Another year of E3, another year of big news and announcements of the latest upcoming games coming in the future. The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is usually defined as the main event to showcase games to the press and now to the public, either as attendees or via online coverage of streams and videos.
The main eye-catcher of E3 now are on those press conferences, where publishers are setting up grand shows to hype the crowd- both the press and the general gamers – in spectacle.
With Square-Enix opting out from hosting a press conference event and instead share details of their games directly on the show floor, the remaining six in the contest of spectacle are, in order of their time slot, EA, Bethesda, Microsoft, the PC Gaming Show, Ubisoft, Sony and technically Nintendo. So let’s try and answer the arbitrary question of who won E3 as an excuse of highlighting the highs-and-lows of each press conference.
But first, let’s acknowledge the fact that this year, more games are announced prematurely before E3 starts proper.
E3 this year seems to be facing a decline. In its lifetime, it has its ups and downs, from being way too aggressive in the marketing aspects, to the point of downscaling to a media-only event. 2016 is the year E3 is scaling down again, with Activision and EA pulling out from having a booth space, opting to showcase their titles on first-party booths and a special event of their own respectively.
Last year, Fallout 4 single-handedly rile up the hype machine by its reveal one week early before E3, setting up publisher Bethesda’s first press conference with strong anticipation of the open-world RPG.
This year, we get plenty of announcements being done in lieu of E3. Most of these games did not get a spot on the main press conferences (there are exceptions, like Horizon Zero Dawn), and the dearth of news the week before it certainly helps in getting the hype for E3 in toe.
But it just feels like we didn’t have much of surprise announcements during E3 proper. With press conferences starting earlier than ever (Nintendo’s stream is the only one to start on Day 1 of E3, whereas Microsoft, PC Gaming Show, Ubisoft and Sony on Day 0, and Bethesda and EA are considered to start on.. Day -1), E3 itself is now less of the attention. Plus, with EA running their own separate show, EA Play, instead of attending E3, and a sub-event by E3’s organisers themselves called E3 Live, it really adds up to the show being in a decline.
Anyway, let’s talk press conferences!
EA is taking bold moves in introducing their games this year. The EA Play event isn’t just held on Los Angeles, but also concurrently ran at London as well. So is the press conference. There’s plenty of back and forth from the two stages, a surprise it works as well as it should.
But in terms of announcements, EA is definitely lacklustre.
It’s 2014 again where EA is showing off games that are being in development instead of showing the games. There’s nothing wrong on showing the developers off while working, but showing that on a stage where people expected to see games is just.. odd. Mass Effect Andromeda, a game teased in 2014 with plenty of dev talk and dev work but barely any footage of gameplay, again. EA is also making a big deal of the many studios under them that are working on Star Wars games, but there’s barely a proper confirmation of any new titles. Just dev talk, shots of them doing work with CGI effects layered. We actually learn more about Star Wars on the Sony conference, where one of the VR games being done by Criterion (RIP) was properly announced there.
While sports is a huge deal with EA, devoting a lot of time with them seems off-putting. Not many gamers who tuned in to the press conferences would get the Madden e-sports scene, in which EA is now currently pushing, and Jose Mourinho, a football (Soccer) team manager, would mean nothing to most of them. At least the Story Mode in FIFA 17 is a nice surprise. That’s something interesting that even non-sports fans can appreciate.
The last saving grace is the announcement of Fe, another indie game, and Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2, two games that will be on sale this year, getting proper treatment.
Basically, EA’s show seems to be out of the loop. The smugness from its delivery feels way too odd in comparison to other shows coming after it. It’s not satisfying, but at least we see the direction EA is heading: way more corporate with some good sides here and there.
No one would suspect Bethesda is a big name to do their own press conference last year, but they delivered. But with Fallout 4 and Doom already released, what else can they show?
Apparently, Bethesda still has some tricks, opening up with a surprise announcement of Quake Champions. It was super hype, though afterwards there is an air of concern coming from the title. There’s also a Wolfenstein tease.
The troubled sequel to Prey got announced again as.. Prey. Lengthy sessions of Dishonored 2, clearly their big title of the year, and future content for Fallout 4 and Doom, including VR support, were revealed. Skyrim is getting a remaster. Pretty solid announcements.
Some duds were obviously the Elder Scrolls card game and Elder Scrolls Online, but those sections were at least bearable. Plus, the tone of the overall presentation has a humbleness to it, which unfortunately interjected with humblebragging all the awards their titles have gotten.
Microsoft had some pretty rumours about new hardware floating about, and went on to confirm them all. The Xbox One S, the slim version of the Xbox One immediately got revealed, and a slew of first party games- with most of them shown to offer cross buy with Windows 10 PCs and cross play via the Xbox Anywhere initiative- come following. A breadth of games were shown, from racing (Forza Horizon 3), to action-adventure (Recore, Scalebound) to horror (We Happy Few),to Minecraft, to shooters (Gears of War 4), to fighting (Killer Instinct) and even strategy (Halo Wars 2). Microsoft is keen on showing there’s indeed something for everyone here.
