E3 2011 roundup: the good, the bad and the ugly
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Nintendo has emerged as the star of the video game industry's huge annual convention in Los Angeles known as E3. Sony, however, received mixed-reviews as the electronics giant struggled to move on from a damaging hacking scandal.
While much of the early hype at this year's E3 was focused on highly anticipated announcements from both Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo borrowed from Apple's playbook and kept everyone guessing. There was widespread speculation that the Kyoto, Japan-based game maker would release a new high definition update to its aging Wii platform, but specific details were scant.
On Tuesday, Nintendo unveiled the Wii U, a portable game console with a high-resolution touch screen, that is something of a cross between an iPad, a Sony PlayStation Portable and Nintendo's existing DS hand-held game consoles.
"It's just a completely new way to look at [gaming]," said student Brendan Piper of Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. "There's just something about it that allows adaptability of all games and it just changes how you look the experience of playing video games."
Piper was by no means alone in his excitement as thousands of equally enthusiastic E3 attendees waited in long lines that snaked around the Nintendo booth to get a peek of the new device. Nintendo now hopes all this positive buzz for the Wii U will translate into sales and silence sceptics who have criticised the company for its recent failure to keep pace with industry rivals Microsoft, Sony and Apple among others.
Microsoft, for its part, also received considerable praise at E3 for software upgrades to its hugely successful XBOX 360 platform. The software giant is moving aggressively to position XBOX 360 as an all-purpose entertainment hub that can deliver live TV, movies, web videos from sites like YouTube and streaming audio. Gamers at E3, though, were most excited about new upgrades to its motion sensing device known as Kinect.
Motion gaming is one of the key emerging industry trends where users interact with the game using voice commands and body movements rather than a hand-held controller.
With a host of new Kinect titles announced at E3, Microsoft is placing a large bet on motion gaming. The company hopes that children's exercise games featuring Sesame Street characters, new dancing titles and motion-enhanced war games such as the popular Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier will entice non-gamers to put an XBOX 360 with Kinect on this year's holiday wish list.
While there was considerable enthusiasm for Microsoft's new software, like games and motion-enhancements to the XBOX 360, gamers expressed an equal level of disappointment for the lack of any hardware upgrades. "There really just wasn't that much that surprised me from Microsoft," said E3 attendee Joseph Frohlinger who complained that unlike Sony and Nintendo, Microsoft has done relatively little to improve the device since it launched in 2005.
French interactive entertainment company Ubisoft also didn't fare so well in the eyes of many at E3 this year. Ubisoft is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, an unusual accomplishment in this competitive industry, and on Monday announced a number of updates to popular game titles like Rayman, Driver San Francisco and Brothers in Arms: Furious 4. Yet, overall, the reaction was, well, 'ho-hum'. None of their new games seemed to really impress compared to the excitement generated by competitors Electronic Arts, Activision and Microsoft.
One industry analyst said Ubisoft is becoming increasingly marginalized by competing forces: the big console companies like Sony and Nintendo wow users with 3D, motion and other big budget productions while low-cost upstarts such as Zynga draw larger and larger audiences to social gaming on Facebook.
Sony came to this year's E3 convention wounded by an ongoing hacking scandal that has done considerable damage to the company's reputation. Over a six-week period, and on numerous occasions, hackers penetrated various Sony servers to steal confidential customer data including credit card numbers and email addresses. None of that information was apparently secured by encryption.
On Monday, Sony America CEO and President Jack Tretton opened the company's E3 media event with an apology to customers who have had their personal data compromised. But he didn't say much more.
There was palpable frustration among E3 attendees that an apology was insufficient in light of how much personal data was compromised. Instead, critics contend, Tretton should have spent more time detailing what measures Sony is taking to protect its customers' information. After all, they argue, in recent weeks Sony has made similar assurances that its servers are now secure only to find that they have been penetrated yet again to access un-encrypted customer data.