E3 2016: Microsoft Media Briefing Impressions

e3-16-microsoft-media-briefing
By the measures of what we’ve come to look for in an E3 press briefing, Microsoft had a pretty good showing. They had new hardware, new accessories, new Xbox Live features and a lot of new games footage.

The next 12-18 months should be pretty exciting for current fans of Xbox One. Whether or not Microsoft did enough to convince the rest to join the Xbox One family is a different matter.

In a somewhat baffling move, two new Xbox Ones were announced on the same stage on the same day. The Xbox One S will be 40% smaller, play 4K video, Blu-rays and support HDR. It will have an integrated power supply (finally) and a new controller that’s Bluetooth capable and has rubberized grips.

The S starts at the same price as the current Xbox One, $299, but comes with up to 2TB of hard drive space, and will launch in August.

Then, Project Scorpio, the codename for an even more powerful Xbox One, designed for “true 4K gaming” and “high fidelity VR” will arrive within 18 months – Holiday 2017 was the window given, with assurances that “no one will be left behind,” as current Xbox One games and accessories will all work on Scorpio as well.

I suppose I can imagine a scenario in which I look at that and say, “Great. I’ll just buy a new Xbox One S in August and all the Xbox One games I want, and when Scorpio arrives, I’ll just sell the One I have and get the new One. Thankfully, all of my games and controllers will carry over.” But, in reality, that’s unlikely.

Rumors pre-briefing suggested that Microsoft was going to announce Project Scorpio this early to get the jump on Sony announcing the PlayStation 4K/Neo at their E3 event.

Maybe they’re hoping the news of “the world’s most powerful console,” will convince people to hold off on buying PS4s. Maybe the hope is that people won’t want to wait until the end of next year to play Xbox One games.

As I said, baffling.

None of this speculation would matter, of course, if the games didn’t seem enticing. Despite everything getting leaked ahead of time, spoiling any sense of surprise, Xbox One’s near future line-up looks solid.

Rod Fergusson, Studio Head of The Coalition kicked off a packed exclusive game showcase by announcing Xbox Play Anywhere, a program similar to PlayStation’s Cross-Buy – only in this case, digital purchases of Xbox One games emblazoned with the Play Anywhere logo will entitle gamers to free copies of the same games on Windows 10 PCs.

On top of that, saves and Xbox Live achievements transfer back and forth and follow the user between platforms.

We were told that all co-op modes in Gears of War 4 will be playable across Windows 10 and Xbox when it comes out October 11th.

We were shown Forza Horizon 3 – set in Australia and coming September 27, 2016 – will have seamless multiplayer between Windows 10 and Xbox One.

While not every exclusive game was shown as part of the Xbox Play Anywhere program, every major exclusive presented – Gears of War 4, Forza Horizon 3, Dead Rising 4, Scalebound, State of Decay 2, Recore, Cuphead, Halo Wars 2, and Sea of Thieves – all were announced as Xbox and Windows 10 exclusives.

Xbox and Windows 10.

Getting, in a sense, two copies for the price of one, and having the larger combined user-base to play with, is definitely adding value. Head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, said it’s about removing barriers and giving gamers more options, but perhaps Microsoft is also wishfully hoping that the choice to simply say, “no,” to the entire Xbox One platform will go unnoticed.

With games on both Windows 10 and Xbox One, plus three versions of hardware in the Xbox One family, the answer to rhetorical question, “which entertainment box should you buy?” is certainly not the current Xbox One.

There might be a reason to pick up an Xbox One S in August, and in a world of unlimited resources the argument to do so would be even stronger, but at the same time weaker because with money to burn, a top-of-the-line Windows 10 PC would probably be the best option, even with the specter of Scorpio on the horizon.

What is the reason to buy into the Xbox One platform? There are so many choices.

On the flip side though, there’s still only one choice. If I want to live the life of a swashbuckler in Rare’s Sea of Thieves, I’m gonna have to buy into the Xbox ecosystem. Whether it’s going to Xbox One or Windows 10 probably doesn’t matter to Microsoft. If you want to play Halo Wars 2, it’s going to be in the Xbox ecosystem, rather than a single console, and maybe that’s where Microsoft has told us it’s headed with this briefing.

You want our games? If you’ve got a powerful PC running Windows 10, great. Want a likely cheaper but still very powerful option? Scorpio’s got you covered. On an even tighter budget? Xbox One and Xbox One S will be very economical.

No matter what you choose, it all means, ‘welcome to the Xbox ecosystem,’ and maybe that’s where Microsoft goes to seek their victory in this console generation.

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  • One of their best E3 in awhile. But sadly they killed the Xbox One even more by announcing a next gen console next year.