Despite trailing in sales, many people walked away from last year's E3 commenting that the Xbox One Backwards Compatability program may have been the announcement of the show. Between that moment and successfully managing to showcase virtual/augmented reality in an interesting way using their specially-developed camera and their onstage HoloLens Minecraft demo, I personally think Microsoft walked away with an incredibly strong showing last year. It was a near-flawless showcase of the change in direction that has come since Phil Spencer took over as the head of Xbox and has worked toward righting the ship.
Unfortunately, the most notable piece of news in recent months for Xbox was probably the cancellation of Fable Legends and closure of Lionhead Studios. So this is Microsoft's chance to bounce back from that rough patch. So here are my five predictions for the Microsoft conference.
1. Gears of War 4 kicks off the show with gameplay and trailer focused on the three main characters. It is still unfathomably dark. Last year, we got the first "good" luck at the new Gear of War with a gameplay trailer focusing on the son of Marcus Fenix. But it was really hard to see because the whole thing was set at night. The developer's have described the game as a bit of a night in hell for these characters so, unfortunately, I think we'll get more of the same in terms of darkness this year to start off the show. But I think this time, they'll pull a Captain America Civil War trailer and give the audience a closing button with Marcus Fenix making an appearance. And I think they'll announce another Multiplayer Beta between now and launch.
2. Xbox One Slim announced for this holiday season at $299. Xbox 1.5 announced for 2017, 2TB system with more power at $399. Following the initial excitement of the aforementioned Gears of War kickoff, Phil Spencer will come out (probably in a Banjo-Kazooie t-shirt, sparking at least one major site to theorize that it's coming back) to formally unveil the rumored new Xbox One consoles. This will be the first of two spiels that day about the ever-accelerating nature of technology (the second will come in the PlayStation conference that evening). The perks of that rapid growth mean lower prices. So the Slim is unveiled at the $299 price point. Additionally, the rapid change in technology means they can produce a significantly more powerful system at the same cost of the initial launch two and a half years ago. So starting in March, we'll see the introduction of the more powerful Xbox One.5 (wait, they're not Square Enix)...Xbox 1.5 for $399. Both systems will play any Xbox One game, but Xbox 1.5 will have faster load times, and better graphical fidelity. And then they'll get back to games.
3. Sea of Thieves Release Date: November 1. People will be able to sign-up for a Beta following the conference. The latest game from Rare was announced at E3 last year and has been relatively quiet since. It still appears to be on Microsoft's calendar for 2016 so I think they'll showcase it here at the press-conference with an on-stage demo of the multiplayer component, probably some sort of thrilling pirate ship battle. Then they end the demo with a November 1 release date, saying people can play it there at E3 and players at home can sign up for a Beta in...let's say July.
4. HoloLens multiplayer Minecraft showcase. One-upping the Microsoft HoloLens demo from last year, for this year's conference they'll bring out no fewer than four people to play in a shared HoloLens Minecraft world. These people will work together around a table and build a nice little house or something. And they'll blow stuff up like last year too.
5. Summer of Arcade Returns, featuring Below, Adr1ft, Inside, and the big gets Undertale and Stardew Valley. People have been clamoring for the Xbox Summer of Arcade program to return for years and I think these listed games might make it worthwhile for Microsoft to revive the marketing campaign. Below from Capybara games is slated for this year. Adr1ft is already on Windows. Inside - the follow up to Limbo - has been in the works for a while and might be ready for release. And given the breakout success of Undertale and Stardew Valley on PC, I have no doubt, PlayStation and Xbox have been trying to court the developers for these titles. And I imagine Microsoft is in a position where might be willing to throw more money at it for some kind of exclusive console launch window.
So there you have my five crazy and outlandish predictions for the Microsoft conference. Will any of them come true? Find out with me Monday at 9:30AM PT. As always, let me know your predictions for the show, as well.