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The most important E3 in years is now behind us. Battle lines have been drawn in the next Console race, magical moments have been written into gaming history and - oh my word - there were a lot of amazing games to play. CVG has provided wide-ranging analysis of the event, from deeper themes to awesome pictures to the best games. It begins here:
The future remains clouded
Should we really believe the next-gen strategies will revive a declining market?
by Rob Crossley
E3 is back, right? It's a strange thought to entertain, but one the industry will be pondering this morning as its jetlagged attendees trundle back into the office with that manic sun-kissed week in LA behind them.
Nothing really happened at E3 2012, which naturally raised questions over the event's "relevance". But E3 2013 was a vintage year, with many, many awesome things to see and play. Suddenly everyone is excited about games again, and in that sense E3's purpose (to whip the market into its annual frenzy) has been fulfilled.
Only, the big questions are still left unanswered. Are consoles past their peak? What is the workable solution to diminishing returns for publishers and developers? Will games be anything more than the middleweight of the entertainment sector? Will the PC and mobile continue to be the smartest platforms to develop for?
It was the duty of Sony and Microsoft to provide assurances and answers to these questions, and I'm certain they haven't yet. Ignoring the whole DRM and public relations issues for a second, are these new boxes from Microsoft and Sony really signs of progress? Do we really think they'll sell to a bigger audience than the Xbox 360 and PS3?
Will they really expand the market like the Wii had and Wii U hasn't? And if the market doesn't grow, and with the financial burdens in creating games only intensifying, then where is this extra money coming from? Right, now is a good time to talk about the DRM issue.
I'll say this about Microsoft; at least it's planning for what's truly happening to the market. Some 240 million consoles were sold in the current generation and I believe that, for the first time in the modern age, that number will not carry on upwards. In fact it may fall quite significantly.
It's the casual gamer factor. That audience which Nintendo once had in the palm of its hand are now enraptured by iPads and smartphones. No one is truly sure whether this vast market is even interested in consoles anymore.
If you take a look at the entire list of games paraded at E3, it's hard to find one which targets that market. Where there was once invention and innovation - from brilliant plastic guitars to glitzy karaoke simulators - there is now just a sea of virtual guns and grenades, albeit with more expressions on the faces of those firing them.
The games business is converging back to its core, and right now this is hurting Nintendo the most. If the casuals have truly left the party, then the majority of those 100 million Wii customers have gone for good, and Nintendo is left with just its core user base, who bought 20 million GameCubes and 30 million N64s.
Unless something unforeseeable happens, I don't expect the Wii U will sell any more than 30 million units. The rather unimaginative Nintendo Direct showcase at E3 didn't suggest any ambitions beyond this. The Wonderful 101, no matter how fun it looks, isn't going to change the world.
And while the Xbox 360 has already hit 80 million units, I've no reason to think Microsoft is particularly concerned about beating that number. Microsoft's games team may be a dogmatic bunch but they are super fast learners, and they know the real trick isn't shifting as many loss-making boxes as humanly possible. The trick is to get as much money as possible out from a shrinking audience.
Let's not forget that the earth is blanketed with areas and markets that the Xbox One simply won't work in. This system is designed to dominate in the UK and the US and make as much out from those markets as possible.
This is why Microsoft has taken the decision to not only sell games but also control how customers use them. Piracy and second-hand sales will be minimal on the Xbox One by virtue of its online infrastructure and restrictive policies, and the theory is that this gives Microsoft (and third-party publishers) a far healthier margin on game sales. This is just as much about greed as it is about survival - it largely solves that issue of a contracting market and growing dev costs.
But of course the dedicated core market, which has been here all along, is repulsed by the idea of giving up some of its liberties in order to improve a flagging business. These people already spend £40 ($60) on games - a number which only seems more bizarre as each year passes - and would like to think that in exchange for such vast sums of money it could actually own something, thanks very much.
Sony's scintillating E3 press conference was a PR victory merely for acknowledging the problem of Microsoft's solution, but really did it provide any alternatives?
Don't get me wrong, I'm delighted with how the PS4 has turned out. I think Gabe Newell won't be. This is a Steam Box (a digital-first super-charged super-smart PC) at a relatively low price with Sony's studio network backing it. It will sell at a loss but, as I understand it, so will the Xbox One even at its £429 UK RRP.
The big question is whether the PS4, as perfectly pitched as it is, will be enough to revive the industry's fortunes. It's a machine built to be profitable much quicker than its predecessor was, but in terms of appeal I can't see anyone other than existing gamers buying it.
Isn't that the problem in the first place? Costs are going up and the market size is - probably - shrinking. In five years time when we all start talking about PlayStation 5 and Xbox god-knows-what, I wonder whether there will be enough room for three separate companies competing in the same space.
E3 2013 was an amazing showcase of games that I will no doubt have a brilliant time playing, but it didn't offer me any confidence about the bigger challenges ahead.
Next: The story in pictures