Am coming out of first day of E3 2009, and it's actually a toned-down, but interesting version of what used to be the top video game show in the world before they lobotimized it in the past 2 years to try to reduce costs. Key to the show so far is not so much the blizzard of new hardware accessory or software announcements, but that Microsoft has doubled down on its XBox 360 strength, which is online services.
When one looks at the key players, it's clear that the Sony PS3 is the technically best piece of hardware, and that the Nintendo Wii is the most accessible hardware combined with the most accessible software, so it's unclear where MS would live this year, but the latest product announcements just emphasize where they're strong, which is online services. What's quite funny is that this is Microsoft's weakest area in the general Internet arena, having failed at every level to build successful online sectors in the general PC and mobile marketplaces.
So why is MS interesting? They introduced a set of compelling services, outside of the usual incremental upgrades. First is the actual Download service which allows users to bypass retail to download the full retail game directly to the hard drive - this is the first big move to take on not only general retail, but the always hated "second sale/used games" of Gamestop. Second is the integration with Twitter and Facebook - I'm personally not that interested in either function, but it shows the key move and thought by MS to deeply integrate XBox into the other popular areas where users are interacting - will drive a ton of awareness and traffic, although I think the Twitter part is more hype than reality. Third is the move to go to the Project Natal gesture-based video camera technology, which may be a lot of hype, but which shows the ability to introduce an entire new way for gamers to participate in games, in a very Nintendo-like way, through the camera - is too early to call it a winner, but it's certainly a great effort across the board from MS.
Having Nintendo and Sony come forth with new software, a PSP 2.1 (aka GO), some wacky new Nintendo concept called the Vitalizer, etc. is just not enough to make a difference. It's Microsoft's show, so let's see if they can deliver, but in any case, it's great to see E3 coming back as a global event.