even though we’re now a bit closer to seeing the full picture, there are still plenty of variables at play. Right now, no one on the outside actually knows.

That said, it’s time to guess.

After Sony’s “Road to PlayStation 5” video reveal of the technical specifications for its upcoming PlayStation 5 hardware, we know a lot more about components and power expectations for it alongside its main competitor in Microsoft’s Xbox Series X. So it’s easier to approximate where they might be at launch, currently scheduled for late this year. Which is great. Because while power is important, I’d argue price drives consumer sentiment more than anything.

For those looking for in-depth breakdowns of specs and numbers for Sony and Microsoft’s hardware, check out Digital Foundry’s work at this link for the PlayStation 5 and this one for the Xbox Series X. The team also compiled a comparison piece across the two consoles, at least based on the information so far.

Then there’s the latest collaboration with Digital Foundry, Austin Evans and Xbox Wire with even more detail into Microsoft’s project, plus Sony’s own PlayStation Blog post summarizing various items on its box. Plenty of places to soak up the technical jargon. It’s impressive coverage, to the point where even someone that follows the business and critical side of games can almost understand.

Here, we’re going to cover mostly the general points and see just what they mean for potential launch pricing. Price drives consumer decisions just as much as power, arguably even more so since it’s an easy comparison point between different products. Don’t worry if some of the tech side goes over your head. You’re not alone.

Based on the reports as you see above, the conclusion is the raw components and feature sets are mostly comparable with some important distinctions. In terms of capabilities, there are common ones. They support high frame rates and 8K resolutions. They’ve got Raytracing (get used to this buzzword for a fancy lighting technique). 3D audio. Custom AMD processors. Solid state drives. Some form of backwards compatibility for legacy software.

It’s looking at the divergences that spark discussion of course. Without getting too much into the weeds, I’ve heard it framed as such: The Xbox Series X is more powerful while the PlayStation 5 is notably speedier. The former has the more capable processing power, while the latter has a tailored solution for delivering the highest speed possible.

Which makes sense when we step back. Microsoft’s general philosophy is now about how it has the most powerful console this generation in the Xbox One X, and the focus remains on the upper end targeting tech enthusiasts this time as well. The upcoming Xbox Series X is twice as powerful as the improved version of its predecessor, the Xbox One X. Microsoft’s goal is to have games looking great and running smoothly plus is going to offer the ability to suspend and resume multiple games at once. Which fits with its ecosystem, software compatibility and catalog approach.

The downside to the raw power of the Xbox Series X is that it requires proprietary expandable storage options, which will add to the cost of keeping the console over time when hard drive space inevitably fills up. This certainly lowers its price tag, yet adds to the overall investment across the full generation. There’s also the question of first party software support, which is a primary concern though less relevant in this context.

Flipping over to Sony’s PlayStation 5, its specs are still impressive. While in raw terms its numbers are notably lower than Xbox, its implementation is slightly different in using what’s termed “variable frequency,” more plainly a type of “boost” to allocate its power budget. Sounds to me like a focus more on optimization rather than sheer strength.

This also fits with its design mantra of placing a major focus on speed. Limiting loading times for players, offering studios the tools to minimize downtime and providing better options on the consumer storage side. This is achieved by leveraging a custom system alongside its 825 GB solid state hard drive plus expandable storage that doesn’t require proprietary equipment. Simply, the real treat is its storage speed and flexibility.

Mark Cerny, Sony’s lead system architect and hypnotic public speaker, described the solid state drive as the single most requested component by software developers. Capabilities for the people that make games are just as important as delivering performance output to those that play them. Which is why the PlayStation 5 seems tuned for speed.

One disappointment of Sony’s messaging so far is its stance on backwards compatibility. The aforementioned PlayStation Blog post alludes to many of the most popular PlayStation 4 games being playable at launch on the new console generation, then comments that there are roughly 4,000 PS4 games on which they will be working on this feature. Does that mean only select games will be available? Or that those will benefit from the PS5 power? We need more clarification of this increasingly more important feature.

Capabilities for the people that make games are just as important as delivering performance output to those that play them. Which is why the PlayStation 5 seems tuned for speed.

This summary of the broader strategies across the two competing hardware makers brings us to the real debate:

How much will people have to pay to move to next gen later this year?

We’ll start with the PlayStation 5, mainly because we already have some insight into its supply chain and pricing decisions from a Bloomberg piece last month.

For context, PlayStation 4 released at $399 back in 2014 while 2016’s more powerful mid-step PlayStation 4 Pro hit that same price later in the cycle, after discounts applied for the original box.

Rumors suggest that the manufacturing cost for the upcoming PlayStation 5 is currently at $450 per console, which is well above the estimated $381 for the base model of its predecessor. And this is strictly speaking about component cost. It doesn’t include the additional marketing and distribution associated with launching a flagship product.

During a conference call with investors earlier this year, Sony’s Chief Financial Officer Hiroki Totoki said “We must keep PlayStation 5’s bill of materials under our control and we need to make the correct number of units in the initial production.”

That certainly sounds like component cost might be approaching levels that Sony didn’t anticipate. Knowing these factors, could we see the same $399 introductory price for the PlayStation 5 this holiday?

I think there’s an argument to be made that we will, and it’s where I predicted it to be when discussing the topic in late 2019. That was without knowledge of the power capabilities and higher-than-expected component cost. Console manufacturers traditionally have slim margins early in a console life cycle, though $399 would be clearly selling at a loss. Companies aren’t in the business of losing money.

I’m leaning towards upping my forecast to $449, with Sony eating those additional expenses in hopes of making it up in volume and software sales. This puts it roughly at what it costs to make, and it’s only 50 bucks more than where it launched PlayStation 4 nearly seven years ago.

Gaming has been largely free from the reality of inflation so far, what with big budget software costs remaining consistent through the years. Even if publishers are finding ways to generate additional revenue via downloadable content and customization options. With rising costs to build hardware, it’s looking like a higher baseline for console launch cost is approaching.

There’s also a chance that Sony’s console starts at $499, especially if supply chain constraints limit the availability of parts. I don’t think it will be this high due to both sticker shock and competitor decisions, yet we can’t rule out the possibility based on what we know of its specs now. Especially if Sony only has the one model at launch, its usual strategy.

Microsoft’s situation is somewhat different. It’s already revealed plenty about the beefy Xbox Series X. While there aren’t yet rumblings of how much it costs to build, we can deduce that it’s likely going to be more than the PlayStation 4.

Thing is, there’s still the unknown of Microsoft potentially offering a more affordable option simultaneously at launch. Allegedly the team is working in parallel on the Xbox Series X and what’s dubbed Project Lockhart, a slimmed down version with less power and a friendlier price. Similar to what phone manufacturers do. Two products, one targeting the enthusiast and the other suited more for a broader, casual audience.

Even this generation, Microsoft has dabbled with offering a variety of console options. Xbox One hit market in late 2013 at $499, a much higher price point than its competition. Problem was, it wasn’t actually more powerful. It was that way because of bundling Kinect.

We then saw the Xbox One S version in 2016, beginning lower at $299. The most powerful family member in the Xbox One X launched a year later, coming in at $499 to appeal to dedicated players that wanted more than the earlier models could produce.

Shoot, Microsoft has been even more experimental later this generation. The Xbox One S All-Digital Edition hit last year for $249, making it the most cost effective in the family. Even if it had little fanfare and we don’t actually know how well the market reacted.

Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox, hearkened back to the early days last gen in an interview with Eurogamer by saying “If you remember at the launch of Xbox One, we were $100 more expensive and less powerful. So, I won’t be in that position. There’s no doubt about that. As an industry that’s growing so fast, we do think about price. We do think about performance as well. I’m not going to sacrifice performance for the sake of price.”

Combining this sentiment with now seeing the power potential of Xbox Series X, I’m at a minimum of $499 for launch cost. I just don’t see a way Microsoft can price it lower and not take a serious bath on each unit. $549 is probably a smarter prediction, even $599 contingent upon the existence of the lower-priced Lockhart version of course. I don’t think Microsoft can enter next gen with only one console priced at $599. That’s beyond risky. I think the smart people on the team know that.

There’s ways to make it more enticing even at a higher price than the PlayStation 5. I’ve said bundling Xbox Live and/or Xbox Game Pass would go a long way to incentivizing the undecided audience towards the Xbox ecosystem. Even spreading out the cost with a payment plan, similar to its Xbox All Access program.

Gaming has been largely free from the reality of inflation so far, what with big budget software costs remaining consistent through the years.. With rising costs to build hardware, it’s looking like a higher baseline for console launch cost is approaching.

What makes predicting this generation even more difficult is the increased uncertainty surrounding global economies and the impact of coronavirus. How will it impact component availability and supply chain? Could it even delay the launch to 2021? I’m not calling for that just yet. We have to acknowledge it could happen.

The last question for now is: When will these companies reveal pricing? The Bloomberg piece suggests that Sony is somehow waiting for Microsoft to make the first move. Sony hasn’t even shown the form factor of PlayStation 5 yet. While Microsoft has even let certain media members see Xbox Series X in person and been extremely vocal about sharing details, it’s still quiet on the potential of another model. With the delay of various gaming events globally and the move to a digital format for many presentations, I expect a longer wait than usual for price announcements. Think closer to the summer.

I’m on record with my predictions of $399 for the PlayStation 5 and $499 for the Xbox Series X, while leaving the door open to moving up slightly if component scarcity hits or some other disruption. It’s too early to lock in officially. (Yes, I’m leaving myself an out. Wouldn’t you?)

Anyone confident enough to place bets even when we don’t have all the information and there’s plenty up in the air with current socioeconomic elements? What are your price expectations right now?

Pretty soon, we’ll all have to go on record.

I look forward to hearing here or on Twitter. Thanks for reading!

Note: All pricing discussed above is in US Dollars.

Sources: Bloomberg, Eurogamer, Digital Foundry, Microsoft, PlayStation Blog, Sony, Xbox Wire.

-Dom

Review: Ori and the Will of the Wisps is an Essential, Extraordinary Sequel

It’s impressive when the follow-up to a great game in a new franchise transcends every standard set by the original.

Despite my exceedingly lofty expectations, Ori and the Will of the Wisps did just that.

The sequel to 2015’s Xbox darling Ori and the Blind Forest is a special experience for plenty of the same reasons. Its platforming prowess, beautiful art direction and heartwarming soundtrack. And now, add more to the list: Snappy combat, friendly characters, a better sense of progression and an entire quest system that has both tangible and emotional payoffs. While its overall story is predictable and not every new feature is created equal, Will of the Wisps is the type of memorable, instant classic that defines the last year of a console generation.

Moon Studios’ 2D action platformer is more robust in nearly every respect, from systems and mechanics to abilities and combat. It’s refined, resembling the conclusion of a long-running series rather than the second game from an independent studio. There’s even elements of town-building and garden growing, allowing for progression outside of any skill tree or upgrade path. All of these enhance the experience without detracting from what made the original special: narrative, movement and aesthetic.

