E3 Expectations: Microsoft

Coming from a lackluster presentation last year that had a lot of games, but not very meaningful exclusives, Microsoft hopes to show to the industry that they are working on their first-party library. According to rumors, Microsoft might have some tricks up their sleeves, and we can hope to see a few exciting announcements.

Halo 6

Halo 5

It’s been almost 3 years since the release of Halo 5: Guardians and it appears to be the perfect time to announce the next iteration of Microsoft’s flagship franchise. The third main title of the series released by 343 Industries is surrounded by mystery and some uncertainty.

While Halo 5’s multiplayer was one of the best in the series, the campaign left a lot to be desired, something that really felt out of character in a franchise revered by its rich story. The silence surrounding Halo 6 has been very interesting, as there’s no idea on which approach Microsoft will take or if it will work as a reboot or as a sequel.

On Sunday we will find out what the future of the franchise holds. I would guess we will at least see a teaser trailer, but that will mean it won’t come out this year, if it comes out in 2018 I’d say that the conference will begin with a trailer and end with a gameplay.

Gears of War Spin-off

Gears

There are many talks about a Gears of War 5 announcement, but it seems too early to start talking about it, Gears 4 was released less than 2 years ago. Announcing a spin-off, however, could work extremely well, as Microsoft did with the Forza series, that grew with the release of the Horizon sub-series.

It could expand the franchise, avoid fatigue in the series and provide more time for The Coalition to work on the main titles. For a while has been rumored a survival horror game in the world of Gears, and it could become Microsoft’s main Fall product. I’d guess we’ll see a gameplay and it will come out in November.

Forza Horizon 4

getphoto-8

This is the safest bet in the entire conference since Forza became an annual franchise. The surprising fact about it was that the Horizon series surpassed the Motorsport series both critically and commercially. Given the huge success of Horizon 3, we can expect for Horizon 4 to be even bigger and hopefully better.

There are rumors regarding a Japanese or English setting, with Japan appearing as a clear preference from fans. We can expect an extended gameplay and a possible September release date.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Ori and the will of the wisps

After Ori and the Blind Forest’s critical and commercial success, its sequel was announced in last year’s conference with a beautiful trailer. We’ll probably see another trailer and a release date, I’d say in August so it won’t be buried by bigger releases in September. It could be released as part of Microsoft’s Fall schedule, but it doesn’t have the size to compete with AAA titles.

Crackdown 3

Crackdown 3

After another delay, Crackdown 3 will have a defining moment at E3. A franchise that isn’t big enough to create hype on its own, it will need to have an exciting showing to regain some traction, generate expectation around the project. We should see an extended gameplay with some major improvements and a bigger focus on Terry Crews’ character.

The Last Night

TheLastNight_03_cropped.0

The most interesting game from last year’s conference, The Last Night is due to appear again, and we should see another trailer and finally a release date. I think it will either come out in this Summer or Earlier 2019.

Below

Below

Announced in 2013, Below has been through a rocky development, to the point it was delayed indefinitely in 2016. But it has resurged this year and we will probably get a release date on it. Given how long the game has been talked about, I think it might be available after the conference, or in July.

Ashen

Ashen_E3Co-op_04

Revealed in 2015, Ashen is another indie exclusive with a long development cycle. Its unique design style and Souls-like battle system have garnered a lot of interest. Due to its slated 2018 release date, I believe it will come out in early August or early September.

Studio Gobo’s Exclusive

Studio Gobo

A partnership that was announced a while ago still remains a mystery, as we know absolutely nothing about it. If we look at their background, they mainly worked on the Disney Infinity series, but also in For Honor and F1 2012. If I had to guess, I’d say that they are working on a new Banjo game, possibly Conker, given their history.

Bohemia Interactive’s Project

DfGSFxxW0AE0N0d

Hinted by a tweet from the composer of the project, we might have a reveal on Sunday. Their project should be another exclusive and a shooter based on the studio’s history. It already has a tagline “What if Humanity Falls” and the studio has retweeted an Xbox tweet talking about Inside Xbox on Monday, almost confirming the announcement.

Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk_2077_1-2

One of the most awaited games of the last few years, CD Projekt Red’s next major RPG is expected to make its debut on this E3. Since they have a past with Microsoft, it will probably appear on their stage. The fact that they can show it on the X gives it more credence, as it would make sense to show it running on the most powerful console available. It will probably have a huge gameplay demo and it should come out in 2019.

Splinter Cell

ghost-recon-wildlands-easter-egg-de-metal-gear-solid-vs-spli_9y1d

A rumor that has been going on for years but that this year appears to finally turn into a reality. The fact that Sam Fisher made an appearance on Ghost Recon: Wildlands and Michael Ironside’s interview at Inside Xbox where he hinted about a possible new title seems to corroborate the idea of an announcement.

All of that converging on a possible sequel and his return to the character for good. Given the series history on Xbox consoles, it would make sense if the title debuted on Microsoft’s stage. Not necessarily a gameplay, but at least a teaser trailer, with a gameplay demo on Ubisoft’s stage.

Anthem

Anthem-Key-Art_preview

Having its gameplay debut on Microsoft’s stage last year, it is expected that Anthem will make another appearance. Maybe with a trailer focused on the story, but another gameplay would be welcomed, even though they might not want another huge sci-fi title on stage. The announcement of a beta exclusive to the console could also happen.

Kingdom Hearts III

KINGDOM-HEARTS-III-26

This may be a long shot, but since it’s the first title to come to the Xbox consoles, it would be interesting to see a trailer or a gameplay on Microsoft’s conference. If it happens I believe they would also announce the release of all the remakes to the Xbox One.

Sea of Thieves

Sea-of-Thieves (1)

Their main bet in the first semester, Sea of Thieves had a successful release but was heavily criticized by its lack of content. I think they will release a trailer talking about future DLC for the game, highlighting the expansions that have been announced and their expected release timetable.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Shadow-of-the-Tomb-Raider

The sequel to Rise of the Tomb Raider, Shadow won’t be an exclusive as the previous title of the series was, but I believe it will make an appearance on Microsoft’s stage. It will probably be its gameplay debut, highlighting the changes on the gameplay side and the stunning graphics.

New Studios

Playground Games

They will probably use some time to address their first-party woes, and I think they’ll bring Matt Booty to talk about investments on new studios. Playground’s purchase should be announced and the opening of new ones.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Assassins-Creed-Odyssey

After Assassin’s Creed Origins’ incredible success last year, a new entry in the series wasn’t expected. However, Ubisoft surprised us with Odyssey, that will take us into ancient Greece, and if rumors are correct, will go even deeper on RPG mechanics. A gameplay demo should be expected and a release date, either Fall 2018 or early 2019.

Game Pass

xbox_game_pass_key_art_us.0

It should be a celebratory moment, talking about how successful it has been and the overwhelming reception. New games should be announced, especially their first-party games. Forza Motorsport 7, Horizon 3, Cuphead and other should come to the service this year.

My crazy guess is that they will announce that AAA third-party titles will be available on release. If I had to guess I’d say Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Splinter Cell will be the first titles to adhere to that.

Changes to Xbox Live Subscription

xbox-live-gold-sale-01.png

The backbone of the Xbox division, Xbox Live Gold has been supporting the console and has been working as a great subscription service. But I believe that they will announce an evolution of the service, that they will create a premium option combining it with Game Pass. You will be able to access both services for a single price, it makes sense as Microsoft looks into converging their products and focus on becoming a service led company.

Battlefield V

battlefield-5

Their partnership with the Battlefield franchise has been very successful and it should receive a special attention. We should see an extended gameplay demo of the campaign and they should mention the fact that all DLC will come first to Xbox consoles.

ID @ Xbox

ID @ Xbox

Some titles of the program may appear on stage with quick gameplay demos, and I believe we’ll see a trailer that will focus on some of the best titles to come.

Japanese Titles

nier-automata-final-fantasy-xv

Like last year, new Japanese titles should take the stage in order to confirm their focus on the Japanese market. I think the release of Nier Automata and Nioh will be announced.

Avengers Game

Avengers

Announced earlier last year, Crystal Dynamics’ Avengers title has been radio silent in the past year. This would be an interesting time to finally show it to the world, especially because Square Enix will have a conference this year. I would only expect a teaser, a gameplay demo would be little unlikely, but I hope I’m wrong.

Rocksteady

Rocksteady

Heavily rumored as a Superman game, Rocksteady’s new title has been greatly anticipated since the release of Batman Arkham Knight. I believe it should appear on Microsoft’s stage given Sony’s exclusive Spider-Man game. I don’t think Sony would want for another hero game to steal Spider-Man’s thunder. A gameplay demo and a release date in 2019 should be expected.

