What Microsoft and Xbox can learn from Sony and Nintendo gameplay reveals

Ghost Of Tsushima
Ghost Of Tsushima (Image credit: Sony)

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?

Developer diaries are better for showcasing a game than trailers, but Microsoft does few of them.

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

Nintendo's 'Direct' showcases always provide piles of gameplay details.

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.

Xbox Series X/S


Jez Corden
Managing Editor

Jez Corden is the Managing Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • Microsoft recently did exactly this with Minecraft Dungeons and the new Obsidian game Grounded.
  • Minecraft Dungeons is a good example which I actually included in the article if you read it... and the Obsidian demo was from a PAX panel, I thought? Can't help but wonder if Microsoft was even involved in setting that up, or if it was purely an Obsidian thing. We didn't really get official deep dives for Gears Tactics, Bleeding Edge, etc, was just through the press lens. Either way, their approach is inconsistent, whereas you know what to expect from Nintendo Direct and State of Play.
  • Not a really good example. Because everything you're comparing is current games that are months away from release. Not next gen stuff, on an unreleased system, coming a year, or years away.
  • Did you read the article? I literally talked about recent games like Gears Tactics not having an official deep dive.
  • I did read the article. But it's still largely apples and oranges. On the X10 shows, they basically fit the exact same format as Nintendo direct. The last one did in fact have gameplay, and the deep dives you talk about. Xbox also tends to have more content during it's E3 shows as well. We know how Gears Tactics is going to look, we've seen gameplay...how much deeper do we NEED to dive here. because we are moving goal posts. Gameplay means showing actual game play footage, and not just in game renders. We get that. But, MS tends to deliver that when the games are ready. I get the flak about the series X event, but that's next gen, I doubt any of those are remotely ready for gameplay demos, with the exception of the few the did in fact have game play. Meanwhile Ghost is a PS4 game. They've announced....a controller. No console...a power point tech demo, and Epic did a showing their ENGINE...not a game...their ENGINE, on PS5...which, ok, but doesn't anyone think that engine isn't going to do the same amazing stuff on a console with slightly higher base specs? Normally your critiques are spot on. But this is making a mountain out of a molehill
  • An Engine that will not be released before 2021 of all goes to plan meaning we won't see games leveraging any tech from it before 2022. I mean cool for Sony but there isn't really anything wowing in Tha demo all things considered (1440p 30fps in 2022, not really ground breaking) and it ain't a faster Ssd that will compute more frames and more polygons at the same time especially if they are caped already by data...
  • The deep dive was cool and if I owned a PlayStation I'd definitely be getting Ghost of Tsushima but, is this a consistent thing that Sony has been doing or is it just this instance that they did? Will/Did TLOU2 get a deep dive? If the GoT gameplay feature is a one off, I personally don't think it's a fair assessment to compare the two. Although I do agree that Microsoft's July event needs to show out and a big gameplay walkthrough for multiple ganes would be great. Fan of your work Jez keep it up!
  • TLOU 2 doesn't need one. It's the sequel to a massive hit title that won many Game of the Year awards. Sony nailed the marketing with the Unreal 5 demo and the Ghosts 20 minute actual gameplay showing. Microsoft's stream of trailers was just dull by comparison. They need to seriously up their game in the coming months or its another generation of being a distant second.
  • I wasn't impressed with Ghost of Tsushima. I was hopeful I would be blown away but to me the combat looked unchallenging, the graphics were not great and it simply seemed like I'd have fun for the first few hours, but then bore of the repetitiveness. The Unreal demo was pretty amazing.
  • Shocker, yet another negative article.
  • Lol, people say I never write anything negative about Microsoft, can't win!
  • Thanks for writing the truth about the situation. The truth is that there are factually things that are negative in life and a good writer or journalist will write or report about the negatives and it is up to those that control the factual negatives to turn them into factual positives. Life and the things of life are not all positives and we all may have an opportunity at times to identify the negatives in life in the hopes that our efforts will result in a positive turnaround of the topic at hand.
  • Agree 100%. Showing gameplay trailers that have no gameplay just make you look like an charlatan with something to hide.
  • I can't wait for the consoles to just launch so we can stop with the ridiculous articles already.
