It should hardly be a surprise that Death Stranding is off to a slow start right out the gate. Its deliberately insane promotional strategy of being as confusing and chocked full of celebrities as possible, its meager premise of delivering packages in an empty post-apocalypse America, and its minuscule range of tone and variety all add up to make it “limited appeal”.
But the bad news gets worse when a certain somebody speaks out…
E3 2019 happened less than 20 days ago but has already been forgotten. It was overlooked by the gaming world and proved to be a disaster. Not only did PlayStation dodge the whole event out of embarrassment for their lack of offerings, but Microsoft may as well have done the same. It was the worst E3 ever, and it’s especially grim when we see it as a forecast of what’s to come: that is to say, services and mediocrity.
Last week I sat down with my brother and tried to calculate — through sheer analysis — what Microsoft would do at this E3.
I didn’t post any of it online, so I can’t claim any victory points for it, but after a few hours of discussing the state of the industry, along with Xbox’s past, present, and possible futures, I concluded that Microsoft was going to announce a new generation of Xbox consoles and push streaming as their next big move. Today Phil Spencer confirmed that Xbox is going to push a streaming service, and new hardware. Turns out my prediction was 100% correct.
This year’s E3 has me convinced that Xbox and PlayStation are in deep trouble, and that the de facto winners of this decline are the PC and Nintendo Switch. Xbox tried to advertise “exclusives” that were all going to be available on PC as well, while Sony kept talking about VR. The 4K revolution is dead in the water. Nobody cares about 4K, even though we recognize that it’s an improvement.
VR and 4K are things that would’ve been nice to have if they were fully-functional and properly showcased three years ago. But by now we’re so starved for quality games that we just want to have things to play on our existing machines. I’ve seen people argue that they’re totally satisfied with their PS4 and even their Xbox, and that they look forward to the release of the titles in development, but the overall excitement for this generation of machines is lower than I’ve ever seen with previous generations. The logic of a console cycle is that you’ll be given a front-row seat to the cutting edge of gaming for the duration of the console’s lifetime, building up a library that will some day stand as a distinct epoch of gaming innovations. Each console has its own gimmicks, branding, and eccentricities that you can incorporate into your identity, and the rituals you learn on that machine become part of the shared identity you have with your fellow gamers. But now there’s nothing special about consoles, since they all share the same controller layouts, hardware is always just a mid-tier PC, and the distribution models and features are homogenized. PC has never had the epoch-ritual-identity quality that consoles offered; they were generic machines that did a lot of stuff, and also gaming. Consoles are now in the same boat, and without that strange generational epoch psychology, they just become worse PCs with a smaller library and less features. This E3 proved that Sony and Microsoft have absolutely nothing interesting to offer.
Nintendo Switch stands apart from all of that, and is winning as a result. This E3 was a huge success for the Switch because they are creating an epoch-ritual-identity framework that people can become invested in. The games, tone, and features of the Switch are distinct and flavorful, and you can be guaranteed that you’ll be able to build a library that will some day stand as an epoch of gaming.
The “AAA” games shown at E3 were boring and mediocre. The indie games looked interesting, but we’ve learned by now that indie games usually fail to follow through on their enticing designs and premises, so we have to take them with a grain of salt. VR and 4K editions of exiting games are not even close to worth the cost, and only push us further into the outdated living room as the hub of entertainment. I suspect many gamers will look at this E3 and decide that traditional consoles are enjoying their final twilight days.
I’ll be discussing the games, hardware, and announcements themselves in future posts. This was more of a broad evaluation.
Hideo Kojima is creating a new independent studio named “KOJIMA PRODUCTIONS” and has already made a deal with PlayStation for a “collaboration” on a new project. This confirms reports from just a few hours ago, and means a new era of Kojima works are on the way. We can assume that his old team is joining him, which means we should expect extremely high quality and solid development times; especially since Konami was pretty notorious for having an awful work environment for creators to begin with, and that is no longer a problem.
Of course, this is the best possible news in the wake of the Konami fiasco. They are undoubtedly very jealous of this, and were acting out of spite against him until now — using all of their legal power to hold him down until the very last second. I have to admit, I can still hardly believe how absurd they behaved, even for as cynical as I am. Then again, I also never thought that his departure from Konami would be a bad thing, because — as we can clearly see today — he is perfectly fine without them. In fact, he leveled up in the process, judging by that sweet beard.
Will the next title be anywhere near as fascinating as a new Metal Gear? Not from a “meta” angle, I’m sure. But I’m a fan of Kojima’s work in general, so I am very excited to see what he comes up with. Personally, I hope he builds a new fictional universe that’s filled with social commentary and philosophy, and grounded in solid action/adventure genre that his team knows best, not some risky attempt to be a futurist. Kojima might have so many pent up gimmicks in his brain that he won’t be able to resist making some PlayStation VR technology showcase requiring 3 peripherals to even experience properly. (According to the new badass logo, he might want to pursue stuff you wear on your head. That is supposed to be a robotic knight’s helmet right?)
Right now I’m focused on my book about Kojima and the Metal Gear series (although it also includes Snatcher, Policenauts, and spinoff games!) so if you want to truly appreciate his life and legacy until today, you have something amazing to look forward to still. Not bad timing, I must say! My deep interpretation of the series has only been reinforced by evidence over the years, and the book pushes everything to a new level. I’m very excited to share it with you, as I stay tuned what comes next.
Let’s also have a moment of silence for the great, fun, and promising ruse theories, which spoke to so many people’s imaginations as well as their high regard for Kojima’s trickster legacy. He was in a league of his own, and if there was ever a creator who could have somehow pulled a ruse on that scale it would have been him! Since I no longer have any choice but to believe all of the negative reports and rumors in the past, I have to wonder even more what was truly behind the conflict and toxicity. Maybe it will come out in the wash.
Add another big tally to the “Not A Ruse” side. Major Japanese news outlet Nikkei is not only confirming that Kojima has left Konami, but that he’s already opening a new studio and talking with Sony about exclusivity rights. Polygon relayed the info like this:
According to Nikkei, Kojima is establishing a new studio and is in talks with PlayStation maker Sony Computer Entertainment.
Polygon has reached out to Konami for comment on Nikkei’s report and will update with any new details.
We need the official Konami response so that we can hopefully let go of the painful feeling and begin the healing process. I’d make an MGSV reference, but right now it’s more of an open wound than a “phantom pain”. I’m reminded of the tweet Kojima made about letting go and moving forward…
If you’re confused about the new lineup of Steam Machines, which range from $500 to a whopping $6,000, you’re in good company. As I said before in “The Amazing Valve Strategy” Part One and Two, this is a unique and long-term strategy for keeping PC gaming alive and hedging against the possible failure of the Windows platform, not a “monkey-see, monkey-do” attempt to rival the existing console market.
Here’s some reactions I’ve seen already, with my rebuttals:
In what may very well be the most embarrassing turn of events the Xbox brand has ever suffered, Microsoft today officially announced that they have no clue what they’re doing, are running around with their head cut off, and can hardly believe they weren’t able to casually screw over everyone and get away with it.