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Thursday July 12, 2007 3:18 pm

E3 2007: The Big Three: Who “Won” E3?

E3 2007 winnerIt always seems a bit silly to declare a “winner” of E3. It’s just so juvenile. This is a complex industry that can’t be distilled down to the simple question of “who beat whom.”

But we just can’t help it, can we?

Comparing the three keynotes this year, however, really is a grab-bag of possible outcomes. All three offered something interesting, and picking a single “winner” this year more than ever depends how you define “winning.”

My rundown is after the break.

Microsoft

Grade: B

Coming out of the gates first and hitting a news cycle that ensured at least 10 full hours of exclusive media attention was a brilliant move for Microsoft.

Why? Because it really offered very little startling information about its lineup.

No new games were announced, and no significant changes to the console were revealed. Sure, all but one game featured during the show will be available in 2007 (which, don’t get me wrong, is pretty impressive), but it seemed a bit underwhelming to have so much ado made of what amounts to nothing more than what we already knew.

Even the biggest announcement from an industry standpoint - Microsoft’s partnership with Disney Entertainment - sounded better the night-of rather than the morning-after. Yes, it will be offering an immense amount of downloadable Disney films in HD, but it’s all Disney’s

crappy

movies. No Disney Classics (“Snow White,” “Dumbo,” et al). No Pixar properties (“Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” etc.). Who really cares all that much to see “The Emperor’s New Groove” again… in HD, no less?

Microsoft seemed to also misgauge its audience for this new E3 format. In past years, Peter Moore could introduce with much bravado a Halo Collector’s Edition Xbox 360 (read: a 360 painted green) and expect at least a little enthusiasm from the audience. But this was an amphitheater full of hard-baked journalists who aren’t that easily impressed, and they saw through the paint job.

Cue the “Yawn Heard ‘Round Santa Monica.”

That moment might have been the most chuckle-inducing of the night had it not been for the near abysmal showing from Assassin’s Creed, with floating-body bugs, bad tracking, muddy graphics and clunky gameplay. Knowing this is set for November release, I’m already wondering if it won’t be the first of these titles that won’t see shelves until 2008.

Yes, the big titles on tap for this holiday (Halo 3, GTA IV and Madden 08) will probably make for a huge sales season for Microsoft this holiday, but only because they are tried-and-true franchises that guarantee record sales.


Sony

Grade: C

This is very hard for me to truly evaluate, since I and dozens of other legitimate attendees were turned away at the door, so I did not see it live. Others who made it into the event were moderately impressed with what Sony had to offer. The new puzzle game, echochrome, is a stripped down little noodler that many said they liked a lot. Phil Harrison described it as being “possibly the least graphics and most gameplay of any title you are going to see this week.”

One word, Phil: N. Indy game. Barker Hanger. Way in the back. Coming to XBLA. You should check it out.

Beside that, there was the coolness of the expanded PlayStation Home functionality. Coming soon to a PS3 near you, you and people standing around you in Home will be able to launch easily and simultaneously into any game of your choosing—including previously released titles. That is slick, but there doesn’t seem to be any plans to deal with the numerous user complaints of the way most PS3 games work in multi-player mode. Sure, it’s cool you can jump into these games, but shouldn’t someone work on getting the connectivity fixed first?

Finally, the big news. The coup de gras: A thinner, lighter PSP in two new colors. Now, a year ago, with an audience full of sycophant fanboys, this may have been pretty momentous. But, again, this is a different E3. And this audience is full of reporters and industry insiders who know too well that the PSP isn’t what one might call the dominant force in the portable device biz. Had this announcement been made last year, before the PSP fell so far behind in sales versus the Nintendo DS because of its thickness, heaviness and price, this may have made a difference. So, instead we have a thinner, lighter third-place portable device.

Last, but not least, is a little detail I gleaned from being denied access to Sony—something that I know larger media outlets missed.