  • I think MSFT needs to find a balance in player accessibility and pure marketing promotion, the caveat that we need to continue to understand is their footprint far exceeds Nintendo and Sony. MSFT will always be corporate because that's the space where they resonate in the most. Nintendo isn't even in the conversation, and Sony merely from a peripheral aspect.
  • I do agree with your take but perhaps that corporate structure requires a steady flow of great games first after all during the 360 era the messaging was solid and I do believe they started the vidocs or popularized it.
    A question I would ask and probably like you to write about is this rumored 4tflop Lockhart. How does it affect things, will it hold back series X making it a resolution box also with the haters on the rise couldn't this be ammunition for them to say the base Xbo X is weaker than the competition. There is a lot not interested in it.
  • Why would it hold anything back? PCs have no problem to scale to the power of the users computers and there are far more exotics config out there than the streamlined difference between the Xbox family?
    And you can code closer to the metal on a console ecosystem... This is really on non talking point...
  • It is a noteworthy point. Xbox used to show love gameplay demos of about 10 mins to all their games. I remember Halo 3, Halo Reach, Halo 4, Halo 5, Forza 5, Forza 6, Gears 4, Halo Wars etc etc that all had these 10 min demos or such. Even the last few E3s Xbox has shown its games, it has had little in the way of 10 mins demos. Gears 5 was shown as a 5 mins cutscene with a Montage of 1 min gameplay. I'm fine with a first reveal being a cutscene or something. But we do need a developer to sit down and show is a gameplay demo. To be fair the 3rd party event is entirely down to what a 3rd party wants to show. At that point. Let's hope thr Xbox Game Studios event in July is more like State Of Play. If MS come out and show Halo Infinite, a new Forza, Playgrounds RPG, Hellblade 2 etc in thr show with each having a 10 mins demo. Then Noone will remember the 3rd party event even existed.
  • They need to leave it up to the devs themselves which I think is what Sony does. I get the feeling that Xbox or Microsoft themselves organize these things and gets their marketing team involved and that is where you get the corporate BS. A dev team can easily get a gameplay demo up and running no problem, look at Undead Labs and InExile who do it all the time which I suspect is because they are new to MS so are used to doing it themselves. Each studio needs to have it's own culture and ask MS for help when needed but otherwise keep their hands off. MS can ask for appropriate timings for shows but that should be the extent of their involvement.
  • I prefer ps exclusives. But I still buy xbox. Not sure why. I don't even like gears and halo games. Xbox need more games like the last of us and what was shown in this Gameplay
  • We are a knee jerk society. We over-react. MS did drop the ball on the 3rd party gameplay Inside XBox and Sony did have good to great results from the last two demos. People tend to forget we're MORE THAN 5 months away from release. I do believe they'll have a great showing in July that will WOW!! us. Sony is having an event in June and most of the month they will talked about in the industry. The talk also will be "XB is dead and should just give it up". XB will follow up in July and that should carry them into the Summer and will be last on everyone's minds. Have patience. I've been thinking XB should do a Sony. Drop a stunning 4K/60 FPS with Ray Tracing trailer (or demo) of Gameplay on the XBSX right before the Sony June Event. Take a little wind out of their sails..... :0)
  • Then again, I'm more intreaged by Hellblade 2 than Ghost of Twhatever after watching the two. Then again, saw the trailer for Death Stranding, and wish I watched gameplay before bying the PS4P, and the game, to play it. So, sure, perhaps gameplay is better, but looking at gameplay can also be boring compared to playing the game. And Ghost of Twhatever looks just as boring as Death Stranding.
  • The problem (IMO) is because Microsoft didn't show anything that was uniquely Microsoft. Once again they punted on showing any "Triple A" titles. Quite honestly, I don't think they have that many. Microsoft bought a lot of developers. They bought a lot of small developers and a few mid size ones. To me, it says Microsoft is focusing on quantity over quality. I'm not saying these devs are intentionally making subpar games. But they are making value adds for Game Pass; games that are not going to get the same time or budget of Xbox mainstays like Halo, Gears, or Forza. So when Microsoft has a "game play event" without a big budget Xbox exclusive, it leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth. After waiting so damn long, people want to see Microsoft's blockbuster titles, not indie games from borderline mid-tier developers.
  • It was a 3rd party event. Xbox Game Studios event is July. There was not a single MS made game in the 2rd party event. You know cause it's 3rd party??!! SMH.