ESPN on Xbox:This was a really big surprise. For a while now, non-sports fans with an Xbox 360 in the home have been toying with cutting the cable cord, giving up their $50 a month TV subscriptions for a combination of over-the-air digital broadcasts, Netflix, and the Zune Marketplace. However, for those who enjoy sports, the same question kept popping up: "What about live sports?" Microsoft's partnership with ESPN to pull ESPN3 live content (much of which streams in HD) is big news and really has implications well beyond just gaming.
Nintendo caters to the core: While Sony and Microsoft are both trying to capture casual gamers with their new motion-control accessories, for Nintendo this show was all about two things -- the Nintendo 3DS and returning to the core. The Wii sales have been hurting compared to last year, and Nintendo saw almost a 20% decline in net revenue.
For Nintendo, the casual console market is starting to run dry. Which is why it used half its booth space to tip its hat to core fans, with the reveal and hands-on of the new Zelda title, reveal and hands-on of a new Donkey Kong Country title, and a new Metroid title. Three classic, core franchises brought back for the Wii. This effort was a big win for the brand, as the combined line between the 3DS and the new Zelda was about a three- to four-hour wait compared to no lines at all at Microsoft and Sony's booths.
The core PC is dead: This was the first show I've been to where the PC market didn't have any outstanding exclusives (with one exception, which I'll note later). When even "Crysis 2," the sequel to a game which exemplified the benefits of PC gaming over consoles, is getting a console port, it does not bode well for the platform. Even Valve, perhaps the most PC-centric developer in the market, is now expanding its console footprint by supporting the PS3 in addition to the Xbox 360.
The death knell for PCs has sounded. Which leads to my one excpetion: The MMO market has not caught up. I used to think EA's "Star Wars: The Old Republic" might be able to be a "World of Warcraft" killer. But I now revise that expectation and currently think that the only way a real WoW killer will emerge is if it supports consoles, expanding the potential audience beyond even WoW. Square Enix might be able to do just this if "Final Fantasy XIV" can bring some of the Western MMO elements (i.e., less punishing gameplay and voice chat) to the game.
It was a great show, and there were other little tidbits, but these three items were the ones that stood out strongest from my time there. Were any of you at the show? Certainly, leave your comments on what stood out for you!