Last year I said that Microsoft had some explaining to do at its tentpole press conference that kicked off E3 2013. Months before its release, the Xbox One was already knee-deep in a PR nightmare. Between dealing with the "always-on" paranoia and DRM outrage, it seemed the company couldn't do a thing right to help itself.
So while Microsoft has since made good on a number of important fronts, this year its mantra shouldn't veer too far off the same path. For the Xbox One, 2014 and beyond needs to be a time that gamers consider the console as a viable gaming machine, even though it's currently playing catch-up in sales.
It's pretty obvious that the Xbox One's price cut was likely originally going to be made public June 9, so with the cat now out of the bag, Microsoft needs to ease into the untangling of that once-inseparable Kinect/console tandem. For months the pitch was that Kinect was soldered to the Xbox One experience. Now that's not the case. So why is the Xbox One still worth gamers' money if its base model doesn't come with all the bells and whistles?
Look for Microsoft to present a case that the Xbox One provides the best overall experience, even if that doesn't necessarily include live TV and voice and gesture control.
So if Kinect is gradually removed from the keynote as a selling point, where can Microsoft make up ground on the competition? Possibly with exclusive nongaming content. Look for Microsoft to devote stage time to the Halo video series as well as other projects in development that will be available only on the Xbox platform.
In the end, it all comes back to exclusivity. Gamers buy consoles for two reasons. It's either because their friends have one (and they want to be able to play online together), or -- and more importantly -- because they want to be able to play a specific exclusive game. Microsoft must make a compelling case for games that can be played only on an Xbox One. And in my opinion, that campaign shouldn't be headlined by timed exclusivity of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare DLC.
I'm expecting to see a fair amount of Halo 5: Guardians teasing, but I'd be surprised if any of that included actual gameplay. It's a safe bet we'll see the announcement of a few titles, too, but we don't know if that will involve totally new franchises or spinoffs of familiar properties. But like Halo, I'm assuming we'll get peeks at Xbox mainstays like Fable and newcomers like Sunset Overdrive.
Microsoft still has some ground to make up in the independent realm, so expect some time to be devoted to ID@Xbox, the platform's indie publishing program. Last year we saw a bit of the new title from Capybara Games, Below, and I'm thinking it will be front and center during this section of the press conference.
I think Microsoft will also carve out a significant amount of time talking about support for the Xbox 360. Don't count the last generation out just yet.
E3 is all about perception. The kickoff press conferences are a chance for both Microsoft and Sony to exude confidence. Microsoft's playing from behind the eight-ball again this year, so expect some aggressive play and hopefully a few surprises along the way.