The Electronic Entertainment Expo, better known as E3, doesn't officially start until the doors open today, but the show has already begun. To kick off the biggest video game expo in the world, all of the major players, including Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:EA), and Sony (NYSE:SNE), held press conferences at the beginning of the week to garner excitement for their wares. Let's take a peek at those presentations to see which companies look best coming out of the gate.
Quite frankly, anything is better than last year. Microsoft stumbled hard at the beginning of E3 2013. The company should've been getting people excited for its new console, the Xbox One, but instead it was disenchanting gamers. Microsoft reached for the stars at E3 last year, presenting a new console that would be an all-in-one media entertainment system -- but it also needed to constantly be connected to the Internet, would hinder consumers from playing used games, and would cost $100 more than its main competition, the PS4. Microsoft has yet to shake off the ill effects from this poor start. The Sony PS4 has sold over 7 million units to date, while Microsoft has sold only about 5 million Xbox Ones.
Microsoft hopes to change all that this year with a renewed focus on the only people who really matter at the beginning of a new console cycle: gamers, the ones willing to spend money on an unproven console. As Xbox division head Phil Spencer said, "We are dedicating our entire briefing to games, and make Xbox One the best place to play games this generation." Microsoft then spent 90 minutes touting game after game, including the newest iteration of Activision Blizzard's hit Call of Duty franchise, as well as a new Halo game that will be available by the holiday season. Overall, this was a return to form for Microsoft, and a very welcome one at that. With the price of an Xbox One now the same as a PS4 and a strong slate of games coming up for the console, Microsoft may be able to recover lost ground.
Next up was EA, which kept the gamer-centric theme alive; according to new CEO Andrew Wilson, EA is "putting gamers first." The company seems to be living up to that promise, with a slew of new releases that include fan favorites such as Star Wars: Battlefront, a new Mass Effect, and a new Mirror's Edge. These are all acclaimed series that haven't seen a new release in years, and each game comes with a large, dedicated fan base. Expect EA to cash in on these games over the course of this coming year and into 2015.
Meanwhile, it always has the usual suspects: EA presented new installments of its Madden, FIFA, and NHL games, which are always best-sellers. Plus it showed off Battlefield: Hardline, which steps away from the military theme of prior games and focuses on a cops-vs.-robbers format. To amp up the excitement, EA announced that it will open a beta for the new Battlefield at the end of its presentation, which will give gamers a chance to check out the new title and spread the word about it. Overall, EA came off looking good, with a healthy mix of its usual annual releases and some newer versions of classic games.
Last but not least was Sony, which balanced the demands of gamers and media lovers quite nicely. On one hand, the company highlighted an impressive slate of games, including Destiny, Far Cry 4, and Uncharted 4. On the other, it wasn't afraid to focus on non-gaming assets such as PlayStation Now, the company's streaming service, or PlayStation TV, which will allow PS4 owners to stream games to a second TV while using only one PS4. In addition, gamers will be able to use the Share button on the PS4 controller with YouTube later this year, which the company hopes will encourage its use -- then again, Sony seemed pretty pleased that by its calculations, gamers around the world have used the Share button 228 million times.
There weren't too many Sony-exclusive games revealed at the press conference and, perhaps most disappointingly, no talk of the long-awaited The Last Guardian, a fan favorite. However, the company did a much better job of balancing media and gaming than Microsoft did last year, which might be an indication of what direction Sony is taking next; Now, TV, and more sharing mean more than just gaming, which may be what the company needs to stay one step ahead of Microsoft.
So who's winning?
So far, so good for Microsoft, which managed not to shoot itself in the foot this year. Hopefully, a lower price tag and a renewed focus on gaming will be enough for the company to match Sony in sales. Meanwhile, Sony seems pretty secure in its lead and clearly wants to begin building out the services PS4 offers. It'll be interesting to see whether gamers like that or dismiss it as they did with Microsoft last year. Finally, EA's lineup looks particularly strong, with lots of the company's games coming complete with built-in fan bases.
Overall, it doesn't seem as if anyone is winning E3 just yet, but the games have just begun.
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Mark Reeth has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Activision Blizzard and Apple and owns shares of Activision Blizzard, Apple, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.