Microsoft's Xbox Series X showcase offers a look at the (sad) new reality of marketing in the pandemic era

Xbox Series X Top
Xbox Series X Top (Image credit: Microsoft)

Today, Microsoft showed off its Xbox Series X gameplay showcase in a live stream on YouTube and other platforms. The event was billed specifically as a demonstration of the power of the Xbox Series X, but little was done to actually explain how any of the showcased games benefit specifically from the features and components present in the next-gen console.

Few of the games were really on the level we typically expect in these kinds of showcases. None of the games looked bad; in fact, they all looked great, but expectations were high as we ramp up into the regular E3 period, in a year without an actual E3.

This event offered a glimpse into the difficulty the industry may experience marketing their titles in the pandemic age, as they pivot to home-made experiences without the bombast and polish we typically get on a big Los Angeles stage.

Related: Everything Xbox Microsoft announced today


Source: Microsoft The Xbox Series X goes up against the PlayStation 5 later in 2020. (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

Microsoft repeatedly described this event as being a gameplay showcase, which for me, comes with certain expectations. I realize that I'm a different audience than perhaps the broader viewership (and if you're reading this, you probably are as well), but when I think of "gameplay trailer" as a core gamer, I think of a demonstration of actual play. Instead, we got primarily choreographed cutscenes, rapid supercuts, and possibly even some CGI weaved in for good measure. It's easy to be skeptical about whether or not this is truly indicative of what you'll experience when you have a controller in hand.

I'm not sure how these games represent 'next-gen.'

Now, it may be the case that all of this footage was indeed, truly representative of Xbox Series X footage. If it was, I'm not sure Microsoft did a great job of demonstrating that. Additionally, I'm not sure the company demonstrated how the games represent "next-gen," or why they require an Xbox Series X to play optimally. There was no mention of how NVME SSD drives will allow games to load-in more animations out of storage rather than having to keep them in memory, for example. There weren't any examples of ray-tracing enhancing visuals. There was nothing in the visual detail of any of the games that said to me "this wouldn't be possible on an Xbox One X." And as a first impression to the very-likely expensive Xbox Series X hardware, I think I would have liked something that felt a little more real.

Source: Twitter: @Xbox This was very much billed as a "gameplay" event. (Image credit: Source: Twitter: @Xbox)

Some of my casual-gaming friends and family expressed similar sentiments to me right after the show, saying they had expected more, specifically from Assassin's Creed Valhalla, which was built up to headline the event. Instead, we got another supercut of cutscenes (albeit, good-looking cutscenes), and some post-show info that was previously revealed in exclusive interviews with some press outlets.

There was nothing wrong with the games Microsoft showed off. But I wonder if Microsoft went in with live-audience mindset, thinking that they'd need to keep details to a minimum to prevent audiences from dropping off. I feel like you can get away with offering more detail in a live stream show like Nintendo does with its Direct events. If there was any time to offer more detail, doing it as part of your next-gen console showcase was certainly it. But that didn't happen.

Post-E3 Covid-era games marketing

Source: Ubisoft Assassin's Creed Valhalla headlined the event, but details remained a little scant. (Image credit: Source: Ubisoft)

For those wondering why we didn't see EA's next big AAA game, or Bethesda's next Elder Scrolls, or any other major third-party franchises, it could ultimately be found in the way marketing is being restructured in general for the Covid-19 era.

If you're EA wanting to show off a sci-fi action game, for example, do you really want it to be at the same show as Cyberpunk 2077? Where people are able to make an easy and quick comparison? Additionally, do you want to throw all your eggs in one basket, showing your game on Microsoft's stage, when you also have PC, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo versions waiting in the wings? Or, since we have no E3 this year, do you just make your own live stream event where you can control 100 percent of the narrative?

Source: Xbox on YouTube Gamers offer their feedback on the event in the form of YouTube likes/dislikes. (Image credit: Source: Xbox on YouTube)

That's what many publishers have already been doing for years. EA has its "EA Play" event. Bethesda has also been doing its own showcases. So has Ubisoft. Some of these studios have already announced plans to do the same this year as well. Previously, for publishers that maybe only had one big game to show, such as CD Projekt RED with Cyberpunk 2077, it made sense to put their game on a platform holder's stage where all the eyeballs will be. Since there's no E3 this year, there's no need to do so. CD Projekt RED is doing its own event instead, just for Cyberpunk 2077.