There’s so much new to cover, it’s tough to know where to start.

Let’s begin right after the events of Blind Forest, to set the story in motion. The playable character is again a whimsical forest spirit named Ori, who alongside mother figure Naru and long-legged buddy Gumo nurture an egg then hatch an owlet named Ku. As the young owl grows, she literally wants to spread her wings. With the help of her mother’s feather, Ku takes flight with Ori along for the ride.

All is well until a nasty storm separates the friends in a new land called Niwen. The first act is spent searching for Ku. There’s also a broader narrative about a forest willow perishing due to the spread of decay in this new land, scattering ghostly “wisps” throughout each locale that Ori must collect. It’s really a means by which the development team can show off how beautiful they can make different areas, and build more and more challenging platforming elements as the story progresses. For the sake of spoilers, I’ll leave it here.

Part of what makes Will of the Wisps a broader, epic adventure is the expanded cast of characters. Some are merchants. Others offer quests. A couple are there for comic relief. There’s Tokk the birdlike wanderer. The adorable Moki species, who look like lemurs and talk in cute phrases. Lupo, a map-making insect. Opher, the well-read weapon master baboon. A giant toad guardian named Kwolok. Wise old badger slash gardener Tuley. Grom, the strong, grizzled builder and town leader. Ori has help this time, and it feels more grand when others are at stake.

The standout element of this Xbox Game Studios production is, of course, its mechanics. The movement is familiar. Ori is light and quick, dashing around the forest in search of a lost friend. What stands out immediately is: Combat! Where the original was generally about traversal, Will of the Wisps applies a healthy dose of fighting action akin to a Hollow Knight or Guacamelee!

It totally changes the game.

What starts with a simple torch turns into a selection of “Spirit” weapons, as the player amasses everything from a Spirit Edge sword to the fiery Blaze blast, from a Spirit Arc bow to the Sentry turret. Which is actually *not* a turret. It’s really a butterfly. So that’s right, one might call it bullets with butterfly wings.

These map to the face buttons X, Y and B so one could have up to three equipped at a time. Ori faces various hostile forest creatures on which to use this arsenal, from rambunctious dung beetles to buzzing “skeetos.” Fighting is surprisingly and satisfyingly snappy. There’s even boss fights with bespoke mechanics and damage phases, such as an early game battle against a ravenous, gargantuan wolf.

The genius of these spirit weapons is they aren’t strictly combative. There’s all sorts of applications, from environmental puzzles to advanced movement capabilities. Fire does damage over time and can destroy wooden barriers. Sniping a target will open a new pathway. The team at Moon Studios didn’t just introduce combat for the sake of it, they did so to make the player more capable in Will of the Wisps for platforming too. Thus making it that much more fun.

Speaking of movement, it’s even more of a treat here than in Blind Forest. The player earns abilities much more rapidly in the sequel. Namely, one that I maintain every game should have, and that’s a double jump (which can eventually become a triple jump because who cares just keep giving me jumps). There’s Bash, which allows launching off enemies and projectiles. Dash, which is self-explanatory. Wall climbing. Feather parachuting. Shoot, even a grappling hook! It’s like Sonic the Hedgehog meets Rayman except way cuter. A smorgasbord of sweet movement options.

These combine to make even the most casual players feel like a competent platforming artist if not a novice speed-runner. There’s always a way to move through an area, or bail oneself out of a jam. Not only that, they blend seamlessly with spirit weapons. Light Burst, which is a fireball, combines with Bash to allow nifty traversal options that are only now fully realized with this new level of flexibility. Burrow has Ori cutting through sand then launching out to reach new heights or smash into baddies.

For all its fancy bells and whistles, Will of the Wisps is at its heart still a speedy side-scroller. It has everything a lover of the genre could want. Which is essential, because it ramps up the difficulty as it progresses and throws different scenarios together within increasingly crowded areas. That’s part of the charm.

Moon Studios’ 2D action platformer is more robust in nearly every respect, from systems and mechanics to abilities and combat. It’s refined, resembling the conclusion of a long-running series rather than the second game from an independent studio.

On the topic of platforming, the team gets creative in how they implement environmental hazards and puzzle applications. Areas have their own aesthetics of course, though with that comes fun variation in individual elements.

One destination has a Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Water Temple feel, as Ori must shift sea level to traverse different vertical slices. Another has the player shooting targets with Spirit Arc to create different pathways. There’s a spooky zone requiring lightning bugs to guide in darkness. Fire causes upward wind drafts upon which Ori can soar.

There’s even later areas with enemy types embedded in the scenery. Vines that are really monster tongues. Dangerous Venus fly traps that will chomp away at any bystander slow enough to get caught. These enhance the aesthetic and platforming trickiness, plus prove that Moon Studios was having a good time brainstorming new ways to challenge the player.

I’d be remiss to not talk about the dreaded escape sequences.. Which are SO much better this time. Legitimately. These action-packed scripted moments were among my least favorite parts of the original. Dying constantly during what’s supposed to be a cathartic series of events killed any momentum. Not this time around. These are much less technical while still incorporating much of the game’s fabled movement tech. The result are memorable, epic arrangements that are much more memorable for being exhilarating as opposed to frustrating.

Then, we’ve got quests!

Will of the Wisps is much more structured in this regard, offering a menu of main missions and optional content. There’s the overarching campaign quest then stuff like side objectives, character stories, rumors pointing to areas of interest, combat arenas and even timed races called Spirit Trials. Most of these augment the experience, especially for those that love the feeling of crossing off checklists. The combat areas are particularly worthwhile, unlocking upgrade slots.

While compact, there are super impactful side quests that tell their own stories within the forest world of Niwen. The standout for me is about a family of Moki reuniting, which literally forced me to step away due to the emotional resonance. After the first game, it’s clear that story is part of what makes Moon Studios’ work so memorable. I didn’t expect to be hit so hard by an optional mini mission about a family of lemurs.

To keep everything organized, there’s a robust menu offering. There’s the map, a tab for upgrades and even for inventory. Helps keep quests and items organized. Albeit the menu pages are cumbersome, especially inventory. Luckily it’s solely supplementary.

A byproduct of the quest system combined with its Metroidvania roots means revisiting areas satisfies the crave for exploration. Especially when experimenting with new abilities. It doesn’t feel like padding, either. The map isn’t daunting and there’s multiple fast travel points in each area. The designers make it easy to search the nooks and crannies, then return to base to use materials or currency.

That reminds me I haven’t yet discussed base building. Now that the series has so many characters, it needs a place for everyone to hang! That, friends, is Wellspring Glades.

Town leader Grom is descends from an ancient race of miners and builders. He’s set up shop and requests help from Ori to make Wellspring Glades comfortable enough for people to live there, safe from the decay that’s enveloping the land. It’s nowhere near the level of Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley, yet it offers a reason to check out different locations or follow-up on character leads plus provides a sense of camaraderie with the various characters.

As the player helps Grom with building, new areas of the town open up for exploration. It’s quaint, and nowhere near essential, though I welcome this sort of centralized location for merchants. Especially if it means I can buy cool new stuff!

Along with the new combat mechanics and weapon system are, naturally, upgrades. In the form of Spirit Shards, for which Spirit Light is the trading currency. In another homage to a game like Hollow Knight, this system allows for a set number of slots to be filled with various buffs or debuffs. Want to do more damage at the expense of lower health? Do you prefer more ability energy or more health?

There are always trade-offs with this level of customization, which can make for some sweet builds. I opted for a tanky approach, maxing both health and resistence to damage, with one slot dedicated to making sure that enemies dropped more Spirit Light each time so that I could reinvest those earnings. It supports plenty of playstyles, and really makes a difference against later game enemies.

What’s magic about Will of the Wisps is that it’s expertly layered in its systems without being overwhelming. It coaxes experimentation with a suite of new abilities, gives good reason to invest in upgrades plus entices backtracking and seeking out secrets to bolster the experience. When I feel an incentive to engage with everything, that’s proof of sound game design.

The backdrop to all of these new elements is a staple of the series: Its art design. Which is truly incredible. Pleasing. Pastoral. Picturesque. Plenty of ways to describe the game’s general aesthetic. Its most striking feature yet again.

What I noticed more in this follow-up is a specific attention to detail in animations and character nuances. Ori’s arms swooping and swinging. Doing a handstand while on top of a vine. Flailing while flinging off a spinning wheel. These subtleties are not insignificant, each of them proves how sound the design philosophy is when it comes to art and animation direction.

All this said, arguably my favorite part of Blind Forest and now Will of the Wisps is the music. It’s as good as ever here. Gareth Coker’s score is dynamic, shifting from haunting pianos to suspenseful strings as effortlessly as Ori traverses early game areas. The title track is especially moving, like a remastered version of the first. It’s a soundtrack that works as well within the context of the game as it does while casually listening. That’s proof of an amazing score.

What I notice all this time while singing the game’s praises, it’s tough to find major complaints with Will of the Wisps. I’d be lying if my upcoming comments didn’t feel like nitpicks.

The introduction of combat mechanics does have its downside, especially depending on difficulty level. There’s just a lot of it, and enemies can be relentless when traversing Niwen since they respawn constantly. It didn’t happen a lot to me, but there were times it messed with pacing and flow of movement. I’d imagine this is exasperated the higher the difficulty. I tried both Easy and Normal. During the latter, I occasionally wished for less foes when trying to get through a daunting platforming section.

While I personally adore introducing quests to the game, there are a good amount of optional ones that might annoy those going for the critical path. I don’t want to criticize a game for offering more content, so it’s less a complaint and more an observation. Spirit Trials in particular, the mini races against the clock scattered around the world, are superfluous and target a slice of the player base. I ran one of them and was uninterested after that.

Experienced random, minor quality of life hiccups. I mentioned the inventory menu before, cumbersome and difficult to follow. During gameplay, item pick ups stop the action a la The Legend of Zelda. Even later in the game. This is a pet peeve of mine. And I know I’m not the only one.

At this point, I’ll briefly address performance and stability by not actually saying much about it temporarily. I played through the entirety of the game on a pre-release build. Which means I’ll update this section after spending time with it now that an early patch is available.

Co-founders Thomas Mahler and Gennadiy Korol run a unique outfit at Moon Studios, where the team is mostly worldwide rather than in a centralized location. This is reflected in a game that’s so varied, yet has a cohesive thematic approach. It’s fun to move around, to slash and fight, to reach places previously unattainable, to search behind a wall and be rewarded for trying, to find out a character’s background and help them with a task. To accomplish all this within a world as gorgeous as Niwen is breathtaking.

Blind Forest was great. However, a mostly lonely experience in a world devoid of friendly life. Will of the Wisps is the opposite, their team crafting an artistic masterwork that takes the best kind of inspiration from peers to form an unforgettable game where most everything works in harmony.

