The Digital World with Ryan Simon: Pre-E3 2012: Sony & Microsoft

This year’s E3 places Sony and Microsoft—the two “hardcore” gaming behemoths—in an awkward position. Both companies have acknowledged that they will not be announcing any next-generation game consoles at their respective press conferences on June 4. Gamers are then left wondering how either company is going to combat Nintendo’s inevitable Wii U hardware and software blowout. Sony is going to have to focus on their new handheld, the PS Vita. Microsoft will be pushing more multimedia features for their Xbox 360. What is there to really get excited about?

Sony: Content is King

Any gamers hoping for a console announcement from Sony are going to be sorely disappointed. Sony cannot afford to release a new console at this point. They only recently started turning a profit on their PS3 hardware, and they absolutely have to push the struggling Vita. Showing a new console would only serve to cannibalize both PS3 and Vita sales. Considering Sony has suffered major company-wide financial losses, they will need to play to their strengths in a gaming market that is beginning to tire of current content offerings. Don’t expect to see too much about the PlayStation Move either; Sony’s motion control peripheral has failed to meet sales expectations and has been largely ignored by consumers.

Sony will have to draw gamers in with a variety of exclusive content. Games like “The Last of Us,” “Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time,” “The Last Guardian,” “PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale,” “God of War: Ascension,” and some surprise announcements will be the driving force for PS3 gamers. As for the Vita, it’s really anyone’s guess as to what Sony has planned on that front. What I can say is that if Sony doesn’t find a way to further differentiate Vita games from PS3 games, many consumers will be left confused as to the purpose of the Vita. Sony got away with selling the PSP as a portable PS2, but many consumers are finding it hard to justify a $250 portable PS3 with the Vita. Exclusives like “LittleBigPlanet” and “Killzone” will certainly help the Vita regain some sales momentum, but Sony needs to entice consumers with some intriguing surprise announcements.

Microsoft: More Multimedia

The Xbox 360’s success can be summarized by two things: Xbox Live and multimedia. Microsoft’s momentum in the online gaming space is astounding—no competitor has been able to match Microsoft’s prowess in this area. It has turned the Xbox 360 into the go-to console for most hardcore gamers that enjoy playing online with friends. What has made the 360 attractive to casual gamers or even non-gamers has been its superb multimedia functionality. 360 users are spending more time watching videos and listening to music than playing games. Expect this aspect of the 360 to be a major focus at Microsoft’s press conference. I wouldn’t be surprised to see another dashboard update that focuses on more multimedia content.

Then there’s the Kinect, Microsoft’s motion capture device. Having sold over 18 million units worldwide, it has been a great success for Microsoft and I expect to see a lot more of it at E3 this year. The hardcore gamers may not be impressed with it, but casual gamers have been eating it up along with motion-controlled games like “Dance Central.” Microsoft is also keen on using the Kinect as a way to navigate the 360 dashboard, so I can definitely see Microsoft further integrating Kinect features into the 360’s user interface. As for more traditional gaming content, it’s hard to say what Microsoft has planned. Other than “Halo 4,” there’s been very little talk about exclusive hardcore software for the 360 in 2012. The 360 has never really been about exclusives, and it looks like Microsoft will continue to rely on their third-party software partners to satisfy gamers.

Is that it!?

Unfortunately, there’s not much hype surrounding Microsoft and Sony right now. If anything, a lot of fans on both fronts are rather disappointed by the announcement that neither company has any plans to counter Nintendo’s Wii U release anytime soon. Microsoft and Sony better have some really interesting surprises up their sleeves if they hope to stand a chance against Nintendo’s console announcement. If Microsoft and Sony are betting that Nintendo is going to drop the ball, they’re going to be more disappointed than the 360 and PS3 fans now stuck with last generation hardware.

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