LOS ANGELES -- So, the Xbox One does play games after all.
After enduring criticism from the gaming community that the Xbox One launch last month was light on the gaming news, Microsoft responded on Monday at a pre-E3 press conference with a torrent of game announcements, including a handful of key exclusive titles, such as Dead Rising 3, and a tease of the next game in the Halo franchise, which will land next year.
In running through a marathon of announcements, Microsoft's message to the gamers was simple: We haven't abandoned you. The company also said the Xbox One would launch in November and sell for $499.
"We have more titles in development today than at any other time in the history of Xbox," said Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft Studios.
While Microsoft has loftier ambitions for the Xbox One, the company will need the support of its core gaming base, who have traditionally been the only ones wiling to purchase a console. As further testament to Microsoft's commitment to games, the company said it is investing in five companies developing "Triple A," or top-tier, titles that will be exclusive to the Xbox. The company showed off demo footage before moving on to the tease of a new Halo game, which took its time in revealing the Master Chief, whose appearance drew thunderous applause from the audience.
Other exclusives include an ambitious game-building title Project Spark, colorful open-world shooter Sunset Overdrive, Roman action game Ryse, and Crimson Dragon, the spiritual successor to the much-loved Panzer Dragoon series.
While many of the other games had previously been discussed, Microsoft did show off a lot of actual game play in the best demonstration of its amped up capabilities.
Moving beyond a fixation with better graphics and faster horsepower as the definition of next-generation gaming, however, was another theme at the conference. While the latest Forza Motorsports game looks improved over the prior Xbox 360 iteration, it's the promise of an online connection and cloud services that changes how the game will be played. Developers from Turn 10, which created the game, showed off a driver avatar that learns from your own driving tendencies and can be applied to other races, even when the player is off doing something else. The idea is that each player would race against avatars of friends and family, eliminating the need for artificial intelligent drivers.
Microsoft actually kicked off the show with some Xbox 360 love, and announced a new, slimmer version of the console that went on sale today. Microsoft executive Yusuf Mehdi promised that the company wouldn't abandon the console, and said hundreds of games will be coming to the Xbox 360, touting high-profile titles such as Grand Theft Auto 5. He also said that current Xbox Live Gold membership carries over to Xbox One, and starting on July 1 through the launch of Xbox One, members will get two free game downloads .
In a smart demonstration of some of the next-generation features of the Xbox One, one player was able to upload a highlight reel of a recent victory in the fighting game Killer Instinct through the Xbox Upload Studio, which also allows players to edit the video and add effects. Xbox One will also have Twitch integrated into the console, allowing you to broadcast live games online, such as a rematch of the Killer Instinct fight.
Microsoft didn't get into some of the issues that gamers have raised with the Xbox One, including its online requirement and where it stands with used games. The company on Thursday cleared up some questions about how the Xbox One -- sort of -- will treat used games by. The company said that it wouldn't restrict used game sales, but left the door open to individual publishers.
The company also limited offline play on the Xbox One for 24 hours, after which the console needs to check back in to Microsoft's server to ensure the latest updates were installed. It also restricted how gamers could share games with each other.
E3, of course, is a venue that is hard-wired for gamers and the console gaming industry in particular. As such, it's only appropriate that Microsoft would want to focus on games and mollify the gamer rage.
But Microsoft's song and dance today doesn't take away from the company's true ambitions: to turn the Xbox One into an entertainment hub for the living room. Microsoft may be catering to the gamers this week, but it has its sights set on a much larger base of consumers when the console launches later this year.
The move to expand the Xbox One console into a entertainment and consumer electronic device and beyond a simple gaming device comes as there are questions about whether console gaming even has a place in the industry, with many people moving to smartphones and other mobile devices, or streaming games online through a computer. As such, all of the consoles have jammed in other features beyond simple gaming. Xbox, which arguably had a leg up on turning its Xbox 360 into an entertainment device, was particularly aggressive during its launch.
Microsoft, of course, didn't talk about the Xbox One's entertainment features today, instead keeping a laser focus on game announcements today.
But as the Xbox One gets closer to launch, you can expect Microsoft to get louder about why its console should be in every home, gamer or not.
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