#130: Full bore

Xbox wins best in show at not-E3 2022, mostly by default.

So, how was the Xbox briefing for you? I spent mine switching, as is customary with such things these days, between WhatsApp and Twitter — but in a new twist, focused most of my attention on the newly born Hit Points Discord. There was a lovely vibe in there, once a few teething troubles had been dealt with. My thanks to everyone who joined in.

Anyway! It was a good show, I thought, particularly in the context of the rather drab few days we’d had leading up to it, and in contrast to Summer Game Fest I have no real fashion notes to pass on. Evidently someone at Microsoft thought, right, important marketing event being watched by millions around the world, should probably get a stylist in. Sure, it was all a little safe — everyone looked like they’d got their outfits from the in-game shop in Forza Horizon 5, with Todd Howard having clearly whaled in the premium store for his leather jacket — but it was obvious some thought had actually gone into this stuff during the planning stages so, yep, fair play.

Indeed, the show as a whole was smartly conceived. Microsoft clearly recognised that, after focusing a little too heavily in recent times on announcements and CG trailers for years-off games, it was high time it stopped telling and started showing. As a framework for an E3 broadcast, ‘games you can play in the next 12 months’ is a terrific hook. Adding ‘on Game Pass’, however, meant a narrowing of focus, a slight fall in quality, and a sheer drop in hype levels. There was lots to look at, sure, and plenty of things I will play in the months to come. But there wasn’t an awful lot that was truly lather-worthy. (Personally speaking, I was most excited about Diablo IV, at least until ‘2023’ popped up on screen. We really are looking at a terribly quiet Q4 once again, eh.) And if I were a game developer, I’d be a little concerned about the message Microsoft sent last night: if you want us to promote your Xbox game, you’ll need to put it on our subscription service. That’s been the implication for a while, sure, but there’s an awful lot of game industry beyond the boundaries of Game Pass. I hope this narrowness of focus was a one-off, rather than the start of a trend.

The main attraction was, of course, Starfield, and while I’ve seen it get a bit of a kicking around the internet I thought it looked great, at least until the caveats kicked in. One person’s commendably ambitious is another’s ominously overscoped, and we know how that usually shakes out when Bethesda is involved. I found the ‘1,000 planets’ bit Howard dropped at the close to be more foreboding than exciting. It is clearly an enormous game with a lot of moving parts, which leads me to one inevitable conclusion: if we’re really playing Starfield within the next 12 months I will eat my hat. It’s impossible not to look at all that and not see at least one more delay over the (event) horizon.

The fact that Phil Spencer had already drawn a line under the ‘next 12 months’ thing by the time Starfield was shown suggests that Xbox is hedging its bets a bit too. Sure, I imagine that was done in order to set up the Kojima announcement, and Starfield was always going to be the game that closed out the show. But given the stories that emerged last week about the troubled development of Fallout 76, and the occasional whisper I hear about the state of things at Bethesda these days… well, you know. I’m not blocking out my calendar for Q1 just yet, put it that way.

As for Kojima, what should have been the headline news of the evening lost a good deal of its power through the obvious implication that the game is likely many, many years away — and, of course, the fact that rumours of a cloud-powered Kojima game for Xbox have been swirling around for a year or more. (An aside: is anyone keeping a running total of how many big announcements have had the air sucked out of them by a small but very loud band of in-the-know leakers? Whatever you think about the games media’s lock-step relationship with game-industry marketing schedules, I expect you will agree that it is far better to learn these things amid much fanfare on a large stage of some kind than from some shithouse with a podcast.) While I’m far from Kojima’s biggest fan, and I remain highly sceptical of the potential for cloud technology in game design, I am nonetheless intrigued to see what comes from this relationship. Kojima is just mad enough to make it work, and Microsoft, knowing what a catch the Metal Gear man is, will naturally fund him to infinity.

Overall, despite the volume, quality and variety of what Microsoft showed last night, my overriding response was one of frustration, though none of that is Phil Spencer’s fault. One of the main reasons for my continued championing of E3 is the holistic view of the industry it gives me. On several occasions over the years I have walked out of an Xbox briefing on a Sunday morning thinking Microsoft had knocked it out of the park, only for Sony to blow it out of the water a few hours later. Then, the next morning, Nintendo would put both of them in the shade.

Eventually, once I’d got my head around the jumble of metaphors (E3 is about the game industry playing baseball… in water… under an awning of some kind? Weird) I would be able to form a picture of the shape of things; not in a bland ‘who won E3’ sort of way, but in what the conferences had told me about the various priorities, peculiarities and problem areas of the three platform holders, and the broader direction of travel of the console market as a whole. Obviously there was none of that last night; there’s been none of it throughout the not-E3 era, really, and my personal worry is that we’re never getting it back, whether real-E3 returns next year or not. No doubt the big players have come to prefer operating in a vacuum than fighting each other for eyeballs and airtime. I suppose I can sympathise with that, but it just means everyone trundles along in third gear with no fear of getting overtaken, because they know they’ve got the road to themselves. It’s all getting a bit boring, if I’m honest.


Not a sausage. Hit a comment or leave reply (this was a mistake but I like it and am keeping it) and let’s pick this up on Wednesday.


  • I didn’t watch much not-E3 this weekend, Xbox aside; if you saw anything that struck a chord with you, do drop it in the comments or something. I will merely shout out Immortality, the new game from Her Story and Telling Lies developer (and Hit Points chum) Sam Barlow, which now has a release date. It’s coming next month, and will be on Game Pass at launch. Celebrate!
  • Kojima Productions has moved to reassure fans that it still has “a very good partnership with PlayStation”, presumably in response to a load of big babies getting upset about the studio’s cloud-flavoured deal with Microsoft.
  • Bobby Kotick has said Activision Blizzard will “engage in good-faith negotiations” with the newly formed QA union at Raven Software — while simultaneously, one assumes, pressing the button to release the flying monkeys.
  • Shares in Devolver Digital have fallen by, as of this writing, almost 50% after the publisher lowered its earnings forecasts. It now expects revenue for the year ending December 31 to be between $27m and $32m — down from the originally projected $130m-$140m. Yikes.
  • Raekwon and Ghostface in the new Turtles game? Okay, I’m in.

There we go. I had a very tiring, very busy, and ultimately very fulfilling weekend, but I now need a lie down. Have a good couple of days, and I’ll see you on Wednesday.