The highest praise I could give a game is that I didn’t want it to end. That was the case here, even after 20 plus hours of uptime.

What’s magic about Will of the Wisps is that it’s expertly layered in its systems without being overwhelming. It coaxes experimentation with a suite of new abilities, gives good reason to invest in upgrades plus entices backtracking and seeking out secrets to bolster the experience. When I feel an incentive to engage with everything, that’s proof of sound game design.

When it comes to narrative, it’s bold in where it goes with its character arcs. Unafraid. For a game with little dialogue, it says so much. When the world is suffering, rebuilding still has its sacrifices.

As I wrap here on my latest critical piece, I always make it a point to challenge myself on areas that didn’t work for me. I have to be critical. No game is perfect. Even the ones I love.

Knowing this, I stand by my sentiment that Ori and the Will of the Wisps is the closest thing to an essential Xbox and PC game this year, even this console generation, and it’s a treat to experience the level of artistic vision that it takes to create such a momentous work.

Title: Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Release Date: March 11, 2020

Developer: Moon Studios

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios.

Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox Game Pass, Windows 10 PC, Steam.

Recommendation: Unequivocally, it’s an essential part of the Xbox catalog and a treat to play for anyone with access to any of its platforms. You, hm.. Will not be disappointed!

Sources: Screenshots and Key Art courtesy of Xbox Wire.

Note: Review code provided courtesy of Microsoft.

-Dom

It’s That Time: Boring & Bold E3 2019 Predictions!

It really is a holiday in June, for gamers and tech heads!

The Electronic Entertainment Expo 2019 officially kicks off next Tuesday in Los Angeles, though pre-E3 festivities start well before then as game companies large and small try to dazzle enthusiasts (and, in some cases, investors) with live presentations or pre-recorded digital shows.

Now, it’s super easy to do a recap of what we already know. Especially since this week has seen numerous leaks or early teases, from the likes of Ubisoft with Watch Dogs Legion to the rumored From Software and George R.R. Martin collaboration now called Elden Ring.

It’s also a snoozefest typing up a list of safe predictions. What’s the fun in that? It’s freakin’ E3! No matter how much comes out before the event itself, you and I both know there will always be reveals that no one is expecting.

Which brings me to this post. Across the next week, we’ll be bombarded with information on what’s new in gaming and related technology including consoles, streaming and even virtual reality. I’m going to write one boring and one bold prediction for each of the major company events, then a little something something for E3 proper.

If you need to follow along with the general calendar, the E3 Media Site and IGN’s Wiki Page are good resources. Let’s get this.. show on the road!

Electronic Arts: EA Play, Saturday, June 8th, 9:30 AM PT / 12:30 PM ET.

Boring: EA is scrapping its traditional (and honestly pretty tame) E3-adjacent press conference for a series of live streams starting later today as part of its EA Play fan event in Hollywood. This features previously released titles like Apex Legends, Battlefield V and The Sims 4 in addition to new iterations in its sports franchises. The major headliner is Respawn Entertainment’s Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order, starting right at the beginning of the live show with a gameplay reveal.

Which brings me to my first boring prediction. EA is going to reveal details about Season 2 of its battle royale game Apex Legends, complete with a new character. We’ll see gameplay from that character today, and a start date right after its recent The Legendary Hunt event concludes on July 2nd.

Bold: Noticeably absent from the schedule is BioWare’s Anthem, the online action game that released in February to mixed reviews. Personally I enjoyed its mechanics, though acknowledged it was certainly rough around the edges. It’s baffling that older games like Battlefield V and The Sims 4 would be here while Anthem isn’t. I know its player count is dwindling plus BioWare hosted a separate stream recently for the game. However this is supposed to be EA’s flagship stream and one of its most recent high profile games is nowhere to be found?

I’m not sure how to read this absence, so let’s naturally go in a completely irrational direction. During today’s set of live streams or at its fan event, we’ll hear at least a bit more of what BioWare is working on next. Which is the next Dragon Age. While there was a quick tease at last year’s Game Awards, there’s been nothing since. If the developer has symbolically moved past Anthem, it has to.. slay any concerns fans have and reassure about its future.

Microsoft: Xbox E3 Briefing, Sunday, June 9th, 1:00 PM PT / 4:00 PM ET.

Boring: This is a huge E3 year for Microsoft. It’s even said as much. Its major competitor isn’t there. It’s building a new generation of consoles. It’s been gobbling up studios in hopes it can bolster its game lineup. It’s expanding on services, from Xbox Game Pass to Project xCloud. I’d argue this is the most important moment for Xbox as a brand, perhaps ever.

A bit dramatic? Absolutely. But also true. In fitting with this theme, even my boring prediction is massive: Microsoft will formally reveal its next generation of Xbox hardware, nicknamed Xbox Scarlett. This being the two rumored models: One more powerful then the other more entry-level. Nothing on price, timing or the boxes themselves. Just a teaser. If these are out in the fall 2020 timing that I’m estimating, we won’t see a blow-out until next year.

Bold: No, I don’t think Microsoft is going to acquire Capcom. Or Konami. Or any major publisher because that’s not going to happen. If anything, perhaps a smaller development team that isn’t publicly-traded.

That’s not going to be my bold prediction, of course. This is: We’re going to learn about not just one, not just two but THREE brand new, next generation titles from Xbox Game Studios. Head of Xbox Phil Spencer already said we’ll see 14 games from its teams. Not satisfied? Let’s say one of them is from one of the newly-acquired developers. Had enough? Lastly, the biggest of those games will be.. finally, a new Fable. Created by, you guessed it, Playground Games.

Bethesda Softworks: Bethesda E3 Showcase, Sunday, June 9th, 5:30 PM PT / 8:30 PM ET.

Boring: Late night on Sunday, when everyone else is dreading work the following day, gamers will be stoked to see what independent publisher and always wildcard Bethesda will bring to the table during its showcase. Safe bets are DOOM Eternal, Wolfenstein Youngblood and more DLC for Rage 2, which I reviewed recently. I predict we’ll see all three of these, plus more from at least one of its mobile offerings.

Bold: With director Todd Howard crushing dreams in saying recently that big-budget projects like Starfield and Elder Scrolls VI will not be making E3 appearances (which sense as there’s no way either of these is coming out this generation), what kind of crazy surprise might we see that’s unrelated to these much-anticipated games?

Well. I could use this space to predict that Bethesda will tease a new Evil Within title from legendary horror designer Shinji Mikami, who we know will be at E3. I could use this to say that Fallout 76 will receive a major update and go F2P at the same time. While both of those can certainly happen, I’m going elsewhere: Bethesda will finally reveal that Arkane Studios has been cooking up something real juicy. Twist! It’s not going to be within the Dishonored or Prey universes. It’s new. And it’s probably going to be awesome.

Ubisoft Entertainment: UbiE3 Press Conference, Monday, June 10th, 1:00 PM PT / 4:00 PM ET.

Boring: If we’re talking about guesses for French publisher Ubisoft, shoot almost all of them might be considered boring since we likely know its lineup before it even happens Monday afternoon. I mentioned Watch Dogs Legion before. October release Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint will assuredly be prominently featured. We’ve even heard rumblings from my buds Nibel and analyst Daniel Ahmad plus Kotaku’s Jason Schreier of multiple new projects, including co-op shooter Rainbow 6 Quarantine, an RPG codenamed “Orpheus” plus even a roller derby title dubbed Roller Champions. Everyone seems to be getting in on the action!

The snoozer part of my prediction is that we’ll see all of these. Then another Just Dance, which will undoubtedly be revealed alongside a dancing animal of some sort.

Bold: Always animated Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot is a staple of these live shows, thankfully so, which means it’s easy to say he’ll be there again. That’s not my guess.

My super bold prediction is that new Nintendo of America President Doug Bowser (yes, Bowser) will make a special appearance together with Guillemot. Because the two gaming powerhouses are going to announce a spanking new collaboration! The easy guess is a Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle 2. This isn’t a place for easy. I’m thinking something new, a different blending of two brands, along the lines of Rayman and Yoshi. Trials and F-Zero. Something innovative. That no one is expecting, except me!

Square Enix: Square Enix Live E3 2019, Monday, June 10th, 6:00 PM PT / 9:00 PM ET.

Boring: Out of all this year’s live shows, I think Square is going to be the most surprising. In the best way possible. The Japanese publisher needs to redeem itself after last year’s average showing. I believe it will.

Easy predictions include headliners Marvel’s Avengers from Crystal Dynamics and the long-awaited Final Fantasy VII Remake from Tetsuya Nomura’s internal team. It’s unlikely we see anything more than a cinematic trailer for the former, though a gameplay demo for the latter is certainly feasible if not likely. I also think there’s a high likelihood we see gameplay from action-adventure Babylon’s Fall from PlatinumGames, plus the official reveal of People Can Fly’s shooter Outriders as it was teased on Twitter a couple days ago.

Lastly, in an interesting twist, Polish studio Techland revealed a week ago that Square will be publishing its upcoming open world zombie game Dying Light 2. Which is curious considering that the original was distributed by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. I’m thinking we see a lot from this game here, plus a release window of Q1 2020.

Bold: As impressive as the above is, I’m betting Square will still surprise us and elevate its show to being a standout amid its competitors. Gematsu recently posted about an announcement event for mobile title Dragon Quest Walk, during which produce Yuu Miyake made mention of Dragon Quest XII in vague terms, hinting at some sort of announcement on the storied JRPG franchise despite the game being early in development. Being bold, I say we’ll see a tease along with its subtitle and a logo, similar to how Bethesda revealed the upcoming entry in its Elder Scrolls series!

Nintendo: Nintendo Direct E3 2019, Tuesday, June 11th, 9:00 AM PT / 12:00 PM ET.

Boring: Nintendo is once again slotted in on Tuesday mid-day, technically right before the start of E3 itself, with its Direct and then Treehouse Live stream. We’ve already got a good sense of what it will feature for its Switch hybrid platform, plus some.. inkling of what it could reveal. Pokémon Sword and Shield will be the headliner, after the reveal of its November 15th release date among new pocket monster variations in addition to more about its systems. Super Mario Maker 2 is out this month and Fire Emblem: Three Houses hits July, which means both should have lengthy demo sections.

I’m also betting we see gameplay from The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening remaster, plus a potential release window. Luigi’s Mansion 3 should be shown in some capacity, along with exclusive-to-Switch Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order. Easy ones, done-zo.

Bold: If the aforementioned prediction on a crossover project with Ubisoft isn’t enough, you’ve come to the right place. Minuscule chance of Bayonetta 3 or Metroid Prime 4, though I’m not betting on it. However, what’s up with Animal Crossing for Switch? Nintendo still lists it as a 2019 game in recent reporting, though we know virtually nothing about it. Part of my bold prediction is that we’ll get the full blow-out. Cinematic trailer. Gameplay walk-thru during Treehouse. Plus! A December release date.

