Recently, Microsoft showed off a range of games designed for its upcoming Xbox Series X console, touting the showcase as a "gameplay event," which in the end, seemed to show very little gameplay. Viewers were treated to a range of fast-paced trailers for games that actually seemed very good, but the showcase wasn't exactly what I, and many others, thought of as "gameplay."
Years of PR fluff and dodgy marketing has really pushed the idea of what "in-engine trailer" means, with many early demonstrations of games in the past failing to be truly indicative of the final product. It's no real wonder then that gamers were a bit critical (myself included) of how Microsoft presented this showcase, which was supposed to be our first real look at games running on next-gen systems in real-time.
Transitions between generations are never easy, particularly so with a global pandemic upending workflows across the world. Traditional marketing conventions are also slipping out of the window, with E3 completely canceled for 2020. With Microsoft gearing up to show off more of its own games in July, I think it may be wise for the company to take a look at how Nintendo and Sony demonstrate titles, free of glitzy over-marketable cinematic cuts, instead opting for slow-paced real-time developer-led demonstrations that really give us a true sense of what a game looks like.
Gameplay beats trailers every time
Trailers are a relic of the pre-digital age, arguably, when TV ad breaks and pre-movie ad reels in a cinema put a limitation on how one could present a product. Indeed, this style of trailers certainly has its place, but they shouldn't be the be-all, end-all of showcasing a game.
Sony showed off Ghost of Tsushima in full yesterday, showcasing what looks like a truly incredible open-world experience, with a planned July 17, 2020, launch date. The 18-minute long demonstration was led by a developer from Sucker Punch, detailing some of the game's mechanics, showcasing the game's stunning vistas, and offering us a glimpse at how the game will actually run on a PlayStation 4 (PS4) Pro.
I know for a fact that Microsoft does these sorts of demos behind closed doors, for press and internal viewing. They so very rarely offer them to the public, though, and I have no idea why.
One of the closest things we've gotten to these sorts of demonstrations in recent times is a three-minute supercut "Five Badass Things about Gears Tactics" YouTube video, but even this is rapid in its delivery and doesn't really guide us through what it's truly like to play the game.
I had no idea what Gears Tactics played like myself until we were shown directly behind closed doors, cutting it awfully close to launch. This concept may seem like a truly odd thing for me to advocate for, as a member of the press, who obviously benefits from the exclusive access. As a gamer, though, I have no idea why Microsoft can't just give the demos press are given behind closed doors in public instead. That's effectively what the Ghost of Tsushima demo was.
Is Xbox still too corporate?
One thing I often hear from people that work with Microsoft either in a freelance or third-party capacity is how corporate the company still is. Piles of red tape, strange processes, and various bureaucratic hoops have to be stepped through before getting any sort of approval to do anything.
This is a fact that seems true across the entire company, and we can see its negative effects across every facet of Microsoft's operation. There are countless examples, from the glacially-paced handling of Skype to the out-of-touch clothing restrictions on Mixer, that could fill up an entirely separate article about Microsoft's corporate culture, but I digress.
State of Play and Nintendo Direct are the right approach
As the world shifts in its workflows and practices thanks to Covid-19, Microsoft's historically slow capacity to react to social change may hinder Xbox throughout the hype cycle as Microsoft heads towards launching the Xbox Series X alongside the PlayStation 5 (PS5) later this year.
Microsoft can't afford to be mired in its ways, sticking to TV and E3-style trailers and the "way things used to be." Criticism of the rigid "Inside Xbox" format has been going on for quite a while now, though, even before the virus hit. I want Xbox to go for something more direct and detailed, focusing on why we should care about upcoming games, like the way Nintendo and Sony are doing in the examples above.
I have no idea why Microsoft doesn't seem to like this approach, but given the audience response to State of Play and Nintendo Direct when compared to Inside Xbox, perhaps it's time Microsoft took notice.
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