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Three Franchises Microsoft Should Revive

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Platform-exclusive games have been a mainstay of the hardware marketing strategy for some time now.  Each company dangles them in front of gamers like a worm on a hook, waiting for us to bite.  Technology mega-giant Microsoft is no stranger to this practice and has always been willing to unload the buckets of cash necessary to keep specific titles solely on their Xbox 360.  Fortunately for us as gamers, near-infinite amounts of funding and development resources can often translate into some pretty damn good games.  In Microsoft’s stable alone, franchises like Halo, Gears of War, and Forza Motorsports stand as some of the most well-received titles in their respective genres.  However, not all titles exclusive to the Xbox 360 have managed to stay in the limelight and, as a result, seem to have been all but forgotten.  Somewhere, in a back office in Redmond, Washington, some tragically under-appreciated franchises are sitting on a shelf collecting dust.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at three games that Microsoft needs to revive, not just because we love them, but also in order to position itself for a more stable venture into the next generation of consoles.  While the aforementioned “Big Three” Xbox exclusives are all great games franchises, they appeal to only a small portion of the gaming public as a whole.  Expanding their selection of exclusives in order to attract a broader range of gamers is nothing short of a no-brainer for Microsoft.  In addition, doing so will breathe new life into some franchises that sorely deserve it.  With the next generation of consoles inevitably on the horizon, there could be a real window of opportunity for some of these to see new life.

 

Fable

The Fable franchise and developer Lionhead Studios have been with Microsoft since the original Xbox, dating all the way back to 2004.  Across three major installments in the series, players explored the fictional land of Albion and watched it develop over the course of the 500 years that passed.  That lengthy span of time allowed for various technological, cultural, and political changes to play into the overall plot of the series.  Each title provided a large open world to explore and enough narrative content to make every nook and cranny of the map interesting.  Some of Fable’s most notable features were its ever-persistent brand of humor and the fact that choices made during the course of the storyline made an impact on the overall narrative.  Whether it was the ability to greet townsfolks with a bit of flatulence or the fact that unprotected sex could lead to contracting a STD, Fable had far more surprises than RPG tropes – a rare quality indeed.

While all of the standard RPG elements existed throughout the series, its aforementioned comedic nature and stylized visuals helped Fable to appeal to newcomers and hardcore gamers alike.  The ability to draw a new audience without alienating your core customer is invaluable, especially in today’s game market.  This is an important business factor for Microsoft, as well as any other major player in the industry, to consider.  In addition, bringing Fable back to the forefront of their exclusivity showcase would add a respected RPG franchise to stand alongside the shooters and racers that they already have in the fold, thus expanding their appeal to fans of other genres.

Of any of the other titles on the remainder of this list, Fable IV probably has the most realistic chance of actually seeing the light of day.  The franchise is still alive, as 2012 saw the release of a XBLA game, Fable Heroes, and a spin-off retail release, Fable: The Journey.  However, those titles were a far cry from the deep and engaging experience of a true Fable game. Rumors of a proper follow-up to Fable III have made their way around the web, but doubts arose when Peter Molyneux, creative director of the Fable series, parted ways with Lionhead Studios.

Considering the franchise’s focus on the development of the gaming world with the passing of time, it would be interesting to see where the next installment lands.  Fable III took place during the Industrial Revolution and as a result, there is a much larger focus on firearms and technology than in the first two games.  A sequel could focus on later stages of the Industrial Revolution.  Albion could be a very different looking place with the introduction of railroads, steam-powered ships, and factories.  While the world of Fable IV may look different, it would be one that I would be no less eager to explore.  

 

Project Gotham Racing

I know what you’re thinking.  If we’re talking about reviving franchises that will help Microsoft provide a more varied selection of exclusives, then why offer up another racer when Forza Motorsports is such a well-established franchise?  While it is true that the Forza franchise has been a resounding success for Microsoft, it is widely recognized as a racing simulator, featuring realistic driving physics, tracks, and upgrades.  That perception amongst the general public narrows the potential appeal of the franchise as many gamers are not interested in that level of realism in a racer.  Attempts to broaden Forza’s potential audience have been made, including adding various “assists” that players can select from and, more recently, the release of Forza Horizon, a title that moved the action onto the open road and away from the controlled track environment.