But that’s not all. It’s about time.. for Mario Kart 9. That’s right. A new Kart game, exclusive to Switch. Its predecessor is selling so well that this might be my most ridiculous pick of the day, but who cares! I went there. Let’s see if Nintendo does, too.

E3 Show Hours and E3 Coliseum: Los Angeles, Tuesday, June 11, 10:00 AM PT / 1:00 PM ET to Thursday, June 13, 6:00 PM PT / 9:00 PM ET.

Boring: All this said and we haven’t even started the show! On Tuesday, the expo itself opens its doors to exhibitors, press, influencers (ugh) and fans alike. There’s so much that I haven’t even mentioned here that’s a shoe-in to be there. Destiny 2! Cyberpunk 2077! Baldur’s Gate 3! Call of Duty: Modern Warfare! That’s not to mention all the independent developers showing off their sweet upcoming projects, of which there will be at least a handful of standouts. Untitled Goose Game, plz!

I’m thrilled to learn more about these plus see the myriad of panels featured at E3 Coliseum, which is a fantastic mini-event during the broader show. This year’s has so many talented people sitting down to discuss their games, including folks from Bungie, Respawn Entertainment, id Software, Xbox and more. It’s less a prediction and more a guarantee that this will be exceptional.

Bold: Alright. What the heck. I know Take-Two Interactive and 2K Games is focused on marketing Borderlands 3 this year ahead of September drop date, however I’m still forever hoping for a new BioShock game. My final bold prediction is that, somehow someway, we hear a rumor or tidbit about the secret BioShock project. Give me anything at all!

Whew. Being bold is tiring work. Whatever your opinion on E3, however many things leak in advance, I’m always going to be pumped this time of the year.

I’ve sent out a question on Twitter related to this post, asking for one boring and one bold prediction from all of you. I expect big things. Don’t disappoint, and enjoy this year’s gaming spectacle! I know I will.

Sources: Entertainment Software Association, All companies and tweets above, Kotaku, The Verge, PC Gamer.

-Dom

Microsoft’s Annual Gaming Revenue Exceeds $11.6 Billion For The First Time

Phil Spencer, Head of Microsoft’s Xbox division.

For Microsoft $MSFT, having one’s head in the Cloud is turning out to be a smart decision.

According to the company’s fiscal 2019 3rd quarter earnings results today, it reported revenue of $30.6 billion. An increase of 14% compared to the prior year, and a figure that comes in above analyst expectations. Operating profit jumped 25% to over $10 billion. Growth is mainly attributed to the firm’s cloud offerings and productivity suite.

Going further, how did the Xbox gaming division fare? The answer is that it broke yet another record.

As you’ll see in the above chart, Xbox gaming revenue exceeded $11.6 billion for the trailing 12-month period for the first time since the company began reporting this specific metric. This breaks the record of $11.5 billion set last quarter. In fact, revenue has been steadily growing for the Xbox business during the later part of the Xbox One generation of hardware, which began in late 2013.

Quarterly gaming sales eclipsed $2.36 billion, up 5% since this time last year. Attributed to 12% increase in Xbox software and services, which offset a drop in hardware likely due to both market saturation and discounting. Microsoft notes that software and service results were boosted by “third party monetization” and “subscriptions growth.”

Edit: While profit metrics aren’t shared for gaming itself, there is a small comment giving a bit of insight:

“Gross margin percentage increased due to sales mix shifts to higher margin businesses in Gaming and Windows.”

Translation: Gaming is shifting to higher margin businesses, which benefits profitability. Unfortunately, I don’t see much else on the profit side.

Allow me to translate that last part for you:

Xbox Live monthly active users totaled 63 million compared to 59 million last year. The more people subscribe, the more they become embedded in the ecosystem and purchase content on the digital store. Each online buy provides a revenue slice for Xbox.

Then, like so many parties involved, it’s making a boatload of cash as its players spend in online battle royale games Fortnite and now Apex Legends. This phenomenon is not only keeping players around, but more importantly attracting new ones. Which is especially key as the current hardware generation ages.

So. How is Xbox achieving milestones when it’s not selling Xboxes?

It’s the renewed focus on expanding player services and reinforcing customer goodwill. Xbox has fully established its Game Pass offering, where players pay a monthly fee for access to a library of digital titles. It’s attracting major publishers to participate, grabbing games like Capcom’s Monster Hunter: World and Square Enix’s Shadow of the Tomb Raider. While we don’t have statistics on how Game Pass did this quarter, there’s no doubt it’s bolstering the service side.

Another attractive offering is backwards compatibility, where titles from prior generations work on the Xbox One family of devices. It’s certainly not a deal-breaker or a system-seller, though it’s still a distinguishing feature.

Oh. And did I mention battle royale?

Now don’t get me wrong. The hardware decline is a moderate concern. However it’s not uncommon that a downturn happens when a console is approaching its seventh year on market. And revenue growth is still happening despite lackluster hardware results. I fully anticipate middling hardware sales in the foreseeable future, until next generation. The good news is that both battle royale and these various services aren’t going anywhere.

With all-but-confirmed rumors that the firm is building its next generation of gaming hardware for a potential 2020 launch, Microsoft’s gaming division is using services as a way to generate business and maintain its user base for the time being. And based on today’s report, it’s working.


Source: Microsoft Investor Relations & Press Resources. Xbox.com. Windows Central.

-Dom

2017 Year-in-Review: Dom’s Top 10 Video Games of the Year

Here we go!

 

Since it’s been one of the best years for video games this generation, it was almost impossible to (1) rank my favorite games and (2) make sure that I include as many as possible that deserve recognition during such a competitive time. It was difficult, but I’ve managed to narrow it down to a ranked list of my top ten favorite titles then a five honorable mentions for your reading pleasure (or disdain, if you happen to disagree.)

 

One disclaimer of course is that I will be sharing screenshots and exposition that may contain spoilers. If you haven’t finished your most-anticipated games of 2017 then.. wait, why haven’t you finished them if they were your most-anticipated? Seriously though, fair warning that there may be spoilers starting.. Now.

 

1. Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo)

Platforms: Nintendo Switch.

Estimated Sales: At least 5 million units, based on around half of Switch owners purchasing it (there are 10 million consoles sold to date).

 

During a year in which Nintendo rebounded to achieve an array of accomplishments, its most relevant to me is fully rejuvenating the Mario franchise with this magical, exploratory open world 3D platformer. Super Mario Odyssey is a sprawling adventure of our favorite Italian plumber along with his new sidekick Cappy, and is a pure joy to play while “Cap-turing” enemies to take over their abilities and grabbing each one of its hundreds of collectibles. I’m left with the closest feeling possible to how I felt playing Super Mario Bros on the Nintendo Entertainment System during Christmas Day when I was little more than a toddler. Especially during a sequence in the city-themed Metro Kingdom that hearkens back to a timeless arcade title from the Japanese company.

 

It’s a game successfully split in two parts: The first tailored to a more casual audience wanting to experience the story of Mario attempting to save Peach from Bowser’s slimy grasp, this time under the guise of the villain kidnapping the Princess and planning their wedding on the Moon. Though by the end, I’d argue this is a distinctly clever take on the “traditional” Mario story. Princess Peach ends up dismissing the advances of both Mario and Bowser, in a wink-and-nod moment from the designers. Instead, she takes a trip of her own alongside Cappy’s sister Tiara, smartly bucking the tired trope of the damsel-in-distress we’ve seen her play since the 80s.

 

Then, the 2nd part is a surprising post-credits sequence targeting the most die-hard of completionists with brand new kingdoms plus a ton of puzzles and collectibles in existing areas. I’m treated to playing as Yoshi in the iconic Mushroom Kingdom, finding a theater in the Metro Kingdom with a playable version of the aforementioned Super Mario Bros and ended up conquering one of the most difficult levels in the franchise’s history. This final endeavor is a true delight, as it incorporates both platforming elements and the “Cap-turing” mechanic in fun, impressive ways.

 

If a video game that both tickles my nostalgia bone and stands as the pinnacle of its genre with new gameplay hooks, an unrivaled attention to detail and extreme polish doesn’t top my list, then I don’t know what does. It’s hard for me to find a glaring flaw with, except maybe that I wish Nintendo would hurry up and announce new future content (maybe a kingdom or two..) so I never have to leave the world of Super Mario Odyssey.

 

 

2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo)

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Wii U.

Estimated Sales: Similar to above, more than 5 million units. Likely even more than Odyssey because of Breath of the Wild releasing earlier.

 

Nintendo’s rebound began in March with the release of its Switch console and *probably* my 2nd favorite mainline Zelda game ever behind Ocarina of Time. Breath of the Wild is an action-adventure starring familiar characters like the timeless hero Link and Princess Zelda is the epitome of the “emergent storytelling” buzzword, a label often bestowed but rarely achieved. It’s set in the fantastical world of Hyrule, again haunted by the dark force Ganon, and the wonderful part is the world is wide open after a brief tutorial area for the player to run, explore and (most importantly) climb everywhere they can see. It features beloved areas like Goron City, Rito Village, The Lost Woods and countless others complete with their respective cultures and characters.

 

Now it doesn’t have the most engaging story, and lacks traditional “dungeons” that certain fans will miss. But I believe it MORE than makes up for this with intricate gameplay systems and an array of puzzles (i.e. shrines, mazes and collectibles) that allow for personal, powerful moments. If I thought I could do something, I could. Like of course a metal object conducted electricity. Absolutely it’s hard to climb when it’s raining. See that snowy mountain? Better bundle up before scaling it! Plus I’d often be rewarded with a useful in-game item, and ultimately a feeling of child-like awe inspired by so few games these days.

 

Admittedly, I was skeptical of Breath of the Wild prior to release. I was hesitant on weapon degradation, limited stamina and the necessity to prepare for the weather or elements. But I ended up actually really enjoying these systems within the broader world because each forced me to try new things, improvise under duress and consider a variety of factors when fighting, exploring or facing puzzles. The game is downright magical, and I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

 

3. Assassin’s Creed Origins (Ubisoft Entertainment, Ubisoft Montreal)

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One.

Estimated Sales: Hard to say. Launch sales were twice as much as 2015’s Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, but that title had soft figures compared to others in history. It has almost 500K owners on Steam, but without specific console numbers I won’t speculate.

 

Ubisoft is another company that had a stellar year, and its best 2017 game is also its most important since it signaled a new direction for the decade-old Assassin’s Creed series. Set in Egypt around 50 BC during the occupation of Greek and Roman forces, Origins is hands-down the most beautiful game I played this year in terms of technical accomplishment and general art direction. (Note I played the Xbox One X Enhanced version. 4K, High Dynamic Range, all that). Not only that but it also implements a loot system where I’m constantly earning new gear with which to experiment, and its upgrade options allow me to spec my character in a way that aligned with my intended play style and equipment load-out.

