Sony’s E3 was about new platforms and new IPs. Nintendo’s was about reliving the glory days of 2011, but Microsoft’s E3 2012 was different: it wasn’t really about the games. With once bitter rivals Sony and Microsoft leaving each other to their own devices in order to stave off having to launch a new console, the latter’s taken the time to expand its horizons.
Gaming’s changed, and for Microsoft that means not really bothering with the games any more. What’s the future of the Xbox? Well, it’s not really the Xbox…
Ok, so Microsoft didn’t totally ditch the games for its E3 2012 keynote. The company showed new Halo 4 footage, fresh action from Gears of War and Splinter Cell, the South Park RPG got an airing as did the new Call of Duty. But compared to Sony, proprietary, exclusive IPs weren’t really in abundance. At all.
No matter: E3 is no longer the by-the-numbers event it once was, and in lieu of ‘new console, new games’ you get something a bit more exciting: innovation in more unpredictable directions. For a Microsoft that’s been working towards turning the Xbox into a complete entertainment hub, that manifested itself in two new products:
It’s all about the second screen, don’t you know? With the Wii U gearing up to let you play Mario on the toilet and Sky bringing Zeebox to the forefront of its plans, Microsoft obviously sees a piece of pie going free. To that end, it’s created SmartGlass – a new app for Windows Phone handsets and touchscreen Windows 8 devices that’ll let you control your onscreen content with touchy gestures.
That means you’ll be able to navigate the Xbox dashboard and the web with swipes, pinches and keyboard taps, which is a country mile better than having to do it with an Xbox controller. That’s alongside the ability to throw your device’s movies to your Xbox, Apple TV style.
On top of that, SmartGlass will also bring a slew of companion content to your mobile device. One example that’s got us intrigued is where you can watch Game of Thrones via the HBO GO app, and have your phone or tablet show a map of whereabouts in Westeros and Essos the action is taking place. The potential for giving fans that sort of added depth is huge.
Next up is Microsoft’s answer to Spotify: Xbox Music. The service doesn’t have a launch date pencilled in, but when it does it’ll be available on the Xbox 360, Windows Phone handsets and Windows 8 devices.
It’ll allow access to 30 million songs, either to buy or stream for a monthly subscription, while a heavy social ethos means you’ll be able to see what your friends are listening to. The above video also shows a ‘Smart DJ’ option, which will queue up songs it thinks you’ll like.
All in, it looks pretty polished with its Metro styling, and is yet another example of Microsoft’s entertainment offerings ditching the Zune branding in favour of Xbox. The very fact that these entertainment services are Microsoft’s biggest news at E3 signposts that the current crop of consoles is here to stay (save for the Wii, of course), and that their purpose keeps changing. The games are less important now than they’ve ever been before.
We might not have seen the disc-less, game-less Xbox machine many had anticipated, but when the Xbox brand expands into your pocket, perhaps we don’t need to.