Sony won E3.
Whatever that means. See, despite their emphatic commitment to indie games, a fantastic price, powerful hardware and some very promising launch window games, much of their impact simply came from being the last press conference of the day. The Microsoft presser seemed like a distant memory; a thousand cold black coffees and energy drinks ago, almost forgotten as the PS4's £349 price point made everyone upstanding.
In the cold light of day, however, it's clear that we shouldn't count out the Redmond heavyweight just yet. Though Sony crushed Microsoft on that fateful evening, Xbox One still has plenty of tricks up its sleeve... and I do so love playing devil's advocate.
Kinect Is Cool
Yes, Kinect has raised a few eyebrows with potential privacy concerns and the potential for visual DRM. If you've ever watched Charlie Brooker's outstanding Black Mirror series ('15 Million Credits' specifically), it's easy to envision adverts that stop when you glance away, and executives peering into your living room to dominate your every purchasing decision.
On the other hand, Kinect is also capable of delivering one of the most convenient, enjoyable and frankly brilliant user experiences out there.
After a long day, I actually rather fancy the idea of telling my TV to cue up an episode of something, or switching over to the internet browser to check the weather without having to sit up. I can sign into accounts without selecting them. Multitask effortlessly. All without having to expend any energy whatsoever. Though Kinect's motion control functionality will probably still be largely ignored by developers, its voice and facial recognition is going to be huge - both in terms of the way we interact with the interface and a thousand profound gameplay applications.
The multi-tasking also sounds fantastic. Though it seems to be aimed at ADHD suffers who want to jump between games and telly every ten seconds to avoid getting bored, I love the idea of checking the internet while matchmaking, or watching a TV show before picking a game up right where I left off.
If it works. If. Make it work.
Microsoft's controversial decision to disable Xbox One gaming should you fail to sustain an internet connection for 24 hours has been a PR disaster. I absolutely detest this system in theory, both in terms of the lack of contingency plans if our net gives out or we move house, and the fact that the console may never be truly ours. And what happens if Microsoft's own servers end up going down for a protracted period? Boo, hiss, to infinity and beyond.
Practically, though, it won't change the way I play console games one iota. In fact, it won't change anything at all.
If you own an Xbox 360, be honest with yourself: do you automatically connect to Xbox Live when you switch it on? Do you play while constantly connected? I'm sure that some of you don't, but frankly, the vast majority of us are already 'always-online.' Many gamers are also still under the impression that the check-in procedure is a manual process, something that couldn't be further from the truth - it simply means that 24 hours will count down from the last time you played your Xbox One while connected to the internet. Once you log back in, the whole thing resets automatically, silently, in the background. There's not a big red button on the top of the console that you'll need to press every day to avoid burly men turning up and carrying you off in a van.
Of course, there's every reason to suspect that Microsoft will make a U-turn on this decision down the line, and look like absolute angels as they do so. Was that the plan all along?
'Cloud' is a great word, isn't it? It makes you sound forward-thinking and futuristic, yet means basically nothing at all. Microsoft's boasts about the massive server farms supporting Xbox One rang hollow and desperate at the reveal event a few weeks ago, and suggestions that GFX processing could be offloaded to remote servers will probably not come to fruition any time soon. After all, OnLive has trouble streaming its video effectively on most people's connections. Forget about lighting.
However, silly jargon is already starting to translate into meaningful applications. Titanfall will use Xbox One's server armada to offer dedicated servers to everyone, as standard, and will almost certainly offer lightning-fast low-latency matches as a result. Moving forward, MMOs will be able to take advantage of all the computing power in the world in 1999, and developers can effortlessly utilise Microsoft's enormous server infrastructure in surprising new ways. The potential is practically limitless, and again, it comes as standard on the Xbox One. The foundation is in place.
All About The Games
Microsoft's E3 presser lacked system sellers. There's no getting around it: a useless teaser for Halo 5 was no substitute for the likes of Fable, Crackdown and Gears. Not to mention Killzone or inFamous. Microsoft's seemingly callous attitude to indie development was also disappointing, though I still suspect that a successor to XNA (designed to let indies build games for Xbox One, the Kinect API, the Windows 8 app store and Windows 8 devices) will probably break cover over the next few months.
On the other hand, however, we did see an enormous commitment to the gaming front. Titanfall brought out the big guns in sensational style. Quantum Break will push transmedia tie-ins in exciting new directions. Dead Rising 3 will render more zombies than we ever thought possible (and will hopefully render some colours beyond brown and grey too). Forza looks mind-bendingly gorgeous. The big-budget games are present and connect, while the unbelievably ambitious Project Spark will utilise Smartglass, sharing and free-to-play pricing models in interesting ways. The download scene will receive Killer Instinct, Crimson Dragon and Below, just for starters, demonstrating a range of pricing models and genres. Oh, and let's not forget that much of Sony's press conference lineup will also hit the Xbox One - not limited to Kingdom Hearts III, Destiny and Watch_Dogs.
If you strip down the E3 press conferences to just the revealed games and balance out the multiplats, I'd argue that Microsoft actually had the stronger showing, despite their indie limitations.
Microsoft's nebulous pre-owned policy could also see some publishers giving them preferential treatment. After all, Microsoft have broken their backs (and a few hearts) by suggesting that used game regulation can be easily enforced with a platform-wide system, which more cynical publishers will likely be keen to reward. After all, if you're going to make an exclusive, giving it to someone who'll let more money get back to you seems like a smart idea. As much as it sucks.
Beyond that, remember that Microsoft has spent the past few years forging relationships with any number of publishers, which is already paying off in timed exclusives and DLC promises. Third party exclusives will likely start to dwindle, but you'd better believe that Microsoft's big fat wad and history of flashing it about will count for something.
"This Isn't A Sprint"
If someone forced me to pre-order a next-gen console right now, I'd opt for a PS4. Obviously. It costs less, supports indie development, offers marquee titles at launch and utterly crushed Microsoft on the day of reckoning. But as Microsoft's Phil Spencer told IGN, "this isn't a sprint."
Black Tusk have yet to reveal their new IP. Halo has yet to tip the scales. Quantum Break will reveal its true colours, while Project Spark promises something genuinely new to look forward to. Lionhead are working on something, as are Ruffian, Twisted Pixel and others. We've yet to see exactly how the two systems measure up in terms of real ease of development, online stability and how on-paper specs are translated into useable graphical power in multiplatform titles. We've still got Gamescom and TGS (though Microsoft has little chance of impressing at the latter, let's face it) to go, and months before a launch that many people simply won't engage in. Savvy consumers will likely wait, enjoy the PC arena or current-gen games and hibernate until Spring to make their final judgement.
Microsoft undeniably lost the battle on June 10th. But the war? It hasn't even begun.