Why alter the successful Forza template when you already have a viable second racer sitting in the garage?  Project Gotham Racing, developed by now-defunct Bizarre Creations, was Microsoft’s big-name racing exclusive on both the original Xbox and the 360, at least for the first couple years of its existence.  Over-the-top, arcade-style speed and handling were the trademarks of the four-game series. The “Kudos” point-system encouraged drivers to push their vehicles to the limit by awarding points based on a variety of actions including power sliding, catching air, overtaking other racers, and so on. The last entry in the series, PGR4, was released in 2007 and garnered a great deal of critical praise.  Unfortunately for the franchise, Bizarre Creations was purchased by Activision and Project Gotham Racing has since been idle.  They did release Blur, often considered to be the spiritual successor to PGR4, in 2010 across all major platforms.

Cranking up the engine of the PGR franchise will allow Microsoft to all but own the racing genre, as far as exclusives are concerned.  Forza performs comparably, if not slightly better, than Sony’s Gran Turismo franchise.  With the addition of PGR, they can cover both fans of hardcore simulations and arcade racers, thus broadening the customer-base to which they can appeal.  While other popular arcade-style racing games, such as Need for Speed and GRID, exist in the market, they are multi-platform titles that don’t influence the sales of hardware.  Since Sony has no real competition to pit against a potential PGR5, the impact of reviving the series could be more significant than many would anticipate.

So what would PGR5 look like?  The last entry in the franchise touted the inclusion of motorcycles and real-time weather effects, both of which were fantastic elements that would need to return.  To differentiate the series from Forza, less track-based races would make the most sense.  A selection of street races based in cities around the world was a mainstay of PGR, so expanding on that idea and adding more variety would be welcome.  Honestly, PGR was a fantastic arcade racer that saw a fair amount of critical and commercial success, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Just put fast cars on great looking tracks and let me put the pedal to the metal.

 

Viva Pinata 

Don’t pretend that you didn’t play Viva Piñata.  Developed by Rare, it was released for the Xbox 360 in 2006 and epitomized the term “charming”.  The cute piñata characters and vivid color palette helped the game appeal to kids and casual gamers, while disguising a fairly deep gameplay system that more seasoned veterans were able to enjoy.  Often compared to games like The Sims and Animal Crossing, Viva Piñata tasked players with turning an abandoned plot of land into a lush and beautiful garden.  Doing so helped to attract various piñatas to the garden, adding a sort of city management element to the game.  Two piñatas of the same species opened up the opportunity for breeding, at which point the game would employ a somewhat infamous “mating minigame” which, in spite of the name, was actually only a fairly simple maze-like puzzle.  Sexy…

The Viva Piñata franchise, including the second game Trouble in Paradise, was, by all accounts, a resounding success.  Over 2 million games were sold and a slew of awards earned, including 6 nominations from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences.  However, Viva Piñata seems to have mysteriously disappeared.  Fans continue to search for any clues of a possible third entry into the series, but any hope of that seems to have dwindled as the years have passed.  Considering that Rare has now been relegated to developing Kinect Sports titles, it would seem that the piñatas have been put out to pasture.

Viva Piñata seems like one of the most obvious franchises for Microsoft to revive, for a number of reasons.  For one, while the clamor for luring in casual gamers may have quieted a bit over the years, they are still a valuable segment of the customer base to consider.  As aforementioned, the basic elements of Viva Piñata are an immediate draw for that particular portion of the gaming population.  In addition, due to its surprisingly deep gameplay, Microsoft can leverage that appeal, without alienating the core gamer.  Secondly, there is an already established customer base longing for another entry in the series.  A simple internet search will reveal a number of message boards and forums full of folks wondering where the beloved franchise has gone.  It goes without saying that an established customer base translates to almost guaranteed sales, making the revival of the franchise a much lower risk venture.

