E3 2014 is very important for Microsoft.
Last year, Microsoft was at the top of their game. Their second gaming console, the Xbox 360, had become a staple in many American’s homes. It was not only the most played video game console, but it was also making a name for itself as a general home entertainment system. The Xbox 360 was where you went when you wanted to watch Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, or even browse the internet. They had America right where they wanted it.
But you know what they say, pride comes before a fall.
During last year’s E3 press conference, Microsoft unveiled important information about their upcoming console, the Xbox One. They announced a November release date, a $499 price point, the new (and mandatory) Kinect, and a controversial DRM (Digital Rights Management) plan. Microsoft thought they’d come into E3 and drop the mic, but instead they’d fumbled the ball.
Almost immediately afterward, Sony revealed the details on the Playstation 4 that crushed all of Microsoft’s momentum. Their console would be cheaper ($399), come out one week sooner, have no mandatory camera, and no DRM whatsoever. They even showed off a video mocking Microsoft’s plan.
People’s faith in Microsoft was lost. Sony was looking like rock stars. They needed to change things up. So they just followed Sony’s lead. And by lead, I mean they started copying Sony’s every move.
Almost immediately, Microsoft cancelled all their DRM plans. The system no longer needed to be connected to the internet at all times. After a day 1 patch, you didn’t even need the Kinect if you didn’t want it.
This wasn’t enough. Microsoft wasn’t on the top of hill looking down on Sony anymore. Instead, they were trailing close behind in sales. Even if they’d top Sony’s sales one month, the PS4 would come right back up the next. They didn’t like where they were, so they decided to bundle new consoles with TitanFall, the highly publicized exclusive. Some retailers were even selling the bundle at a lower price point in order to sell more units.
That didn’t quite work either so Microsoft seemingly went for plan c. The two consoles were very similar in spec. Most games that would come out on both consoles played nearly identically. So what were the biggest differentiating factors between the two? One was the price point, another was the mandatory kinect, and a third was Sony’s Playstation Plus membership.
If you wanted to play online, or use most of the apps, on any Xbox console, you would need an Xbox Live Gold membership. This was a service created by Microsoft in order to make a better online experience, and gamers were fine with that. The PS3 has free online play, but it doesn’t work as well. The problem came when Sony created the PS Plus program. This program would let you download chosen games for free each month and keep them for as long as your subscription was paid. With the PS4, if you want to play games online, you would need a PS Plus membership. This was Sony’s way of putting the online gaming experience behind a pay wall. At this point, the only real difference between Gold and PS Plus was Sony was offering you more with your online experience while Microsoft simply wasn’t.
So Microsoft created a system called Gaming with Gold. Gaming with Gold would offer free games to those with Gold accounts. This service started was unveiled for Xbox 360 only and gave away games that were old (about five or so years) and most likely played by anyone who would’ve been interested in them in the first place. Most gamers didn’t know about Gaming with Gold or simply didn’t care.
In an act of (seemingly) desperation, Microsoft recently decided to straight up match Sony’s plan. They announced that you would no longer need a Gold membership to use any of the apps. They also announced that they would give two games away each month and apply Gaming with Gold to the Xbox One. On top of all of these announcements, they cut the price of the Xbox One by $100 and took away the mandatory Kinect. So now, the Xbox One and the PS4 are matched up pretty evenly.
Microsoft wasn’t done yet. They told the gaming world that this E3 would be all about the games. They weren’t kidding. The price cut would have been big news at a press conference, but they announced it beforehand. They also straight up gave a large list of apps that would be coming to both Microsoft consoles later this year (including HBO Go(finally!)). They even disclosed details on some of their original programming beforehand. If Microsoft didn’t want to use their precious time during their press conference for tv, price cuts, and a whole lot of apps, just what do they have up their sleeves?
For a whole year, Microsoft’s plan was to undo their plans and just copy what Sony has been doing. Now that they’ve achieved parody, what is Microsoft’s plan going into this E3? Microsoft is hungry. Real hungry. Sony might need to watch themselves.