Project Dark

perfect_dark_zero_02_spzr_high_resolution_desktop_1290x1840_wallpaper-1048474

This sounds more like wishful thinking, but this has been a rumor for the past few years and it would be a lovely surprise. It’s a franchise that would work really well on current consoles, with a modern gameplay. I don’t think it’s being worked by Coalition but I think they are assisting on the project if it’s real.

Banjo-Kazooie Anniversary

Banjo

It’s been 20 years since the release of the original Banjo-Kazooie and it would be a great time to release a remaster all of the titles. It could also work as a way to hype the release of a new entry in the franchise.

Features

newxboxavatars

A part of the show that should be boring but that has brought some great news in the past few years. This year I think it won’t be as explosive as backward compatibility but I think mouse and keyboard compatibility, avatars, wishlist and a refund policy will come to the console this year.

 

Advertisements

Companies Microsoft Could Invest in Instead of EA

In the past few weeks, rumors regarding companies that Microsoft was thinking of investing in surfaced around the media. It would work as a way to enhance their first party portfolio, that has been criticized in the past for its lack of quality, original titles, and also as part of the strategy to make Game Pass an even more appealing service.

Valve, PUBG Corp, and EA were named as possible targets, even Sega was rumored due to a visit of the company’s executives to Microsoft’s HQ. And all those news made me think of possible targets for them to go after.

I wouldn’t consider Valve a good option, given that it still is a private company and Gabe Newell would need to approve the sale. And let’s be honest, they haven’t produced many games in the last few years, it wouldn’t help boost their catalog. PUBG Corp. has only produced 1 successful title, and yes it is a massive success, but it doesn’t appear that PUBG will have the longevity Minecraft has, and it might end up being another fad, albeit a huge one.

The only one left was EA, however the company has dealt with PR problems, something that could stifle Xbox’s good momentum, and except for their annual sports franchises and Battlefield, most of their latest releases have been critical or commercial failures, like Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, Need for Speed Payback and Star Wars Battlefront 2.

They also seem to be overly dependent on their established IP’s, and currently, they appear to go through problems with their own development studios. Bioware Montreal merged with Motive after Mass Effect Andromeda’s troubled release, Visceral Games was closed as they developed a single-player Star Wars game, Bioware is allegedly under a lot of pressure as expectations grow around Anthem, as reported by Kotaku. News that Disney was willing to negotiate the Star Wars’ license with other studios also shows another warning sign, even though it could point to an EA sale. There’s no doubt that they would be a great addition to Xbox’s array of studios, but those problems might come in the way of a purchase.

Thinking about those possibilities, I looked into what they could do with the money they’d spend on buying EA, the most realistic possibility for me. To calculate the value of the companies I used the market cap, or the market value of the shares of a publicly traded company at a point in time, market evaluations of private companies, and for some studios, I based it on the value of other studios with similar sizes or franchises of similar success.

Bethesda

 

Market Value: $2.500.000.000,00 (2016)

Buying Bethesda would require a negotiation with ZeniMax Media, their parent company, but it would bring franchises like Elder Scrolls, Skyrim, Prey, Dishonored, Wolfenstein to their portfolio. There wouldn’t be many new games added to Game Pass, but they would be titles with a great critical reception that would bring an amazing value to the service.

Studios such as MachineGames, Arkane and Tango Softworks would be added to their team, and as a plus, they would bring a renowned developer in Todd Howard as part of their staff. Some cultural differences could present a challenge, but it has everything to be a productive partnership.

Capcom

 

Market Value: $2.720.000.000,00

Capcom has seen its better days, nonetheless, they appear to go through a process of recovery after years of struggles. The success of Resident Evil 7, that made fans of the series happy again, and the incredible sales of Monster Hunter World have proved that they still can produce quality titles. Speaking of Monster Hunter, if they made an exclusive title of the series for the Xbox, it would be huge to the Japanese market, that they have failed to succeed at.

Their extensive back catalog would be very attractive, with Okami, the DMC series, Dead Rising series, Mega Man, still resonating with gamers, and many others able to be resurrected such as Dino Crisis (that would look incredible nowadays), Onimusha, Lost Planet, Strider, Viewtiful Joe.

CD Projekt Red

 

Market Value: $2.000.000.000,00

The opportunity to buy one of the most exciting studios certainly sounds appealing. Even the small number of games shouldn’t come in the way or stop them from looking into this talented studio that produced one of the best titles of this generation, possibly ever.

Acquiring them would bring Xbox’s slate of studios to another level, as Naughty Dog did to Sony. Cyberpunk 2077 may come out next year, and we haven’t seen it running to attest its quality, but if The Witcher 3 proved anything is that they have potential to create something incredible. It could also work as a boost to their PC strategy as CD Projekt Red owns GOG, a virtual store that sells PC games without DRM, that if given more investment could work either as a rival to Steam or help them boost their Windows store library.

Insomniac

Market Value: $150.000.000,00 – 300.000.000,00

One of the best independent studios for the past 20 years, Insomniac has produced great titles and is responsible for iconic franchises, like Ratchet & Clank, Spyro, and Resistance (to a lesser degree). They are able to create huge AAA titles and smaller indie games, somehow managing to always deliver high-quality products.

The fact that they already have a relationship with Microsoft, having worked on Sunset Overdrive, could facilitate a negotiation. It would also be a strategic partnership as it would end the relationship they have with Sony whilst adding a very talented studio to their team.

IO Interactive

Market Value: $70.000.000,00 – 125.000.000,00

Coming from the latest Hitman title, IO became an independent studio leaving Square Enix and keeping their IP’s. Even though they only really have one famous franchise, Hitman, they would bring a genre that we rarely see as exclusives anymore, stealth titles.

Yes, a reboot of Kane & Lynch could work, Dog Days had some very interesting ideas, however, the execution was flawed. The last Hitman could work in Xbox’s strategy, as it has the potential to be a live service. The elusive target system worked very well, and the maps were vast and felt alive. Instead of releasing a single title, they could turn it into a service seamlessly.

Remedy

Market Value: $90.000.000,00

A long-time partner of Microsoft, Remedy has also been seen as a possible target of Redmond’s company. Working on 2 exclusives for the company, the revered Alan Wake, and the innovative Quantum Break, they are also responsible for the beloved Max Payne series, that has been dormant, and could make a comeback on the Xbox platform.

Their established relationship could make the transition much easier, their engine could be used by other first-party studios, and their storytelling focus should bring new and interesting titles, even though they might take some time to finish.

Sega

Market Value: $3.970.000.000,00

Sega has been part of gaming history for decades now, with franchises like the Valkyria series, Shenmue, Sonic, Yakuza, Persona, under their umbrella. But it would be a complicated purchase as they have deep relationships with both Sony and Nintendo, creating exclusives for them,  with Yakuza being the best and most successful example.

This would be an appealing purchase not only because of their franchises but because of their studios, especially for the PC market. The possibility of bringing Relic and Creative Assembly to their side, recognized for the RTS titles, with both having worked on Xbox exclusives (Age of Empires IV and Halo Wars 2). Atlus would also come as part of the negotiation, famous for creating quality JRPG’s and games with a unique vision, that are very different than what we can find on the Xbox platform.

Square Enix

Market Value: $5.300.000.000,00

Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy, Just Cause, Deus Ex, Dragon Quest, Kingdom Hearts, Life is Strange, Parasite Eve, Legacy of Kain, Thief, just to name the most famous. The sheer variety of Square Enix IP’s would be enough to back up the decision to purchase them. The ability to continue franchises and reboot several shows the potential of this negotiation, as many of their games please western and eastern audiences.

Their partnership with Marvel could come in the way, but Microsoft could publish those titles as multiplatform. It would allow Microsoft to have exclusives on genres they don’t have, like JRPG’s, Horror and Open World action games. Their partnership in Rise of the Tomb Raider wasn’t as successful as expected, however, the release date was the main responsible.

It may sound small, but their Action Figure division would be another source of income and could work in conjunction with Xbox’s marketing team to enhance character’s recognition and on release strategies.

Take-Two

Market Value: $12.800.000.000,00

This would be massive mainly because of three letters: GTA. If the series became an exclusive it would have an enormous backlash, but let’s be honest, in the end, it would generate huge sales, becoming an actual system-seller unlike we’ve ever seen.

Bioshock, that was originally an Xbox exclusive and is deemed as one of the best franchises of the 360 generation, Red Dead Redemption, that got the internet crazy over a color change in their logo, the NBA, and WWE 2K series, that amass millions of copies sold yearly, would all become part of their catalog, working as a recurrent source of income.

As for the studios, Firaxis, the studio responsible for XCOM and Civilization, Hangar 13, the one behind Mafia, Visual Concepts, would all be part of Xbox’s development team. Their new publishing label, Private Division, could produce small to mid-size titles creating a stable stream of Game Pass additions, keeping the service appealing without having to rely so heavily on third-party support.

