E3: What You Need To Know From Microsoft, Sony, And Nintendo

The weeklong Los Angeles mega-conference for gamers includes anticipated briefings from Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, and more. Here's what you need to know.

The annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, kicked off Monday in Los Angeles. E3 is the gaming industry's biggest event of the year, when game developers, hardware makers, and enthusiasts alike converge on Los Angeles for the weeklong conference. We'll be updating this story all week long to bring you the best of each day's announcements from companies such as Microsoft, Electronic Arts, Nintendo, and Sony.

So far Sony seems to be "winning" the event at the expense of Microsoft. The Japanese firm's hardware is cheaper and comes without many of the heavy DRM restrictions of Microsoft's machine.

But E3 is more than about these gaming giants, and there's all sorts of interesting news coming from other sources, like the social games video outfit Twitch and the not-quite-attending-E3 alternative games console Ouya.

Don't forget you can also access the E3 livestream here, or follow Fast Company's E3 correspondents Nicole LaPorte, Kevin Ohannessian, and Susan Karlin on Twitter.

June 14 2013

At WWDC, Apple Also Reveals Its Big Play For Gaming's Future

Casual gaming on smartphones and tablets may have begun to nibble at the existing market domination of the gaming industry's ames consoles, but while Apple has taken a big role in promoting and demonstrating the game play abilities of its devices it's not really made a more definite move to capture more game play time from its userbase. Until this week, when at its WWDC event the company expanded its trusted hardware partner service "Made for iPhone" to include third party games controllers.

At a special event for developers, Apple even showed off prototype hardware. In one case the game controller fitted around an iPhone and added a D-pad, controller and trigger buttons and two analog directional sticks. The resulting device would seem not too dissimilar from a Sony PSP or perhaps the controller from a Nintendo Wii U.

The second device Apple showed was a standalone controller with similar control options designed to wirelessly connect to a device, possibly even with the intention of allowing multiple players. This device is more intriguing because it could be taken as a hint that Apple imagines iDevice users will connect their iPhone or iPad to their TV and play iOS games in much the same way they would a console game. Since the Apple TV set top box also runs iOS and recently was given Bluetooth wireless connectivity, it's easy to imagine that a future iOS 7-powered Apple TV may even be able to connect to these same controllers for on-screen gaming.

Apple plans to release the controllers via partnerships with Logitech and Moga, which indicates it's seeing the future of iOS gaming as something a bit more than merely "casual."

Xbox One Availability May Be Limited To Just 21 Nations

Microsoft can't seem to get things right with its Xbox One even though we're months from the console being available. TheVerge.com is reporting that there's a new controversy with the One's international launch: MS's terms and conditions seem to suggest that the One will only be supported by Xbox Live, MS's cloud sharing/backup/social networking service in 21 nations.

Since the One's highly restrictive DRM settings mean it has to check in with Live otherwise game play is disabled, and One's games seem to be geographically restricted, it would seem that at launch the One is only going to be available to a limited list of players around the world. MS is advising that would-be importers simply wait until the console is available in their region.

In contrast, Sony has promised its games won't shut off if the console isn't connected to the Web, and has said that titles released for the platform will be region free--enabling global distribution and reselling.

June 11 2013

Kickstarted Ouya Games Console Life-Hacks Its Way To Attending E3

The Ouya console is already delightfully alternative in its design and concept, coming from a Kickstarter launch base and running Android inside a tiny chassis, but the company behind it has also found a way to attend the E3 show without paying large fees to do so. Ouya rented, with permission, some parking spaces opposite the show and put out a display stand for visitors to check out its wares. The E3 organizers didn't like this, and tried to block the move with various tricks including calling the police, but Ouya was deemed to be in possession of the right permits so they were allowed to stay.

