The Electronics Entertainment Expo, or E3 for short, is the world's biggest video game trade show and is hosted every year to give industry watchers a look at what's on the horizon. As direct competitors in the console platform and software publishing spaces courting largely similar demographics, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Sony (NYSE:SNE) are often compared to each other.
Putting on the best E3 conference isn't always a harbinger of overall success, but what's spotlighted at the trade show and how it's presented sometimes have a significant impact on the progression of the industry and each company's respective performance. So, who had the better show?
Microsoft conference recap
Microsoft kicked off its 2018 Xbox E3 conference with a teaser for Halo: Infinite, the next game in the the company's top-selling first-party gaming franchise. However, there apparently wasn't much to show off with the title beyond a basic introduction of the setting -- indicating the next Halo is still relatively early in development and more than a year from release.
The oft-delayed Crackdown 3 was the next exclusive game to be showcased by the company. The third installment in the Crackdown franchise had a disappointing showing at the company's conference last year and recently saw its planned release slip from an unspecified 2018 date to February 2019. This year's trailer was better than the one shown at E3 2017 and evidenced some extra graphical polish, but the game has had a troubled development, and it seems unlikely that the title will go on to be a big hit when it releases next year.
Turning to the racing genre, Microsoft took the wraps off Forza Horizon 4 -- an open-world, multiplayer-focused racing game set across locations in Britain. The game will release on Oct. 2 and be part of the company's Xbox Game Pass service on day one.
Microsoft also announced three new games in the Gears of War series: Gears of War Pop and Gears of War: Tactics for mobile platforms and Gears of War 5 for Xbox One systems. While the new titles will likely please fans of the series, the franchise's relevance and sales have been declining, and the recently unveiled games seem unlikely to return the property to its previous heights.
In addition to upcoming exclusive Xbox games, Microsoft also showcased new downloadable content expansions for recent releases like Sea of Thieves and Cuphead, announced upcoming features for its Xbox Games Pass service, and hosted world premiers for some big third-party games that will also be available on other gaming systems. Multiplatform games debuted at the conference included Bethesda's Fallout 76, Square Enix's Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Ubisoft's The Division 2, and CD Project's Cyberpunk 2077.
Microsoft's conference featured plenty of games, but the most interesting news from the presentation was news that the company is ramping up its investment in strengthening existing franchises and launching new properties. The company announced the founding of a new game development studio dubbed "The Initiative" and the acquisition of four other game development studios: Playground Games, Ninja Theory, Compulsion Games, and Undead Labs.
Sony conference recap
While Microsoft's conference packed in comparatively quicker looks at over 50 games, Sony's show was focused more on in-depth looks at its big, upcoming first-party games and a selection of third-party titles. The company kicked off its PlayStation conference by showing off new cinematic footage and gameplay for The Last of Us 2, the highly anticipated sequel to 2013's big commercial and critical hit from Naughty Dog Studios. The game looks poised to deliver an evolution of the formula that fans of the original enjoyed and will likely be a big sales hit.
Next up was a demo for Activision Blizzard's Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, which will have timed-exclusive downloadable content on PS4 systems. Activision Blizzard followed up its Call of Duty presentation with a new trailer for Destiny 2: Forsaken -- an expansion pack for the company's 2017 release.
Next up on the exclusive front, Sony demoed Ghost of Tsushima -- an action game set in feudal Japan that will have players stepping into the shoes of a samurai warrior. The title was announced last year, but this year's E3 marked the first look at its gameplay. The game boasted impressive visuals and looks to continue the trend of generally high-quality output from Sony's internal studios.
Death Stranding, a game directed by Metal Gear creator and industry legend Hideo Kojima, rounded out the company's exclusive game lineup. The game's story looks to blend psychological-thriller, science fiction, and horror elements, and the title seems to fit with Sony's general focus on cinematic gaming experiences. Along those lines, Death Stranding features the likeness and voice work of actors including Norman Reedus and Mads Mikkelsen. How the game will play is still somewhat unclear, and it doesn't have the obvious markings of being a big commercial success, but it's possible that the talent behind the project and general interest in Sony's first-party output will help make the game a hit.
The company also showcased Control, a new game from Remedy -- the developer of the Max Payne series, Square Enix's Kingdom Hearts 3, a remake of 1998's seminal survival-horror game Resident Evil 2 from Capcom. Sony's press conference wrapped up with a presentation of the upcoming Marvel's Spider-Man -- a PlayStation 4 exclusive developed by Insomniac Games. The demo featured the webslinger navigating a city environment, beating up henchmen, and pursuing a team of supervillains and evidenced the cinematic undercurrent that's defining Sony's exclusive lineup.
So, who had the better E3?
Overall, Microsoft put together a solid show and demoed some games that will likely please the Xbox user base, but it was also short on surprises and lacked standout titles that looked capable of helping Xbox One catch up to PlayStation 4 in the sales race. Sony's lineup of exclusive content continues to look better than what Microsoft is offering on Xbox One.
A lack of high-quality exclusive content is a problem that has hindered the Xbox One platform compared to Sony's PlayStation 4, and there wasn't much at Microsoft's conference this year that pointed toward a near-term fix on that front. However, the announcement that Microsoft was integrating five new game development studios was probably the most significant news of the show in terms of lasting impact. Sony had a better show in terms of exclusive content, but Microsoft's acquisitions make it clear that the company is investing to bolster its long-term position in the space.
Teresa Kersten is an employee of LinkedIn and is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft. Keith Noonan owns shares of Activision Blizzard. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Activision Blizzard. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.