There's also the question of whether or not a lot of these games were even ready to show. I've heard from talking to industry colleagues that Covid 19 and the work-from-home wave occurring is already impacting developmental timelines across the board. Making extra time to create demonstrations and trailers ultimately costs developer resources, whose time may be stretched by the hardships thrust upon the world as a result of this pandemic.

Growing pains for Microsoft, Xbox and the gaming industry

It's easy to succumb to negativity (this is the internet after all), but at least Microsoft managed to get an array of titles together that gives us a bunch of new stuff to potentially look forward to. Bloober Team's "The Medium" looks excellent, featuring the musical stylings of Akira Yamoaka of Silent Hill fame. Neon Giant's debut offering, "The Ascent", looks like it could appeal to sci-fi and Diablo fans, and of course, we have Assassin's Creed Valhalla, which already looks immense.

The Xbox team showed passion in huge quantities during the show.

They say that you only get one first impression, though, and if people searching for Xbox Series X gameplay happen upon this showcase first, I'm not sure they would be super impressed. The fact that the two-minute supercut trailer above ultimately contains everything you need to see from the 45-minute live stream says it all.

Thus sums up some of the growing pains of marketing gaming in the Covid-19 era. Traveling to studios to do live demonstrations is ultimately impossible, and developer timelines are impacted, as well as general availability to put something like this together. Everybody's health ultimately has to come first, hence why many of the interviews were conducted over webcams and laptop microphones (Microsoft, please buy some of your employees a quality microphone ... we have some recommendations right here!).

In any case, we'll see more of what Xbox Series X represents in the coming months, as Microsoft pledges monthly news drops for next-gen games and info moving forward as part of its Xbox 20/20 initiative. Of course, the disappointments I've raised here are not for lack of passion, which the Xbox team showed off in huge quantities during the show. I just hope future events end up a little more... meaty than this one.

Xbox Series X/S


Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden a Managing Editor at 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!

