E3 2008 kicked off Monday last week with a press conference from Microsoft that started out quiet and ended with a shot that rang out across the internet. While many people expected this year's event to be dominated by attempts to snag the more casual gamer with gimmicks like motion control, Microsoft instead stayed the course (with a few notable exceptions), building on their own concept of community and social gaming rather than going for the obvious aping. In case you missed our extensive liveblogging of the event, here's a run down of the big news out of Microsoft at E3 2008.
The first big announcement of the press conference had to be exclusive downloadable content for the Xbox 360 and PC for Bethesda's Fallout 3. As a gamer with all three of the title's launch platforms in my home, that was exactly the sort of news that sealed the deal for me, and certainly a bit of a downer for the PlayStation 3 crowd, but that's not what this press conference was all about, was it?
They followed up the Fallout 3 scoop with a gaggle of sequel release dates. Resident Evil 5 in February of next year, with Fable II coming in October and Gears of War 2 slated for a November release. This was Microsoft's way of assuring 360 owners that they'd have plenty of games to look forward to over the holiday season and beyond.
Then came the first real bomb - the reinvention of Xbox Live. Support for custom avatars caught many a gamers' eye, though of course plenty of folks out there saw the new feature as an aping of Nintendo. Me? The move was definitely inspired by Nintendo, but custom avatars seem a natural addition to a console so heavily invested in community.
Along with the newly revamped Xbox Live experience came Live Party, a way for online friends to basically for a gaming group, staying together from game to game, sharing pictures, music, and even videos while never losing touch with one another.
They'll even be able to watch Netflix movies together, with MS announcing a partnership between the two companies that will allow 360 owners to download movies and watch them directly from their console, much like PC owners can do right now.
Further banking on the system's online capabilities, Microsoft also announced Xbox PrimeTime, a game show channel for the Xbox 360 where players around the world could participate in titles like Uno Rush and 1 Vs. 100, based on the hit television show.
Just when we though the show was over for Microsoft, ending with Square Enix's Yoichi Wada showing off Infinite Undiscovery, Star Ocean, and The Last Remnant, after which Sony's Don Mattrick came back on stage to sum things up. Some interesting games were shown, and the Xbox Live updates were intriguing, but that was it? Seemed a bit lackluster to me.
Then Yoichi Wada came back on stage and did this. Final Fantasy XIII, the game that launched a million PlayStation 3 systems, was no longer a PS3 exclusive. Up in the press room, Leigh and I actually whooped, scaring those nearby. Sony fanboys were outraged. Every day that I wake up and there isn't a parody of the song American Pie (Bye, bye FF X-I-I-I) in my inbox I am slightly crushed.
That last announcement carries a lot of importance for Microsoft. That a company as well respected as Square Enix deem them worthy of receiving the first multi-platform Final Fantasy title ever (XI still doesn't count) is a tremendous nod to Microsoft's success with the system as well as the perceived potential of the 360 with publishers across the industry.
All in all I'd say that Microsoft took several steps in the right direction this E3. They've taken steps towards further defining their vision of an online gaming community, revealed some extremely lucrative deals both game and movie-wise, and they've shown the sort of extra value that the Xbox 360 has to offer in a world where exclusives are becoming a very rare animal indeed.