Microsoft: The folks in Redmond led the way with an intro launch party featuring a custom performance from Cirque de Soleil. That was just to warm things up -- when it came to actual announcements, Microsoft took a two-tiered approach. On one hand it's building on the success of long established titles like Gears of War, Fable and of course, Halo. On the other it's taking the time to re-boot the Xbox 360 with Kinect, which brings controller-free gaming to the platform, as well as adding voice and gesture controls. I think Kinect is a major leap forward in the gaming experience that will appeal to both mainstream and casual gamers. With a streamlined new Xbox 360 and an impressive set of launch titles debuting alongside, Kinect is more akin to a console launch than a peripheral. Overall, I'd say Microsoft is in the lead post-E3 and very well positioned for holiday.
Nintendo: Nintendo is taking a much different approach than it did last year -- the focus is all on games, with no mention of Wii Fit or any other odd peripherals. Wii titles like a new version of Zelda and an exclusive Mickey Mouse game looked pretty good, although the Wii experience is starting to feel dated. Instead of adding new tech to the platform, Nintendo's spending a lot of time with familiar franchises and updated some old N64 classics, like Goldeneye. It's a strategy that's worked well in the past, but it's starting to feel repetitive. Zelda? Mario? We've been there and done that.
On the mobile front, the DS is getting an upgrade to 3D -- and no glasses are required. The 3DS looks like a nice differentiated device but it's not clear to me that 3D isn't gimmick, and Nintendo wisely lets you dial down the 3D effect or even turn it off. The initial titles look good, and Kid Icarus and Starfox (yep, another SNES classic) both especially look like fun. However, no word was given on cost or release. A lot will depend on how well Nintendo gets this out the door and if the 3DS is available for holiday 2010. Overall, I'd say Nintendo walked out of E3 in second place.
3D is impressive, but it requires new games, uncomfortable and expensive glasses and a new TV set to make it all work.
Sony: Sony led off with the familiar tagline "it only does everything" tagline, and unfortunately, it's starting to feel like the PS3 is a jack of all trades and master of none. Sony's biggest PS3 push centered around 3D, which is impressive, but it requires new games, uncomfortable and expensive glasses and a new TV set to make it all work -- adding cost and hassle that seem to outweigh the benefits.
Sony's also getting big into motion control with the PlayStation Move, which is good effort but also costly. Start at $100 for the main controller with the Eye camera and Sports Champions, then add in $30 for a secondary controller. That's $130 for just one player, and for that you get an overall experience that's smooth but not better than what we've seen with the Wii. Sony is also looking to integrate motion control into controller based games, which might be a good way to leverage existing franchises but could also be the worst of both worlds from an experience standpoint. We'll have to see.
Sony also launched Playstation Plus, a premium online service that Sony will introduce after spending years telling us it didn't believe in charging for a premium online service. The good news is that Playstation Network's free online service won't go away, but for $50 a year, gamers can get discounts on games, free content, early demos etc. It doesn't seem like a great value but we'll see how it fares. From my point of view, Sony's running third with a lot of technology, services and titles but not a whole lot of actual fun. Instead of focus, Sony seems all over the place with different strategies -- it feels like the company is throwing a lot against the wall to see what sticks.
Bottom line? It was a pretty impressive E3, arguably the most interesting show we've seen in years. Gamers have some really nice choices ahead of them, and all three major players have a chance to gain some ground over the holidays and pick up some new users. But there's a wildcard here -- Apple's recently made some big moves into gaming with their iOS platform, which has taken mobile game marketshare from both Sony and Nintendo. Will iOS make it to the TV screen on a new Apple TV, and if it does games come with it? The gaming market might change dramatically if that happens.
Michael Gartenberg is a partner at Altimeter Group. His weblog can be found at gartenblog.net. Contact him at gartenberg AT gmail DOT com. Views expressed here are his own.