But the biggest inclusion would be Rockstar, in a move that would instantly elevate their first-party team to a whole new level. As they are the only studio that can release a title without any gameplay, and with minimal marketing solely on their brand recognition, a topic that I wrote about previously.

Ubisoft

Market Value: $9.290.000.000,00

This prolific publisher became a juggernaut in the last decade, since the release of the original Assassin’s Creed. Some may argue that all of their games are similar, but their formula works as they are always part of the top 10 highest sold titles worldwide every year.

They went through PR problems, yet they appear to have recovered from it. Their catalog is big enough to attract all types of gamers, from platformers to e-sports centric titles. Microsoft could bring UbiArt games back, that were critical darlings, successful commercially, and definitely deserve more attention. And in this live services age, their ability to continue to provide support to their games and practically reboot them after launch is a very valuable skill.

The fact that The Division, Rainbox Six, Assassin’s Creed, Beyond Good & Evil, The Crew, Ghost Recon, Just Dance, Trackmania, and Trials would become Xbox’s franchises is a huge plus as well.

Just to Compare

Currently, EA is valued at approximately $38.6 billion, and for Microsoft to buy them they would need to pay a higher value in order to accrue interest from their stakeholders. I didn’t consider Sony or Nintendo, but I thought of 10 companies that could be bought for roughly $39 billion. It would be impossible to buy all of them because of regulations, and the headache that it would be to organize so many operations, but some could be valuable purchases.

Companies Market Value
Bethesda  $    2.500.000.000,00
Capcom  $    2.720.000.000,00
CD Projekt Red  $    2.000.000.000,00
Imsoniac  $        300.000.000,00
IO Interactive  $        125.000.000,00
Remedy  $          90.000.000,00
Sega  $    3.970.000.000,00
Square Enix  $    5.300.000.000,00
Take-Two  $  12.800.000.000,00
Ubisoft  $    9.290.000.000,00
Total  $  39.095.000.000,00
EA  $  38.590.000.000,00

Other possibilities:

  • Sumo Digital
  • Ninja Theory
  • Obsidian Entertainment
  • Studio MDHR

 

 

The Digital Future Has Finally Arrived on Consoles

Last week Microsoft announced that all their future exclusives would be released as part of Xbox Game Pass’ library the same day as they are released. More than just a bold move by the company, that will allow every consumer to play their biggest franchises without the requirement of purchasing them, it represents a movement that has been long in the making when it comes to consoles. At last, the digital future has arrived.

From now on every new exclusive title released by Microsoft such as Crackdown 3, State of Decay 2, Sea of Thieves, and the new Halo, Forza, will all be available at launch. And that aligns with Xbox’s focus on digital services like Games with Gold, EA Access and Game Pass itself.

 

Sea-of-Thieves (1)
Sea of Thieves will be the first title to debut their new strategy

 

It also works in tandem with what Phil Spencer declared on Unlocked #285, where he talked about his focus on reworking their first party slate and on the subscription service and its future, that after this announcement appears to not only receive more attention from the company, as it also shows that it is an integral part of their business strategy going forward.

That’s not to say that everybody was happy with the news, like Gameware, an Austrian retailer that won’t sell Microsoft’s products anymore, a movement that was followed by more retailers worldwide. Gamestop’s stocks also dropped right after the news came out, failing to recover. And there’s a clear reason why that happened, as it represents the inevitable undoing of physical stores, that lost the PC market, and sooner or later will see the same scenario with the console market.

 

GME_YahooFinanceChart (1)
From the 23rd forward, Gamestop’s stocks have fallen steadily, struggling  to recover

 

Even though it’s a clear sign of things to come for the physical market, that, unfortunately, will be the most affected party by this decision, in the past few years we have seen the digital market growing aggressively whilst companies like Gamestop have seen their business losing space. But in the end, it is a consumer-friendly strategy that was bound to happen. And we can expect benefits for gamers and for Microsoft.

For Gamers

  • The first and clearest of all is that like Netflix and Spotify, consumers will have access to more content for a low price, and now, at launch.
  • If proven to attract consumers, more publishers will adhere to the service, possibly releasing exclusive titles to the service.
  • Games will take less time to be released to Game Pass.
  • If successful, it will force Sony and Nintendo to create similar programs.

For Microsoft

  • More consumers will feel attracted to subscribe to the service, that has received quality additions monthly, and if that keeps up, they may become regulars.
  • Customer perception regarding the company will certainly be more positive, as we’ve seen in the past few years with customer-friendly strategies.
  • Non-customers might feel inclined to buy an Xbox console, as you can easily assemble a library for a reasonable price.
  • It clearly differentiates the company from its competitors, that through innovations (quietly coming back to the original Xbox One ideas), has created an identity that company didn’t have for years now. Of being a ground-breaking, fresh, bold division willing to take risks, looking into bringing the easiest and best experience to the Xbox consoles.

We may see some downsides, as publishers might try to force microtransactions given that they’ll lose their early windows push when the majority of sales happen. In order to attract more companies, or to appease to the physical market, the price can rise. But as we saw recently in the Star Wars Battlefront 2 controversy, the market is not afraid to use its voice, and they will probably leave the price alone since it remains as it most appealing factor.

Whether we like it or not, the video game market is just following the example of other entertainment industries, that changed their entire behavior to adjust to a digital future. It took some time, but finally, we see the console market willing to take the first step for that to happen. A step that at first will bring some pain, but that will advance the industry as a whole.

 

 

 

 

2017 The Game Awards Predictions

2017 ended up being an amazing year for games, to the point it might even be considered the best of this generation. New and interesting games, old franchises making incredible comebacks whilst others established themselves. Like last year, let’s make some predictions about the possible winners of this year’s The Game Awards. What are your favorite choices, let’s talk in the comments.

And the nominees are:

Game of the Year

  • Horizon Zero Dawn (Guerrilla Games / Sony Interactive Entertainment)
  • Persona 5 (Atlus)
  • PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG Corp.)
  • Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo EPD / Nintendo)
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo EPD / Nintendo)

If I had to guess

Zelda: Breath of the Wild

the_legend_of_zelda_breath_of_the_wild-8

In a year with great nominees, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild really stood out. Personally, my game of the year would be Horizon Zero Damn, I still am enamored by the beauty of the world, the exciting combat, great lead character, Aloy may become as big as Nathan Drake, Master Chief. However, BoTW brought something new and changed the way open world games should work, allowing the player to access any region of the map. It also had interesting survival aspects, varied landscapes, and a real feeling of joy and discovery.

PS: I just can’t accept the fact that an early access title is nominated to game of the year, no matter how much it sold or how much people love it, it would be better to add a new category for that type of game.

Best Game Direction

  • Horizon Zero Dawn (Guerrilla Games)
  • Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (Capcom)
  • Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo EPD)
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo EPD)
  • Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (MachineGames / Bethesda)

If I had to guess

Super Mario Odyssey

super-mario-odyssey-1497381037123_v2_1280x720

I believe another Nintendo game takes the award, but instead of Zelda, Super Mario Odyssey will be the winner. They managed to completely change what we think of 3D platformers again, while games like Yooka-Laylee hold on to the glory days of the genre, Super Mario Odyssey has innovative mechanics, such as the ability to use a hat to transform into any character. And not only that, every part of the game feels that has a purpose, impressing with the variety of gameplay options, and the beautiful design.

Best Narrative

  • Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (Tameem Antoniades, Elizabeth Ashman-Rowe / Ninja Theory)
  • Horizon Zero Dawn (John Gonzalez / Ninja Theory)
  • Nier: Automata (Yoko Taro, Hana Kikuchi, Yoshiho Akabane / Platinum Games)
  • What Remains of Edith Finch (Ian Dallas / Giant Sparrow)
  • Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (Jen Matthies, Tommy Tordsson Bjork / MachineGames)

If I had to guess

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Moment_of_Truth_Sanitized - Wolfenstein 2.jpg

One of the biggest surprises of the year for me was how great the story of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus was. The New Order was a very good game, but its sequel manages to turn a story that could just be silly into something unique, with crazy, charismatic and compelling characters. It has one of the most believable couples in games, and it goes to completely unexpected places without losing steam or feeling rushed. The other candidates also have great stories, like Hellblade touching important subjects, and Horizon, that created an enticing world and an incredible character like Aloy, What Remain of Edith Finch having a bizarre, unusual story. But none reached the same level of Wolfenstein II.

Best Art Direction

  • Cuphead (Studio MDHR Entertainment)
  • Destiny 2 (Bungie / Activision)
  • Horizon Zero Dawn (Guerrilla Games / Sony Interactive Entertainment)
  • Persona 5 (Atlus)
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo EPD / Nintendo)

If I had to guess

Cuphead

cuphead

Horizon’s creature design was impressive, Persona 5 has a style unlike any other game, BoTW showed that you don’t need a powerful machine to create a vast and breathtaking world, and Destiny 2 is just jaw-dropping. But Cuphead is a design feat, to see a small team recreating the look of 1930’s cartoons into a game is something to marvel at. It manages to bring something never seen before in the industry whilst feeling modern, and I think that it will resonate with voters. It is a design masterpiece.

