Next-gen consoles to battle it out at E3
SONY and Microsoft will be battling for the spotlight at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) video-game show with new consoles designed to put them at the heart of home entertainment.
Both companies are expected to showcase blockbuster titles for high-powered machines that go beyond rich, immersive game play to expanded capabilities for socialising online and accessing films, music, sports, or television shows.
"There is certainly going to be a massive spotlight on the two next-gen consoles," video-game studio Bethesda's marketing vice-president, Mr Pete Hines, said ahead of the E3 expo that gets its unofficial start today in Los Angeles.
"Certainly, games are going to look better, but not so dramatic in terms of differences," he said.
"A lot of stuff is in the margins, with changes you can't wrap your head around easily."
Sony unveiled a new-generation PlayStation 4 (PS4) system in February and laid out its vision for the "future of gaming" in a world rich with mobile gadgets and play streamed from the Internet cloud.
At a press event in New York, computer-entertainment-unit chief Andrew House said the PS4 "represents a significant shift from thinking of PlayStation as a box or console to thinking of the PS4 as a leading place for play".
There was no glimpse of a PS4 at the launch event, setting the stage for its hands-on debut at E3.
Those attending the industry-only gathering will also be able to try the new-generation Xbox One that Microsoft introduced last month and touted as an entertainment hub that goes far beyond games.
The beefed-up hardware is powered by software that allows for instant switching between games, television, and Internet browsing. Microsoft-owned Skype was integrated for online group video calls.
Kinect motion- and sound-sensing accessories accompanying the consoles recognise users, respond instantly to commands spoken in natural language and even detect a person's pulse.
"This is the beginning of a new generation of games and entertainment and a new generation of smart TV," Microsoft entertainment-unit executive Yusuf Mehdi said during the unveiling at the company's headquarters in Redmond, Washington.
While next-generation consoles, including the Wii U released by Nintendo late last year, will dominate E3, digital play has changed considerably from when their predecessors arrived some seven years ago.
Smartphones and tablet computers have powered a boom in games available for free, with money made from advertisements or in-game purchases.
"I think the console players will continue to be in denial about what is really going on," said Mr Clive Downie, who spent 17 years at video-game titan Electronic Arts before becoming chief at mobile-games-platform company DeNA.
RISE OF MOBILE DEVICES
"People's time is being eroded, so console sales will be eroded by people playing on mobile devices."
TechSavvy Global analyst Scott Steinberg predicted a year of blockbuster titles at E3 as rival console makers showcase big-name sequels or bold new franchises, aimed at inspiring people to buy new machines.
Hotly-anticipated titles include The Last Of Us by Naughty Dog studio and a new instalment of Grand Theft Auto by Rockstar Games.
Given the ease with which game software can be made available as downloads or played via the Internet cloud, there should be intriguing independent titles as well, according to the analyst.
Makers of games for smartphones, tablets, or online play at social networks will be at E3 to make connections, but face the challenge of competing with cinematic console-game trailers shown on screens fit for Times Square.
"You are going to see a big push to re-ignite interest in traditional gaming systems, because the world of gaming has fractured in so many directions," Mr Steinberg said.
"Consoles have become one flavour of gaming," he said. "That was wonderful when you had three flavours, but how do you keep players who have had a taste of the rainbow?"
Lifestyles have shifted from the time when players had a couple of hours to immerse themselves in console games, and people are increasingly squeezing play into sessions of five minutes or less, sprinkled through the day, Mr Downie said.