Sony PS4 Games Will Have DRM, But Second Hand Disc Sales Are Allowed

Sony's clarified its game DRM position somewhat, and has said that when a player buys a PS4 game disc they have the right to use that copy for gaming or for selling on as a second hand item, or even to lend it to a friend. There also won't be any activation steps to go through or disc usage fees. While games companies themselves may be able to limit the online gaming opportunity for any used discs, this system is broadly similar to the PS3's DRM and a direct assault at Microsoft's perceived harsh DRM requirements.

Speaking about the fact that the Xbox One requires regular online "check-ins" to allow games to continue, a Microsoft spokesman said that if gamers didn't have a good net connection they should simply consider buying an Xbox 360.

June 11 2013

Streaming Video Outfit Twitch Partners With Microsoft For Video Game Clips

Sharing in-game video is already hugely popular (and controversial: Nintendo just alienated many fans by slapping money-earning ads on YouTube clips) and it's set to become more so now Microsoft has revealed a new partnership with Twitch. Twitch is a video and audio live sharing site where gamers can show their gameplay to a remote audience in real time or later as gameplay summary clips.

MS says Twitch code will be threaded directly into games so developers can track what players are up to and then automatically collate the coolest bits of play into a video clip. And if you think it's merely for fun, then remember that game makers get a lot of free PR for games through this sort of sharing, and that the Twitch partners program gives uploaders a share of ad and subscription revenues.

For more details, read the full article at Fast Company here.

Xbox One Delayed In Asia, Playstation 4 Isn't Region-Locked

Microsoft recently revealed its upcoming Xbox One games console, but its official launch at the E3 show has been surrounded by controversy. Now it seems the Asia-region launch for the One has been delayed until "late" 2014, according to the Wall Street Journal. That puts it about a year behind the current November 2013 U.S. launch window.

Microsoft is calling it a "staged approach," and says it wants to get things right for the launch. But Asia is a huge growth market for Microsoft, and the Xbox 360 only just became the the top-selling console in the area. A perceived second-class treatment for Microsoft fans in Asia could hurt the company's prospects.

Meanwhile, news has emerged that the Playstation 4, Sony's big-stakes gamble to beat Microsoft in the console market, will not be region locked, which means when it launches in stages across the world, its games won't be DRM-limited to particular regions as they are for current-generation systems. This represents an industry sea change.


Previous updates:

Microsoft

Microsoft recently unveiled its next-gen Xbox One console, which it has finally revealed will be available this November for $499, but the day's unexpected announcement was the unveiling of a new, smaller design for its Xbox 360, based on the Xbox One design. In addition to the new console design, Microsoft says hundreds of new games will be coming to the Xbox 360 platform.

Microsoft also announced some new social features for Xbox Live, including a new Xbox One-compatible version of its SmartGlass app for second-screen mobile devices that includes a Twitch.tv partnership that lets you instantly broadcast your gameplay.

Microsoft will also begin using real money for Xbox Live digital purchases, killing off its Microsoft Points virtual currency system.


Sony

We were first introduced to the next-gen PlayStation 4 console in February, but at tonight's briefing we got several important details, namely, what the box looks like (below) and that it will sell for $399--a full $100 below the Xbox One's expected retail value--when it goes on sale this holiday season.

Sony Entertainment and Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton said a new original programming plan is in motion for the PS4, but failed to offer more details for now. In addition to its existing Netflix, Sony says PS3 and PS4 support for Verizon's Redbox Instant streaming service and pay-per-view live events is coming "very soon."

Nintendo

In January, Nintendo revealed its new Wii U console, whose stiff competition includes the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4. The company didn't host a traditional press conference at this year's E3, instead turning to a Nintendo Direct video stream to unveil several new games, many of which revolve around Nintendo's arsenal of familiar, well-loved characters and games. The catch? Some of the most anticipated titles, such as an HD version of Mario Kart and a new Super Smash Bros., won't be available until 2014. A bright spot: A multiplayer Super Mario 3D World title (trailer above) is due this December.

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