 

Speaking of character, I appreciate that it leans into original ones more than historical figures this time. Though Cleopatra is a key part of the overarching narrative. The protagonist Bayek is a kind of super-cop of his era, while his wife Aya is more of a freedom fighter. Its characters are enriched by the story and especially its vastly improved side quests that build out Bayek’s legend. Mini-stories remind me of games like The Witcher 3 and Fallout in both their world-building and character development. In one such quest, an older man begs Bayek find a very important book that will allow his wife to pass safely into the afterlife. But when Bayek returns, the man has since passed away. Bayek is left to find the gentleman receiving last rites and in a bittersweet moment, he leaves the book alongside his body in hopes that it allows both him and his wife to rejoin each other in the world beyond.

 

My only knocks against the game is that the modern day sequences are not very engaging, and its huge map is daunting when you first enter the world. Even so, Origins has vaulted ahead of great entries such as the aforementioned Syndicate and even 2013’s Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag to settle as one of my top picks in the entire franchise, because it takes risks and distinguishes itself as being able to stand on its own merits while also connecting with the underlying lore.

 

 

 

4. Horizon Zero Dawn (Sony Interactive Entertainment, Guerilla Games)

Platforms: PlayStation 4.

Estimated Sales: At least 3.4 million units, near launch. I’d wager close to 4.5 – 5 million by now based on the PS4’s user base rocketing above 70 million consoles.

 

Horizon Zero Dawn is the first “brand new” game on my list, as Guerilla Games creates a post post-apocalyptic world in which a small group of people has reestablished tribal communities after barely surviving a major calamity. Cool twist is in the 31st century, the main relics of the past are actually massive, mysterious robot creatures that resemble real-life animals or dinosaurs and are super hostile to humans.

 

But alas, Aloy is the playable character here and she’s a bad-ass, bow-wielding hunter-gatherer with an ability to combat these crazy mechs and even interface with them using technology from millennia past. After her mentor is tragically killed, she sets out on a quest to see why she’s so special and what actually happened to humankind. It’s a gorgeous, majestic open world action game with a gripping narrative and varied combat encounters as enemies require different tactics to outsmart and overcome.

 

The reason Horizon is so good is it borrows elements from a variety of games within the 3rd person action and open world genres then integrates them into a setting that is pure eye candy. For instance, take “Cauldrons.” These are cool-looking underground areas featuring light puzzles and tough combat engagements. Picture lots of neon lighting and man-made structures combined with natural formations. Emerging victorious from each Cauldron allows Aloy the ability to control a new set of machines, tying back into the lore of the world while also advancing the player’s set of powers.

 

In the end, Horizon features two parallel story lines: A brewing tribal war, and Aloy’s search for her past and discovery of the ultimate fate of ancient humans. These both pay-off in a big way, marking one of the most memorable blends of gameplay and narrative of 2017.

 

 

5. Destiny 2 (Activision Blizzard, Bungie)

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One.

Estimated Sales: Well over 6.3 million units, based on Activision announcing it has outsold its predecessor. Activision also noted it’s the 2nd highest-selling console game in North America this year based on dollar sales, behind only Call of Duty: WWII.

 

Rounding out my Top 5 is what began as my most-anticipated game of 2017, the sequel to Bungie’s 2014 shared world, multiplayer shooter Destiny. Let’s be frank: Anyone that knows me or reads my Twitter timeline already knows how much I love this sci-fi franchise, so it shouldn’t be a shock that this ranks as high as it does despite mixed reactions from critics and community alike.

 

Destiny 2 is not a perfect game. But it is among the best in the business at what it does well. It has a most amazing art design, especially its wonderful sky-boxes and stunning color pallet, which players can now enjoy in 4K on premium platforms and an uncapped frame rate on PC. It has an intense, entertaining campaign that vastly improved on the original game. Its character customization and equipment options are varied so that no two players look the same, and the feeling of snagging that one piece of loot you’ve been hoping for is always triumphant.  Its co-op activities, especially the high-level “strike” missions and its difficult six-person raid, are unlike anything you’ll see in a modern first-person shooter.

 

Though what really stands out and keeps me coming back is its stellar gameplay. Its moment-to-moment mechanics of moving through environments to encounter and take out enemies is the best of any shooter maybe of all time. I argue this is its most important feature, outweighing any trouble it has with stagnant progression, end-game incentives and weak player-vs-player competitive play in the “Crucible” game mode. Like I said, Destiny 2 has its fair share of issues, but it’s still my favorite game to play alongside friends and I keep returning to it months after initial release.

 

 

6. NieR: Automata (Square Enix, Platinum Games)

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4.

Estimated Sales: 2 million units.

 

I didn’t expect to even play Platinum Games’ follow-up to its cult hit NieR until I tried its short demo, available shortly before release. But this odd, way out-there action game with elements of JRPGs, arcade shooters and bullet hell genres stands out in a competitive year mostly because of its magnificent soundtrack, unique structure and absolutely outrageous story that forced me to contemplate the very nature of existence and what it means to be “alive.”

 

Deep stuff, I know. But when a game takes place in a distant future where androids, created by humans, are locked in a perpetual battle with machines, created by ancient aliens, you know it’s going to go places. And go places it does. I don’t want spoil too much, but what NieR: Automata does so well is it tells its overarching story from the perspective of multiple protagonists: Androids with “designations” like 2B, 9S and A2 instead of actual names. The androids and machines of this future world are mostly fighting each other, true, but are also learning about themselves and the world as this fight wages on. It shows how the created begin to take on characteristics of their creators, and what happens when these artificial intelligences begin to discover what, and eventually “who,” they actually are.

 

Some of the knocks against the game are it isn’t the prettiest-looking (and it ain’t), its map is a jumbled mess, its systems are opaque and the second “act” drags on because the player is revisiting a major story line from the first but in a slightly different way. This is why it’s not higher on my list. And it’s so difficult to talk about the genius of NieR: Automata without doing a full analysis of its story and themes, but suffice to say that if you are into games with killer soundtracks or narratives that weave themes of philosophy, science, AI and existentialism, then you will dig the heck out of this one.

 

 

7. Cuphead (Studio MDHR)

Platforms: PC, Xbox One.

Estimated Sales: 2 million units.

 

Since Cuphead’s reveal during E3 of 2014, I had been using the same (bad) running joke: Whenever someone brought up the game, I’d say “Believe it when I see it. And I don’t think I’ll ever see it.” Think about it: A super ambitious, hand-drawn title using the animation style of a 1930’s cartoon being developed by a tiny studio run by a family that had never commercially released a game. A niche Microsoft exclusive showed at every trade show for years, rumored as nothing but an onslaught of very challenging boss fights in a two-dimensional play area. Then, it was updated to include platforming levels that felt “tacked on” by those that saw them behind closed doors. Plus, for a long while, there was no release date in sight.

 

Boy am I glad that I was wrong, as were those that previewed those early builds, now that it’s hit the market. Sibling tag-team of Chad and Jared Moldenhauer, along with help from Chad’s wife Maja and others at Studio MDHR, have made one of the most extraordinary video games I’ve ever played. A run-and-gun platformer that literally looks and feels like a cartoon made during the time between the Great Depression and World War II. Yes, it’s still mostly an onslaught of bosses with a handful of collectible platforming levels scattered between. But it *works*. Each foes is expertly-crafted and animated with such nuance and skill that I’m still in awe it exists. Plus it has a snappy overworld, a multitude of weapon types and purchasable power-ups allowing different styles depending if a player wants more health or the ability to teleport. And it’s music.. Spectacular. Imagine an epic boss battle amidst a backdrop of an iconic jazz or bouncy swing tunes playing live as you methodically dismantle your opponent.

 

Its main downside is the barrier to entry is high, as many players will be turned off by its difficulty including an especially frustrating sequence right before the final encounter. However for those that are fine failing over and over again just to experience that one moment of monumental triumph, Cuphead is best-in-class.

 

 

 

8. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (Bluehole/PUBG Corporation, Microsoft Studios, Tencent)

Platforms: Mobile, PC, Xbox One.

Estimated Sales: 30 million units. (And it will probably be, like, at least a million more by the time you read this.)

 

Here it is. Better or worse, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (or PUBG for short) is the biggest story in gaming this year. And it wasn’t even a full commercial release until just a week ago, spending the bulk of 2017 in a preview mode on PC. It’s even still an “early access” title on Xbox One. The battle royale, Hunger Games-style multiplayer game that started as a mod for survival games is a phenomenon because of its simple yet elegant premise: One hundred players parachute out of an airplane onto an island full of weapons and armor, and the last person standing wins.

 

You might say: “That’s not original! I’ve seen this before!” And you’d be right. It’s one of many in the battle royale, last man standing genre. But I’d argue why PUBG is so beloved (and hated, by its detractors) and ultimately successful is a much more nuanced discussion. It’s a game going for realism, but its charm actually lies in its rough edges and “jank.” Its natural pacing is impeccable, as players experience the endorphin rush of a good loot game every single match between moments of high intensity and much-needed recovery. Its combat is very difficult to master, which means every successful kill feels like a victory in and of itself and an actual victory feels like bliss.

 

Similarly, every mode echoes a different genre: Solo play is a stealth-action horror game, where death can be behind any corner.. or bathroom door. Duos becomes an intricate, technical tango between two players calling out drops and enemy locations. And squads mode is a frantic, fast-paced feud of four-person teams. PUBG offers something for every type of competitive player, and its “circle” mechanic where the map slowly shrinks forces the action no matter the mode, resulting in memories and YouTube videos galore.

 

From a technical standpoint, PUBG has a long way to go. It only has two maps on PC, and just one on Xbox. It crashes and drops connections regularly on console, to a maddening effect. Though it has a solid foundation in place, and an addictive gameplay loop can hold players over until its tech is cleaned up and more variety is offered in terms of map locations. Here’s to your next Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner!

 

 

 

9. What Remains of Edith Finch (Annapurna Interactive, Giant Sparrow)

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One.

Estimate Sales: Yet another one where it’s hard to tell. Almost 120K owners on PC, but indie publishers often don’t disclose exact overall sales figures.

 

Indie studio Giant Sparrow’s spiritual successor to The Unfinished Swan is a masterwork in storytelling and world-building, and an emotional journey into one family’s tragic history. It follows Edith Finch, the last remaining survivor of her family, returning to her childhood home in the Pacific Northwest to delve deep into the memories of her deceased relatives. As the player, I walked and explored this makeshift house that seemed to reach into the heavens, climbing until I reached its pinnacle which both physically and figuratively acted as the climax of the overall narrative.

 

Its story is told via a sprinkling of vignettes showing each relative’s last moments, from a food-poisoned young woman who believes she is transforming into animals to an infant playing gleefully in a bathtub to a grieving uncle who opted to live in secrecy in a bunker underneath the property. In its most poignant mini-story from both a gameplay and story perspective, Edith’s brother Lewis is a drug user and cannery worker who daydreams of being a prince in a fantasy world. The game sees you controlling Lewis cutting fish with one hand while simultaneously moving about through his fantasy world with the other. The scene plays out as him traversing mythical lands to find his true love, the princess, all the while conducting the mundane task of his day job. It’s bittersweet in its message, and flawless in its execution.

