Now that Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony have had their E3 2009 press conferences (and all of us have had time to digest the hours of information delivered), I thought it would be a good idea to take a look back at this year's pressers, analyze them, and assign letter grades. All three companies did some things well and some poorly. Here's one man's opinion on the pressers...or the E3 2009 press conference report card!
Since Microsoft kicked things off on Monday (and the three consoles companies happened to go in alphabetical order), I'll start with it first. More than its competitors, Microsoft understands that E3 press conferences are no longer just large media briefings. Millions of its customers can watch, whether it's through networks like G4, sites like G4tv.com, or services like Xbox Live. Charts, pie graphs, and sales figures dominated E3 press conferences in the past, but they simply don't fly anymore. Pressers now require tons of sizzle (check), ample star power (Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, check), and buttery flow (check). The one area (in terms of showmanship) where the company faltered was with its executives; MS senior vice president Don Mattrick is a very smart man, but he's not as captivating as past Xbox execs like J Allard, Seamus Blackley, and Ed Fries. Despite Mattrick's shortcomings, Microsoft did the best job at making its presser fan-friendly while still getting its key messages across.
Although several readers of TheFeed don't give a damn about social-networking services like Facebook and Twitter, there are millions of people that do. Microsoft integrating these services into Xbox Live is frickin' huge! It's one thing to have a self-contained network like Xbox Live or PlayStation Network, but opening up a gaming console to two immensely popular services likeFacebook and Twitter is just enormous. This announcement was tremendous for Microsoft. It adds two very big reasons for its Xbox 360 customers to keep their consoles on.
The company did a great job at promoting the motion-sensing technology behind Project Natal. It helped that Kudo Tsunoda was pitching the product; he's an extremely charismatic speaker that knows how to play crowds (both large and small). Personally, I think the tech is impressive, but I don't see how it's fun for me or millions of hardcore gamers. Still, that's not really the point. Project Natal is aimed at expanding the Xbox 360's audience, similar to how the Nintendo Wii snagged millions of mainstream consumers. So as far as getting the mainstream press and mainstream consumers interested, I believe the company succeeded. Really though, stuff like Project Natal isn't what I want from Microsoft and I'm pretty sure that most of you feel similarly.
Microsoft's other tech spotlight, Milo the incredibly annoying interactive virtual boy, was impressive, uninteresting, and weird all at the same time. The interactivity was pretty fascinating, but again, that's not really what I want from a gaming console. A friend of mine said that Milo reminded him of something he'd see at Epcot Center. I completely agree. As for the weirdness...it's just freaky having your own underaged indentured servant living in your Xbox. For younger gamers, it's kind of sad; just go outside and be friends with real people. I'm sure the mainstream press will eat Milo (the boy, not the chocolate beverage) up, but I don't think this is what the core audience wants.
Ultimately, it all comes down to the games. Microsoft showed some great stuff, but a lot of it was multiplatform. Splinter Cell: Conviction, Final Fantasy XIII, and Modern Warfare 2 got the crowd going, but they're not exclusives. Metal Gear Solid: Rising seemed like it was exclusive, but TheFeed's Patrick Klepek discovered that it's not. Core gamers already knew that Halo: ODST and Halo: Reach, were on the way, but I wanted more surprises. Sure, Shadow Complex looks like fun and I'm happy to see a huge developer like Epic make an original XBLA title, but I wasn't really surprised by anything. Overall, the software lineup was very strong, but lacked impactful surprises.
At the end of the day, Microsoft did the best job at pleasing enthusiast gamers and putting on a show. The company gets bonus points for having Paul and Ringo.
This press conference surprised me the most. In the past, Nintendo pressers always had the most energy due to its ardent and loyal legion of fanboys (*cough* Billy Berghammer *cough*). Even if it started at some ungodly hour, you could always count on Nintendo having a great vibe at its shows. This was absolutely not the case at E3 2009. It seemed like a press conference that started at an ungodly hour, attended by people that were not pleased to get in line at 8:00AM. I'm still not sure if it was due to a flat audience or Cammie Dunaway being flat or the enthusiast press being unimpressed with the proceedings, but the crowd was dead. You know there's problems when a new Mario game is getting a middling response.
Nintendo had the biggest E3 press conference oddity with Wii Vitality Sensor. A heart-rate monitor that attaches to the Wii, this peripheral is designed to work with software that soothes and relaxes gamers. Initially I was thinking, "Yeah, because games are so stressful that I need another game to unwind from all that entertainment I've been enjoying." I completely realize that I was thinking about the product in the context of an enthusiast gamer, but even after taking a step back, I couldn't see what casual customers would find appealing about Wii Vitality Sensor. Jokingly, TheFeed's Brian Leahy quipped that it would be immensely useful to stressed out Japanese salarymen. In that context, sure, I can see why this peripheral would be desirable. Still, it seems unnecessary and weird...but then again, people said that about motion-sensing controls.
It's no secret that Nintendo has been enormously successful with the mainstream audience. It will continue to attract that crowd with products like Wii Fit Plus. The company already unveiled Wii MotionPlus, but went big with the add-on this year as well. Nintendo spent a long time touting its simple wares that are geared towards a broad audience. Licenses like James Patterson's The Women's Murder Club open games up to a whole new segment. While this stuff plays to the mainstream press, it's not what enthusiast gamers want. Millions of longtime Nintendo fans, including numerous vocal readers of TheFeed, wanted Nintendo to forcefully reclaim its old audience with its classic franchises at E3 2009...and the company made a decent (though hardly forceful) effort to do so.
