E3 2016 Preview: Microsoft Will Be Focusing on New Hardware in Their E3 Keynote
As is the current state of operations for the pre-E3 press conferences, Microsoft will be the first company out of the blocks on Monday. Their annual press conference has a few tasks this year. As always, they have to hype the games coming this fall for the holiday shopping season. More importantly, there’s the matter of the second-generation Xbox One that they have to sell without scaring off current Xbox One owners.
So let’s talk about the big money matter for Microsoft: Hardware. Not all of their hardware will be gaming consoles, though. The hot rumour is that Microsoft will unveil a pair of streaming devices under the branding of Xbox TV.
Reportedly, the two Xbox TV devices will be similar to the Chromecast and Roku devices already available to connect to your TV. The devices would be used to stream Xbox One games from your home console while still being able to perform the usual functions of a standard streaming stick. The larger Roku-like device is rumoured to have the added feature of being able to play some more casual gaming apps. We’re not looking at something running Xbox One power and devices but it should be able to run some game apps, probably similar to what you’d see on mobile devices, on the Xbox TV box.
Prices will be officially announced at the presser but rumours suggest that the Chromecast-like device will be priced at around $100 and the Roku-like box will set you back about $150. For comparison, Amazon.com lists the Roku 4, a 4K streaming device, at a $130 list price while the Chromecast is $45 (though that’s the CAD price so the USD one might be less). Even Steam Link only costs $50. I can’t imagine that Microsoft is going to have $100 – $150 as their price point since they’ll have priced themselves well above their competition. They might be able to compete with the Roku but the only way they compete with the Chromecast is if their streaming stick comes with an Xbox One controller. Maybe we’ll see prices set with and without controllers. That would certainly get them
We’ve already covered the next-ish gen Xbox One previously on the blog but here’s a quick summary of Xbox’s console offerings:
There’s also the matter of the Xbox One II, code-named Scorpio (probably after the Simpsons character who seemed benevolent to Homer but was an evil madman hellbent on world domination). Earlier reports said the console had been in production since February in anticipation of a sales launch in September. These improved / more powerful versions of established consoles are currently all the rage for Sony and Nintendo so it would have made sense for Microsoft to answer this year. However, the latest rumours have the more powerful Xbox One coming out in 2017.
What that extra year is buying MS is something that could be damn well near a new generation level of power jump. Currently, the Xbox One is believed to peak at between 1.22 and 1.32 teraflops of computing power (no, I don’t know what that means except that more is better). Polygon is reporting a target of 6 TFLOPS for Scorpio which is over four times as much power as the current hardware. For comparison, the PS4 runs at 1.84 teraflops and the PS4 Neo (AKA PS4K) is reportedly targeting 4.14 TFLOPS. That means that the balance of computing power has swung from being in Sony’s favour by 50% to Microsoft’s by 45%. That was reportedly Microsoft’s goal with this next stage of Xbox One.
The big question is what Microsoft will hold publishers to with regards to the XOS (a terrible acronym for the code name). Sony reportedly won’t allow fundamental differences between what games will do on the PS4 and the PS4K. Sure, they’ll allow graphical differences but no games or game modes are to be exclusive to the PS4K. We haven’t heard any rumblings of the same guarantee out of Microsoft. After the failure to launch that was the Xbox One (recently reported to be outsold by the PS4 at a rate of 2:1), Microsoft can’t make the mistake of cutting out a portion of the install base with the Scorpio but the Xbox Division is part of the same company trying for force Windows 10 down our throats.
Speaking of which, it’s not going to be high on most gamers’ priority lists but expect to hear a little more about the Microsoft Store and its Windows 10 exclusive games through their Universal Windows Platform (UWP). We’re expecting most Microsoft published Xbox One exclusives that are coming to PC to be sold through Microsoft’s own digital store but there are a number of complaints about the settings that the platform forces you onto and compatibility with various hardware. Given the money that can be made by selling direct, I can’t see Microsoft abandoning their store yet. I do expect them to push the store in this press conference by telling you what will be coming to both Xbox One and PC. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of Windows 10 logos show up in the trailer for Xbox One exclusive games.
