GAX Gabs: The Great E3 2019 Roundtable

by Ade Putra, Kenneth Ang, Wei Song, Tim Augustin

  1. Opening & Platform Holders
  2. Publishers
  3. Games
  4. Expectations

Ade: Wake up, Samurai.

Gaming’s collective pilgrimage to E3 2019 is now over. As developers, press and fans worldwide heave a sigh of relief, it’s time to unpack our thoughts and dig into all the ups and downs of the world’s biggest gaming convention.

But perhaps “biggest” is subjective now that the industry, like gaming itself, evolves to meet new trends and needs. Sony’s absence — the first in PlayStation’s history — once again called into question the relevance of such a ceremonious, and expensive, showing. Others saw it as E3’s days being numbered, wondering when we’d all just walk the path of Nintendo Direct.

We’ll get into that too but, regardless of its fate, there’s no denying the flood of information and reveals pouring out of Los Angeles last week. The GAX team is here for a lengthy discussion, so get comfy and grab a glass of Chateau Romani. It’s time to get geeky.

PLATFORM HOLDERS

Tim: We’re currently in this awkward little phase in-between console generations, where the entirety of the games industry is gearing to take that next big leap… but we’re not quite there yet. As such, we’re getting teases and glimpses into the future of each major platform holder, and the various directions they’re heading into. 

It could’ve been the year of fantastic E3 reveals and gameplay trailers, but it’s obvious that Google, Microsoft are Sony aren’t quite ready to tell all just yet. Google spoke more about Stadia and how it might work. Nintendo didn’t reveal any new hardware announcements, focusing instead on their games. 

The Big Two were the talk of the town, though. Both of their consoles are six years old by this point (not counting the various ‘pro’ editions released later), so the pressure is on. Sony skipped E3 entirely this year, choosing instead to make announcements on their own terms. Microsoft popped the lid off their new console, but offered only a fleeting glimpse at what it might offer. 

Google

Google’s Stadia Connect presentation promising plenty of third-party games and publishers.

Tim: Google has a lot to prove. It’s the newcomer, the rookie, the unknown. Stadia is the newest gaming platform on the block, promising unbridled performance never seen before on consoles, and yet, perhaps the most untrustworthy of the lot. With Google’s tendency to abandon their own projects soon after launch (see: Youtube Gaming), can we really trust Stadia to be successful in the long term?

Ade: Well, it’ll soon be time for Google to live up to those promises… we just won’t be there to see it. They probably have the infrastructure to get things up and running, it’s just whether or not they can manage user expectations and maintain that standard overseas. Restricting their launch to NA and EU, while understandable, really softens the impact it could have made on gaming as a whole. That pricing structure seems interesting though, and is probably the more sustainable approach to cloud gaming.

Wei Song: Having a Netflix for gaming is an amazing prospect. Imagine telling your Google Home to boot up Cyberpunk 2077 — we are living in the future already. As cool as that sounds, I’m still skeptical if it can be implemented well. Data security, availability of games and cost of it all is a major concern. Since Ubisoft is launching their Uplay+ Stadia, does it mean we have to pay for both subscriptions? If so, the price of games on the long term seem way higher than just getting a copy outright.

Further reading: Stadia has free and premium tiers, not launching in Asia yet

Microsoft Xbox

project scarlett - e3 2019 01

Microsoft Xbox confirming the 2020 release for their next console, codenamed Scarlett.

Tim: Microsoft came out swinging this year. They unveiled several new projects: Project Scarlett, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and Project xCloud. Scarlett is their next-generation console, while Game Pass Ultimate brings Xbox’s library of “free” games to PCs. Project xCloud proves their dedication to making game streaming a thing, but do they stand a chance against Google Stadia in that regard?

Ade: I’m happy to see Microsoft armed for a proper next-gen showdown, though it felt like they stopped short of delivering the ultimate blow. I think xCloud could be Xbox’s real game changer, but they played it safe by zoning in on Scarlett hardware instead; that’s more in line with what their core demographic wants, anyway. To answer Tim’s question, I do think xCloud stands a more realistic chance of scaling worldwide thanks to their use of “console streaming” (Xbox One to device). We’ll see that in action come Oct (Asia included), though I’d love to know where and how “cloud gaming” (datacenter to device) fits on their roadmap. I think that’s what everyone is keeping an eye on.

