So E3 has come and gone. While not short of high-profile moments, the tentpole show of the gaming calendar felt a bit lighter this year. Maybe we’re just spoiled; perhaps it is the fan-fiction-esque 2015 showing, the heavy-hitting Digital Event from Nintendo in 2014, or the PS4 vs. Xbox One showdown of 2013, but E3 passed with a little less impact in 2016.
Don’t mistake this article for having a negative tone, however. Actually, E3 2016 has made me highly optimistic and hopeful for the future of gaming as an industry, interest, and hobby. You see, E3 2k16 (as the cool kids call it) was all about the games. To go back to the topic of previous E3s, the show is too often about generic company vocabulary, the new hardware to sell us – the consumers – on, and other topics surrounding (but crucially, not focusing on) the games we end up playing.
A Breath of Fresh Air
I’m not just talking about the biggest game announcements, either – you know, your Death Strandings and your The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wilds. With the extended timeframe in which conferences were held, the range of games was both literally and creatively more spread out and varied. Admittedly, some of the third-party conferences were mixed in the success of their presentation, but if you look at the line-ups of games shown at the likes of EA and Ubisoft’s conferences you see a robust library.
Indeed, Ubisoft is a great case in point. Let’s actually look at what games were shown in their conference:
- Just Dance 2017
- Ghost Recon: Wildlands
- South Park: The Fractured But Hole
- The Division: Underground & Survival (DLC)
- Eagle Flight (VR)
- Star Trek: Bridge Crew (VR)
- For Honor
- Grow Up
- Trials of the Blood Dragon
- Watch Dogs 2
After watching the twenty-year long conference, it may have been easy to think Ubisoft showed the usual mix of Tom Clancy and open-world games. Going back through the list, on the other hand, displays the wide range of styles in their upcoming arsenal. You have Ghost Recon, yes, but you also have the comedy of South Park, the progressiveness of the VR titles, and surreal games like Trials of the Blood Dragon. Also Steep was just the kind of mental thing Ubisoft would end a two-hour show with!
Jokes aside, the important thing is that it is a line-up which appeals to many tastes. It’s just a sample of the kind of diversity we saw at E3, and that’s massively encouraging for the foreseeable future of gaming. Independently-developed games like Inside? Check. Disturbing yet intriguing titles like We Happy Few? Check. AAA titles with an air of freshness to them, like Horizon: Zero Dawn? Check. Oh, and a stunning new open-world Zelda? Check.
More than ever before, I was stricken with this vibe of diversity. Different approaches and platforms with which to execute them are making for an exciting and forward-thinking release schedule. Even when there was talk of hardware – for example Project Scorpio and PlayStation VR – it was still centred around making playing games better, not just specification and statistics. It was refreshing.
Scorpio’s reveal rolled out with a video of respected developers, such as Todd Howard of the recent Fallout 4, saying how much better their games will be able to be for us, the gamers. Meanwhile, Sony’s way of convincing you on their new Virtual Reality machine was to show you games and experiences you’ll actually play on it. I know, it’s a shocking idea. We saw the games, not just people with headsets on (y’know, saying it’s rad or something).
Amongst the Star Wars and Batman internet-pleasing name-drops, the more crucial unveilings for me were the likes of Resident Evil VII and Farpoint. Whilst the former was a clever and surprising reveal, the latter was more of a low-key showing – but just as important to me. Seeing that there is a robust shooter in the plans for PSVR users gives me more confidence in the hardware. These are the games I can see myself investing time into; the aforementioned brand-driven experiences – however awesome they are – feel very short-term in comparison. Full experiences that play to the strength of the technology are what is needed to make VR (or any piece of gaming hardware, really) a viable platform past the inevitable honeymoon period post-release.
This is all of stark contrast to the start of the generation, when Microsoft in particular got their messaging all wrong. Their primary selling points appeared to be all about the numbers, the TV functionality, the apps… Meanwhile, the games took a backseat of sorts. Look where that got Microsoft; PS4’s success can at least partly be attributed to the gamer-focused image of the console – just see the “For the Players” marketing to see that they have committed to that.
Xbox One has been playing catch-up ever since, and their focus on marketing the line-up of Rise of the Tomb Raider, Halo 5: Guardians, Forza Motorsport 6, and more at the end of 2015 is comparable to Sony’s strategy of appealing to gamers. Just as they have learned that games make the platform, everyone else in the industry seems to be learning that too. Not only that, but getting better at it. Going by the evidence of E3 2016, companies seem to be understanding that games are where the strength and the core of this industry lies.
Interestingly, amongst this game-driven edition of E3 there was a levelling of the scales, in a sense. Due to the earlier release and almost certainly shorter lifespan of the Wii U relative to Microsoft and Sony’s offerings, Nintendo has been gradually edging farther from the timing of the Xbox and PlayStation cycles. Having consoles out of sync can feel awkward, but Microsoft and Sony are forcing each other’s hands just as Nintendo is preparing their new NX console for a 2017 launch.
Ideally, this means that we can return to a more equal playing field and do just what E3 2016 did: focus on the games. It is far too common to see the arguments over the merits and downfalls of different systems, rather than just discussing the games and pushing the limits of the industry. With VR, new consoles, and plenty of enticing games on the horizon, it’s time to take a real look at where games are heading. Do that, and you may well see a very bright future.
Zelda really does look good.