  • Didn't they say multiple times during the stream this was just a taste? The first game that was shown was incredible imo. What did you expect in 25 minutes? It would have been cool to see more yes, but I'm convinced that Microsoft will show off more in the coming events. I've been playing video games since I can remember and I'm 43 years old. I can't ever understand how gamers now expect everything in one event all news for the whole year in 25 minutes? Hell, it was beginning to be impossible to get it all done during e3! Maybe if the media didn't hype themselves up so much you wouldn't be disappointed? E3 was canceled and that sucks but Microsoft has shown the ability over the past few years to crush it at e3 and we are ready to brush them off after a 25 minute stream?
  • I would 100% agree with what you said. People expect instant gratification now. They stated that this was the first of many streams. I was surprised by the games announced as I knew very little about any of these except for the obvious ones. I'm 50 and have been gaming my whole life on just about every console. The gaming community now has just become so toxic that it's sad.
  • Exactly, I don't understand why or how people have become so..... What's the word..... greedy, unappreciative and like you said, toxic. If people only knew what it actually takes to make any of this...... any of it..... I'm completely satisfied with all of this gaming stuff, it is awesome, it's been awesome and will only get more awesome with time. Ive been gaming since 1982 and it has come a very long way.
  • They screwed up by putting "gameplay" in the title.
  • I am on the MS / Xbox hype train. I think they have been doing a pretty good job so far with marketing etc. However, that was a really lackluster event. I didn't come away with any feels of awe or massive excitement. Perhaps just the type of games but i hope July has a bit more bang. Plus some actual gameplay would have been nice but I understand can be challenging in a short time frame.
  • I would echo your opinion Jez. Though I have to be honest, all but two games really piqued my interest. Madden and AC are not my thing. Some great stuff in there, I was surprised that nearly every game had me thinking I'd like to play that. I don't get that from E3. That said, I wanted more game play and wow factors. Really wanted some to say, hey, we can only do this on Series X. This is why you need one.
  • I am 100% on the same wavelength as you Jez. The diablo-like game definitely seemed like it was all in engine and possibly showed off a lot of gameplay, and surprisingly enough it was the game that most interested me. Call of the Sea is, possibly, another one. But when we think back to things like the original Bioshock reveal trailer, among other games along the way, it's easy to show a game from the first person perspective which isn't necessarily how the game actually plays out when you're controlling it. But I'm the same, I envisage a "gameplay" trailer as being footage of what you will experience while actually controlling your character in the game. I don't even care if it doesn't look as flashy as what one would expect from the cutscenes we got for most of these trailers, it's just what I think of when I think "gameplay" trailer.
  • I honestly enjoyed the show. I was a little disappointed that more gameplay for AC:Valhalla wasn't shown but, I think that's more on Ubisoft than it is on Xbox. Overall I mainly think the general disappointment comes from us, the audience, getting so excited and overhyping what was to be a small event (Blame Lockdown). It would've been a bit better if they spent some time discussing each game and how it would be optimized by Xbox Series X vs current gen.
  • It's also worth mentioning that I'm happy with what was shown because I'm actually interested in a lot of the games and I don't care about visuals, so whether the actual games look like that is irrelevant to me, I'm only bummed because vI care more about gameplay so it would have been nice to see more gameplay elements.
  • I wasn't wowed by the show but it wasn't bad. I was hoping for a tease of Halo. Hopefully they are saving the best stuff for later in the year around the time Sony shows off theirs. I'm 57 and hope I get to see Halo brought back to its former glory before my time is up. I hope it isn't as bad as Halo 5.
  • Hardware is there. But honestly I doubt today's developers will achieve great things. In the past, -look at some Amiga games or some PlayStation 1 games in 32bit era,etc.- people were literally trying to prove something or simply pushing the limits(not just consoles, themselves as well) as to have the feeling of success. I remember reading about Gran turismo developers interview.They were saying that they realised it was winter because of the cold. Such dedication! Obviously it was not about money, it was to prove something. Hopefully I'll be wrong but I cannot see this type of hardwork or dedication in today's work.Not just videogames. Telling the hardware is a bottleneck is the easiest thing to do. When I look at some PS2 games, I believe today's hardware is more than enough to create jaw dropping visuals and amazing games. All the hype is there for next gen but I doubt that it'll fulfill the expectations. Because I believe it was not the hardware that disappoint us this gen. Backwards compatibility sounds like a more exciting thing to me. Some good games out there,and I will be able to play them in higher resolution with consistent frame rates. If they don't surprise me, I feel like with every generation the disappointment will be bigger.
  • If they titled it "XBox Series X Upcoming Game Trailers" we wouldn't be complaining. Don't catfish us in with a deceiving title.
  • Not true. If it was trailers poeple would still be complaining there was no gameplay. That's where we are now in gaming. Poeple complain no matter what.
  • No, it's a glimpse into the era of sh1tty marketing. No explanation needed. They were completely out of touch with their audience and advertized something that was a blatant lie. (Gameplay)
    This isn't a new thing for Xbox, the old guard who are in charge of promoting the platforms and ecosystem are morons. Pure and simple. They've been overpromising and underdelivering for 5-6 years when it comes to games. (Hello, Aaron Greenberg!)
  • Let's not just lump this in Microsoft's court, this is something that almost all developers and publishers are guilty of. The term bullshot exists for a reason.
  • Well hay it's just another thing to complain about. You know Jez loves to complain. It is what it is. The expectations were set close enough but gamers and devs clearly define gameplay differently at this point. Gamers want 10 minutes of someone else playing unless it's a game they dont like. Then it's boring. Then you get articles with the same title telling to you how boring the gameplay was. Detailing how it should have been shorter because they didnt like that game. It's never as simple as it seems.
  • Look, you're not wrong. People will always find a reason to complain. Hell, you could be handing out 100 dollar notes to people and someone would still complain that it's not $200.
  • I don't think the show had anything to do with it being streamed during covid-19. It just wasn't that good. Save for a couple games they were all games developed by small teams and studios that also either didn't have real gameplay footage or the footage just didn't seem spectacular. I think the 1st party focus in July will be what everyone wanted this showcase to be. I will say it was said on many occassions to check you expectations for the event. But with that said... is that how you want to start the buzz for next-gen gameplay? With checked... expectations? Maybe that should have been a flag for team Xbox.