Microsoft Gives In to the E3 Mob (Premium)

Google has been quite open about its Stadia gaming service, and Microsoft’s Phil Spencer promised xCloud details at E3. Nope.

So, what happened?

As you may recall, in the wake of Google’s initial Stadia announcement in March, Microsoft Xbox chief Phil Spencer said that Microsoft would “go big” about xCloud at E3.

“Google went big today and we have a couple of months until E3 when we will go big.” Mr. Spencer wrote in an internal email. “We have to stay agile and continue to build with our customer at the center. We have the content, community, cloud team and strategy, and as I’ve been saying for a while, it’s all about execution. This is even [truer] today.”

Even worse, Google expanded on its Stadia announcement by revealing late last week the incredibly affordable pricing for the service, which will debut in November.

When it comes to execution and strategy, I guess it was true in March, but it wasn’t true this week: Microsoft said absolutely nothing about xCloud during its E3 press conference, other than in passing, which served as the semi-official start of the show. And given that Sony is not presenting at E3 this year, the stakes were even higher: Microsoft’s event wasn’t just first, it will inarguably turn out to be the single biggest press conference of the show.

So ... What the what?

I have a theory. And it’s bolstered somewhat by the layout of Microsoft’s E3 press conference yesterday, during which the firm interspersed small tidbits about new hardware between long, boring game demos. We learned about the long-overdue second-generation Xbox Elite Controller. And we learned that the firm’s next-generation Xbox One console will be exactly what I said it needed to be---4K at 60 fps all the time---but won’t ship until late 2020. Which is fine: Neither will the PlayStation 5.

By peppering a few hardware announcements in between tons of actual game content, Microsoft was hoping to avoid the criticisms of E3s past, when its press conferences were dominated by hardware announcements. This didn’t sit well with the E3 crowd, a group of bullies that just wants to hear about games. And they came down hard on Microsoft, one of the world’s only major video game console makers and platform providers, for having the temerity to actually discuss its hardware at their event.

Microsoft responded by focusing almost exclusively on games during last year’s E3, and then again this year. Which worked out well timing-wise, since it hasn’t had any major non-gaming title announcements since the Xbox One X, which debuted in late 2017.

But now it does. It has a fourth-generation Xbox console, codenamed Scarlett, which is now due in late 2020. And it has xCloud, which promises to help forever change the video game market from one that is based on hardware platforms to one that is based on the cloud. With xCloud, you’ll be able to game from almost any device, including smartphones and, I ...

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