 

Some of What Remains of Edith Finch is predictable because of its linear nature, and it’s a dreary game in terms of its overall look, but its unconventional story and final payoff outweigh these flaws to become one of my major indie recommendations for 2017. Its vignettes perfectly encapsulate snapshots in time, right before tragedy strikes. Moments that the main character, and I, end up cherishing.

 

 

 

10. Nioh (Sony Interactive Entertainment, Koei Tecmo, Team Ninja)

Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC.

Estimated Sales: Over 1 million units. Likely more, since that was a figure based on the weeks after release way back in February.

 

Rounding out my personal “Top 10” is Team Ninja’s challenging, hack-and-slash RPG Nioh. Set in feudal Japan, the protagonist is an Irish sailor turned samurai (yes, you read that right) named William who embarks on a quest to take down a devious villain with supernatural powers. One twist is this dark version of Japan is infested with not just human warriors but otherworldly foes called “yokai,” some of which tower over William in foreboding fashion or evolve into different forms. Upside is William can also call one of a number of spirit animals to his aid, and he builds an arsenal of melee and ranged weapons to support his effort.

 

Nioh is far from an easy game, especially early on when you have limited options in terms of armor, skills and upgrades. Many enemies can take out William in one or two swings of their weapon or a well-timed elemental attack, so cunning and timing are essential in combat. I needed to carefully consider my path through each level, unearthing shortcuts along the way that help when I respawn after my inevitable demise. But its epic boss fights are the real treat: Beating adversaries like a former mentor turned massive, pipe-smoking toad, or a hybrid lion-dragon chimaera monster or even a gigantic multi-headed sea snake is akin to the ecstasy felt if succeeding in games like Dark Souls or Battletoads.

 

Another draw of Nioh is it’s extremely rewarding in terms of loot and currency, seeing each battle result in a literal explosion of items to pick up from the ground. It also integrates a number of smart systems. When you die, a version of your character can then be summoned in other players’ games as a ghostly “Revenant.” You can also summon co-op partners to support in your current mission, or even have the ability to run most missions with a friend. Lastly, it offers higher-level versions of its missions that reward the most coveted gear. It’s this cross section of rewarding gameplay, intricate systems and the jubilant feeling after each encounter that makes Nioh so special.

 

Honorable Mentions (Alphabetical Order):

 

Call of Duty: WWII (Activision Blizzard, Sledgehammer Games)

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One.

Estimated Sales: Best-selling console game of the year globally, and has generated over a billion dollars in revenue. Quick calculation leads to around 16-17 million units assuming it sells most of its copies at full-price. But if we assume discounts & exchange rate conversions etc, I’d wager 14-15 million already.

 

 

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (Ninja Theory)

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4.

Estimated Sales: Over 500K units. Ninja Theory disclosed that the game has exceeded expectations and is now profitable.

 

 

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (Capcom)

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One.

Estimated Sales: 4.1 million units.

 

 

 

Splatoon 2 (Nintendo)

Platforms: Nintendo Switch.

Estimated Sales: 3.61 million units.

 

 

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (Bethesda Softworks, MachineGames)

Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One.

Estimated Sales: Unfortunately not a huge commercial success. Just above 370K owners on Steam. No word on exact overall or console sales.

 

 

There you have it! What a year. I hope you gamers out there were able to play some of these titles, and got as much enjoyment out of them as I did. Thanks so much for making it this far, and let me know how you feel about these in the comments or on Twitter! Here’s hoping 2018 can live up to its incredible predecessor.

 

 

Sources: All screen caps taken by yours truly on one of the listed platforms, usually Xbox One for multi-platform titles. Estimated sales from an amalgamation of sources, including company announcements, financial statements, NPD Group, GfK/UKIE, equity analysts, social media posts etc. If you are interested in details behind sales stats, please drop me a line.

 

-Dom

Companies of E3 2017: Microsoft Xbox Briefing

 

 

The second press conference of this E3 season is now over, as Microsoft $MSFT just wrapped up its Xbox 2017 E3 Briefing. And it was a good one!

 

What It Showed:

 

 

Xbox One X

 

After its chest-bumping viral marketing campaign for “Most Powerful Console Ever” Project Scorpio, Microsoft finally shared exactly what the hardware is all about. It’s new iteration in the Xbox One family is called Xbox One X, releases on November 7th and it will cost $499. The above videos will give you an overview, and head to this link if you want the nitty-gritty of the tech specs in comparison to the Sony PlayStation 4 Pro.

 

But let’s get to the fun stuff. Microsoft featured 44 games at its show, 22 of which had some sort of console exclusivity which means either the game itself or some of its content will only be available on the Xbox platform, forever or for a certain amount of time. I’ve gathered up trailers and my quick impressions below.

 

 

Lastly, in a fan-friendly announcement, Head of Xbox Phil Spencer revealed that Original Xbox games will soon be added to the backwards compatibility library. He pointed out a game like Crimson Skies will be available to play on the current generation of consoles, and it will be available later this year along with “other titles.”

 

 

Forza Motorsport 7: First game featured in the show, as car games are technical showpieces. Developed by Turn 10 Studios, it was introduced by showing off a new Porsche 911 GT2RS on stage. The game boasts more dynamic racing and will be out on October 3rd for base Xbox One models but no word on Xbox One X version.

 

 

Metro Exodus: This new entry in the Metro series of shooters was the first “brand new” game unveiled at the show. Speculation is that it’s open world. 2018 release.

 

 

Assassin’s Creed Origins: One of my most anticipated upcoming games, Ubisoft’s AC Origins was finally confirmed. Set in ancient Egypt, as anticipated. It’s a story about one man, Bayek, who is the protector of his community and fighting local corruption. It marks the start of the Assassin’s brotherhood, so I guess it’s the most prequel of all prequels in the series. Will have more RPG elements and a systemic world.

 

 

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds: Honestly, this was the biggest surprise of the show for me and a HUGE get for Microsoft. The super popular “Battle Royale” game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds PUBG) is launching “later this year as a console launch exclusive.” I assume this means that it will be a part of Xbox preview program, as the game is still technically in early access on PC. Regardless, this game has sold more than 2 million copies just on PC and it’s been one of the biggest stories in gaming this year.

 

 

Deep Rock Galactic: Hadn’t heard of this one before, by Ghost Ship Games. Kind of sci-fi first-person action shooter.

 

 

State of Decay 2: One of the games we knew would be at the show. Follow-up to the original entry, with new mechanics. It’s also a Play Anywhere title on both Xbox One & PC.

 

 

The Darwin Project: This game from Scavengers Studio looks like a cross between a survival game and an online competitive game. Exclusive to the Xbox platform.

 

 

Minecraft: More content and improvements for the game that’s bigger than gaming itself. The biggest news being that Microsoft is introducing cross-play across mobile, virtual reality devices, consoles and PCs. Not to mention a “super” 4K update.

 

 

Dragonball Fighter Z: As part of an effort to get more Japanese games onto the platform, Microsoft showed this fighting game in the Dragon Ball universe. Early 2018.

 

 

Black Desert Online: Fantasy MMORPG game by studio named Pearl Abyss.

 

 

The Last Night: Odd Tales’ pixelated noir adventure game that actually originated as a Flash browser game.

 

 

The Artful Escape: This one published by Annapurna has an intriguing premise, looks like a rhythm/music platformer.

 

 

Code Vein: Bandai Namco’s vampire RPG that was announced recently. Release date in 2018.

 

 

Sea of Thieves: Microsoft treated fans to an extended gameplay section from Rare’s upcoming shared-world pirate adventure game. Currently in its technical alpha phase, release window is supposed to be early next year.

 

 

Tacoma: Fullbright’s space station exploration game now has a release date, which is August 2nd.

 

 

Super Lucky’s Tale: Cute 3D platformer from Playful, based on the virtual reality game Lucky’s Tale.

 

 

Cuphead: We finally know when Studio MDHR’s artistic 2D platformer and boss rush will be out along with its cool, classic cartoon stylings: September 29th!

 

 

Crackdown 3: In one of the highlights of the show, the latest installment of Sumo Digital‘s open world superhero franchise will be releasing on November 7th.

 

 

Above is a sizzle reel of indie games available on the ID@Xbox program. They are: Osiris: New Dawn, Paladins Champions of the Realm, Raiders of the Broken Planet, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Unruly Heroes, Fortnite, Battlerite, Surviving Mars, Robocraft Infinity, The Artful Escape, Astroneer, Observer, We Happy Few, Fable Fortune, Dunk Lords, Minion Masters, Brawlout, Ooblets, The Last Night, Black Desert Online, Hello Neighbor, Path of Exile, Ashen, Ark: Survival Evolved, Riverbond, Dark and Light, The Darwin Project, Strange Brigade, Shift, Conan Exiles.

 

 

Ashen: Exclusive RPG looking to be inspired by Dark Souls or Bloodborne, from development studio Aurora 44.

 

 

Life is Strange: Before the Storm: The follow-up to time-bending adventure game Life is Strange.

 

 

Middle-Earth Shadow of War: Monolith Productions’ sequel to Shadow of Mordor, obviously set in the Lord of the Rings universe, had an extended gameplay segment during Microsoft’s show. Monolith says an important feature is expanding on the Nemesis System introduced in the first game, in which enemies would have distinct traits and remember the player’s actions throughout the story.

 

 

Ori and the Will of the Wisps: This is the follow-up to Moon Studios’ exclusive standout Ori and the Blind Forest. Was showcased alongside a beautiful piano melody most likely from the new game’s soundtrack.

 

 

Anthem: The very last game shown in an explosive show was BioWare’s Anthem, which was revealed for the first time yesterday during Electronic Arts’ conference. Described as a game in which the player can explore the unknown and protect humanity, it looks to be a co-op third-person game featuring Exosuits (called Javelins) with flying capabilities. BioWare said it has a vast open world with dynamic weather and storms plus loot to find.

 

What It Didn’t Show (Yet): Capybara’s indie game Below, nothing related to Fable and then my long-shot prediction of Shadow of the Tomb Raider wasn’t present either. Yet.

 

Whew. There you have it! What do you think of Microsoft’s Xbox One X? Are you planning to buy one? What about one of these 44 games that were featured during its show? I certainly thought it went well with the console reveal right away then a show full of new games, so let me know and feel free to get in touch on Twitter to chat more.

 

-Dom

Companies of E3 2017: What We Know & What They Should Show

 

 

The annual Electronic Entertainment Expo is fast-approaching, with the pre-E3 festivities and conferences kicking off this weekend and the show officially running from June 13th to 15th. Organized by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) and set in its usual location of Los Angeles, CA, E3 is basically a cherished holiday for gamers, tech fans, enthusiast media and industry folks alike.

