E3 2014: Microsoft’s New Approach Paid Off Big

Microsoft has certainly come a long way in the past 12 months. Last year’s Xbox E3 presentation was an unquestionable disaster, and one of the definite low points in the history of the Xbox brand. The poor messaging of the Xbox One’s always online and DRM restrictions and the focus on multimedia features over games were among the biggest factors in the very poor reception to Microsoft’s E3 2013 showing. In the year since Microsoft has continued to course correct, and while some may say their drastic changes were a bit desperate, there is no denying all of them are for the better. This has culminated in this year’s Xbox E3 presentation, which paints a much brighter picture for the future of Xbox.

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While the mere fact of the current state of the Xbox One means Microsoft was coming into this year’s E3 in a much better position than last year, their approach to this year’s presentation was the real change. Last year they spent a significant amount of time on kinect functionality and multimedia offerings, but this year was pretty much all games. Over the course of the 90 minute presentation they showed nothing but games and barely even mentioned kinect outside of Harmonix’s upcoming games. Considering the ambivalence most gamers have towards kinect, a kinect-free games only approach is exactly what the majority of the audience wants to see at E3.

It wasn’t just the approach to the content of the presentation that was a huge improvement, but the tone as well. These types of presentations typically have that feeling of fake enthusiasm filled with corporate buzzwords and cringe-inducing exchanges, but these things were mostly avoided in this presentation. Rather than talk in that artificial corporate speak, it was mostly just candid talk of upcoming games. Also, not as much time was devoted to things “exclusive content” and timed DLC deals. Of course being Microsoft they still had these things, but for the most part they just flashed this information on screen during trailers rather than pretend like it’s something to get excited about.

In fact, that the slate of games we saw was among the least impressive aspects of the presentation speaks volumes about how great Microsoft’s approach really was, because the game lineup for Xbox One is looking pretty good as well. We got new glimpses at some of the system’s major upcoming games, most notably Sunset Overdrive, Project Spark, and Forza Horizon 2. We may not have gotten to see gameplay of things like Halo 5 or Quantum Break, but the announcement of Crackdown 3, The Master Chief Collection, and Scalebound more than made up for it. Microsoft didn’t really have that one major game reveal that everyone can point to as a topic of unanimous excitement, but the overall offering was certainly more than solid.

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As someone that hasn’t yet picked up an Xbox One, this presentation certainly had a lot to entice me to maybe finally jump on board. It’s really quite amazing to see Microsoft in the position they are in now after they basically seemed dead in the water just one year ago. Phil Spencer’s games centric approach certainly seems to paying off in terms of public opinion, and I think we’re likely to see it have an effect on the success of the Xbox One very soon. Whether you have an Xbox One or not, Microsoft’s strong showing this year can be only a be a good thing for this industry, and hopefully their new games oriented focus continues in the future.