Best Score / Music

  • Cuphead (Kristofer Maddigan)
  • Destiny 2 (Mike Salvatori, Skye Lewin, C Paul Johnson)
  • NieR: Automata (Keiichi Okabe, Keigo Hoashi)
  • Persona 5 (Shoji Meguro)
  • Super Mario Odyssey (Naoto Kubo, Shiho Fujii, Koji Kondo)
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Manaka Kataoka, Yasuaki Iwata)

If I had to guess

Destiny 2

destiny-2-1

This may be my weirdest guess, but Destiny 2’s soundtrack was completely unexpected, especially after the departure of Marty O’Donnell, a drop in quality wouldn’t surprise anyone. But what we saw was a diverse soundtrack, with different sounds that you might see at a regular FPS. It created an amazing atmosphere throughout the entire campaign, enthralling the player from beginning to end.

Best Audio Design

  • Destiny 2 (Bungie)
  • Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (Ninja Theory)
  • Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (Capcom)
  • Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo EPD / Nintendo)
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo EPD / Nintendo)

If I had to guess

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

hellblade-screen-07-ps4-eu-25may16

This will sound impartial, but if Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice doesn’t win the award, it will be an outrage. Hellblade’s sound is just perfect, powerful, an integral part of the experience, that without it would be lessened. Using binaural audio Ninja Theory made the gameplay a lot more tense, oppressive, nightmarish, putting the player in the head of Senua, as you hear the voices that guide, deceive, frighten, torment her. A game that must be played with headphones to be fully experienced, it goes beyond its competitors.

Best Performance

  • Ashly Burch, Horizon Zero Dawn (As Aloy)
  • Brian Bloom, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (as BJ Blazkowicz)
  • Claudia Black, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (as Chloe Frazer)
  • Laura Bailey, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (as Nadine Ross)
  • Melina Juergens, Hellblade (as Senua)

If I had to guess

Ashly Burch as Aloy – Horizon Zero Dawn

ashleybursch_1401x788-bce7581b-68ce-4122-93c4-8076e39d58f7 (1)

Melina Juergens is also very deserving of the award, especially if we consider the fact that she wasn’t even an actress prior to playing Senua, as she made you feel every emotion she went through, the pain, the doubt, the misery. However, I think Ashly Burch will take it, as she performed Aloy in a way that perfectly displayed the various facets of character, her courage, her fear, her doubts, her hope, in such a charismatic, honest manner that she will become not only the face of PlayStation but of the industry as well.

Games for Impact

  • Bury Me, My Love (The Pixel Hunt / Figs / ARTE / Playdius)
  • Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (Ninja Theory)
  • Life is Strange: Before the Storm (Deck Nine / Square Enix)
  • Night in the Woods (Infinite Fall)
  • Please Knock on My Door (Levall Games AB)
  • What Remains of Edith Finch (Giant Sparrow / Annapurna Interactive)

If I had to guess

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

a76130c3-3787-4997-a9ca-2594841a0a60

I love the Life is Strange series, even though Before the Storm doesn’t have the same level of quality as the original, and Night in the Woods deals with depression in a natural and genuine manner. Yet, Hellblade doesn’t only tackle mental issues in the story, but also in the gameplay, in the sounds and sights. It creates the entire experience around it, using advisers to assist on how to demonstrate the aspects of the disease. And the fact that we see that in a game with a bigger budget represents a bold and much-needed move by the developers, that throughout the story showed how it affected Senua, the struggles she went through and how she dealt with them.

Best Ongoing Game

  • Destiny 2 (Bungie / Activision)
  • Grand Theft Auto Online (Rockstar Games)
  • Overwatch (Blizzard)
  • PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG. Corp)
  • Rainbow Six: Siege (Ubisoft Montreal / Ubisoft)
  • Warframe (Digital Extremes)

If I had to guess

Overwatch

overwatch1280jpg-6daa73_1280w

My personal vote would go to Rainbow Six: Siege, simply because of the fact that not only they brought gamers back, but greatly increased the audience, reshaping the entire game with constant updates. But my bet would be on Overwatch, that consistently adds great characters, thematic events while maintaining an active audience that became so big it turned into an important part of Blizzcon.

Best Independent Game

  • Cuphead (Studio MDHR Entertainment)
  • Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (Ninja Theory)
  • Night in the Woods (Infinite Fall)
  • Pyre (Supergiant Games)
  • What Remains of Edith Finch (Giant Sparrow / Annapurna Interactive)

If I had to guess

Cuphead

cuphead (1)

After several years of development, Cuphead was expected to be underwhelming, as it usually happens with games that are shown years ahead of release. Gladly that wasn’t the case, even the added platform moments felt amazing, it was as beautiful as expected and incredibly challenging, feeling like an old school game that fits perfectly in our current gaming landscape.

Best Action Game

  • Cuphead (Studio MDHR Entertainment)
  • Destiny 2 (Bungie / Activision)
  • Nioh (Team Ninja / Sony Interactive Entertainment)
  • Prey (Arkane Studios / Bethesda)
  • Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (MachineGames / Bethesda)

If I had to guess

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

2135-1

It is beautiful, bold, brash, crazy, the gameplay is frantic, explosive, visceral and it deserves this award. Wolfenstein II greatly enhanced aspects of the first game whilst adding new mechanics, new and surprisingly compelling characters, and turned “B.J.” Blazkowicz into one of the best characters of the year. The fact that they annoyed nazis was a plus.

Best Action/Adventure Game

  • Assassin’s Creed: Origins (Ubisoft Montreal / Ubisoft)
  • Horizon Zero Dawn (Guerrilla Games / Sony Interactive Entertainment)
  • Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo EPD / Nintendo)
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo EPD / Nintendo)
  • Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (Naughty Dog / Sony Interactive Entertainment)

If I had to guess

Horizon Zero Dawn

HorizonZeroDawn_o

Since I betted that Zelda would win game of the year, and award shows tend to prefer to spread the awards, I would bet on Horizon to take this category. And I really do believe that it is a better action game than Zelda, the characters are more well-developed, the variety of enemies is great, the world is mysterious and beautiful, and the combat is truly exciting and challenging. It made me tense like I wasn’t in a long time, as it requires you to think fast and adapt to enemies. The fact that it is one of the most beautiful games on any console also helps.

Best Role-Playing Game

  • Divinity: Original Sin II (Larian Studios)
  • Final Fantasy XV (Square Enix Business Division 2 / Square Enix)
  • NieR: Automata (Platinum Games / Square Enix)
  • Persona 5 (Atlus)
  • South Park: The Fractured But Whole (Ubisoft San Francisco / Ubisoft)

If I had to guess

Persona 5

Persona 5.jpg

Divinity: Original Sin 2 is a remarkable title, NieR: Automata is strangely amazing, Final Fantasy XV was a rebirth for the series. Persona 5 on the other hand, represents the epitome of the franchise, improving on every single level, with a refined combat system, time management mechanics, a wonderful cast, stunning visuals. Simply the best example of what JRPG’s can bring to the market, and why they are so loved.

Best Fighting Game

  • Arms (Nintendo EPD / Nintendo)
  • Injustice 2 (NetherRealm Studios / Warner Bros. Interactive Ent)
  • Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite (Capcom)
  • Nidhogg 2 (Messhof Games)
  • Tekken 7 (Bandai Namco Studios / Bandai Namco Entertainment)

If I had to guess

Injustice 2

INJUST2-v1-(coverA)_gallery_59e67d805ca693.85209892

The easiest category for me, mainly because Injustice 2 is not only the best fighting game of the year, especially after Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite’s disappointment, it is one of the best games of the year. When it comes to gameplay it still feels great, the graphics are flawless, with some of the best facial expressions we’ve ever seen, there’s a robust customization system. And let’s talk about the story, an example that the DCU should follow, by creating a serious story with huge stakes, but that doesn’t feel forced or dragged, it has light and dark moments, and it worked perfectly.

Best Family Game

  • Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Nintendo EAD / Nintendo)
  • Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (Ubisoft Paris + Milan / Ubisoft)
  • Sonic Mania (PagodaWest Games, Headcannon / Sega)
  • Splatoon 2 (Nintendo EPD / Nintendo)
  • Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo EAD / Nintendo)

If I had to guess

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

3279789-mario-rabbids

Despite my impression that either Super Mario Odyssey or Splatoon 2 will win, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle caught people off guard. What many expected to be just this simple strategy game ended up becoming a lighter, more colorful version of XCOM, without the squad management, but as much fun and exciting to play.