For later in 2016, Microsoft is working on a smaller Xbox One that will reportedly be about 40% smaller than the current Xbox One console but otherwise have nearly identical specs to the current Xbox One with the exception of a 2 TB hard drive which is double the current largest capacity of an Xbox One. It now seems entirely possible that the original rumours of a new Xbox One console coming in September might have been this Xbox One Mini (which I’m sure will have a much less cool code name than “mini”… probably something like Compact or Micro [because Microsoft Xbox One Micro has a great level of redundancy]).
With the recent price drop of the Xbox One to $299 USD, one would imagine that this opens up the previous $399 price point for this Micro Xbox One. Considering that it will have a bigger hard drive and support 4K video output, Microsoft can make a case for having an entry-level and mid-tiered Xbox One offering. That begs the question of how much an Xbox Scorpio will cost. If they’re running consoles at $299 and likely $399, will they launch the next-ish gen Xbox One at $499? Considering the failure to launch of the Xbox One at that same price point, the only way that will work is if the PlayStation 4K/Neo launches at $499 as well.
And all this doesn’t include the reports that there will be a new Xbox One controller to be unveiled today. With more Windows 10 elements being integrated into the Xbox One, it’s believed that there will be a microphone built into the new controller so people without headsets or Kinect hooked up can still use voice commands and Cortana.
So let’s talk about games. Microsoft’s fall lineup looks to be led by Gears of War 4, ReCore and a new Forza game.
We know that Gear of War 4, from Canadian developer The Coalition, is coming in October. That will probably get quite a bit of time with a gameplay video and perhaps announcements of a console bundle and/or a multiplayer beta.
While Microsoft has been tight-lipped about this year’s Forza game, the usual schedule would indicate that this is a Horizon year so one would expect that this fall will see the release of Forza Horizon 3. I seem to recall hearing something about this Forza Horizon game being set in Japan but that could be speculation that was interpreted as a rumour.
ReCore is just one of many games from previous E3s that have yet to see the light of day. Crackdown 3 is also on that list. I would imagine that one or both of those games will get a release date announced for the next nine months. We should also expect updates on Rare’s Sea of Thieves, RocketWerkz’s Ion and Capybara’s Below.
New for E3 this year will be Halo Wars 2. The original Halo Wars was a real-time strategy game released on Xbox 360 and was designed in such a way as to work with a controller. It appealed to those who were RTS novices while leaving a lot of features missing for people who were used to playing proper strategy games. I can’t imagine much change for the sequel. If this one does come to Windows 10, I can’t see it doing well considering PC RTS players will be playing proper RTS games and not a beginner’s guide to RTS.
We are also expecting something new out of Remedy. They are working on two new games but neither is a sequel to Alan Wake which I’m sure most will find quite disappointing. At long as we aren’t about to find out about Quantum Break 2, I’m sure it’s a net positive.
From third parties, we’re expecting the indie game cavalcade to get its annual two-minutes of hype. We’re all still waiting on Cuphead which hopefully will also be on Steam. EA usually shows up at Microsoft’s E3 pressers. This will be an especially interesting year since this is the first time in recent memory that EA has done their keynote before Microsoft so we could see something introduced or otherwise fleshed out on Sunday and the “Better On Xbox” perks unveiled at the Microsoft presentation. Expect a mention of EA Access on Xbox One again along with a feature on either Titanfall 2 or Battlefield 1 DLC.
In terms of potential surprises, it looks like Dead Rising 4 exists and is coming soon. Given that the Dead Rising and Dead Rising 3 were Xbox exclusive, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dead Rising 4 exclusive to the Xbox One. Please don’t let it be a UWP game available exclusively on Windows 10 through the Microsoft Store.
People are looking to Rare to have something special to blow the roof off of E3 before Sony can steal Microsoft’s thunder once again. As always, speculation turns to new entries in the Battletoads and Perfect Dark franchises. I think that the possibility of that depends on the commercial success of the Rare Replay collection.
And we’ve gone all this way without talking about VR. Microsoft is believed to be pursuing a partnership with Oculus to bring VR to the Xbox One, either now or with the Scorpio. There’s also that HoloLens device that we saw demonstrated with Minecraft last year. I don’t know how close it is to being ready for mass production, let alone mass consumption, but it will be a nice showpiece for Microsoft.