 

Now that we’ve “set the stage,” if you will, here’s a list of many companies that we know will be there, what we know about them and what they should show in a perfect world. Some are hosting press conferences. Others will be taking part in various streams or interviews with media members. Then even more will be packing the show-floor to demo or host exhibits featuring new games. No jokes, this is the most exciting time of year for video games and we should expect a ton of new announcements, trailers, gameplay videos and, as always, surprises.

 

 

Saturday, June 10th

Electronic Arts $EA: EA Play, 3pm ET

 

Saturday marks the unofficial start of the festivities, as Electronic Arts hosts its second annual EA Play conference in Hollywood, CA. Starting in the afternoon and running through Tuesday, June 12th, this is mainly a fan event which is a theme of late for many companies.

 

What We Know: In advance, EA has posted a list of games to expect at its event. These of course include its Star Wars and sports titles: Star Wars Battlefront II, FIFA 18, Madden NFL 18, NBA Live 18, EA SPORTS FIFA on Switch in addition to other titles including another entry in its racing series, Need for Speed Payback,  then others like The Sims 4 and some mobile offerings. Note that extra content for its hit shooter Battlefield 1 will also be shown.

 

What It Should Show: Of course both fans and investors would love to hear more about its OTHER Star Wars projects, of which there are two more in development that were revealed at last year’s show. Visceral Games and EA Motive are working on an action adventure game, which has some serious development muscle behind it with industry vets Amy Hennig and Jade Raymond running the studios respectively. Then, Titanfall developer Respawn Entertainment’s project is a mysterious 3rd person action game set in a completely different timeline than the company’s other titles.

 

But to be honest, EA’s lineup is super “safe” right now, so I think it should also show off some of its other more interesting future games. Mass Effect Andromeda developer BioWare teased a brand new game recently and I think this is the time to reveal more after the mixed reaction to the latest Mass Effect installment. Then there’s the EA Originals line of smaller titles, which includes studio Hazelight’s unannounced project, Fe by Zoink Games then Sea of Solitude by Berlin’s Jo-Mei Games. I even fully expect another EA Original title to be announced, maybe even Unravel 2?

 

Lastly, might be a long shot based on my last note about BioWare, but I think EA should go even further and give us a glimpse of the studio’s next Dragon Age game. The publisher needs a fantasy RPG to round out its lineup, otherwise it honestly may be the most predictable (some would say “boring”) of all the companies this year.

 

 

Sunday, June 11th

 

Microsoft $MSFT: Live E3 Briefing, 5pm ET

 

What We Know: Isn’t it obvious? In its most important E3 to date, Microsoft will finally reveal Project Scorpio. The upgraded, “most powerful console ever” iteration of the Xbox One was announced at last year’s show and ever since it’s been shrouded in secrecy except for an overview of its specs from Digital Foundry. Microsoft has to show us what it looks like, tell us when it’s coming out, share its price and, most importantly, tell us about some of its freakin’ games! A shiny new piece of hardware is well and good, but without software there’s no way the company can close the gap with Sony’s PlayStation 4 shipments (now standing at 60 million units).

 

What It Should Show: In a conference that will run longer than its usual hour and a half according to head of Xbox Phil Spencer, Microsoft absolutely NEEDS to show us the games that it’s been so quiet about recently. We know a new mainline Forza racing game is in development of course, but it’s time we hear more about titles like Crackdown 3 (which I fully expect to launch alongside Scorpio), Sea of Thieves, State of Decay 2, Cuphead and Below. And we need to hear about its new 3rd party partnerships, because right now it’s basically just Middle-Earth Shadow of War published by Warner Bros that we know is coming to Scorpio.

 

The Xbox team is pushing to cultivate developer relationships with Project Scorpio, and they need to prove it by showing us some surprises or at least confirming some rumors. There will be “something” Halo related during its show, though not likely to be Halo 6, but also what about the sequel to Ori and the Blind Forest rumored to be called Ori and the Will of the Wisps? What about utilizing the Fable license again? Maybe Shadow of the Tomb Raider if the relationship with Square Enix is still going? How about a surprise or two or even more, maybe an RPG to round out its portfolio or a story-based single-player experience to rival a huge Sony hit like The Last of Us? Project Scorpio will only be as good as the games it can offer, and it’s not enough to lean solely on major 3rd party titles because is competitor already has a much larger install base of people playing those exact games.

 

Last quick note is that Microsoft said it will not show anything Virtual Reality-related, unfortunately. So those rumors about a collaboration with Oculus Rift are on hold for now.

 

 

Bethesda Softworks: #B3 Showcase, 12 am ET (Monday)

 

What We Know: Private publisher Bethesda has been providing the industry with some gems lately, think new entries in DOOM, Wolfenstein and Dishonored series plus recent release Prey, and I expect its hot streak to continue at this year’s conference. In the above image, it showed off its plan for E3 called “Bethesdaland,” which reveals a lot about what will be at its showcase and on the show floor. Expect to see Elder Scrolls Online/Elder Scrolls Legends, Quake Champions, Fallout 4 VR, then new content for games that are already out: Dishonored 2, Prey plus DOOM 2016 (perhaps a VR mode for that one?).

 

What It Should Show: You’ll notice that Bethesdaland has a couple of areas under construction. In these spots and at its event/show floor exhibit, I think it should absolutely (finally) reveal Wolfenstein The New Colossus. Gamers have been waiting a year since the title was initially teased. So assuming that’s the first area, what about the other one? Realistically, it’s probably something like Evil Within 2. Or maybe related to Skyrim for Nintendo Switch, which was shown off in the initial trailer for the hybrid console?

 

Super long-shot for this conference is the big rumor circulating: a sci-fi, open world project rumored to be called Starfield. It sounds like the type of thing that would fit nicely in the company’s portfolio. We also know that Bethesda Game Studio is working on a couple projects, but I assume those are not far enough along in development to show here.

 

 

Devolver Digital: Press Conference & All-Night Event, 1 am ET (Monday)

 

What We Know: Well, we know that independent game and film publisher Devolver Digital is having an event overnight. But nothing “official” has been announced in terms of exactly which games will be, except that there won’t be any brand new reveals. Though Japanese developer Suda 51 will be!

 

What It Should Should: Some titles that it should likely show are The Swords of Ditto, Crossing Souls, Minit, Ape Out, Eitr and Serious Sam’s Bogus Detour. Admittedly, I don’t know much about these except for Crossing Souls, made by Spanish developer Fourattic.

 

 

Monday, June 12th

 

Ubisoft $UBI: Press Conference, 4 pm ET

 

What We Know: French gaming firm Ubisoft is known for its unique and energized stage shows, though this year it might be toned down a bit with internal developers hosting rather than comedian Aisha Tyler. Still, in the above video, Ubi and its CEO Yves Guillemot have confirmed we will see South Park: The Fractured But Whole and Far Cry 5 in particular. Technically, that’s all we “know” for sure but in reality..

 

What It Should Show: .. We probably already know most of its show. I’m fairly confident that based on recent leaks, we can guess the “Conference Exclusives” and “New IP Saved for Conference” referenced in the video. One of them has to be Assassin’s Creed Origins, all but confirmed to be the official title of a new game in the series set in Ancient Egypt. Another should be social racing game The Crew 2. And that new IP? I’d wager it’s the Nintendo crossover called Mario x Rabbids Kingdom Battle. There’s also a good chance it features next year’s Just Dance title, or some new content for this year’s version.

 

If it’s not those titles, then what if Ubi goes ahead and treats us to the new triple AAA online multiplayer game it mentioned in its last earnings call? Or the space simulation game, code-name Pioneer, with a trailer in Watch Dogs 2? Or a brand new smaller or indie type of game from UbiArt engine? Or even a Splinter Cell title (however unlikely)? Ultimate long-shot is that it announces some sort of brand new project exclusive to Nintendo Switch, but that’s probably not feasible at this point in the hardware’s life cycle.

 

 

Sony $SNE: PlayStation Live from E3, 9pm ET

 

What We Know: Closing out the last day before E3 technically begins is current console market leader Sony with its PlayStation Live event. And we know it’s had some heavy-hitting conferences lately, despite some of the games featured being early in development or delayed when all is said and done. Be that as it may, Sony shows a ton of games at its show from both internal studios and external partners, so we know games like God of War, Uncharted The Lost Legacy, Spider-Man, Days Gone and Grand Turismo Sport will be shown off. Not to mention those 3rd party games where Sony has established marketing deals, including (my most-anticipated game of all time) Destiny 2, Call of Duty WWII, Far Cry 5, Star Wars Battlefront II and fighting game Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite.

 

What It Should Show: Knowing that Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding project will not be making an appearance, that leaves Sony’s biggest game remaining that I believe it should absolutely show as The Last of Us 2. I know it’s early in development. I know creator Naughty Dog’s leadership team has said it takes a lot of effort to create teasers. I know that the studio is showing off its upcoming Uncharted game already. But wouldn’t a Sony show feel empty now that everyone knows TLoU2 is a real thing instead of a pipe dream? It would at least to me.

 

Otherwise, Sony should really show off what studio Sucker Punch has been working on all these years after PS4 launch title Infamous Second Son. Then round out its show or exhibits with Knack 2 (yes, really), Detroit: Become Human, Housemarq’s in-development title Matterfall, Media Molecule’s Dreams (if it still exists) and Michel Ancel’s WiLD (if it also still exists). Sony also said recently that it has some news surrounding unannounced Japanese games, which have done well for the platform lately. Separately, if Sony is serious about PlayStation VR, it should really show people why they should pony up hundreds of dollars to buy one. The device has been “virtually” non-existent at its last couple of press events. (Apologies, it was too tempting.)

 

Lastly, is it finally time for From Software to reveal Bloodborne 2? Might be wishful thinking, but crazier things have happened at E3.

 

 

Tuesday, June 13th

 

Nintendo $NTDOY: Nintendo Spotlight E3 2017, 12pm ET

Nintendo Treehouse Live, Tuesday, June 13th, 12:30 pm ET & Wednesday, June 14th, 1pm ET

 

What We Know: On the morning of the first official day of E3, Nintendo will have a half-hour long recorded “Spotlight” event. During this show, we know for sure that (my second-most anticipated game of all time) Super Mario Odyssey will be heavily featured. It’s a given that Nintendo’s event and show-floor exhibit will be centered around its most iconic character returning in a 3D platforming game later this year. It even appears Nintendo is creating a real-life version of the location New Donk City featured in the original Odyssey trailer. We also know that the company will be delving deeper into Switch games releasing this year, which are ARMS, Splatoon 2 and Pokken Tournament. In fact, Nintendo is hosting tournaments for all three of three games at E3.

