E3 for Retail: Microsoft focuses on Xbox One games while Sony reveals PlayStation TV is coming

Every June, thousands of industry leaders and professionals descend on the Los Angeles Convention Centre for the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3: the world’s biggest computer game conference. The 3-day conference, which boasted over 40,000 attendees last year, serves as a focal point for the latest and greatest in the gaming industry to share new ideas and to show off older ones that have already come to fruition.

Throughout the pandemonium, Appliance Retailer will be bringing you a daily roundup of the E3 conference, featuring all the information the Australian retail industry needs to know about the world’s most profitable entertainment industry. While several keynote presentations were held on the first day — the traditional date for the biggest announcements by the largest companies — most of the attention was focused on the announcements made by industry giants and lead console manufacturers Microsoft and Sony.

In stark contrast to Microsoft’s much criticised console-focused presentation at last year’s E3, its 2014 keynote  focused entirely on future game releases. Headlining the list was the announcement of the next two games in the incredibly popular Halo franchise: Halo 5: Guardians and Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

While Halo 5 looks to add a new chapter to the sci-fi saga, The Master Chief Collection instead remasters and updates the previous four games for the Xbox One platform, which makes stocking this game a priority for retailers. The original Halo was the second best selling game on the first Xbox console, only being beaten by its sequel, Halo 2, while every game in the franchise has broken sales records upon release.

Chances are that nostalgia from a new generation of Xbox One users will turn this anthology into a commercial and critical success when it is released on 11 November 2014.

During the presentation, Microsoft also showed off video and gameplay from several new games for the Xbox One, including new entries into the blockbuster Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty franchises. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was particularly noteworthy, showing off an updated graphics engine, and in-game performances by Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey.

Microsoft’s shift away from promoting the Xbox One’s hardware and towards a focus on games is in keeping with their recent decision to sell Xbox One consoles without their proprietary Kinect sensor. This year’s keynote featured no mention of new features for the motion and voice detecting camera, while no games showcased offered Kinect functionality.

Kinect, a camera that can allow the user to control the console’s functions using voice or gestures, has faced criticism in the past for its small base of features (even fewer in Australia, where some of the US functionality has not been transported across the Pacific) and minimal game support. While Xbox One and Kinect have previously been sold in a bundle, consumers will now have a chance to opt out of purchasing the Kinect, significantly lowering the price point of purchasing an Xbox One from RRP $599 to $499, which brings it in line with the cost of its main competitor, Sony’s PlayStation 4.

Unlike Microsoft’s game-centric presentation, Sony balanced breaking hardware news with release announcements in their 2.5-hour keynote extravaganza. Top of the list in hardware news was a limited edition PlayStation 4 bundle created to coincide with the release of the game Destiny, made by Halo designers Bungie, and slated to hit shelves in September 2014. The bundle, while including a full copy of the game, will also come with a special ‘glacier white’ version of the PlayStation 4 console and controller, along with a 30-day trial membership to Sony’s PlayStation Plus service.

Another hardware-based announcement was the news that Sony’s previously Japan-Only mini console, the PlayStation TV, would be arriving on Australian shores later this year. The small black box is designed to be able to stream PlayStation Vita games (Sony’s current handheld console) to any television, to be played with a simple PlayStation controller. The PlayStation TV also offers web browsing support, access to third-party apps like YouTube, and extra features when connected to an existing PlayStation 4 (such as the ability to stream content both to and from the console).

While the PlayStation 4 is currently leading the pack in consoles sold, when compared to similar offerings by Nintendo and Microsoft, the global release of the PlayStation TV is a distinct drive to add value to already purchased Sony consoles and to spark renewed buying interest by consumers, not just around the PS4 but also the less popular Vita handheld.

The PSTV may also find a market in consumers wishing for a low cost solution for adding basic Smart TV capabilities to their existing system. The PlayStation TV is set to retail for RRP $149.

Sony also had a chance to show off their upcoming PlayStation Now streaming service. PS Now allows PlayStation 4 and Vita users to stream games straight to their console without the need to install any content first, enabling a change in the way that players both buy and consume games, particularly on handheld consoles. The ability to stream fully rendered games to the PlayStation Vita handheld could breathe new life into the failing system in the way that easy access to games like ‘Angry Birds’ helped boost adoption of early smartphones.

However, Australians will have to wait a while for this service to be available locally. Managing director of Sony Computer Entertainment Australia, Michael Ephraim, said it was unlikely to be rolled out until 2015.

Tucked among all the high profile releases was a little bit more information on Sony’s foray into the world of virtual reality (VR), Project Morpheus. Information on the VR goggles, produced to directly compete with VR frontrunners Oculus, and its Rift headset, was scarce, only confirming that the PlayStation camera peripheral for the PS4 would be incorporated into the way Project Morpheus runs. However, Project Morpheus is being displayed on the E3 show floor this year, so more information on the experiment will be made known by the end of the conference.

On the software side, Sony announced several high profile releases for their PS4 and Vita systems. Established and top selling franchises Little Big Planet by Media Molecule and Uncharted by Naughty Dog will be returning for their third and fourth installments respectively, while footage from new and exclusive games like No Man’s Sky, out of Hello Sky,  and The Order: 1886, by Ready at Dawn, helped to bolster confidence behind what is so far this generation’s best selling console.

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