E3 2012: a round-up

By Philip Morton

This year’s E3 Expo in Los Angeles was the calm before the storm. The videogames industry’s annual showcase event delivered no new hardware and few innovative games.

Instead, it revealed more about console manufacturers’ priorities and the trends which will shape the next generation of platforms.

It began as always with the press conferences, with Microsoft and Sony both clearly in holding patterns before they embrace the costly task of launching new console hardware. They’re often considered direct rivals, but subtle differences appeared at E3.

Microsoft offered little in terms of new software, but its dealmaking was impressive. The Xbox 360 will soon have live sports coverage from the NHL, NBA and ESPN, in addition to the MLB and UFC, completing a sports lineup that rivals any TV network. A partnership with Nike was also secured to bring their training service to the console.

The Xbox 360 is being positioned squarely as an entertainment hub and such deals will help them realise this ambition. When people get home from work, Microsoft want them to instinctively turn on their Xbox 360 for their entertainment needs, rather than just seeing it as a games machine.

Sony’s press conference revealed a slightly different tact. With Microsoft having moved to the top of the console pile and begun to focus on other competitors, the pressure is off Sony to a degree, allowing them to indulge more in creativity.

In Beyond and The Last of Us, they have two extremely promising games which have the potential to sell more of the ageing PS3 console. Both are cinematic action adventures that will appeal to a wide audience; the former will star Ellen Page, the Canadian actress known for her roles in Juno and Inception.

Both Microsoft and Sony will benefit from strong third-party publisher support, particularly from Ubisoft and EA, whose franchises continue to perform well.

Nintendo are in a difficult situation and E3 did little to dissuade doubts in its upcoming Wii U console, set for a release this Christmas. Its controller has been altered for the better and now includes a NFC reader and writer, which could prove interesting. Its games pipeline looks weak though, with many games such as Batman having already been released on other consoles.

With Microsoft and Sony planning their next generation of hardware, Nintendo only has a short window in which to make the most of Wii U sales and whether it can do so is questionable. If it cannot, it will have little room to manoeuvre to remain competitive.

While there were few groundbreaking announcements at this year’s E3, a number of minor trends continue to emerge. Multiscreen gaming experiences and cloud gaming saw more attention than before, while mobile and social gaming also featured on the periphery of the larger console titles.

E3 is always subject to the ups and downs of the industry’s cycles, and this year was the dip before an uplift. None of the industry’s major players made any big moves, but there was plenty to see for those who read between the lines.

Philip Morton

I help businesses create better products and services by putting customer insight at the heart of the design process. In the last six years, I've worked with the likes of Sony PlayStation, HSBC, Sega, Tesco and TSB. In that time, I've seen our research, design and strategy work improve both the experience for customers and commercial outcomes for clients.

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