Admittedly, I went to E3 representing another outlet this year, but one nice thing about that is it helps expand Gamer Professionals’ perspective of the event. I still spoke to some of the same companies and developers the rest of the team did, but I also met with various indies, exhibitors, and fellow researchers. As I’ve been less plugged into the event and have yet read up on what the major news are covering, I thought it’d be a good chance for you readers to see how things are perceived by someone who spent the past several days, without the spin.
The Nintendo Issue
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was perhaps the talk of the event, but not for its gameplay. In fact, a lot of people I spoke to were unimpressed or surprised. What was the talking point was that it was the only thing Nintendo brought to the show, that the generally open Nintendo booth was so closed off, and that the line was insanely long. In past years, anyone could walk around and view people demoing the games. This year, however, the entire demo area was closed off. Visitors not on the VIP or media list (like me) had to wait in line either for viewing only or playing. Both lines were often closed, though on the last day they moved much, much faster.
What’s key, though, is that Nintendo had a 15 minute “exploration” demo and a 20 minute “story” demo, which is quite long. This is, perhaps, part of the reason only one game came to the show, and I’d hazard to guess that it has to do with how Star Fox: Zero was received. The criticism on the ground floor last year was unanimous, and yet Nintendo pushed through anyway. I would guess that Nintendo may have brought so much for one game to demo because it’s a far cry from what most players expect from the series, and they’re hoping to gauge reactions from the crowd to determine if they’re about to suffer another critical blow. To those who want to argue about success vs. failure, one only needs to look at the three week sales of Splatoon by comparison, as they came out around the same time one year apart, released globally, but SFZ is franchise-based and had a larger pool of Wii U console owners partially thanks to Splatoon. New franchises grossly outselling and performing better critically than a new main series entry is not a sign of a healthy series.
The problem with this, though, is that it felt like Nintendo didn’t bring much else. What many of us noticed was that Nintendo brought a single game that attracted swag-collectors (who were selling their loot on Ebay) and didn’t bring their console that is supposed to be released March 2017. That means no E3 hype, no media criticism, and no response to Microsoft’s Project Scorpio. Among exhibitors, I heard a lot of excited voices, and I’ll admit, I did like what I saw. However, the hype among media and industry I spoke with was little to nothing. It’s a logical step forward in the series for those looking for innovation, but on the ground floor, all that was happening was the event space was closed off and people were clogging ground traffic.
Compared to last year, Nintendo did follow through with their goal of delivering meaty demos that make the wait feel worthwhile, but line enforcement was severe. Closing off lines created additional anxiety among fans at the event. And, as a long time fan and media that’s never been able to access the backroom, I was disappointed in the utter lack of variety we got when compared to past events. Zelda is big, but not big enough as the only showing for an industry only trade show, especially one that allowed people on the ground floor to confirm that the game would not require the gamepad to play, allowing many of us to hypothesize that, yes, the Wii U was being seen as a failure and the NX would take a step away from the device.
Most Talked About
Aside from Zelda‘s booth issues and the small on-the-floor selection, many of the games/devices I heard the most from were VR related: Batman VR, Oculus Rift’s Touch controllers, and Star Trek Bridge. To note, I only had first hand experience with Touch, so this wasn’t a VR bias. Batman VR came out of nowhere but was very difficult to see, so we were all quite curious, but perhaps only A listers were invited to see it. The Rift’s Touch was something many of us saw from afar but were curious, as the team’s been largely seen as looking to control the VR field with an iron fist. Bridge just seemed like what VR is meant for, but many of us agreed that multiplayer VR sounds like it’s far too expensive for the average gamer to experience.
VR in general was a hot topic, but honestly, few people seem to have invested in it so far. In fact, I’d wager the event, in some ways, was seen as a sort of VR arcade. People had the games they loved, but I didn’t talk to anyone who wasn’t curious about trying some kind of VR. In fact, I talked to both buyers and sellers who came to the event specifically for VR. Indies were experimenting with it. The big problem, though, is that it’s still new tech and out of reach for most people.
Death Stranding got some hype, but mostly for weirding us out. None of us had any idea of what was shown, and though we question whether or not Kojima had lost his sanity, we all acknowledged his ability to make complex worlds that engage a large portion of the gaming community.
Sea of Thieves was a big one, but mostly because it was, well, fun. Rare hasn’t had something that looks or feels this special in years, and while we don’t nearly have enough details yet, it created an atmosphere that was fairly memorable.
Ground Floor Changes
The lack of EA and Activision presence almost went unnoticed. Other companies easily filled the spaces left behind, and had it not been for people with access to EA Play walking around with their event labelled swag, many of us would have forgotten that they’d left. I’d heard something about Star Wars at that event, but overall, I didn’t hear many people talking about the event. Again, I may be biased as I was at E3, but I’ve also covered EA games for the past few years at the event, so I expected to feel differently about the change.
Oddly enough, one thing many of us commented on was the music at this year’s event. I hadn’t seen her name, but there was a gamer violinist playing one day that could be heard half a block away, but mostly in a good way. Several gamer bands (one I think was a marching band) could be be heard playing several types of music, which really added a lot to the atmosphere this year. I heard the Earthbound coffee break music by a group called Super Soul Bros. while checking out the new Harvest Moon: Skytree Village and just felt like it was a good match for the experience.
Is E3 Still Relevant?
From the ground floor, yes, E3 still seems relevant, though several of us noted times are changing. On my end, I have a huge list of things to watch now: Nintendo’s answer to Project Scorpio which seemed to steal the thunder I expected Big N to bring to cross platforming gaming; how the Touch pairs well with VR games; if VR multiplayer is really something gamers will be interested in hearing about when so few of them can access it; the reactions of A Link to the Past Zelda fans when they see how much of an open world RPG the series has turned into, and much more. A lot of companies still brought new tech, largely VR related, to find buyers, and indies were using the event as their opportunity to pitch their projects to several developers in a short amount of time.
Though there are many game conventions popping up, I know that as a fan, I largely ignored the fact that so much business gets done at E3. VR in particular probably gets a good shot in the arm due to the event. I may not be a big name, but I’m personally looking into VR more myself and may soon choose a side to support and cover in the feature. While I’ve been to public events with VR before, I rarely get nearly as much time with it as I do at E3 as media. The more I push my outlets to cover it, the more we expose readers to it. If we don’t talk about it, the word may get out slower, perhaps even die on the vine.
Streamers/personalities are able to help influence markets, no doubt, and I’ve heard it argued that bloggers such as myself are being replaced, as non-media at these events largely act as a form of PR, happy just to see things before other fans. However, the rest of the industry still talks among ourselves, and not just media. Both developers and purchasers who bumped into me were curious about my thoughts on other markets that didn’t seem immediately important to their companies. The general public votes with their wallets, but those of us who are trying to make a living in the field need to be practical and predict how things will play out. Measuring hype at a public convention is one thing, but gauging the reactions of those who are buying, selling, producing, and criticizing within the industry before releasing a product still seems to count for a lot.