The trend of having a warm-up act is well established. Timing is everything, right? You put on a gig, you want to make sure that the audience is at peak excitement, that their energy and focus levels are high, that they're engaged.
For the past few years, it could be argued that Microsoft have been the warm-up act to Sony when it comes to press conferences. But are the times a-changing this year?
We stated back in June that Microsoft's showing at E3 was the best we'd seen in years -- not that such praise is really saying much, they'd been dire the previous couple of years. But with a renewed focus upon games, with new head honcho Phil Spencer having spent the first couple of months of his tenure aggressively cleaning house and tidying up the muck that Mattrick left behind, Microsoft came out swinging and, admirably, let their games do most of the talking.
That'll stand Microsoft in good stead at a show whose motto is "celebrate the games".
It wasn't a vintage press conference, it wasn't one that we'll look back on years from now and still smile at the manner in which Microsoft took our collective breaths away, but it was effective. Light on surprises, yes, but stacked with exclusives and fan favourites, several of which are due before the year is out.
Sony's, by comparison, was a bloated affair that seemingly took cues from Microsoft's previous work. Sprawling and soporific, Sony forgot that games are the most important aspect of any showing. Whether we were sat in the audience or beaming the presser to our screens from houses across the world, we'd turned up to see games, not listen to Shawn "The Godfather" Layden reel off stats for half an hour. Had this actually been a gig, Microsoft would have been the plucky upstarts delivering a tight, aggressive set to get the moshers moving, and Sony would have been prog rock noodling, interrupted occasionally for roadies to come onstage and bumble.
EA would have been the gap between the two where everyone goes to take a piss and grab another beer.
In past years, Microsoft have been uneven, EA have been all about quick-fire showings, and Sony have swanned in at the end with a bumper piece of fan service, but as this year's E3 showed, that might not be the case this time around.
For this year's Gamescom, EA seem to have abandoned the plot completely, scurrying off to Wednesday morning to stage their press conference, when everyone out in Cologne will almost certainly already be in meetings. That's okay, though. As much as these gathering are called "press conferences", the realities of modern technology and internet streaming mean that these presentations are now made directly to gamers tuning in from afar. Direct reporting from pressers is now more redundant than ever, and I'll be live-tweeting it from back here in the UK because conference wi-fi is utter arse, and Jon and Carl will be lucky to connect for even a second going by previous experience.
The point is that rather than being the bland meat in the MS-Sony sandwich, EA have opted to give themselves a bit more breathing room this year. Not that they have much to show off given the sparse exhibition at E3, although we'll hopefully finally get to learn something tangible about BioWare's new project.
That means Microsoft have the afternoon to themselves, and a full four hours or so before the Sony hype train comes round the mountain. If they can deliver the same sort of bam-Bam-BAM experience that they did at E3, we'll likely come away from their showing breathless and pumped, with the bar having been set high for the second time this year. There's a huge difference between delivering a show that gears us up for the next one, and a show that sets the bar on its own terms. For the first time in years, Microsoft did the latter back in June and, as Jon's already pointed out, they've got the IPs to do the same today.
If Sony were a little conservative at E3 in some ways, remaining coy and keeping schtum on a number of rumoured projects in the pipeline, we expect them to be more forthcoming this year. Moreover, having done the stat dump at E3, it'd be pointless to repeat the same mistake in Cologne. Their show is still looking like a 90-minute proposition, but we expect it to be far more stuffed with gaming content than the one two months ago. Moreover, a healthy Microsoft is good for Sony. Competition is what keeps the platform holders honest (sort of), and we'd like nothing better than for the Big Two to really up the ante and both come out firing on all cylinders for this year's show.
No warm-ups, please. A double-headliner smash from both parties will do just fine for us.