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E3 Preview: Can New Xbox Measure Up?

The winds of change are reaching tropical storm force in the video-game world. And that’s going to make the landscape at E3, the industry’s annual trade show, look a lot different this year. There will, of course, be new games when the show floor opens June 13. But look also for new game systems, new focuses on content and a new kind of audience at the show.

Fresh titles, as always, will be highlighted. Investors and gamers are keenly interested in “Call of Duty: WWII,” if only to see how the venerable franchise rebounds after underwhelming sales of last year’s installment, “Infinite Warfare.” And Electronic Arts’ “Star Wars: Battlefront II” is expected to be one of the biggest games on display — even though EA is bypassing the show to host its own event in Hollywood.

(Other notable titles at E3 will include “Super Mario Odyssey,” “God of War,” a new “Assassin’s Creed” game and “South Park: The Fractured but Whole.”)

The systems running some of those games will be just as fresh. Nintendo hopes to build on the momentum it has gathered since the launch of Switch, its hybrid home/portable gaming system. And Microsoft will reveal pricing and launch details on its updated Xbox, code named Project Scorpio.

Scorpio is a chance for Microsoft to regain lost ground in the video-game world. Sony’s PlayStation has sold nearly 60 million units since launch, far surpassing the Xbox One. (Microsoft has not given a sales update on the console in two years.) Scorpio is a beefed-up system with the latest hardware (and is widely expected to be compatible with VR headsets including the Oculus Rift). Yet to be determined: Will gamers be willing to pay for that?

“The biggest question mark around Project Scorpio is its price, with rumors that its supposedly unrivalled power will require a starting price of $499 or more,” says Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities. “If that’s the case, we expect Project Scorpio to underwhelm at retail.”

Virtual reality, which was a major focus of last year’s E3, will still be a part of the show, but in a more low-key way. Oculus opted against having a booth this year; HTC won’t have one either (though games featuring both headsets will be on display by developers). Sony, which has sold more than 1 million PlayStation VR headsets and more than 5.25 million VR games to date, will showcase new VR titles, though it’s uncertain how much emphasis major third-party publishers like Ubisoft or Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (two early supporters of VR) will put on the technology.

Perhaps the biggest change for E3 this year, though, is in who will attend. Previously an industry-only affair, E3 has been opened to the public this year, with 15,000 tickets sold by the Entertainment  Software Assn.

That’s going to make for a crowded atmosphere at the show — and it could put extra pressure on game makers, who will be showcasing titles that are still very much works in progress.

“If you show those to people in the industry, it’s one thing,” says P.J. McNealy of Digital World Research. “But to show [unfinished, and potentially buggy games] to the consumer who you’re asking to shell out $60 this fall, it’s a much riskier proposition.”

 

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