I was one of many who didn’t pass muster, but with me were dozens of others. I’m used to this. I’m press. Everyone else left outside Sony’s gates were hedge-fund advisors and investment analysts from some of the world’s largest funds.

I shared a cab with a couple of them, since Sony wasn’t kind enough to provide return transportation from Century City back to Santa Monica for those who were turned away. First words out of their mouths: “Sell Sony.”

Now, this may not mean much to you because you don’t care about finance, but consider this: Sony needs money to spur game development and improvements in the PS3 (which, by no means, is what one might call a “runaway success” just yet). This is primarily important when it’s losing money for every PS3 it sells. When you piss off the people who determine exactly how hundreds of thousands of investors spend billions, if not trillions, of dollars in cash, you’re almost asking to fail.

Overall, Sony was underwhelming and may have done enough damage in the PR department that it might actually have begin exercising its near dormant “humble muscle.”

Nintendo

Grade: A-

Gamers and hardcore gamers might disagree with me, but Nintendo ran away with E3.

Last year, when everyone was talking 360 vs. PS3, I predicted at E3 that Nintendo would own Christmas 2006. And it did. And this year I predict that Nintendo will overtake Microsoft in console sales in the near future.

Bold, I know, but here’s my reasoning: While Sony and Microsoft are fighting over an enthusiastic, but limited, amount of existing gamers, Nintendo has created new gamers where none existed previously. That’s why it’s sold so many consoles and is effectively sold out months after release. Gamers will get a Wii and an Xbox or PS3. A large amount of Wii households, however, will buy only one console and more family members will use it.

Add in that Nintendo makes the number one and number two handhelds, and you have a pretty huge force to reckon with.

The titles Nintendo previewed at the event show exactly how it intends to keep bringing more non-gaming gamers into the Nintendo family and keep them hooked in and buying more stuff. A vision training game, Flash Focus, is set for translation to the US from the Japanese market. My Word Coach will help users expand their verbal lexicon. My Life Coach will help you steer your life to… I’m assuming a better life (Miyamoto offered no details).

This may not make you squeal with delight, but your mom, your grandma, your dad and grandpa, and your little brother and sister probably love the idea.

Then, there’s the peripherals. The Wii Zapper, a cradle for the Wiimote and Nunchuck to convert it to a gun (so your mom can hold it), is a no-brainer. It should have been done last year. There’s no tech to it, and it’s cheap. The Wii wheel controller evens the field for those who haven’t played Mario Kart (like your mom) so they can compete with veterans.

And finally, the Wii balance board, with the Wii Fit software that essentially becomes a yoga coach, aerobics trainer and family entertainment console all in one.

I affectionately call it “The Money Printing Machine.”

Conclusion:
While all of this may have you scratching your head and wondering what the hell Miyamoto is thinking, the 80 percent of the non-gaming world have no idea how much they will want these games and peripherals, and, if they don’t have it already, the console. And while you may think the balance pad is stupid, trust me. Once you get on it and try to head-butt soccer balls, you will find yourself more engaged than you’re willing to admit.

As you can see, deciding who is the clear winner of E3 is really the classic apples-and-oranges scenario. Some of us, who play more traditional hardcore games and fans of certain titles will probably think Microsoft has a better offering. If you own a PSP or PS3, you’ll probably consider Sony the best offering. If you’re looking purely at numbers and market penetration, Nintendo is going to eat the other two’s lunch.

As usual, winning is a matter of perspective.

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Comments:

I don’t agree with Edie’s overall view on things, but I think she is absolutely correct about one thing - Nintendo, whether you like you it or not (and if you’re on a videogame website, you’re probably on the “not” side), had an excellent showing in the sense that they’re going to make an *insane* amount of money off this stuff. Wii Fit and Tough Generation games, in addition to all the other casual stuff, basically mean the US Mint should provide Nintendo with a machine so that it can save itself some time and just print out all the money that’s headed its way itself.


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