We're coming up on E3 2017 and this is a make-or-break year for Microsoft. Rival Sony is comfortably ahead with 60 million PlayStation 4 systems sold worldwide, with estimates of Xbox One sales under half of that. (Microsoft stopped giving official numbers once it fell too far behind.) Coming from out of nowhere is Nintendo, whose Switch hybrid has the heat to steal second place from Microsoft.
Last year, Microsoft offered a few titles from its anchor franchises: Gears of War 4, Forza Horizon 3, and Killer Instinct: Season 3. There were also a host of new games coming to Xbox One, including Sea of Thieves, Halo Wars 2, Dead Rising 4, and Scalebound. Of those, Sea of Thieves will likely be a marquee game at this year's press conference, Halo Wars 2 and Dead Rising 4 came out to little fanfare, and Scalebound was outright cancelled. The biggest news of last year was the announcement of Project Scorpio, the upgraded Xbox One that would leapfrog the PlayStation 4 and then unnamed PlayStation 4 Pro to provide a "true 4K" experience.
This is the year of Scorpio's full reveal. We got the specs of the system earlier this year, but now we need the rest: name, price, and final production model. More than just hardware though, Microsoft needs games. It can't rely on the multiplatform games propping the platform up, especially when Sony can draw on not only its host of first- and second-party studios, but the development efforts of Japan, a nation of developers who often outright ignore the Xbox platform.
The Xbox E3 Briefing will kick off on Sunday, June 11, 2017 at 2PM PT / 5PM ET. The conference will be viewable on YouTube, Twitch, or Microsoft's own Mixer platform. Xbox boss Phil Spencer has already said that the event may run longer than the allotted 90 minutes, so fingers crossed they deliver.
Xbox briefing Sunday will likely run longer than our traditional 90 mins. For those recording just a heads up. #XboxE3— Phil Spencer (@XboxP3) June 8, 2017
What a Successful E3 for Xbox Would Look Like
This is the year of Project Scorpio. Microsoft has already released the system specs, so it can skip that on the showfloor and move straight to what's important. What's the system's final name? How much will it cost? When is it coming out? And most importantly, what will we be playing on it?
Scorpio is a hefty machine, but power is nothing without games. Forza Motorsport 7 is a given for the platform, standing as the showcase game in Digital Foundry's earlier look at the system, but Scorpio needs more. The problem is Microsoft's anchor titles feel like they're a ways out. Halo 6 won't be shown a7 E3 2017 and the next Gears of War likely a few years down the line. Minecraft in 4K isn't a draw. It doesn't help that Microsoft has shut down many of its internal studios, including Lionhead Studios, Press Play, Ensemble Studios, and Microsoft Game Studios Japan.
Even the indies that Microsoft announced before feel like they're drifting. Games like Tacoma, Below, and Cuphead were great-looking Xbox-first indies that are completely incognito these days.
We do know that Crackdown 3 will show its face again, alongside Sea of Thieves and State of Decay 2. Sure, the Xbox platforms will get Call of Duty: WW2, Destiny 2, Assassin's Creed Origins and more, but what Microsoft needs to do is show why Xbox is the place to be. If Microsoft wants to have a successful E3, I'd say they need another 2-3 marquee titles for the Xbox One and Scorpio. I have no clue where those games are coming from though.
What if The Coalition never fully killed its cool espionage game from when the studio was called Black Tusk? Maybe Playground Games' planned open-world title is coming sooner than we think? If Microsoft moneyhatted a few Japanese exclusives, that would also go a little way to help Xbox have a great E3 conference.
The One Thing We're Hoping to See
Something new. While our Nintendo and PlayStation articles on the same subject had specific games they were looking forward to, I think Microsoft needs to illustrate that it knows what gamers want. That means something outside of Gears of War, Forza, and Halo. Another sequel in those franchises may help, but it doesn't plant a flag in the ground, yelling "Xbox is the place to play." The company needs to think "new" and "bigger".
Microsoft needs its own Bloodborne, its own Horizon Zero Dawn, its own Arms. Anchor titles are well and good, but those are the kinds of games that get people excited for a platform. Folks want to feel like their platform has a bright future. Sea of Thieves is a start, but Microsoft needs more like that.
Xbox boss Phil Spencer has acknowledged this in the past, so there's hope.
"I know we have to take risks," Spencer said after the cancellation of Scalebound. "I realize right now probably sounds hollow, but I agree. I won't abandon signing independent studio projects, but I agree first party internal studios are critical."
"We know you care most about great games, whether they be exclusive, multiplatform, independent or AAA," said Spencer in a note about E3 2017. "We are proud of the diverse lineup of games coming this year that will only be playable on Xbox One and will play better on Project Scorpio. We designed Project Scorpio to be the best console to play the blockbuster multiplatform games from our publishing partners, made it easy for recently released titles to upgrade to true 4K and for beloved, backward compatible titles to play better than ever before."
What We're Expecting
Crackdown 3: This will probably be the biggest game for Microsoft at the show. It's been a long time coming with multiple delays, but a great showing for Crackdown 3 could be a boon for Xbox One and Scorpio.
Sea of Thieves: Rare's multiplayer pirate game is also getting a hefty push at the conference. We should have a look at some of the game's deeper mechanics and perhaps a release window or open beta announcement.
State of Decay 2: Undead Labs' open-world zombie survival games was a winner for Xbox back in the day, so hopefully Microsoft has given the studio some more resources to really blow out the concept.
Minecraft: You don't spend billions on a developer and not trot their games out in every conference. Microsoft will likely show off the new education edition of Minecraft.
Augmented or Mixed Reality: Microsoft is playing around with virtual reality, but it seems far more keen on augmented reality. The HoloLens has been at E3 before, but Microsoft already said at GDC 2017 that it was working on mixed reality headsets for Xbox One.
PlayAnywhere: I think Microsoft will work harder to bring more PC-exclusive games to Xbox One via its PlayAnywhere program. This is a place where Microsoft can draw on its PC heritage to fill in the gaps.
We'll keep you informed about any surprises that Microsoft reveals at the show. Hopefully they're up to the challenge.