The lights are on
We're back! After a long month of travel to Cologne, Germany for Gamescom 2013 and Seattle for PAX, it's nice to be home with you fine people. Lots happened while we were away, but this week's recap can tie it all together in two major topics: console launches and the games we'll be seeing in the vague launch window. Let's jump in.
Microsoft and Sony confirm launch dates, production underway on Xbox One, and pre-orders are sold out (or are they?)
At Gamescom, Sony committed to a launch of November 15, 2013 in North America followed by a roll-out in approximately 30 other territories on November 29, 2013. I have no doubt that the early launch in the US is in large part due to Thanksgiving/Black Friday and a desire to be established in retail before that point. It seems that Sony has pushed all of its pre-order allocations through to retailers already, and we're unlikely to see many opportunities to order before the midnight lines form.
Microsoft is pulsing out its pre-order quantities, walking a fine line between satisfying die-hards and ensuring that parents have a shot (even a slim one) at finding a console at retail before Christmas. Phil Spencer talked to us about how Microsoft is managing its pre-order allocations and more in an interview published this week.
Microsoft is splitting the difference between those dates. The Xbox One will be available in 13 territories on November 22, 2013. The jump on Sony in Europe is smart, because Microsoft has more to lose there if the PlayStation 4 hits first. However, it's surprising that the company is ceding a week of multiplatform software sales to in the United States. I currently have both systems pre-ordered, and I was torn about which I would use to play Watch Dogs (one of my most anticipated next-generation games). That conundrum has been solved thanks to the release dates.
I don't expect that there are an enormous quantity of gamers purchasing both systems at launch, but for those that do, the week difference in the US and Canada matters. There will be people who beat Watch Dogs on PlayStation 4 before the Xbox One ever hits market. The same goes for Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag on next-gen hardware, Need for Speed Rivals, and others. For platform agnostic customers, this could also sway both current- and next-generation purchases of Call of Duty, Battlefield, and sports titles (especially since progress will carry over and upgrade fees are only $10). Remember, all of those current-generation purchases that get converted to next-gen count as two separate software purchases.
It's important to recognize that while the launch doesn't predict who will "win" the generation, it will set the tone for the narrative for the next 12 to 18 months. Just ask Nintendo.
EA's Trouble With Titanfall
Titanfall is good; really good. I played it at Gamescom and again (for fun) at PAX. The lines were hours long at both shows, and for good reason. Respawn knows how to make a compelling multiplayer experience. Consumers love the game, and the press has showered it with praise. This is good news for everyone except EA right now.
In any other circumstance, EA would be thrilled, but there's a little problem. Titanfall isn't a launch title (a fact that Microsoft isn't quick to correct fans on if they have that wrong... and many do). EA's marquee launch shooter is Battlefield 4, and it isn't getting but a small fraction of the attention of Respawn's premiere endeavor.
EA is already fighting an uphill battle with Battlefield. When Battlefield 3 launched, the publisher and developer DICE faced a wave of negative response from a late "beta" (really a poorly constructed demo) that was designed to compete with Call of Duty rather than show off what Battlefield is good at. The launch was rocky, and featured a number of glitches, including splitting parties across teams (leading to a diminished multiplayer experience). The single-player campaign was lackluster, again trying to mimic what Activision's mega-franchise does on an annual basis.
This year, the Battlefield "beta" will be late again. We don't know the content yet, but it needs to show off the terribly-named "levelution" in a big way. If players can't drastically manipulate the environment (the Gamescom demo let us open and close a container door), then they aren't getting the promised Battlefield 4 experience.
DICE and EA are betting big. The new Frostbite 3 engine, new hardware, and a bump to 60 frames per second (currently at 720p) are all huge changes for the series. The release date is less than two months away on current-generation hardware and PCs, with a November 15 PS4 release looming shortly thereafter. EA needs Battlefield 4 to be huge... and everyone is still talking about Titanfall.
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