This is where Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Metroid: Other M came in. While a great deal of it looks same-ish, the crowd seemed charmed by Super Mario Galaxy 2. I've no doubt that millions of longtime Nintendo fans will eat it up. Metroid: Other M is a collaborative effort by Nintendo and Tecmo's Team Ninja. It looks like a slick, serious, and polished action-adventure game. If you want to stay on the positive tip, you can focus on the fact that these are two classic Nintendo franchises heading to the Wii. If you want to be all negative, you can think Mario is just more of the same and Team Ninja shouldn't be called Team Ninja since Tomonobu Itagaki left, along with several key members.
As an RPG fan, there was a lot to be happy about with the presser. I was dazzled by a pair of Square Enix clips: Final Fantasy: Crystal Bearers and Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days. I'm absolute down for more Mario & Luigi and Golden Sun. Save for Golden Sun, I've known about these games for a long time and I'm sure most of you have, too. And really, that was an overall problem with this press conference -- too much was stuff the press already knew about. In general, Nintendo could have used a big third-party surprise or two.
Seconds after the press conference, I really wasn't feeling Nintendo. Maybe it was because it started late, causing all of E3 day one to run late. Or maybe it was because I wanted the company to do more to recapture the enthusiast crowd. I just wasn't happy with its showing...initially. After taking a step back, I feel that the company did a good job illustrating how it will continue to succeed with the mainstream and an okay job appealing to core gamers. My great friend Christian Nutt at Gamasutra believes that Nintendo fans should be happy that they'll be getting two new Mario games in the near future, not to mention a Zelda game for DS and a Team Ninja-flavored Metroid.
All that said, there were a lot of things that bugged me about Nintendo's 2009 show. Cammie Dunaway took the criticisms of her exuberance at the E3 2008 presser way too seriously. If anything, she was too much the other way in 2009. Reggie Fils -Aime already has the cool, stern, and serious thing down (he's like the Batman of gaming execs). The bubbly Cammie 2008 was a good foil for him. Nintendo spent too much time focusing on the mainstream; hardcore gamers are sensitive and need to be coddled, whereas casual gamers will buy whatever is marketed effectively. And until I'm shown otherwise, Wii Vitality Sensor is stupid.
Overall, this was a strong showing for the mainstream press, but despite the new announcements aimed at longtime Nintendo fans, many enthusiast gamers will still feel snubbed by the company. Nintendo could have (should have?) been more forceful with its efforts to win back the gamers that got the company this far. The company loses some points for its silly concept of "physical reality" in gaming.
Last, but certainly not least was Sony's press conference. This one is a bit tough to judge, since the impact of its presser was absolutely killed by information leaks. Fans knew about the PSP go for days and The Last Guardian (the game nicknamed Trico) for weeks. If Sony was able to keep those two things under wraps, the surprise factor of its presser would have been exponentially higher. Sony's Jack Tretton even joked about the leaks, but you know that deep down inside, he and a lot of other execs were pretty pissed off about them.
From a showmanship standpoint, Sony did a lot of things right and a lot of things wrong. I thought the company served up some outstanding sizzle reels, but it also used too much of its time talking about numbers for an extended period of time. The fact that it touted unified sales figures (PSP + PS2 + PS3) made it look weak, as if it were afraid to make direct comparisons. It would have been better for Sony to avoid the numbers game, because the entire world knows that PS3 is a distant third and PSP is a distant second.
A lot of people were wondering about Sony's demonstration of its motion controls (which totally looked like a sex toy). The tech is extremely impressive -- even more than Microsoft's Project Natal. The fidelity is amazing, but the product and the demo didn't seem quite "ready". Richard Marx (not the wretched pop singer) is a brilliant, brilliant man, but he doesn't have the marketing prowess of Kudo Tsunoda . Even still, the demo seemed like it was put together at the last minute -- the guys were nervous and there were some obvious gaffes. Some of my peers postulated that Sony felt pressure to include this because Microsoft's motion-control details leaked. Whether that's the case or not, Sony made its superior tech look inferior due to poor presentation.
In terms of game surprises, Sony did better than Microsoft, but not as good as Nintendo. Most people I know didn't see Final Fantasy XIV coming at all. That was a tremendous surprise. While I wasn't into FFXI, having a console-exclusive Final Fantasy is always a good thing. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker was also a nice surprise. It was funny hearing Kojima talk about the game, stressing that this was the true sequel to MGS3 and that the MGS4 team is working on it. He was millimeters away from saying, "This is the real Metal Gear Solid sequel, not that multiplatform Raiden crap I showed at the Microsoft press conference."
As a whole, Sony did the best with its games. In addition to the aforementioned third-party surprises and a generally strong third-party lineup, it absolutely rocked it with its first-party games. Uncharted 2 and God of War III looked phenomenal. Obviously, the games themselves look outstanding, but Sony should be commended for having smooth demos of these games that really got the crowd excited. The Gran Turismo stuff was great for both the PS3 and the PSP.
For me, Sony did the best with its games. It lost points for going retro with graphs and sales figures, as well as spending too much time talking about the new PSP software (new hardware is sexy, new utility software is not). The press conference had some brilliant sizzle, but it also dragged in several spots (*stares at Kaz Hirai*). The company gets bonus points for using Queen to open the show.
Class is Over
If you haven't watched the press conferences, you can do so at G4's E3 2009 press conference page.
Remember, this is just my opinion on the E3 2009 press conferences. I want to know if you agree or disagree with my assessments. Think I'm right? Think I'm wrong? What letter grades would you dole out to the big three? I want to know!