I described Microsoft’s 2011 conference as “one of the single dullest” I’ve ever watched. Oh, to be that innocent again.
As with last year’s show, Microsoft’s 2012 presser was not a disaster. It lacked the GIF-worthy embarrassments of Nintendo 2008 and Sony 2006. In fact, it was even an improvement, with a distinct absence of children skewing heavily in its favour. The difference this year was that there was little to replace the groan-worthy antics. A hollow conference filled with hollow products.
The conference opened strong, with Halo 4 footage that gave a serious Metroid Prime vibe. This was followed by Splinter Cell: Blacklist and Madden 13 demos that promised to be genuinely “better with Kinect.” Not for movement detection, thankfully, but clever use of voice recognition that will enable Sam Fisher to distract guards and quarterbacks to call plays.
Unfortunately for Microsoft, things spiraled into a dreadful pit of raw boredom from here. Much of the conference was dedicated to pushing Microsoft Smart Glass, a technology that will enable many mobile devices, not just Windows 8 phones, but Android and iOS devices as well, to interact with and manage your media. It’s a concept with potential, but Apple and Nintendo are already playing in the area. Nintendo was also smart enough to cover reminiscent functionality before E3. Also, it has nothing to do with games.
Worse yet was an extensive Nike promotion that I’m still trying to understand. It seems Microsoft is teaming up with the company to push fitness tracking technology. The whole thing was made all the more painful by the preceding announcements of the NBA and NHL coming to 360. This conference was heavy on sports worship, and low on actual gaming news.
These conferences are always glorified advertisements, but in 2012, Microsoft made that more obvious than ever. In addition to Nike, I noted shout-outs to Prometheus, Aston Martin, Internet Explorer, XBox Music, Sherlock Holmes, the NBA, the NHL, and UFC.
Other games shown failed to excite. Gears of War Judgement looks like Gears of War, Forza looks like Forza, Call of Duty looks like Call of Duty (this fact was demonstrated for more than ten minutes or precious conference time). Tomb Raider is still impressive, but the game was already extensively demoed at last year’s show.
The lone highlight of the conference came from South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. They hit the stage to talk South Park: The Stick of Truth, but opened with a devastating jab at inter-device connectivity that hopefully resonates with someone at Microsoft.
If there was one genuinely shocking moment of the show, then it must have been when Usher, the pop music icon himself, came on stage and performed a number in promotion of Dance Central 3. It’s hard to imagine Microsoft finding anyone or anything else so precisely and perfectly opposite to the interests of game journalists and hobbyists.
In looking for a lasting memory or take-away of this conference, I find strangely little. Games demoed were mostly known or expected, some had even been shown the year before. True embarrassments were few, with even the lamest appeals to casual gamers simply falling flat, rather than insulting anyone.
This was a games conference that was about anything but games. It was about media management, it was about spectator sports, and it was about athletics. If the video game industry truly is in decline, and in a few years society just collectively moves on, then this conference will be remembered as the last great flailing jerk for relevancy that never took.