Microsoft at Gamescom: One for Everyone

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Xbox One is in trouble.

Not in the sense that it’s a failed system, since it’s selling far better than competition like Wii U and Vita. The problem is how it hasn’t been the success Microsoft wanted it to be thus far. Considering how the Xbox 360 did, especially after receiving a second wind in the form of Kinect, the Xbox One feels like an in-name-only sequel. Though it’s doing best in America, it’s still well behind Playstation 4 in sales. And the less said about its performance in Europe, the better. Some countries clearly didn’t respond well to being left off the “Tier 1” list, and the whole continent didn’t like how many services were still America-centric — understandably so. That this is happening despite the introduction of a cheaper $400 option speaks volumes about where the interests of consumers lie.

But they still have time to right this ship, and given the company we’re talking about, they won’t give up without a serious fight. Though much of the show was dedicated to showcasing highly-anticipated games we already knew about, Microsoft used part of it to show how they want to get more Xbox One consoles into houses.

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The best way to do that is through bundles, of which they announced two. One is a Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare bundle, including a limited edition console design coming with a whopping 1TB hard drive and the game for $499. That’s not cheap, but it should sell considering the franchise it’s attached to — especially after an extensive ad campaign it’s bound to receive. It was rumored for months, but Microsoft confirmed a Sunset Overdrive bundle including the game and a limited edition White Xbox One for $399. Lastly, since Gamescom is in Europe, there’s a FIFA 15 bundle coming too. This one only includes the standard black system, and will also cost $399.

America is receiving that same bundle, except with Madden 15. It was announced before Gamescom because that’s not the right “football” for Europe. I’m a little surprised to see there’s no Halo bundle, but perhaps they’re saving that for early-to-mid next year, to help market Halo 5. Nevertheless, they’ve made sure to have a bundle for nearly everyone, an unprecedented move for a console in its first year.

The company also wants to entice potential and current owners with updates being made to Xbox Live. Soon, the system will receive USB and DLNA support, including support for new formats like .mkv videos and animated GIFs. Features like Snap Center (the ability to venture between games, messaging, the friends list, and other pages seamlessly on the dashboard), streaming Xbox TV to the SmartGlass app, and a new Friends area are also coming with the dashboard update. Say what you will about Microsoft’s awful messaging last year, but they’ve been better with Xbox One firmware upgrades than Sony has with Playstation 4’s. Granted, it helps that one has an extensive history with providing software updates.

They also announced a channel dedicated to everything Halo, for big fans of the franchise who want a handy place to consume all the media. The number of fans that into the franchise can’t be large, but Microsoft felt they were worth catering to. It works as a good marketing opportunity for upcoming games.

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When it was said that a big exclusive would be announced early in the day, they weren’t kidding. Remember when Square Enix (and developer Crystal Dynamics) announced Rise of the Tomb Raider during Microsoft’s E3 press conference, but didn’t specify a system? They were saving the real surprise for today: it will be exclusive to Xbox systems when it launches during the holiday season next year.

Their clever wording was enough to make a number of people think it was a permanent exclusive, but reliable insiders on NeoGAF and anonymous Game Informer sources suggest otherwise. Still, you have to wonder how hard up for cash Square Enix is if they had to somewhat sell the game to Microsoft. This move cut the potential audience the game could sell to by 1/3, at least temporarily, so I hope it was worth it. It also shows how hard Microsoft is willing to play ball.

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Trailers and demonstrations were provided for a number of “AAA” games on stage, just to show how Gamescom conferences are like E3’s, except with more British presenters and soccer. New trailers for games like Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Forza Horizon 2, and Fable Legends were provided, all of which can be seen on Microsoft’s Xbox Youtube channel, free of clapping and cheering that usually accompanies them (which shouldn’t happen, honestly). Microsoft also chose this opportunity to reintroduce a title that skipped E3: Quantum Break. It looks superb graphically, but keep in mind a filmmaker working with developer Remedy Entertainment mentioned how they’re making it one of the most cinematic experiences in gaming, just so you know what kind of game this will be.

In another way of showing how hard Microsoft wants to play ball with Sony, they also have a slew of indie games coming to Xbox One, thanks to some new “not hostile towards indies” policies via the ID @ Xbox system. They showed games like Below (coming 2015) and Ori and the Blind Forest (coming this fall for XB1 and PC), but also revealed new titles coming first on Xbox One on consoles, like SuperHot (which was funded through Kickstarter), Space Engineers, and The Escapists. Almost all of the games can be seen in a convenient trailer, though Below was special enough to receive its own.

This conference wasn’t on par with their E3 showing, but I hope no one expected it to be better. They showed what they needed, and got plenty of people talking (some loudly and virulently) about the Rise of the Tomb Raider being “exclusive.” They very well could steer their figurative ship in the right direction, but it will be tough to catch up to Sony.

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