Best Strategy Game

  • Halo Wars 2 (Creative Assembly, 343 Industries / Microsoft Studios)
  • Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (Ubisoft Paris + Milan / Ubisoft)
  • Total War: Warhammer II (Creative Assembly / Sega)
  • Tooth and Tail (Pocketwatch Games)
  • XCOM 2: War of the Chosen (Firaxis Games / 2K)

If I had to guess

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

mrkb-encounter-desktop_291918

This category I had some question before choosing. After all, Halo Wars 2 was good, but kind of a disappointment and I don’t believe that neither Total War: Warhammer 2 nor Tooth and Tail have the profile, the attention required to win. XCOM 2: War of the Chosen was well-received, however, it just an expansion and it didn’t get the level of adoration for that to happen. So I chose Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle to win another award, it had critical acclaim, it managed to reach a bigger market, and it really was a good strategy game.

Best Sports/Racing Game

  • FIFA 18 (EA Vancouver / EA)
  • Forza Motorsport 7 (Turn 10 Studios / Microsoft Studios)
  • Gran Turismo Sport (Polyphony Digital / Sony Interactive Entertainment)
  • NBA 2K18 (Visual Concepts / 2K Sports)
  • Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 (PES Productions / Konami)
  • Project Cars 2 (Slightly Mad Studios / Bandai Namco Entertainment)

If I had to guess

Forza Motorsport 7

8a71ffbd-e69c-45f2-8f85-dc8e483f6a5c.jpg

This one was based on elimination. Fifa 18 wasn’t a great evolution and has microtransactions issues. NBA 2K18 doesn’t deserve the award because of the microtransactions. Gran Turismo Sport was a letdown. Project Cars 2 was praised but didn’t seem to garner a lot of love or a huge audience. PES 2018 didn’t make any noise. Forza Motorsport enhanced some areas, changed some things, and still is a great addition to the series, known for its huge quality, so that’s why I think it will win.

Best Multiplayer

  • Call of Duty: WWII (Sledgehammer Games / Activision)
  • Destiny 2 (Bungie / Activision)
  • Fortnite (Epic Games)
  • Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Nintendo EAD / Nintendo)
  • PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG Corp.)
  • Splatoon 2 (Nintendo EPD / Nintendo)

If I had to Guess

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

3206264-pubg+artwork_

This one is a lock, although I don’t agree with the game of the year nomination, there’s no denying PUBG’s huge impact this year for multiplayer games. It sold more than 20 million copies, reached more than 2 million concurrent players. The fact that they accomplished that without a major marketing budget, or a huge publisher behind speaks to the quality of the game, that became a phenomenon.

Most Anticipated Game

  • God of War (Santa Monica Studio / Sony Interactive Entertainment)
  • Marvel’s Spider-Man (Insomniac Games / Sony Interactive Entertainment)
  • Monster Hunter World (Capcom)
  • Red Dead Redemption II (Rockstar Games)
  • The Last of Us Part II (Naughty Dog / Sony Interactive Entertainment)

If I had to guess

Red Dead Redemption 2

red-dead-2

Rockstar has had a track record of winning The Game Awards and its previous iterations and not only that, but the other nominees end up competing with each other. Monster Hunter World doesn’t have the cache, the 3 others are PlayStation exclusives. God of War is just around the corner and we have already seen it for a long time, both Marvel’s Spider-Man and The Last of Us Part 2 might not even come out next year. Red Dead Redemption II has a release window and is a highly expected sequel from an adored game, just remember the commotion this picture caused last year.

Best Debut Indie Game

  • Cuphead (Studio MDHR Entertainment)
  • Golf Story (Sidebar Games)
  • Hollow Knight (Team Cherry)
  • Mr. Shifty (Team Shifty)
  • Slime Rancher (Monomi Park)

If I had to guess

Cuphead

3295237-cuphead+screen+shot+9_28_17,+6.46+pm+1

Again Cuphead, but it really is an accomplishment most notably coming from a debuting studio, that created a product that captured the imagination of gamers around the world. Slime Rancher and Golf Story have a big change to win as well, however, I put my chips on Cuphead.

Unity and Brand Awareness

When we talk about games we occasionally tend to talk about the graphics, the audio, gameplay, but we rarely think about what’s behind all of that: the engine. We hear about Frostbite, EA’s proprietary engine that’s been largely advertised and is responsible for most of their projects, Unreal, behind a lot of some of the biggest AAA releases, and the CryEngine, known for being the driving force behind Crysis.

 

battlefield-1-14
Battlefield 1 is an example of the power of Frostbite

 

But last week, a controversy surrounding Unity brought to the discussion the image of these engines. A consumer on steam claimed that he wouldn’t buy a game specifically because it was built using Unity. And many wondered why would anybody give up playing a title simply because of the engine used. The answer is brand awareness.

Every decision a company makes, from the color of the product, specs, sounds it does, to the strategy used to advertise it, all of that aims at brand awareness. That basically consists of the image that a company or a product has on the market. The sound the Xbox does when it boots wasn’t chosen by accident, after all, they use at E3, in trailers, all to create a connection with consumers, an identity, a sound that becomes synonymous with the brand, that it doesn’t matter where you are, you recognize it.

Apple is a master at that, from the aspect of the stores, with a clean look mainly composed of glass and a minimalistic approach to its layout, to the box, that according to Steve Jobs should be an experience when opened. The design of their products, focusing on round shapes, the OS that has a friendlier user experience, the integration of the systems, to create the idea of an ecosystem that works perfectly in conjunction. All of that to change or create the perception of the consumer.

iphone7_box_61_03ab0155ead8_lg
A clean and sophisticated design, a characteristic that Apple cherishes

And when it comes to brand awareness, Unity has a very negative reputation. In part because of poor decisions from management, but mainly because of the games that use the engine. The simplest of the most famous, Unity has made their name as the easiest to use, allowing a user without much game development experience to create a game with less technical hurdles than Unreal and CryEngine.

However, an irresponsible use of assets by developers and an association with low-quality early access games have tarnished the image of not only the engine, as well as the company.

The abusive use of assets from their store has also been responsible for their image problem, with many cases in which we can see the same models and problems in various different games that use Unity.

Developers have used them indiscriminately, with a lot of them using the free license, that requires users to attach their logo to the game, so whenever you start a horrible, poorly designed game and you see their main source of recognition in the splash screen, you relate it to a bad experience.

Many of these titles proliferated through Steam Early Access, and even though we can find many using CryEngine and Unreal, Unity has been the most linked to them.

Another factor is that whereas the other engines appear to be used mainly on AAA games, we rarely see that happening with Unity. The most high-profile project using it is Hearthstone, that is not the kind of game that feels like AAA. Just look at some famous games powered by these engines.

Hearthstone
Unity
Ryse_Son_of_Rome_Rome_1
CryEngine
batman-arkham-knight
Unreal

 

From what we’ve seen, this situation apparently won’t change that quickly, as the company doesn’t appear to be all that bothered about it. And that could quickly result in a bad ending for them, particularly after the backlash it has suffered recently.

If they are responsible, working on a rebranding focused on attaching their product with quality games, looking to sway the notion gamers have of them, everything can change quickly. If no action is taken, they can either accept that they will never be among the best engines or even worse, become another company that died due to irresponsible management, that didn’t take the market’s viewpoint seriously.

E3 Expectations: Microsoft

On a new day, Sunday afternoon, Xbox has their most important press conference of the past few years, in what it looks like a make or break one. Looking to reveal the highly anticipated Project Scorpio, address the lack of first-party titles and the assumption that there are no real meaningful games on the platform. And unlike last year, no leaks have surfaced regarding their revelations. So, what can we expect from the Xbox this year?

Project Scorpio

Scorpio Chip

First things first, the moment that can help define the brand for the next year, Project Scorpio, or the most powerful console ever made. We’ll probably see the final design of the console, that according to reports may have a similar one to the One S. We’ll find out the release date, I’d guess September, to be launched with Forza 7, and the tricky part, the price.

If it’s 499,00 it shows a company that’s thinking about differentiating it, displaying to the market that it is a premium product. However, it creates a space in which PlayStation could lower the price of the PS4 Pro to 349,00, in a situation impossible to compete, given the price difference. If I were them, I’d eat the loss, and would bring it at 399,00, being a powerful demonstration to the market that they are here not only to compete, but to win. But a Ferrari isn’t anything without gas, and a console isn’t anything without games.

Games

Talking about games, we expect to hear more about the exclusives promised by Phil Spencer. And here I’ll try to separate some possibilities and some guesses regarding First, Third-party and Indie titles that may appear in the conference.

