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PING/PONG: E3 2011 Pre-Show Predictions
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PING/PONG: E3 2011 Pre-Show Predictions

What’s going to happen at E3 in 2011? Listen to Popzara’s predictions, premonitions and prognostications to get a picture before the big show.

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Officially, the 2011 edition of the Electronic Entertainment Expo AKA E3 begins on June 7th to end on June 9th. But the hoopla has already begun with speculations and rumors running wild across the World Wide Web. And in what has become custom for E3 extravaganzas, some major presenters are preceding the show with their press conferences starting the day before the official start on June 6th. The circus is definitely in town and the gaming world is about to be sent on one big roller coaster ride.

Before the clowns come out of the little car in Los Angeles, your trusty rusty run-mouths from Popzara want to jump in on the ruminations of the big event. Listen as John Lucas and Mr. Universal (Nathan Evans in his Clark Kent identity) spray some Windex on the crystal ball and try to make sense of what we see. This won’t be an extensive game rollcall but more of an overall vision of what might happen at and after the show. And when E3 is done and over with, look out for the boomerang post-show review where we see if we were either clairvoyant or clueless. OK, begin reading….NOW.

E3 2011 Pre-Show Predictions

Of all the three major competitors exhibiting their digital wares at the big show next week, I think Microsoft will have the distinction of not only being the most predictable, but probably the most grounded in reality. This is a good thing, at least for Xbox 360 fans, as they’re most likely going to get confirmation their considerable investment (six years and who-knows how many dollars) isn’t going to waste anytime soon. The company has already put the kibosh on any so-called “Xbox 3” rumors beforehand, and intends to concentrate on “X-panding” the Xbox brand outside of just the world of videogames and into bigger, bolder entertainment ventures.

We’ve heard rumors that IPTV would be coming to the Xbox 360 Marketplace or through another of their ever-expanding digital channels for years, but given the massive rise of online streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus (both of which were practically borne on the Xbox 360), I think we’re going to see a massive push in this direction. Microsoft has to, especially considering their risky switch from serving only the traditional ‘core’ gamer to the bigger, broader world of the ‘casual’ user. With Nintendo essentially ceding their Wii platform (and its millions of users) early, there could be many a lonely motion-controlled grandma, sister, or curious ‘other’ looking to get their virtual kicks elsewhere, and that Xbox 360 bundle never looked so good.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see some level of price-drop for the brand, especially in some of the various bundles out there. The Kinect bundle could use the help, and while I don’t think the core console itself will be getting any price-drop love at the show, let’s not forget that Microsoft is still giving it away when you buy a new Windows-based PC. The goal here is to keep the boat steady and sail into bluer oceans if they can, and if that means essentially transforming the Xbox into the new cable box of the future – even at the expense of gaming – I don’t think they’ll have a problem with that.

As for the games themselves, expect to see plenty of “Better With Kinect” marketing, and for the first time we’ll really get a glimpse of just how much the development community has embraced the sensor bar. I’m leaving my last ‘prediction’ to the upcoming traditional Xbox 360 software, as I don’t think any real prediction is necessary; it’s going to be a virtual sequel-fest of the familiar and the not-so-surprising, including Gears of War, Call of Duty, Madden, and whatever else needs a yearly updated version. Maybe we’ll see a Halo Anniversary ‘surprise’ in there somewhere, but I’ll bet gaming won’t be Microsoft’s biggest focus this year. What do you think about this?

Hmm, I think you may have a point about Microsoft’s show being light on the gaming aspects this year. Last year, they focused so much on Kinect gaming leaving the established types of gaming to the sidelines. With the XBox 360 in 2011, I really can’t see any big earthshaking game announcements outside big number-laden sequels like Gears of War 3, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, and stuff like that. So after they get that predictable stuff out of the way and work a little bit of that Kinect action, it looks likely that Microsoft will push into that all-entertainment direction. It goes back to the original purpose of the XBox to begin with—to be that set-top box to handle all of your entertainment needs.

All this makes sense especially considering how short their conference is supposed to be this year. One simple hour starting 10:00 AM California time (Pacific). There just won’t be enough room for loads of hype if they want to do both/and (lots of gamestuff and lots of general entertainment stuff). They’re just going to continue their momentum that started last June at E3 2010, underline their successes, and try to use those successes to springboard into broader plans. Shouldn’t take more than an hour, should it?

On the flip side, we’re hearing that Sony’s conference is going to be 5 hours??? FIVE HOURS??? Russians in the old U.S.S.R. took less time than that waiting in line for bread! What could they possibly talk about for that long? Give me your ideas about what you think Sony will do at E3 besides a Sony pep rally (Kevin Butler style) to offset this recent PSN fiasco?