Kenneth: Console-wise, Scarlett was arguably what I wanted to hear about the most at E3. Unfortunately, I felt Microsoft didn’t come through this round. While it is of course a bummer, it hasn’t really dulled the sense of mystery surrounding the new console either, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Scarlett will knock us out of the park when they actually have something to show.

Further reading: Xbox’s new console launches in 2020 with Halo Infinite

Nintendo

E3 2019 Nintendo Treehouse Live Poke Sword and Shield 01

Nintendo holding a Treehouse live stream for Pokémon Sword and Shield.

Tim: Nintendo did something off the norm this year. They revealed nothing whatsoever on any new hardware they might be working on, instead focusing on the games they have coming up. We can’t really fault them for that. After all, the Switch is only two years old at this point. With gaming news that included Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Pokémon Sword and Shield and even a sequel to Zelda’s Breath of the Wild, fans certainly weren’t left wanting. 

Ade: Now those are three titles that’ll seriously boost Switch sales. Nintendo have shown us a hype-worthy lineup of exclusives for the future, though they’ve failed to address the big rumor that Tim pointed out: what of the new consoles? It’d make sense for them to push a lower-spec Switch to amplify Pokémon’s popularity, but their Direct and Treehouse went by without any hint of a new SKU. Perhaps at the next Direct, just before Sword and Shield drops in November?

Wei Song: If I were a betting man, I would put my money on  the announcement of the new SKU in November as well. This is considering how Nintendo has chosen to slowly shift its focus away from gaming conferences and the news of Nintendo shifting their production away from China. That said the Breath of the Wild sequel definitely came as a surprise for me. 

Kenneth: Indeed, the Breath of the Wild sequel was a very well-done sucker punch, and although it’s not as successfully executed as the FF8 remake, it certainly brought many eyes back onto Nintendo. The timing is immaculate too. Nintendo is obviously going full-ham on the Switch, so in my opinion it’s only logical to have some insurance in the form of a new Legend of Zelda game in case all else fails.

Further reading: Nintendo goes full throttle with Animal Crossing, Breath of the Wild 2

Sony PlayStation

E3 2018 Sony

The Sony PlayStation stage at last year’s E3 2018.

Tim: Sony was a no-show at this year’s E3, but one might argue that they reigned supreme despite that. The Final Fantasy 7 Remake was one of the most talked about topics of E3, next to Cyberpunk’s Keanu Reeves. If you haven’t been paying close attention, FF7R is a PlayStation exclusive (for now), which means people were hyping up PS even if they didn’t know it! Since Sony didn’t make an appearance though, Microsoft had a leg up in their presentation revealing their new console, as well as their new game streaming service. How can Sony hope to keep up now? 

Ade: It’s as if Sony and Nintendo have figured out a new marketing strategy that doesn’t require shows and conventions, only strong IPs and passionate fans. But they still have to keep investors happy, which is probably why they gave a peek at the “PS5” prior to E3. It’ll be competing against Scarlett with raw SSD speeds and whatever hardware wizardry they can get up to, but without any clear updates for their PS Now streaming service (which is still not in SEA). They’ve already invested heavily in streaming thus far, so it’d be a shame to fall behind now that the competition and infrastructure is building up. I guess it’s now Sony’s turn to stay all hush-hush and prepare for their big next-gen announcement, be it exclusives or services.

Best of E3 2019: Platform Holders

Winner — Nintendo / Microsoft

Gamers literally only want one thing and it’s… wait, it’s actually true. Games were why we all tuned in at god-awful hours in the morning for E3, and its games that both Nintendo and Microsoft delivered in spades at their respective presentations.

We arrived at a two-for-two impasse when it came to discussing the winner, with the Mario makers bringing (or teasing!) loads of I-want-it-now titles for their beloved Switch console. On the other hand, we saw a more diverse games line-up from Microsoft — Phantasy Star Online 2! Microsoft Flight Simulator! — which paints a promising picture for Xbox’s content strategy.

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