E3 Impressions

2010 was a big year for E3. Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft all had some innovative hardware to display, and a number of new games were announced. Nintendo offered the 3DS. Sony offered the PlayStation Move. Microsoft offered Kinect for Xbox 360. Who was the big winner? Well, let’s take a quick look.

Nintendo was in many ways the inspiration for this year’s big products, but it didn’t offer anything on the console front. Instead, Nintendo focused on the handheld Nintendo DS, and announced the new Nintendo 3DS, a 3-D, glasses free handheld system. While the 3DS was interesting, if you didn’t see it in person there is a lot remaining to be desired. The best feature I think is the dual-camera lenses that enable 3-D photos. That was definitely a step in the right direction. Other than that, the titles seemed a little blah.

On the Wii side of things, there were definitely some interesting games. GoldenEye (007), Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and Metroid Other M are among Nintendo’s winners. What should have been a great demo for the new Zelda game turned into a case of the latest conference Wi-Fi plague. Evidently the excited bloggers and techies were jamming the Wii-mote signals, making the demo fail in a very public way. The Wii MotionPlus adapter, out for a while now, was getting some love at E3, but it paled in light of its competition.

Microsoft definitely had a good show. Xbox Live Gold subscribers will soon have exclusive access to ESPN through the console. This joins Facebook, Twitter, and a few other really good Xbox Live apps. Microsoft released a new, slimmer, Wi-Fi enabled Xbox 360 as well, which was big news. Xbox finally joined the modern gaming era. Mass Effect 2 was among the Xbox winners on the game side. What Microsoft hoped would be its crowning glory, however, wasn’t all that impressive in the grand scheme of things.

Kinect for Xbox 360 has a lot of potential. However, clearly going after Nintendo’s marketshare (as if creating a motion control device wasn’t enough), Microsoft developed a number of family-friendly games to showcase its new device. None of those games were the least bit appealing. It looked like they took the worst of the Wii over the last couple of years and ran with it. What did interest me though was not demoed live. We saw a preview video of a new Star Wars game being developed by Microsoft and Lucas Arts. This will be a lot more telling of the Kinect’s value. The game has yet to be named, however, so it will be a while until we see the Kinect in full glory. Interestingly though, I think the Kinect’s strength is not in gaming, but in video conferencing.

Video Kinect is a great way to communicate with friends. You can share streaming video content while chatting as well. The demo showed a conversation with a movie embedded so both parties could watch as they talked. This was just one use of the service, but I think it was a better example of the possibilities presented by the Kinect.

Sony had a number of things to share this year. A new paid subscription service called PlayStation Plus was announced. PlayStation Plus offers extra features to the impressive free content already provided. Subscribers get access to beta demos, free games, exclusive avatars and themes, and more. While a lot of gamers question Sony’s move here, the price is reasonable and you get a lot for the money. I think overall it was a good move.

Sony announced a few exclusive sequels, including Twisted Metal and inFAMOUS 2. Both are likely to be popular titles with Sony fans. Sony also threw a bone to their fans watching the expo from afar. PlayStation Home featured an E3 convention site, where fans could walk around a realistic model of Sony’s E3 booth. There were special free items available in the booth, including a free costume and access to a VIP room after watching 7 trailers. I made a point to check in on PlayStation Home daily during the event.

Sony’s big announcement was the PlayStation Move. With a controller inspired by the Wii MotionPlus, Sony took interactive gaming to another level. Where Nintendo’s Zelda demo failed, Sony’s Sorcerer demo was blazing hot. The contrast between the two demos will be the talk of the convention for a while. Sony is doing a great job with the Move, and the release titles are definitely interesting. While the similarities to the Wii-mote are hard to ignore, Sony clearly offers a different gaming experience. The only close competitor is the Kinect, though at the moment it is a distant second. One thing that stands out with the Move is the availability of standard and Move versions of new titles on a single Blu-ray disc. Existing titles that are going to be added to the Move lineup will have a downloadable add-on. Letting a gamer choose which version to play is huge. I think Sony scored well on that one.

Many of the games announced are coming out this holiday season. The Kinect and Move will debut in the Fall. While the Kinect doesn’t have any pricing information (rumors of $150 are circulating), it looks like the move will cost around the same as a basic controller, which is good. Move utilizes the existing PlayStation Eye camera, so if you already have one, you are halfway to the Move. While I think the Kinect is worth getting, I don’t think the launch titles are compelling enough to rush to the store to get it. I will likely wait on the Kinect until the Star Wars game comes out. The Move, however, is something I am definitely interested in.

At the end of the conference it looks like Sony was the clear winner at E3. It had a solid showing on new games, new features, and the PlayStation Move. Microsoft had some potential, and retained second place overall. While it definitely had something to offer, it couldn’t quite reach Sony. Nintendo was good for some games, and the 3DS is interesting, but Nintendo has been carving its own niche away from the other consoles for a while and doesn’t show any signs of an intention to alter course. While this lands Nintendo at third place, Wii’s outstanding sales records make it hard to write Nintendo off as a has-been. Nintendo still has a lot to offer, and has a rather loyal fan base. I for one have every non-handheld console Nintendo has made. When I want higher quality games though, I rely on my Xbox 360 and PS3.

So, what did you think? Do you agree that Sony walked away with the win? Let me know in the comments.

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