E3 Epitomizes Today's Console Wars
Last week saw the biggest gathering of nerds in the United States since Devo’s reunion tour. The occasion this time was the Electronic Entertainment Expo, otherwise known as E3: the biggest two days in video games. This would explain why that weird, pasty friend of yours has been tweeting nonstop about #E32018 for the past few days like some cryptic code out of WarGames. But this massive industry get-together of software developers, marketing strategists and foaming fans is the big boy equivalent of the release of the Toys R Us Christmas catalog. This is where all the biggest announcements in video games are made and tantalizing hints are dropped. This year’s gathering in Los Angeles was certainly no exception. There was obviously far too much going on during these tumultuous two days of teasers and trailers to cover in one article, but it was easy to pick up on a major theme of E3: console wars. This was certainly anybody’s year coming into the expo, with Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo duking it out to be the console king. But there can only be one.
It seemed that every day has brought new announcements for the Nintendo Switch, the highly versatile on-the-go or homebound gaming system Nintendo unveiled last March to widespread acclaim. First it was the release of “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” on the mobile device, then the addition of “Fortnite” to the console. While, obviously, the capabilities of a mobile gaming device somewhat hinders the graphics and gameplay that players have come to expect from playing “Skyrim” and “Fortnite” on conventional consoles, consumers have still continued to support the latest venture from Nintendo. The company announced last month that nearly 18 million Switches had been sold already, but expressed doubts that it would reach the stratospheric sales the company experienced with the release of the Wii, which has sold over 100 million units worldwide, 20 million more than the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3.
But Nintendo is keenly aware of what makes the Switch so attractive to users: its easy mobility and compatibility with TVs. So, in line with those pro’s, Nintendo announced that when it releases “Super Mario Party” for the Switch, players will be able to join two Switch consoles into one and all play one big game together, as shown in the trailer. Users will not be required to get a new-and improved Switch to utilize this new function, they just need to buy “Super Mario Party” when it is released on October 5. However whatever progress Nintendo made with consumers with the Switch’s new capabilities, it lost with a major announcement from Sony. The software giant and Playstation creator announced at E3 that Nintendo Switch users playing “Fortnite” will not be able to cross-play with people playing on Playstations. However, in a throw of serious shade to Nintendo, cross-play in “Fortnite” will be available to users on Xbox One, PC, Mac and iOS. The storm is certainly coming for Sony as bewildered Switch users vent their frustrations online. But that wasn’t the only crushing defeat for Nintendo Switch users. While the announcement of an all-encompassing “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” roster, featuring every character from every single “Smash Bros.” game to date, or so they said. There was one glaring absence from the list of available characters Nintendo put out: Waluigi. Yes, Luigi’s bizarro world alter-ego was once again snubbed by Nintendo, as he always is unless they need to fill out a baseball roster or need an even number for a party. Fans have taken notice of Waluigi’s absence, as he has become somewhat of a cult hero due to his memeability, and one superfan even took to The Washington Post opinion page to vent his frustration.
But crushing the hopes and dreams of Nintendo Switch owners wasn’t the only thing Sony did at E3 this year. The Playstation 4 creator also announced a slew of new games coming to the next-gen console, many of which are already familiar to seasoned players. The biggest announcement came first with a lengthy trailer to “The Last of Us Part II,” the sequel to Naughty Dog’s wildly successful zombie-survival game from 2013. The game went on to become the PS3’s third-best-selling game, so a sequel was pretty much inevitable. The rest of Sony’s major announcements essentially amounted to just a giant nostalgia fest, with a trailer for the remastered “Resident Evil 2” coming in January, 2019 as well as a clip of the Pirates of the Caribbean world from the forthcoming “Kingdom Hearts III.” Sony did release trailers for other upcoming projects, including an open-world samurai game called “Ghost of Tsushima,” another Spider-Man game, and a PSVR game “Déraciné” that appeared to be the most adventurous project Sony had to offer this year. Overall it seemed like Sony played it safe by sticking to what they know players want to play, while taking some minimal risks.
But the talk of Twitter during E3 had to be Microsoft, as the Xbox creators unveiled several highly-anticipated projects and even dropped hints at new hardware coming. The Xbox portion of E3 began with the announcement of “Halo Infinite” with a sleek trailer that looked more like a CGI episode of Planet Earth than a teaser for one of Microsoft’s most successful franchise, plus there was no release date. But the revelation that had the most people talking online was by far the reveal for “Fallout 76,” the next chapter in the highly successful “Fallout” franchise from Bethesda Softworks that has been captivating players for over 20 years. Basically what fans got from the announcement is that the game is set in West Virginia, the map will be four times the size of “Fallout 4,” and the timeframe will be set shortly after the nuclear holocaust. That’s about it, not even a release date. And the last major announcement from Microsoft concerned a covert operation codenamed “Scarlet,” which will become the next Xbox system, supposedly to be named Xbox Two which is expected in 2020.
This was definitely one of the most exciting E3 conferences in recent years, as the video game market is no longer just a two way race between Xbox and Playstation. The addition of the Nintendo Switch into the game has made competition even stiffer, but it also prompted Sony to make a critical hit against Nintendo by not allowing cross-play in “Fortnite” with Switch users. Meanwhile, Xbox and Microsoft were able to set themselves apart from the other systems, not by taking another system down a peg, but by creating genuine excitement with users by unveiling exciting projects that build on existing franchises. However, Microsoft seems to be playing a long term game by keeping details close to the chest and shying away from giving out release dates, therefore keeping players engaged and constantly checking back in for more details. Judging by this year’s E3 conference, Microsoft and the Xbox One will be leading the console wars for the foreseeable future. Oh ya, and there’s a new Elder Scrolls coming someday.