Despite putting up my E3 2018 podcast just two days ago, I decided that I wanted to do another one to talk about the Steam Link App, my next-gen industry analysis article, and the hilarious ways that VR is trying to create a killer app. As you’ll hear when you listen to it, I go further into the reason why I predicted that the next generation of consoles were going to use streaming game services as their big selling point. However, I could never have predicted that this morning — right as I was preparing to upload the episode and publish this article — news broke that PlayStation Now is gearing up for a major rehaul.
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.
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:
So the Xbox reveal event is happening on May 21st, less than a week from today. Here’s what I’m looking forward to in the following weeks and months. See if you can find a common theme!
Inappropriate cross-promotional media appearances
Brace yourself for seeing the next Xbox/online service on TV shows and movies. You can expect characters to suddenly include name-dropping the Xbox Infinity (or whatever) just like they did with the Xbox 360 and “Bing”. Remember Bing? If you don’t, maybe you should Bing it!
This is classic Xbox. By partnering up with the biggest and sluttiest American retailers/franchises, you literally won’t be able to escape the next Xbox. The average consumer won’t even know that the PlayStation exists, but they’ll think that Microsoft’s new console is a game-changing event.
Sony is trying to make the PlayStation 4 extremely developer-friendly. But developers aren’t the real movers and shakers of the industry. Most of them are beholden to some lumbering tyrannical asshole corporation like Activision or EA. Instead of making the next Xbox appealing to developers (or consumers) Microsoft is simply going to get in bed with the publishers, which will ensure plenty of products for their system.
Insane anti-competitive development clauses
Most people don’t know about it, but with the Xbox 360 Microsoft forced developers to make every game published on their system as attractive or better than the PS3, despite the hardware and storage space gap between the two. This is why PS3 games often looked worse than the 360 ones, against all logic, and why pretty much nothing interesting happened with the hard drive. (I can never seem to find a link to this story anymore, it never got proper attention and seems very hard to find. If you find a link to it, send it to me on twitter @meta_gear)
I expect even worse restrictions this time around. How about forcing any cross-platform developer who wants to be published on Xbox Infinity to include a 10 minute Xbox propaganda video at the beginning of their PS4 game launch? It may be underhanded as fuck and betray the whole notion of optimizing for each system, but who gives a shit? It worked before, and that means it will work again.
CISPA is the depressingly real Internet censorship bill threatening to turn the Internet into a “shoot first, ask questions later”-style corporate paradise, in which your activity will be monitored and shut down by the government with the flimsiest of excuses. Why does Microsoft want this? Because it will allow them to aggressively spy on and undermine their opposition, shut down piracy and file-sharing services, and basically police the online world however they want. There is no protection against abuse in the bill, because it seems to assume that corporations and government will only use their new terrifying powers for the good of mankind!
And if rumors about the upcoming Xbox being a DRM nightmare creature are true, and if they manage to seduce publishers into signing on to their schemes, you better believe that piracy and online criticism are going to be a huge thorn in their side — which is why CISPA would sure be handy.