A third Viva Piñata game could also be a viable opportunity to showcase Microsoft’s Kinect peripheral.  While I’m not the most likely gamer to get caught jumping around in front of my TV, it’s hard to deny that the younger audience would appreciate the opportunity to dance with their favorite piñata or actually perform the basic movements associated with building a piñata home or planting seeds.  As long as there is an option to use an actual controller for less spry gamers like myself, I wouldn’t protest.  Where Microsoft’s focuses currently stand, there seems to be a real opportunity to  pursue the revival of the franchise.  Hell, it’s called “Viva Piñata” or “long live piñata”.  Long life implies more than just two release, so let’s get crackin’ on a third!

 

 

I'm a new dad, gaming machine, and beard aficionado. With a little one in the house, I've come to embrace the single-player experience, as it is much less likely to send me into a profanity-laced, controller-throwing tantrum. Writing and video games are two of my greatest passions, so this is a natural fit for me. As long as it doesn't require me to perform coordinated dance moves in front of my Kinect, i'm willing to pen my thoughts on it. Aside from gaming, I love music (Smashing Pumpkins), coffee (Red-Eye), and sushi (Yellowtail). All offerings of my aforementioned favorites will be accepted with open arms and, if you're lucky, i'll let you touch my beard. Just don't pull on it. That hurts.

E3 2019

The History of E3: Looking Back on Gaming’s Biggest Event

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Every year, developers from around the world gather in June to showcase their most secret and anticipated projects. In the months leading up to E3, gamers witness the spectacle of influencers and industry veterans discussing the rumors of what might be, further fueling their desired announcements come to life. In the spirit of fun and excitement, E3 allows for the passion of gaming to be broadcast on a world stage and recognized for its influence on the entertainment industry.

Now that the industry is approaching the eve of E3, OnlySP is counting down the days remaining in a segment we like to call ‘12 Days of E3’. Please join OnlySP in celebrating an event that can be described as Christmas for Gamers, as we come together in anticipation for E3 2019!


The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) has a relatively short history but has quickly become the gaming industry’s biggest event with inextricable ties to video game culture. The show has become the main stage for platformers and AAA developers to show off their newest projects causing mass hype across the gaming community.

E3 first debuted in 1995, and helped put the video game industry onto the world stage.

Through all of the hyper-charged excitement and cringe-inducing stumbles, the expo remains gaming’s most anticipated annual event. Over the past 24 years, E3 has evolved and adapted to fit the video game industry and culture surrounding it.

E3 1995 PlayStation

1995–2002:

Video games have been around for decades, but even in 1991 many people still did not take the industry seriously. In fact, Tom Kalinske, CEO of Sega America from 1990 to 1996, details just how casual the attitude was towards gaming.

“Back in the early 1990s we always used to show at [Consumer Electronics Show] in Las Vegas. We were there alongside the guys that were showing their new automotive speakers, or their new computing systems, or TVs, or telephones… In 1991 they put us in a tent, and you had to walk past all the […] vendors to find us, to find Nintendo and ourselves and the third party licensees.

He continued:

“I was just furious with the way that CES treated the video games industry, and I felt we were a more important industry than they were giving us credit for. So I started planning to get the hell out of CES.”

In the 1990s, video games were largely considered to be just toys, mainly in part to Nintendo’s marketing strategy at the time. Nintendo targeted the younger demographic which forced competitors to seek out alternative audiences.

Games such as Myst and Mortal Kombat appealed to an older audience, with the latter also benefiting from a movie of the same name in 1995. These titles were perhaps too successful in capturing the attention of adults because many people expressed issues with the blood and violence.

Therefore, fearing government oversight, game publishers created the Interactive Digital Software Association (ISDA). The ISDA then became the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), a united bloc representing the games industry. The ISDA proposed the ESRB, which standardised age ratings for games based on the existing ratings for movies. The United States Congress approved the ESRB and allowed the gaming industry to continue.

