In this, the first of four articles, we look back at highs and lows of 2013, beginning with the unveiling of Sony and Microsofts’ consoles and our collective reactions prior to E3.
2013 has been on the most hectic, exciting years in gaming in a long time. The launch of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One may have taken the spotlight, but we also had a portable offering from Ouya, a redesigned portable from Nintendo (the 2DS), plus the unveiling of Valve’s Steam Machine. Gaming itself may not have changed all too much in 2013, but the ways available to experience games were constantly evolving.
But although the industry is looking up now, the start of the year still felt uncertain and tumulutuous. The fate of any of these consoles was (and in some ways is still) uncertain, and there was far too regular news of layoffs and studio closures. One of the larger developers to leave the industry in 2013 was LucasArts. Disney acquired the developer along with LucasFilm, and early in the year Disney shifted the game studio to a licensing model, thus canceling (or at least putting on hold) anticipated games such as Star Wars 1313 and the Battlfefront sequel First Assault .
Given the state of the industry, it was easy to imagine an imminent collapse or some other disaster just around the corner. But all that just made it even harder to predict the circular route that Microsoft and Sony would take in their console reveals. We knew that the announcements would come soon in 2013, and that the new consoles would bear more in common with the PC than the 360 and PS3, but anything beyond that was pure conjecture. Both Sony and Microsoft were able to keep the design of their consoles tightly under wraps.
At the beginning of 2013, Gamespot made a number of predictions about what the future might hold. Some were right: Sony going with the simple PlayStation 4 title for their new console, the exploding popularity of MOBAs and League of Legends, and the rise of eSports to greater prominence in the gaming world.
However, some predictions were completely wrong. The reveal of Half-Life 3 and Source 2 from Valve, the Xbox tablet, and anything new with Final Fantasy VII were guesses that never materialized.
Early in the year, Microsoft suffered from a multitude of problems communicating the virtues of what was then still widely referred to as the Xbox 720. Gamers were outraged when it leaked that the system would require either a constant connection to the Internet (or at the least would need to check-in every 24 hours). And matters weren’t helped when a creative director at one of Microsoft’s studios responded to the outcry with the hashtag #dealwithit.
In addition, rumors were circulating that the next Xbox would be unable to play used games, and that users would be unable to unplug the Kinect. Microsoft said the Kinect would be able to be turned off at least (in an attempt to allay concerns of constant in-home monitoring), but by then it seemed too little too late.
Prior to E3, Microsoft revealed their console, but only managed to upset their fan base more by focusing on the system’s social and media capabilities rather than on gaming. Some developers argued that getting the mainstream and television-focused information out of the way early would free up more time for games at E3.
Sony’s press conference reveal took place before Microsoft’s media briefing and did not include a hardware reveal, but Sony was willing to directly address some of their competition’s biggest criticisms. The PS4, for example, would definitely be able to play used games. However, Sony remained suspiciously silent on whether or not their system would require the same 24-hour online check-in.
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Still, Sony received praise for showing off their system’s share features (which lets you record game footage or stream online at any time) and a first look at the PS4’s games well ahead of E3. We got to see Sony exclusives like Infamous: Second Son, Killzone: Shadow Fall, and Knack, as well as confirmation that several highly anticipated games, such as Destiny (from Halo studio Bungie) and The Witness would be coming to next-gen. More game details and pricing would have to wait until E3, but Sony was already capitalizing on Microsoft’s perceived problems...a trend that would continue in E3.
The problems around “always online” were especially prominent in the months before E3 because of a pair of games from Blizzard and EA that had non-negotiable internet requirements in order to play. A game-breaking bug in Blizzard’s Diablo III was booting players from their servers. Meanwhile EA’s reboot of SimCity hit serious launch problems in supporting the player base and just providing online server stability. The problems persisted for months and they were only exacerbated by the fact that the online component was not actually necessary to play the game.
Announcing a console that would potentially include those same problems with few obvious benefits was causing serious perception problems for Microsoft. Especially once Sony revealed that, due to the relative lack of high-speed Internet worldwide, their console would not have that prerequisite. But for better or worse, Microsoft stayed the course.
And in the background was the growing dominance of one of gaming’s biggest phenomenons: League of Legends and the MOBA. It was a genre that was already wildly popular with a devotedly dedicated fanbase, but 2013 is when the MOBA came into its own in an even more mainstream way. League of Legends players were breaking audience records on their Twitch streams. And even in beta, Dota 2 from Valve was playing host to major league gaming tournaments.
There was a lot of excitement building up in the gaming world prior to E3, and fortunately, the rest of the year did not disappoint.