With some of gaming’s biggest developers, publishers, and everyone else in between gathering at E3 to show off their latest and greatest, it is inevitable that everyone there will be trying to one-up everyone else, practically scrambling over one another to win the coveted adoration of the Internet (which, according to most estimates, is worth about $3.50). Thankfully, there aren’t any new consoles that are expected to be unveiled at this year’s E3, so the virtual burn ward shouldn’t be as busy as it was during E3 2013, but that won’t mean that the competition will be any less fierce. This year, Microsoft is going to be coming out of the gate swinging with Scorpio, games like State of Decay 2, possibly some Crackdown 3 news, and maybe even some HoloLens, to say nothing of whatever cross-promotional presentation opportunities they may have with big name developers like EA, Ubisoft, or Bethesda.
Unfortunately for Microsoft, their E3 history has been rather shaky over the past half decade or so. Putting aside the fact that Sony has a bottomless wallet for purchasing advertising for non-platform exclusive games, Microsoft’s greatest weakness during E3 is that they tend to shoot themselves in the foot quite a bit by over-explaining things. Even as recently as E3 2016, Microsoft made it seem like they were kind of (but not really, we swear!) trying to replace the Xbox One with the Xbox One S, which would then be followed by the Scorpio, which of course needed a video that explained why the Scorpio shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for the Xbox One but rather as an upgraded version of the Xbox One that you totally don’t have to buy (but you should!) if you already have an Xbox One.
On the bright side, at least Microsoft learned their lesson from earlier E3 events by focusing most of their presentation on games rather than trying to sell features that the general populace (in their typical short sighted nature, as one may argue) wouldn’t find palatable at the time. To win this year’s E3 (or at least not get ruthlessly mocked by the Internet), it might be prudent for Microsoft to continue their strategy of framing everything as it directly pertains to gaming, especially if they intend to show off any hardware. Is this an obvious strategy that shouldn’t even need to be mentioned? Perhaps, but it bears repeating seeing as how most of E3’s audience is going to be watching to see what new games or consoles are going to be released and how it impacts them specifically within the next year. Remember, there were a lot of vocal people who hated the idea that the Xbox One might not have a disc drive, and yet, the idea that digital copies of games might completely replace physical copies within several years isn’t quite so inconceivable anymore.
With that in mind, Microsoft could always start off their E3 presentation with a little tease for their next Halo project (more likely to be a side game like Halo Wars 2, Halo: Reach, or Halo 3: ODST than a numbered main title), being that it is their flagship series. From there, it would just be a small matter to introduce all the other games that are coming to the Xbox; anything that comes from say, EA or Bethesda would be great, but any other fairly well-known AAA or AA developer would do. However, in order to compete with Sony, there must be a particular emphasis on exclusive and new IPs that appeal especially to North American and European audiences. Fighting Sony for the Japanese market may as well be a lost cause; though, judging by how successful Sony is at making it seem like every game is a PlayStation exclusive, just showing off new and exciting games may not be enough.
To that end, Microsoft must find some way to make Xbox Live seem like a superior service in every way possible to the PlayStation Network. Whether it be by offering more, higher quality free games every month, or by offering a significantly cheaper service, or by some other means, Microsoft has to find some way to make PlayStation fans question whether or not they have a superior online service, but such a message has to be framed in a way that even the most dull consumer can understand that they will be getting a better deal. Spending too much time talking about the technical side of Xbox Live, regardless of how impressive it might be to those who are already interested in such a topic, is yet another lost cause since such people tend to be less … impulsive in their purchasing decisions, or one would hope so anyways. Driving home the fact that Microsoft is more open to console mods (see Fallout 4, Skyrim) is a bonus, but not entirely necessary given the lack of console games that this would be applicable to.
It is not enough to merely compete with Sony, though; Microsoft has to kick them where it hurts, and with the stagnation of VR, this would be an excellent time to get people interested in HoloLens. Roughly 1 in 50 PS4 owners have PlayStation VR, an impressive number to be sure, but look at the list of games that are or will be available on PlayStation VR; of the 215 titles that are on that list, there aren’t a lot of exclusives on there, and of the exclusive titles, how many even sound like games that your average consumer would play? HoloLens has plenty of potential, but Microsoft needs to show that HoloLens is not just the next overly complicated business presentation tool. The Kinect failed because, frankly, it clashed with the not so untrue stereotype that people become extraordinarily lazy when they play games, but HoloLens can rectify this and one of VR’s greatest weaknesses with just one good E3 presentation. HoloLens’ debut at E3 2015 was impressive (though skeptics would say otherwise), but if Microsoft can show some guy just sitting down in a beanbag chair, putting on the headset and playing something like Halo without the need for wacky accessories, extra long extension cords, or phallic peripherals, that alone would be enough to get people talking. Or better yet, open HoloLens up to the public and let them try it, if it’s as amazing as Microsoft claims it is.
Let’s not forget about Scorpio either; its debut at last E3 undoubtedly left some people confused at best, but if Microsoft can get their messaging right this time around, then Scorpio may be able to find its way into homes around the world in no time at all. Obviously, Microsoft would want to throw out that Scorpio is capable of producing better graphics, 4K gaming, and so on and so forth, but it should be noted that it would do no good to compare Scorpio to the PS4 Pro, seeing as how the latter has already been released. Instead, Scorpio must be advertised as being capable of bringing mid-high end PC tier graphics to homes with the price tag and ease of use of a console; a more affordable competitor to modern PCs that can keep up with PCs without the need for upgrades for a couple more years, for those who want such a thing. It is a bit of a pipe dream of course, but any other alternative would drastically lower its appeal to console users; if it’s too expensive, then there’s no way that parents will buy it for little Timmy, and if there’s not enough of a performance upgrade, then there’s no reason for existing Xbox One users to upgrade, especially when Scorpio is not intended to outright replace the Xbox One to begin with.
In any case, it all boils down to the underlying way Microsoft presents itself at E3 rather than what they present, which is something that Sony has had no trouble with lately. After all, there’s no real point to explaining what Azure servers are or whatnot when Sony can just make a 5 second video of someone handing a disc to someone else and saying “This is how you can share used games on the PS4.” Is it unfortunate that oversimplifying things is rewarded? Perhaps, but in the end, you kind of have to appeal to the lowest common denominator if you want to win the “culture war” that is E3, especially with how influential soundbites and gifs are in shaping conversations on the internet nowadays.