As predictably dull as Microsoft’s showing may be, I think Sony’s going to be in a similar situation this year as well, only with their version of an evolved PlayStation ‘brand’ concentrating more on the next-generation PSP (possibly Vita?), as well as new hosted and streaming services for the PlayStation 3 console. By hot-swapping their press conference from their usually comfy first-day slot to a late-afternoon marathon event, one can’t help but feel they’ve got something to say. The only real question is just how much the recent PSN hack-a-thon is going to affect their would-be plans to have fans play, save, and basically live in the Sony Cloud.

I’ll start with the PlayStation 3, which despite recent hiccups has managed to overcome years of horrendous marketing, overpriced hardware, and lackluster ports to emerge as this generation’s potential market-leader (the Wii is a non-factor). I’m actually surprised that Sony hasn’t followed Microsoft’s lead completely in trying to shoehorn a “complete entertainment experience” into the console, as sometimes we forget what a media powerhouse Sony actually is. I imagine on the non-gaming side we’ll see evolved versions of their Qriocity music services, possible additions to their various movie options (both streaming and downloaded), and perhaps even a new and (much needed) revamp to how the PS Move interacts with the console’s horribly outside XMB user-interface. I liked what I saw in the first NGP interface videos, and wouldn’t mind seeing that come home to the PlayStation 3.

Much like I predict with Microsoft, I don’t think we’ll be seeing that many real surprises with what Sony’s offering for PlayStation 3 fans looking to get their twitch-action on. Big-name sequels like Uncharted 3, Twisted Metal, Resistance 3, and maybe even a new Sly Cooper should all make an appearance. Expect lots and lots of Move-compatible games, although I’ll bet most of these will be dual-compatible with the – you guessed it – DualShock.

The PSP 2 (or NGP, or Vita) will most likely dominate Sony Land this time around, and while we already know quite a bit about the new portable, I think this is one area where Sony can not only answer their critics with real facts (i.e. pricing, availability, etc) but lay the foundation as to how they plan on competing with Nintendo and Apple. The 3DS has lagged with both critics and fans alike, leaving Nintendo vulnerable for the first time ever in the mobile market, and with Apple only too happy to snatch their crown, this could leave the PSP2 as the true successor for fans who may be looking for a ‘real’ portable console experience. It all depends on the pricing, and while I’m on record as predicting a heavy upfront (and cheaper contract-based alternative) cost, Sony could surprise us all with a low-tiered hardware option that’s impossible to resist. The console is almost impossibly diverse, with card-based media, Android-support, 3G service, not to mention hardware tech that’s far more impressive and innovative than anything else out there. My wildest prediction is a sub-$300 priced PSP2 (however unlikely) would spell trouble – and possible extinction – for the 3DS, and position Sony as a real contender against a dominant Apple. Who would have thought this a few months ago?

Be careful when you say extinction for Nintendo in the handheld market. They ain’t getting rid of ‘em THAT easily. But the lower the PSP2/NGP/Vita goes the better for Sony. Kiss ‘em goodbye if they go over $300 and even at $250 they’re gonna be shaky in my opinion. These aren’t the days when handheld alternatives were limited in function and usability. The all-in-one device is HERE with the portable machines of today. Make calls, send texts, play music, watch movies, play games, take pictures, check the weather, read the news, browse the web, type documents, donate to charity, and it’s all there in one small device about as big as a baseball card. Handheld consoles have always gotten ahead by keeping things affordable and relatively cheap. If you’re going to price your device in the $200/$300/$400/$500 range, then you had better deliver all of those features the Apples and Androids of the world do and make the interface just as seamless.

Nintendo’s just the beginning of who Sony has to worry about on the handheld front and we’re already seeing Nintendo suffer right now in the face of the all-in-one big guns. The digital market is really threatening the future of the physical retail market especially in the portable gaming world so Sony is going to have to do more than just outdo the 3DS—in price or otherwise. You’ve been very optimistic about Sony’s future a lot lately but I would warn you not to get too excited. Ain’t nothing in the bag yet. They have still got a lot of work to do to repair themselves from their fall from grace nearly 5 years ago. At this year’s E3, they can regain some more goodwill with a strong showing of PSP2/NGP/Vita not only in game lineup (which is CRUCIAL) but also in displaying the usefulness—not novelty—of its features and putting up a reasonable price. The only thing that can mess up Sony outside of a poor showing of the PSP2 is having their entire press conference hacked live on stage! Imagine lights dimming and microphones going haywire while the videoscreens put up strange images and graphics. Basically the effect of Shigeru Miyamoto’s Skyward Sword presentation from last year times 1,000!

