For well over a decade, the competition between Sony's (NYSE:SNE) PlayStation and Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox platforms has consistently been one of the most exciting storylines to emerge from the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). The two companies' conferences and demos are inevitably stacked against each other, with press coverage attempting to divine what the respective showings might mean for the state of the console competition and the gaming industry at large.
This year saw Microsoft unveil its Xbox One X console, previously known as Project Scorpio, while Sony had some big games and new features to show off. So, what did each company bring to this year's E3? And was there anything shown that looked as if it would change the state of the console race?
Xbox One X excites, but Microsoft's exclusives disappoint
Heading into this year's biggest week of gaming news, there was a lot of pressure on Microsoft to nail the unveiling of its upcoming addition to the Xbox One console line. Hardware specs for the newly minted Xbox One X were unveiled back in May; however, Microsoft's E3 stage show delivered the first look at games running on the upcoming console and also confirmed a Nov. 7 release date and a $499 price point for the system. The company did a fine job rolling out the new console, even though there could be a stronger lineup of new first-party games to support it.
Forza Motorsport 7 was Microsoft's biggest new platform exclusive, and while the freshly announced game looked stellar running on One X hardware, the rest of the company's show was short on big games exclusive to the platform. Sea of Thieves, once set to release this year, will now ship in 2018. The upcoming pirate-themed adventure game from Rare Studios had impressive visual elements and what looked to be some fun gameplay, but it would be surprising if it winds up as a big sales hit.
Crackdown 3, the other high-profile exclusive that the Redmond, Wash., company is still set to release for Xbox One systems this year, seemed to score a presentation win by featuring actor and former NFL player Terry Crews in the game, but the footage itself wasn't particularly inspiring. For a title that was first unveiled in 2013 and was probably running on a high-end PC or One X hardware, its visuals were surprisingly lackluster, which seems to lend credence to rumors that the game has had a troubled development cycle.
The company also touted timed exclusives such as PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and showcased big third-party games, including Anthem from Electronic Arts and Assassin's Creed: Origins from Ubisoft running on Xbox One X -- both of which looked decidedly impressive on the new hardware.
Sony shows off some big upcoming games
While Sony's conference was short on big surprises compared with some of its previous shows, it still topped Microsoft in terms of high-profile exclusive content. The company's God of War was visually stunning and will probably be a strong sales performer when it launches next year. Spider-Man from Insomniac Games was another exclusive game releasing in 2018 that stood out in the company's show, with impressive visuals and game play that brought the famous Marvel superhero to life with a distinctly cinematic flair.
Like Microsoft, Sony didn't announce many new first-party exclusives that seemed likely to be huge sales hits. It did, however, spotlight previously revealed exclusive titles Days Gone and Detroit: Become Human -- both of which looked promising, and it showcased Activision Blizzard's Destiny 2 and Capcom's Monster Hunter World -- both of which will also release on Xbox One and PC platforms.
Sony also showed off new downloadable content for games in its Uncharted and Horizon series, as well as a remake of its critically acclaimed PlayStation 2 game Shadow of the Colossus, and it announced PlayLink -- its platform for integration between PlayStation 4 and smartphones. The company also rolled out Hidden Agenda, a previously unannounced game that will allow players to use their mobile devices as controllers, to demo the upcoming features. The game didn't exactly look like blockbuster sales material, but increased integration between console and mobile platforms is an interesting development from the company and worth keeping an eye on.
The focus on virtual reality was a notable point of differentiation between Sony's and Microsoft's conferences, with the latter company announcing and demoing a range of upcoming games for its PlayStation VR platform, while the new display technology was absent from the Xbox show. This was somewhat surprising, given previous comments from Microsoft suggesting significant crossover between its virtual-reality (VR) and Xbox One X efforts, and a recent report from The Wall Street Journal suggests that VR might skip the new console entirely.
So, who won E3?
The press has a tendency to overstate the significance of E3, but the conferences can have an impact on the competitive landscape in the video game industry. This probably won't be one of those years in which Microsoft's or Sony's showings have a big impact on how things shake out.
The Xbox One X delivered on Microsoft's promise of great hardware and visuals, and its $499 price was about what most analysts had expected, but the price point coupled with a somewhat weak lineup of exclusive games could prevent the console from gaining significant traction. For Microsoft, one of the big wins with the Scorpio might be that a graphical edge will make third parties more eager to promote their new games on the Xbox One X, which will be the most powerful system on the market when it launches later this year.
Sony's exclusive software lineup continues to look stronger than what's coming on Xbox One consoles. Both companies put on well-produced shows featuring some compelling announcements and content, and this year, it's difficult to point to a clear winner when strictly comparing the competing E3 shows. However, the lack of big new software announcements for Microsoft's platforms suggests that Sony is in good shape to continue its dominance in the console space.
With PlayStation 4 enjoying a comfortable sales lead over the Xbox One, there was more pressure on Microsoft to deliver evidence that it can turn the tide. Therefore, Sony edges out Microsoft for the win.