 

What It Should Show: Stuff for Switch, then some more, then even MORE. This is prime time for its hot new console. The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild DLC. Fire Emblem Warriors. Super Smash Bros (if a version is coming to Switch). Xenoblade 2. The aforementioned Mario x Rabbids Kingdom Battle. Capcom’s Monster Hunter XX, releasing in Japan during August. Platinum Games’ unannounced title. Skyrim for Switch. FIFA for Switch. Anything for Switch that is new and fresh and keeps its sales momentum going strong. Maybe even news on its online service, voice chat phone app, classic games lineup or, gasp, Virtual Console.

 

Oh, there will be a 3DS and maybe even a mobile presence as well, but the focus HAS to be on Switch’s software and services.

 

 

The Show Floor!

Los Angeles Convention Center, Tuesday, June 13th to Thursday, June 15th

 

Finally, after all that, the show itself will take place across three long but fun days! See the map above for exact locations of big company booths, or the floor plan link here from the ESA which gives every location throughout the convention center.

 

Here’s a quick, general run-down of companies that will have some sort of presence:

 

Activision Blizzard $ATVI

What We Know: Destiny 2, Call of Duty WWII multiplayer reveal, Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy.

 

What It Should Show: Future Overwatch or Hearthstone plans. Maybe Call of Duty mobile. Next Skylanders. But really, exactly what it’s showing will be sweet!

 

Bandai Namco

What We Know: Code Vein, its vampire RPG Souls-like, which looks very cool.

 

What It Should Show: Is there any future for the Dark Souls series in light of a new game like Code Vein? Is it making any Switch games? Or just bringing classic games to the platform? Also, more information on Ni No Kuni II.

 

Capcom

What We Know: Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite.

 

What It Should Show: Street Fighter “surprises.” Monster Hunter XX for Nintendo Switch should be there, would be nice to even get a release date for the Western version.

 

Sega/Atlus

What We Know: We actually know everything that Sega and Atlus will have on the show floor this year. Total War: Warhammer 2, Total War: Arena, Sonic Mania, Sonic Forces, Yakuza 6, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. Then some Nintendo 3DS titles: Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth, Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology and Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux.

 

What It Should Show: Whatever it shows of Sonic Mania, it should show more, because it could be the best Sonic game in years.

 

Square Enix

What We Know: Per its blog, Square will have “developer interviews, announcements, gameplay sessions” and more. These include content for games including Final Fantasy (both new and old), Agents of Mayhem, F1 2017, Kingdom Come Deliverance, Lost Sphear, Flame vs Blaze, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT and even a concert featuring NieR.

 

What It Should Show: Shadow of the Tomb Raider? The next installment of Life is Strange.

 

Take-Two Interactive $TTWO

What We Know: Take-Two has already said it’s not showing any brand new games, so basically its existing franchises will be there: NBA2K 18 (probably even its Nintendo Switch version), WWE 2K18. Definitely some Mafia III extra content. GTA Online in some fashion.

 

What It Should Show: Red Dead Redemption 2. Borderlands 3. But these won’t. Don’t even get your hopes up.

 

THQ Nordic

What We Know: That the renamed studio will be on the show floor showing its games, both present and future. Presumably..

 

What It Should Show: Darksiders 3, Battle Chasers: Nightwar. Aquanox Deep Descent, Victor Vran.

 

Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

What We Know: Five games will be on display from its studios. These are Middle-Earth Shadow of War, Injustice 2, LEGO Dimensions, LEGO Worlds, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2.

 

What It Should Show: I mean, the obvious answer is what the next Batman game looks like especially now that Rocksteady is no longer the development studio. But that doesn’t seem likely given WB has already told us what it’s showing.

 

 

Miscellaneous

 

E3 Coliseum: Tuesday, June 13th to Wednesday, June 14th

 

What We Know: E3 Coliseum is a really cool event at LA Live organized by The Game Awards’ Geoff Keighley, featuring interviews, demos and panels. Games featured include God of War, Destiny 2, Assassin’s Creed, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, Spider-Man, Sea of Thieves, Mortal Kombat, Far Cry 5 and Call of Duty WWII but more interestingly, the people that make them. I’m looking forward to a number of these, namely the conversation with Bungie, creators of Destiny, plus of course legendary Japanese developer Hideo Kojima himself will be making an appearance (of course!).

 

There you have it. Thanks if you made it this far, or are using this as a reference to see when each company is having its event. And to those attending the show, have fun and know I’m quite jealous. Am I missing anything that you think should be shown by one of these companies? What are you most anticipating at this year’s show? It’s an exciting time, I’ll have more comments on Twitter and some sort of post mortem once the dust settles as well.

 

Sources: ESA, Company Websites/YouTube, NeoGAF, Geoff Keighley, Gamasutra

 

-Dom

Casual Friday: February 24th, 2017

 

Hi! Yup, it’s me again. Dom. I know it seems like it’s been a while.

 

I’m back with a new edition of Casual Friday for February 24th, where I round up the week’s most recent and relevant news to give a quick commentary. This week the companies featured are Nintendo, Koei Tecmo, Sony and Microsoft. Take a load off, keep it casual!

 

 

It’s hard to believe that the newest console from Nintendo ($NTDOY), the Switch, is out just a week from now next Friday, March 3rd. But it’s true, it’s around the corner and that means previews of the console-handheld hybrid itself plus its launch games such as Zelda: Breath of the Wild and 1-2 Switch are starting to pop up. While we won’t get full reviews on the Switch until next Wednesday, March 1st or Zelda until next Thursday, March 2nd, we do know the early impressions are somewhat mixed on the hardware.

 

The concept of the Switch is awesome: a device that you can dock at home to play games on your TV, then bring on the go as a handheld gaming device. But according to previews and hands-on impressions, the execution is where it’s lacking so far leading me to believe the launch of the system is a bit premature. The reason? I think it’s that Nintendo wants to release it before fiscal year-end in March, before which the company has stated it will ship 2 million units. All hardware launches are messy, granted, but the Switch is being bogged down by a number of concerns: lackluster launch line-up apart from Zelda, technical issues with its “Joy-Con” controllers, no Virtual Console at launch (a service where gamers can download and play classic Nintendo games) and lastly, certain aspects of its online services will not be available right away.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited for the console and will personally be a day-one buyer. I just feel that Nintendo is soft-launching the Switch hardware around its financial calendar, which is causing some features to be non-existent and lots of games are still in development. Good news is that I fully expect the console to look a whole lot better come holiday season later this year.

 

 

In very upbeat news, Japanese publisher Koei Tecmo ($3635) shared that its latest samurai action game Nioh has sold more than 1 million copies worldwide in just its first two weeks on sale. This is great news for the publisher of games like Dynasty Warriors and Ninja Gaiden, the latter of which being made by Team Ninja, the same team responsible for Nioh. You’ll also recognize the Tecmo name from classic sports titles like Tecmo Bowl during the late 80’s. Nioh features action and role-playing elements and is lauded (or cursed, by some) for its very challenging difficulty, pitting the main character William against tough human enemies and supernatural bosses during a trek across 1600s war-torn, Sengoku-era Japan.

 

There are a number of reasons I find this number quite impressive. First, the game is a PlayStation 4 exclusive title and a brand new IP for Koei Tecmo in somewhat of a niche genre. Also, the game is almost entirely in Japanese and its story is communicated via subtitles. Lastly and arguably most notably, Koei Tecmo totally underestimated how much demand there would actually be for this game as it based physical shipments on pre-order figures. This is proven by the firm openly acknowledging that retailers do not have stock. Even the game’s Amazon listing has shown a one to two-month shipping target for the past week or so. I can’t recall the last time that’s happened for any game!

 

What that means is this sales figure could have been even higher if more physical copies were available. Especially in Japan, where in a show of goodwill, the company offered a discount on the digital version if you were to purchase it in lieu of a physical disc.

 

 

 

As you can see, it’s quite a busy time for tech and gaming in particular. In other big gaming news, Sony ($SNE) and its internal studio Guerilla Games is releasing sprawling open-world action title Horizon: Zero Dawn next week and it’s been getting rave reviews. Horizon is another PlayStation 4 exclusive title, set in a world where humans have reverted back to tribal ways and now coexist with technologically-advanced animals of all kinds. It features a strong female protagonist named Aloy (not the most “traditional” name, I know) that is trying to find the origins of both her people and the mysterious, mechanical creatures.

 

Reviewers have compared Horizon to games like Tomb Raider, as both star leading ladies with bad-ass bow-and-arrows, or even RPGs like Witcher 3 in that they are set in beautiful, lush open worlds. Friends at Super Data predict that the title could sell around 8 million copies over its life span, but I actually think it could reach almost that amount just this year IF Sony bundles Horizon with a version of its newest console version the PlayStation 4 Pro. Which it would be silly not to, honestly.

 

Think about a triple-A console exclusive such as Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, which has sold roughly 8.7 million copies since its release mid-last year. Granted that’s an entry in a well-established series, while Horizon is a new brand, but I still think it proves there is huge upside for a great exclusive within Sony’s ecosystem. Especially since I predict there will be at least 60 million PlayStation 4’s sold by this year’s end, if not more, I believe Horizon can eclipse 7 million in a year’s time implying roughly 11% of PS4 owners have bought the game. Not an unrealistic amount.

 

 

And now to wrap things up, let’s briefly chat on Sony’s main competitor this generation, Microsoft $MSFT. The firm’s Xbox brand has announced its Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) briefing will take place on Sunday, June 11th at 2 pm Pacific/5 pm Eastern. Now, I tend to place less stock in the importance of public press conferences than other gamers, but even I admit it’s a big opportunity for Microsoft to tell us a lot about the future of its Xbox hardware family, Project Scorpio.

 

It’s no secret Xbox One is not selling as well as the PlayStation 4 this generation. Or that gaming revenues have declined recently for the firm overall. But I still think there is a lot of brand recognition and confidence behind Xbox, and it’s crucial to maintain healthy competition in the console gaming market. Microsoft’s online gaming service Xbox Live user base is up 15% since mid-2015 to 55 million active players despite being the lagging console in terms of hardware sales. Plus, sales are gaining within gaming software and services businesses, with digital game transactions hitting $1 billion for the first time in its history during 2016’s second financial quarter.

 

Additionally, the Xbox division under Phil Spencer’s leadership has placed user-friendly efforts of backwards compatibility (where you can play older games on the Xbox One) and cross-play across console and PC in the forefront. Sure, these types of features don’t necessarily sell consoles, but it’s crucial for Xbox to continue providing fan service in the interim before its (expected) big reveal of Scorpio in June at this E3 presentation. And I think it will be just that: a big reveal that will reinforce my confidence that Xbox can remain a viable competitor in the console space.

 

What are your thoughts on upcoming gaming hardware in Nintendo Switch or Project Scorpio? Have you played Nioh? Do you plan on trying out Horizon: Zero Dawn? Feel free to comment or chat on Twitter, and enjoy your weekend!

 

-Dom

 

Sources: Nintendo, Koei Tecmo Twitter, Sony, Open Critic, Super Data, Microsoft, Xbox Twitter