First – party

343 Industries – Halo Spin-off or Perfect Dark Reboot

They have announced that they won’t show the new Halo, but instead they’ll show something else. Maybe it is a 10-year anniversary edition of Halo 3. But I prefer to think that it may be a spin-off title of the Halo series, something like Halo Reach, but in another genre, maybe a third-person shooter.

There’s been rumors regarding the possibility of 343 creating a new IP or a Perfect Dark for the Xbox One. Personally, I find it a great idea, it could become a way to use something from their back catalogue to become another staple for the brand. A female-lead FPS is very rare to find in the market, and 343 has proved to be able to produce quality titles, and they could change the setting so it won’t overlap with Halo. But in the end, I think they’ll just talk about Halo Wars 2 DLC.

Rare – Sea of Thieves and New Banjo, Possibly

Sea of Thieves looks like one of the most promising titles for the platform, after all, it could become a profitable game as a service, something that Phil Spencer has been talking a lot about in the media. The team-based structure with a strong multiplayer focus could reap benefits to the console, representing the resurrection of Rare as we used to know: an innovative and beloved company.

Tests have been happening and from what can be seen around the web, the reception has been very positive. It could become of a surprise, if it manages to keep players engaged for a long time, with a robust update strategy, producing new content, missions, places to explore. But most multiplayer centric titles have failed to do that, with the vast majority becoming ghost towns after a few months.

Few games like Destiny had legs for years, and who knows, Sea of Thieves could become a tentpole franchise for the brand, however it’s facing an uphill battle. Another project is currently being developed at Rare, and there’s been talks that it is Battletoads, but I can think of another studio more suited for it, that I’ll talk about a little later. Rumors of a return of Banjo have surfaced after a tweet from the creator of the franchise hinting at a possible reveal, but at least this year we might not hear much, only a teaser, as it wouldn’t make sense to overflow the audience with Rare projects, as it could confuse the audience.

Turn 10 – Forza Motorsport 7

desktop-wide

Another year comes and another Forza will be revealed, and unless a surprise happens, Forza Motorsport 7 will likely come out this year. In a very different situation than when 6 was unveiled, as the smaller brother of the Horizon spin-off, that received critical acclaim and sold extremely well, being regarded as one of the best games of last year, and one of the best racing games ever.

Mainly because while the spin-off series always brings innovations, rain, snow, interesting DLC’s as the Hot Wheels for Horizon 3, the Motorsport series seems to be always one step behind. I’d guess that the biggest innovation will be more racers online, 4K, and snow, and if that is all, they will continue as the inferior Forza game.

Reagent Games – Crackdown 3

Crackdown 3

The one game that can become their main Fall game is Crackdown 3, and after years of silence around the game, it looks like they’ll come with guns blazing at E3. A franchise that received some love in the 360 generation, but never reached the stratosphere, Crackdown comes back with the original director, and a promise to use the power of the cloud, fast-paced, heroic action.

It will work as a gamble for them, and I’d say that it will be the game which they try to push as the face of Scorpio. A beautiful open-world, a gameplay based on destruction is perfect to show the power of the machine, and if successful, can be instrumental to the success of the platform. I wouldn’t be surprised if they came with a new name, either removing the 3 or with a subtitle, looking to release it with a clean slate.

The Coalition – Gears of War 4 DLC

Gears 4

They will make an appearance, but unless they bring a new IP this will probably be about DLC for Gears of War 4, maybe a story one, looking to develop on the story told, maybe enhancing some side characters. But other than that, it doesn’t look like it will blow people away, but we can always hope.

Undead Labs – State of Decay 2

State of decay 2

Even though it comes from a second-party studio, State of Decay 2 is being treated like first-party, set to be much bigger and expansive than the first entry in the franchise. The studio has more employees now, a bigger investment from Microsoft, appearing to be a bet of the company as a Fall lineup title. With a more complex world, mechanics and moving towards a AAA level, expecting to repeat the success of the first one and improve on it.

Indies

My personal bet would be that the indie exclusives will be part of a sale highlighting them, like what Summer of Arcade would do. My bet would go on a lineup with Below, Tacoma, We Happy Few, Cuphead and a Battletoads reboot. Going a little further, I’d say that their indie highlight reel will be composed of games present in the sale.

Moon Studios – Ori 2 or Battletoads

Ori

Here’s where Battletoads comes to me, and it may sound strange, but bear with me. Can you think of any other studio with better credentials to do it? Ori and the Blind Forest was a beautiful platformer, that had a Metroidvania structure, was just stunning, recognized for its quality and difficulty. I can’t think of better of better characteristics for any studio to work on it, it doesn’t even have to have a Metroidvania structure.

Let’s face it, the Battletoads franchise isn’t as important as people like to remember, it’s not a juggernaut. And releasing it as a 2D platformer with 3D elements is the safest and most reasonable way to do it. It would be a nice answer after Phil Spencer’s E3 shirt. And if that doesn’t happen, we can get a new Ori.

The Fullbright Company – Tacoma

Tacoma

The second game of The Fullbright Company, Tacoma, has the hard task to follow Gone Home, a revered indie game that reached the mainstream through its remarkable storytelling. An exclusive for the Xbox One, it would fit beautifully in the summer.

Set in a space station, it shows some unique gameplay elements, and a heavy focus on storytelling. It was scheduled to be released in 2016, but was delayed in order to change some areas the developers weren’t happy with. We can expect the final release date this E3.

Compulsion Games – We Happy Few

happy-few

The biggest surprise of last year, We Happy Few might come back with a gameplay demo, or a trailer of the story mode. After being part of the preview program, we’ll probably find out the release date of this long-awaited indie game.

Capybara Games – Below

Below

Dark Souls with an isometric view, that’s how Below has been defined. From the studio behind Super Time Force, Below has had a troubled development, with several delays. To the point that the studio has announced that they would only talk about a date when they were certain. And I think this E3 will be their last chance to garner some attention to their title, without the fear of tiring the consumer, that has heard about it for years. Sometimes you just must release it and don’t think about it.

StudioMDHR – Cuphead

Cuphead

Cuphead, an indie darling, that received a lot of attention not only from the media, but also by fans, mainly due to its unique visual style, is scheduled to return to the Microsoft stage. Although the hype has certainly decreased, as what happened to Below, due to a prolonged exposure, Cuphead should be released in the next few months.

Third – party

Splinter Cell (Exclusive?)

Splinter Cell

This is a guess that for some reason looks very feasible, mainly due to a fairly recent history of the franchise. Splinter Cell: Conviction was a console exclusive for the 360, and I believe this story could be repeated here. Blacklist wasn’t an overwhelming success, with the franchise ever since being dormant, so if Microsoft decided to finance a sequel, that could become a real possibility. And it would fill a void in the company’s catalogue, something that Phil Spencer always talks about. Who knows a reboot might be coming.

Ninja Gaiden (Again, exclusive?)

Ninja-Gaiden

Another dormant franchise since 2014, the Ninja Gaiden series has a history the brand before, with 2004’s Ninja Gaiden being originally exclusive to the OG Xbox. After Nioh’s success, Microsoft must be paying close attention considering bringing a hack n’ slash to their audience.

An alleged leak of this year’s conference referred to a title from the franchise coming exclusively to the console. Spencer himself acknowledged on Twitter his awareness of the desire of the Xbox audience earlier this year. Although it’s all circumstantial, it wouldn’t really come as a surprise if it happened.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War

middle-earth-shadow-of-war-screen-02-ps4-us-03feb17.jpg

With the marketing agreement, we’ll probably see an extended gameplay of the first game announced to the Scorpio. We should find out more about the story and the Nemesis system in the demo.

Assassin’s Creed Origins

nhnxnam4_m1xu

As reported by the reliable insider Shinobi, Microsoft closed a marketing agreement with a massive IP, and this looks like the most probable choice. It would be a great stage to show the comeback of the franchise, that skipped a year, in order to further polish the title, in what looks like a reboot.

Cyberpunk 2077

cyberpunk-2077.png

CD Projekt Red claims that they are focusing on Gwent, but a teaser wouldn’t hurt anybody, only make them go crazy.

Borderlands 3

Borderlands 3

Rumors say that it will have a significant appearance at Microsoft’s conference, and it does feel like the right time to do it.

Studio Gobo – Not Yet Known

The studio behind the Disney Infinity playset announced a partnership with Microsoft for an exclusive game, and some job openings gave us some hints regarding what the project could be about. A third-person AAA action game, that may be a free-to-play based on a famous IP. Could it be a Halo game, Gears, or based on a property from other medium? There are no real hints, but it is the most mysterious and exciting project we may see.

Some Predictions and 1 Crazy Thing I’d Like to See

  • One or two free games given, as what happened in the past few years.
  • Sunset Overdrive 2 announced, will be released February 2018.
  • Skate 4 on stage following reveal at EA’s conference.
  • OG Xbox backwards compatibility announced.
  • Marvel announces an exclusive game for the platform, my bets: Iron Man, Captain America or The Avengers.
  • Dino Crisis reboot or exclusive Capcom game.
  • Possible Obsidian AAA exclusive.
  • thatgamecompany’s new game announced.
  • Dino Crisis reboot exclusive for Xbox.