And that’s the perfect switchover into Nintendo’s plans for E3. For the first time, I am doubtful of Nintendo after they abandoned the Revolution they started. This E3 should have been a Wii Revival but instead we’re talking about Coffeetable Projects. Rumors about tablet-style touchscreen controllers has got me thinking that Nintendo’s going backwards. It actually sounds more limiting than the freedom and versatility players gained through the Wiimote. The way they have launched the 3DS has been disappointing and it feels like Nintendo is going directly against every tenet they have stood for the past 3 decades. Contrary to most people watching the game scene, I am not enthusiastic at all about what Nintendo’s going to show at E3 except maybe more Skyward Sword and some Zelda 25th Anniversary action. Your thoughts on the situation?

Well, let me just say that, going in, Nintendo obviously has this year’s most anticipated showing, if only because they’re essentially betting their entire future in the home console market. They’re also banking pretty hard on whatever project they’ve been cooking up in their own Cafe as they’re willing to effectively throw the Wii under the bus to make it happen. I just wonder if they’re going to ride into the sunset, or straight over a sweet-buttered cliff.

And we should be excited; we’re getting a BRAND NEW console from Nintendo, and one that’s pegged at revolutionising the way we play and interact with games. Nobody does this better than Nintendo, and everything we’ve heard about this so-called Project Cafe likens it to a giant version of the DS, with a little bit of Apple’s iPad 2 thrown in for some sexy touchscreen action. I say iPad 2 because, for all the DS’ revolutionary innovations, Nintendo has completely failed to capitalize on where the future of the industry is headed in the mobile market the way Apple has. Rumors have the new console sporting a 6” touchscreen, microphone/camera, as – most exciting of all – the ability to either stream or download games directly to the controller itself. Could this make it (the controller) its own portable console?

And what would it be called? The name “Wii” carries quite a bit of cultural cache, and I don’t think even Nintendo would be willing to toss that away completely. As they did with the Gamecube, I’m thinking they’ll retain a level of interoperability with several Wii peripherals, the Wii Remote+ the most likely candidate (for more than just backwards-compatibility). Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if they ended up calling this thing the (in keeping with convention) Wii Plus.

This being Nintendo, anything is possible, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see early signs that this so-called home console/portable hybrid might be the future of videogame consoles (at least, for Nintendo), especially if the 3DS fails to light up sales charts like its predecessor did. On many levels, the 3DS is as fundamentally flawed as the Wii was back in 2006, and lacks many of the most basic functions and embedded-hardware features that help translate into less-expensive and easily distributable games for developers. I’m not saying that Nintendo would prematurely kill off the 3DS in favor of whatever Project Cafe ends up being, but then again, we are talking about a company that – at least 14 months out – effectively killed this generation’s console leader while it was still in its prime. Again, this being Nintendo, anything is possible.

As the Wii is effectively a dead platform from this point on, don’t expect anything more exciting than more of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, and possibly the latest batch of dancing + exercise rehashes and ports (most of which we’ll probably see on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 anyway – bet on Just Dance sashaying its way to the Kinect). Expect the majority of games to be for the 3DS, with the still-unnamed Super Mario 3D leading the way. Hell, I’m predicting right now that the return of the tanooki suit = “Game of the Show” for a lot of people, which I guess really wouldn’t be that unusual.

So, in conclusion, my early predictions are that Nintendo will have the most ‘technically’ exciting show of the bunch, Sony the most unpredictable, and Microsoft the most streamlined and safe. How things actually end up is anyone’s game – literally. I’m looking forward to our post-coverage debate, as we’ll have some real info to finally chew on, and that’s when the real fun begins.

Predicting the aftermath of this E3 is not as crystal clear as it was last year for me. Nintendo threw the 7th generation of consoles for a loop and now things are up in the air when it comes to the future of the business. This unusual Generation 7.5 period is giving way to Generation 8 and the big players are no longer on the same battlefield. Microsoft wants to extend the run they have been having since last E3, Sony is still playing catchup in so many ways, and Nintendo looks like they’re trying to get the jump on some unknown force.

Strangely enough, I’m not sure if E3 2011 will answer all the questions on what the future holds for videogaming. How far does the 360 go from here? Will Kinect remain a novelty or better become an integrated part of the 360 platform? Can Sony use E3 to revive fan favor for the PS3 after such a devastating hack attack? Can the successor to the PSP be more than just a “gee golly wow” hype fest of tech? What exactly made Project Café so important that it cut short the life of Wii, the fastest-selling home console in history, and will the public agree on its importance? And can Nintendo finally put out a compelling lineup to justify the 3DS’s prohibitive high costs? THOSE are the questions I want the answers from at E3 this year.

I’m not so wowed on technological razzle-dazzle. I want to see sound strategy from the console makers that makes these gadget purchases worth the investment. Is all this stuff worth buying into or is it all a bunch of short term fluff? They have the chance to answer starting Monday, June 6th and we’ll report those answers right here on Popzara.

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