New advances in technology helped the home-PC market to grow as well as widespread use of 3D graphics which in-turn provided gaming new opportunities to branch out. In 1993, Sony began developing the PlayStation: a giant leap forward for gaming, as Sony was highly regarded as a reliable electronics company.

The first E3 in 1995 was an immense success registering over 40,000 attendees (see video below of E3’s first expo). At this time, the console wars were in full swing and everyone was scrambling for a piece of the pie.

Games from 1995 onwards drove the industry to focus on game presentation. Titles like Tomb Raider and Resident Evil pushed technology to new boundaries, exploring new genres, cinematic storytelling and visual masterpieces.

The industry had moved into the beginning of modern gaming.

2002–2009:

By the time the sixth generation of consoles had rolled out, gaming was huge, but the platformers had narrowed to the big three—Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo. By 2002, these three companies dominated at E3 for the next eight years.

2005 marked the first time E3 gained media coverage by G4 television networks, and E3’s attendance also soared reaching 70,000. The hype surrounding the expo would only grow, as 2005 saw the announcement of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

However, the E3 expo quickly became a victim of its own success. The ESA scaled down the conference because exhibitors felt it had become too difficult to reach their target audience due to the overwhelming growth of gaming media.

As a result, from 2007 to 2008, E3 was rebranded to ‘E3 Media & Business Summit’. Attendance was limited to 10,000 people. In a bit of irony, this move damaged E3 as media coverage became severely limited.

E3 had become a largely corporate event and whilst the Media & Business Summit was far more manageable, it nearly became the engine of its own downfall. The ESA realised that bloggers, journalists, and personalities drove the expo’s momentum and hype.

E3 2009 Sony

2009–2018:

In 2009, ESA rebranded again, but back to the more familiar and catchy E3 and opened its doors once again to a wider audience, drawing 41,000 attendees. The following year saw big game developers presenting alongside the big three platformers for the first time. Ubisoft, Konami, and EA contributed their gaming products helping to further expand E3’s reach.

In 2017, E3 opened up its doors to the public for the first time allowing fans to attend talks, meet representatives of companies, and play samples of upcoming new games. Furthermore, with streaming services and online platforms growing in popularity, E3’s popularity continued to grow. E3 was also able to stream live content out to millions of people around the globe who could not attend.

Once again, E3’s success also meant that some companies struggled to reach desired audiences, especially with so much competition. Nintendo was the first big name to depart from E3 to begin showcasing its games through Nintendo Direct. Electronic Arts (EA) then followed by launching their own presentations with EA Play.

E3 has also been pivotal in supporting indie games by increasing coverage; last year saw big-name publishers such as Microsoft and Bethesda feature indies as part of their mainstage lineup.

E3 2018

To 2019 and Beyond:

E3 has firmly forged its position as gaming’s most prestigious event and this year’s event will start on 11 June. The show is sure to bring in huge crowds once again with exciting AAA and indie games announced for 2019–2020 releases, with fans and media desperate for more information on these anticipated new titles.

However, E3 can sometimes have an unfortunate effect on game developers by ramping-up hype about the games it showcases. At E3 2018, Anthem was one of the most highly anticipated games, but ultimately failed to follow through on the high expectations when it was released in February this year.

Perhaps games such as Anthem would have gone down like a lead balloon anyway, but maybe E3 raised expectations far beyond what Anthem was capable of.

Furthermore, Sony shocked the games industry by announcing that it was not going to attend E3 2019, and then unconventionally announced details of the Playstation 5 in an interview with Wired.

These recent moves ultimately beg the question: is E3 even necessary anymore?

In its current form, E3 seems to be paying homage to the past—a time before self-made developers and 24/7 gaming coverage on streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube. Whether E3 will adapt to the ever-changing gaming landscape, however, remains to be seen.

To see more from our 12 Days of E3, be sure to follow OnlySP on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Also, be sure to join the discussion in the community Discord server.

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