1 Crazy Thing I’d Like to See: Phil Spencer with an IO shirt revealing they bought the studio and the Hitman Franchise.

What’s Behind the Sale of IO Interactive

Last week, Square Enix in a release to investors announced that they were parting ways with IO Interactive, looking for possible buyers for the talented Danish studio. What ended being a surprise, given that they announced record net-sales and an increase in profit driven by the releases of Final Fantasy XV and Rise of the Tomb Raider to the PS4.

What no one could expect was the decision to sell the studio behind the Hitman franchise. Especially after the good reception from critics, being nominated for several game of the year awards. But what could motivate the company to sell a well-regarded studio, especially if they are not in a dangerous financial condition? Let’s talk about it.

Hitman Needed to Be Bigger

August 25th, 2012 @ 06:04:36

The first reason behind this decision could be one that may not be that pleasant, but the truth is that the Hitman series isn’t as big as it needs to be. The studio doesn’t really have a juggernaut in their hands, at least not commercially. Their two main franchises, Kane & Lynch, is now defunct for years after the Dog Days debacle, and Hitman, never reached the same height that other games in the same genre did.

Whereas Splinter Cell managed to sell several millions of copies, the Metal Gear series is one of the most important, successful and influential in the industry, Hitman always seemed to be smaller, more focused on a niche, never rivaling with the bigger players. Efforts like the movies also didn’t elevate the status of the franchise, with both movies underperforming, failing to reach the $100 million mark at the box office.

It has a faithful following, with passionate fans that love the more open-ended nature of the title, something that became its trademark. But sales never reached the 5 million mark, slowly decreasing with every launch, with Absolution being heavily criticized by fans due to a simplification of the stealth system, despite posting respectable sales numbers.

The Stealth Genre Has Seen Better Days

Hitman

The genre in which it is part of is also going through a crisis, the Splinter Cell series is currently on hiatus since the release of Blacklist, that failed to meet Ubisoft’s expectations, selling 2 million copies despite a significant investment of the publisher.

Franchises like Assassin’s Creed went on to grow after it started to abandon its stealth roots, Dishonored 2 had underwhelming sales even though critically it was extremely well-received. Other Square Enix franchises with a heavy focus on stealth are struggling, like Thief, that went through a failed reboot, being critically panned and with weak sales, essentially killing it.

The Deus EX franchise is on hold after Mankind Divided failed to attract attention in the market, again with a good critical reception, but a lukewarm from the public. Something that seemed to happen with the 2016 Hitman reboot, that innovated using an episodic model for an AAA title.

With each new level showing the quality of the studio, managing to find an audience, and accruing praise, being nominated for game of the year awards by several outlets. But unable to translate it to significant sales. Feeling like it was part of a bubble, that adored the game, but never reached the mainstream awareness to be considered successful.

Square Enix’s Strategy is Changing

Avengers

Even though it remains as an important publisher in the industry, the company has been taking some hits in the past few years, with interesting titles that look as if they never reach their full potential. As the aforementioned franchises,  Just Cause appeals to a smaller audience, even their biggest ones like Tomb Raider, struggled  to compete with its release on Xbox One with Fallout, despite being an amazing game, and Final Fantasy XV looked like a last try to bring the franchise to its golden years, that fortunately worked.

In the same release, the company revealed its plans to focus on 1-2 AAA titles per year, multi-platform games, remasters, showing a more conservative approach to the market. Their partnership with Marvel to produce an Avengers and another unannounced game comes to fill the space of their IP’s that haven’t performed as expected.

Dropping a studio like IO seems to be an effective way to diminish its structure, becoming a leaner and more focused company. Reports that the studio may retain the IP only seems to corroborate the fact that they want to have a smaller but more significant portfolio.

Possible Buyers

 

But there should be many suitors to buy them, and I thought about some companies that could benefit from their talents, and the IP itself. Thinking about the possibilities, four stood out:

Amazon Game Studios: With their own engine, they could use a studio that has produced quality titles, and is battle-tested. Recently they have made some moves, bringing a former creative director of the Need For Speed series, bringing IO and Hitman to their portfolio would be a very interesting move.

Deep Silver: They have tried to become one of the biggest players in the market, and they showed some promise with Saint’s Row and the Metro series. But unfortunately, they’ve had more hits than misses lately, with the abysmal Homefront: The Revolution and the questionable Mighty No. 9. It would show that they are looking into becoming serious players in the market.

THQ Nordic: Their efforts seem a little unfocused, announcing several smaller titles that don’t really appear to entice the market. However, they have announced Darksiders III, another beloved franchise that could end up growing, and bringing an established franchise could cement them as an up and coming publisher.

Microsoft: This is the one that makes the most sense to me, after closing some studios recently, like Lionhead, and canceling several titles, their first-party situation looks bleak. The Forza, Gears, Halo combination hasn’t been able to please the market and is beginning to look weak when compared to its competitors. In a participation on Unlocked #285, Phil Spencer talked about revamping their first-party studios, and this could be an important move, showing to their consumers that they think about the future of the brand. And they could use IO’s talent to either continue the Hitman series, that wouldn’t be required to sell as much in this kind of environment and would fill a void in their portfolio or even create a new AAA IP.

What the future holds for IO nobody knows, but that there’s no doubt that they have a bright one.

 

 

 

Are We Seeing the Beginning of the End of the Physical Market?

For a while now the digital market has emerged as the future of the games industry, with its participation growing exponentially. In the past few years it has already dominated the PC landscape, and every year it increases their participation in the console space. To the point that 60% of EA’s  total business revenue comes from the digital market reaching almost $3 billion in the last 12 months, 47% of Ubisoft’s sales come from digital products, increasing more than 84% when compared to the previous year, becoming an instrumental market to any company.

A confluence of reasons allowed this growth to happen, such as the improvement of the internet infrastructure worldwide, with improved speed and reliability. The ease of being able to purchase a game without the need to wait for days until the game is delivered, allied to the capacity to play from the second it is released. Services such as PS Plus and Games with Gold giving dozens of games each year, the growth of the indie scene, that is very hard to find physically, and smaller prices, bigger sales, also helped attract consumers to this market.

Yesterday another example of these changing times was the announcement of the Xbox Game Pass, a service that for a monthly fee allows gamers to access a library in excess of 100 games. Having a similar structure to Netflix and Spotify, services that dominate their respective markets and were in part responsible for the downfall of the physical market in the movies and music industry, but also a new source of revenue and a revival, changing the way people consume their entertainment.

ea-access

Nowadays digital transactions represent more than 27% of Microsoft’s gaming division revenue, considering hardware and software. And in 2014, the first sign of this focus was the arrival of EA Access, that similar to Xbox Game Pass, gives you access to EA’s library, trials and discounts. After the announcement of both services, Gamespot’s shares tumbled, showing a level of concern over their future.

And in order to not become redundant, Gamestop, the biggest video game retailer in the world, has tried to change their business strategy. Focusing on geek culture, selling licensed products from major franchises, trying to reach a new audience, especially since their revenue, number of stores, and relevance has diminished significantly in the past few years.

song-of-the-deep

They also started GameTrust, their publishing arm, representing their biggest opportunity to stay in the market, if everything goes as planned. Partnering with studios such as Insomniac and Ready at Dawn, to finance and publish new titles, creating products based on these properties that can only be found in their stores. With their first foray being Song of the Deep, with about 80% of the sales coming from retail.

rtr-trump-inauguration-19-jc-170120_12x5_1600

But the most unexpected and perhaps the most important player in this situation, and that could propel this change even faster, is the US president-elect Donald Trump. With his intent to roll out trade tariffs, he can end up affecting the physical market negatively.

Living in Brazil I managed to see this situation closely when the PS4 was released for more than $1.800,00 due to heavy taxation, being recognized by Nintendo as the main reason to end their distribution in the country. With the only way out being producing the console as well as the games locally, as Microsoft has done with the Xbox One from the beginning, and Sony followed suit later with the PS4.

A big part of the expense behind physical games comes from manufacturing and logistics. Printing games, distributing, are all expenses that don’t affect the digital market. Many materials come from other countries, distribution centers might be located overseas, as well as many other parts of the business don’t happen in the US, creating a scenario in which game prices may increase.

If companies are required to bring their business to the US, the overall cost of production will increase, after all the American worker is a lot more expensive than the European, Mexican, Canadian worker. A situation that could create an extremely positive environment for digital stores, that due to a slimmer infrastructure can have much lower prices, to the point of going below the $60,00 price tag for releases, becoming much more attractive than any program offered by a retail store.

Yes, this law is focused in the US, but we are talking about the biggest gaming market in the world. If the American market adopts digital games as the standard for consoles, the entire industry will follow suit, maybe not immediately, but eventually. Microsoft’s decision to create an all-digital service was the biggest example of one of the Big Three companies taking a significant step towards this change.

Whether people like it or not, we are roaming towards an all-digital future, such as the other areas of entertainment. It has never been cheaper and easier to watch a movie, listen to an album, read a book, and from what it looks like, the same will happen with games, and from what we can see from companies such as EA and Microsoft, they can’t wait for it to happen.

PS: Two videos of the Colin Was Right series were part of the inspiration for this text, and they go even further in other subjects, so watch them and enjoy.

Xbox’s Moment of Truth

The Xbox brand has been in the market for more than 15 years, becoming a huge player in the gaming market, rivaling with much more well-known brands such as the PlayStation and Nintendo. However recently there’s a feeling that despite the leadership of Phil Spencer, that has changed their image focusing on consumer friendly initiatives, the Xbox might be at a crossroads.

A lack of meaningful exclusives, the cancellation of Scalebound, even things out of their reach, like the surprisingly good lineup of exclusives Sony has presented in 2017, and the Nintendo Switch release have overshadowed Microsoft’s gaming division. Bringing a lot of doubt and concern towards their consumers that feel that the console is being abandoned in favor of Scorpio.

Xbox’s first party situation is very different from its competitors, with only a handful of studios working on franchises that even though remain relevant, seems to have lost some of their power. Forza, Gears of War and Halo still are crucial to Microsoft, but the latest entries of Gears and Halo didn’t  have the same level of excitement or hype around it, with sales figures being unimpressive when compared to what they were able to accomplish before.

halo-4

Only Forza is growing in sales and mindshare, with sales of Forza Horizon 3 far surpassing those of FH2 and being regarded by many outlets as one of the best games of the year. Quantum Break, Sunset Overdrive are examples of new IP’s that didn’t find an audience on Xbox One and despite being well-received, they wouldn’t have the staying power required to turn into a franchise.

Microsoft’s strategy in E3 of only revealing games that will release until the end of the year has been detrimental to the company lately. It is comforting and a lot more honest to know that we won’t see games 3 years away from release, but if there’s nothing to expect in the horizon, there’s no reason for the consumer to be excited. Creating a feeling that there’s nothing during the first semester of every year, and that there are no games on Xbox, when Sony has Horizon: Zero Dawn, Nier: Automata, Nioh and Nintendo has Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

The recent wave of cancellations and studios shut downs has also affected negatively the public perception of the company. Fable Legends, Scalebound, Phantom Dust were cancelled, with Scalebound’s being the one that received the biggest attention, after several delays, poor demos and millions of dollars invested. Lionhead being shut down disappointed fans of Fable, a unique franchise in a genre uncommon in console exclusives, and that looks defunct now.

e3-2017-announcement

Nonetheless, some signs of changes are coming, from what seems to be a reboot for a company that has been outsold by its main competitor easily. Mike Ybarra, an important figure in the Xbox ecosystem, being promoted to vice president of the division is a sign that the Xbox’s leadership is composed of gamers, joining Phil Spencer in his attempt to revitalize it.

Another important decision began last year, announcing Scorpio at the end of the E3 conference, showing a Microsoft willing to fight and flex their muscles, talking about their mid-cycle console that feels like a new Xbox, before Sony even mentioned the PS4 Pro. And this year the company changed their E3 showcase to Sunday, leaving their trademark Monday morning slot.

It may appear silly, but having more than 24 hours ahead of Sony’s presentation gives them more space in the media and a bigger repercussion to their announcements. Without the need to compete on the same day with Sony, they can feel free to show their new projects without being eclipsed only a few hours later.

But if they don’t come with guns blazing, showing the Scorpio, new exciting games, at least a new AAA IP, all can be lost. Despite showing that Microsoft believes in their lineup for the show, and this level of confidence reassures their consumers, if it is anything less than impressive, Sony will have enough time to do some minor changes to their presentation and also be able to refute Redmond’s company.

xbox-game-pass_hero-hero

An announcement made today signals a different approach from Phil Spencer’s team, Xbox Game Pass, a Netflix-like service that allows customers to pay a fee to access more than 100 games a month, downloading them, and giving a 20% discount, something never seen before on this scale in the console market. In the announcement a light attack to PS Now, similar to when the company announced the Xbox One S, focused on differentiating them from Sony’s service in the sense that you don’t have to stream the game, since it is on your console, creating a smaller reliance on internet stability.

Being a bold move, especially considering the fact that they are basically affecting the physical market directly,  with Gamestop’s shares declining more than 7,8% today, making a move towards the digital future. As the first major company to show their intent to focus on a digital-only market on console, as what already happens in the PC  space with Steam, GOG, it displays a brazen attitude that might really pay off in a near future.

This focus on innovation can determine the future of the Xbox, that with the release of Scorpio can see a revival, a breath of fresh air. Xbox Game Pass looks like the perfect decision, allowing gamers to enjoy what they love the most, games, for an affordable price. When E3 comes, if we see that the Scorpio is the monster it’s claimed to be, filled with meaningful exclusives, a consumer-oriented environment, and new features, we can finally have a competitor for the PlayStation, something we haven’t seen yet this generation, and we badly need. After all, if Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft are successful, we win as gamers.

 

Scalebound is Another Example Why Microsoft Can’t Have Their “PSX”

This week Scalebound, one of the most expected exclusives of this year on the Xbox platform, was cancelled after more than 4 years of development. Being another exclusive that was announced by Microsoft and didn’t come to fruition in this generation, like Fable Legends, Phantom Dust.

This year’s lineup that didn’t really looked as appealing as in years past now is even weaker. And to me, that’s another example why the Xbox brand doesn’t have the power to have their “PSX”.

For the past three years, PlayStation has organized the PlayStation Experience, a.k.a. PSX, and fans of Xbox have been clamoring for a similar event. Despite using my XONE as my main platform, I just can’t agree with this idea, and the cancellation of Scalebound is a perfect example why, along with many other reasons, such as:

Lack of Strong First-Party Exclusives

star-wars-knights-of-the-old-republic-viloes

Scalebound was just another example of Microsoft’s policy of using third-party studios to produce their exclusives. And even though a lot of them were excellent titles, like KOTOR, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, Ninja Gaiden, Alan Wake, just to name a few, they don’t feel as part of the Xbox brand.

A lot of them never went on to become a franchise associated with the console, going to PlayStation later. All due to a pale number of first-party studios compared to their competitors. And even the amazing indies of the Summer of Arcade age can be played everywhere else, losing any identity with the console.

Inability of Creating Memorable Franchises

phantom-dust

When the game in the image above was announced, a lot of people, including me, thought that it was a new IP and not a revival of Phantom Dust, an obscure Xbox exclusive that is unknown to most gamers. Watching PSX’s conference you could see people cheering for games such as Parappa the Rapper, LocoRoco, Patapon, Dangaronpa, receiving a warm reception in spite of never being huge franchises.

If feels like the Xbox consoles don’t have those smaller, unusual, artistic games that appealed to a hardcore audience, like Journey, Shadow of the Colossus. Having only Halo, Gears, Forza, the now in the limbo, Fable as their trademark franchises, whereas Sony has many cult hits over the years that created a fandom that is extremely faithful to the PlayStation brand.

Something that Microsoft has been unable to do, and we see that in sales numbers, with 4 active PS franchises (Uncharted, Gran Turismo, Ratchet & Clank, God of War) selling over 20 million copies, and only 2 from Xbox (Halo and Gears of War), with no new franchise in sight as a possible massive hit.

No Recognition of Third-Party Games as Theirs

destiny-matchmaking-wallpaper-style-full-hd-1920x1080

When you think about Final Fantasy, Metal Gear, Destiny, more recently Resident Evil 7, you end up thinking about PlayStation. With many having no idea that titles of these franchises have been released for Xbox consoles, and in this specific generation it feels stronger than ever. Sony has been able to attach their name to a game so strongly that the audience reacts to them as a first-party title, all due to a successful use of marketing agreements, and titles that were part of the establishment of their brand.

Scalebound was an expected title because it looked like something that the Xbox One doesn’t really have, an exclusive AAA JRPG. In this generation, many of XONE exclusives didn’t take off like Sunset Overdrive for example, and it feels like more games are being cancelled than released.

A large-scale fan event from Microsoft would be great, but unfortunately, the Xbox brand doesn’t have the variety and the franchise power than their competitors have. Like Nintendo and Sony do, and yes, they have more time in this market, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that without Halo, that doesn’t have the same impact as it used to, and Gears, that went through a soft reboot, a Xbox console may fail due to a lack of a established history with gamers.