To end the show, Project Scorpio got announced as well. The long rumoured higher spec Xbox One is targeted for 4K gaming and VR, though consumers are feeling confused why would Microsoft announced tow consoles that would be cannibalising each other. True, it is confusing, and that is due to the concept of mid-generation bump of specs is something we have not seen on consoles yet. Microsoft is plunging first on this field, despite some setbacks from speculations and consumer weariness, is a feat worth praising.
PC Gaming Show
The oddball one like last year, PC Gaming show continues its odd talk-show format. While it did feel improved, the talking bits don’t feel too dragged out, it is still nothing much to gain. There’s cool announcements of some indie games, and some bigger PC games like Dawn Of War III did make an appearance, there’s nothing truly awe-inspiring from the reveals.
Add that to the problem of its show overlapping Ubisoft’s, then it’s not much as improved we would have hoped for. The ad sections are cringe-worthy, but the Steam speedrun at the pre-show seems at least mildly interesting. It’s improved, just not by much.
Ubisoft was weird last year. This year, Ubisoft is still weird and embraced it. Beginning with the odd dance number for Jus Dance 2017- the only game confirmed for the NX on the press conferences, then moving to Ghost Recon Wildlands (along with badly acted voice-overs to imitate online team chat), a long sequence of South Park The Fractured But Whole- even spoofing Ubisoft trailers at the beginning of the segment, VR stuff, Trials of the Blood Dragon, Grow Up, Watch Dogs 2- now including dogs so you can watch them too!- the brilliant-looking For Honor, a boring segment for AC the movie, and ended with a new IP, Steep.
All this while, there’s plenty of self-aware jokes and jabs being made, making them at least a bit redeemable. The pace on putting the more serious games in between the more jokey and light-hearted content is nicely done.
But the weirdest moment is at the finale, where Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot called upon all the game presenters on stage and talked about freedom, even with a trailer. While at first glance it may seem to be just a tribute to their 30th anniversary, digging in deeper and you could see it as a response to the incoming hostile takeover plans by Vivendi.
Ubisoft still do cringey stuff, but they are doing it on purpose, for better or worse.
The most pompous presentation of them all, it’s barely a press conference. With live orchestra, trailer after trailer after trailer of surprises, and barely any on-stage talks, of course most gamers out there are calling it already: Sony wins E3. They begin with a strong gameplay demo of the new God Of War, and the expectations just kept on going. A new Bend Studio game, Resident Evil 7 with full VR support, Kojima’s new game title. Very strong in terms of spectacle.
However, it feels they are so focused on the core AAA gamer demographic the other niche of games are missing. GT Sport is not shown on stage, Gravity Rush 2 as well. Not even the Playstation-exclusive Persona 5 (save for a brief cameo in a sizzle reel).
Sure, it’s reasonable to do so, they are focusing on the big guns that most gamers will like, and the only downer form Sony’s show might as well be the whimsy part where Crash 1,2 and Warped (3) gets a remake announcement and a Skylander trailer is shown, but remember, Sony has the upper hand here. They’re a leader in console sales. They can just show games and be off with it. They don’t need to show off console features and Neo just yet. Just show PS VR, and a bunch of games. Win.
The pacing is certainly great, packed with surprises with little time spent on dragging. But another year or two of the same deal then it’s just watching reveal trailers one after the other, with some grandiose stuff to fluff it up.
When they say they are just going to stream the new Zelda and showing off only the new Zelda on the showfloor, it was half true. They did show other games on the Treehouse stream, like Pokemon Sun & Moon, Pokemon Go, and a new IP. But The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild certainly stole the show. Even as a non-Nintendo fan, I just cannot say anything wrong with the bold steps and changes to the Zelda formula that Nintendo is taking, all done with just the under-powered Wii U, which will also coming to NX on release.
I might buy an NX next year just for Zelda.
So.. Who Won E3 2016?
In terms of pacing, how the press conferences reveal and show the games, Sony and Microsoft are leading the pack. Both have a quick pace, without long dull moments, and both gave meaningful announcements that do induce hype.
Bethesda nails the tone of a normal E3 presentation everyone expected, but more likely other publishers may take a look at Sony’s “less is more”, “show don’t tell” method of delivery. PC Gaming show is improving but not by much, and Ubisoft remains a great watch as they are not afraid to do stupid, goofy stuff. EA was sadly terrible, despite the spot-on delivery and logistical efforts on making a dual-stage conference, the announcements themselves lack punch, mostly due to them holding back punch. You either punch hard with awesome trailer and gameplay, or not punch at all at E3. Nintendo? It’s in a league of its own. I really like that new Zelda, but that’s it.
So. who won E3? In my book, Microsoft’s announcements are the best one, as someone who only owns a Windows 10 PC, the gateway to be a fan of the Xbox ecosystem has now been opened, with many features and games that are just right up my alley. Sony’s delivery was excellent, but their choice of games to be highlighted on stage just isn’t doing it for me. Bethesda comes second place in terms of meaningful announcements.
But remember, in the end, what it all boils down to is that we gamers are the winners here. The publishers are all out providing us many different games for many different tastes and niches that we all can enjoy. The more choice we have, the healthier the industry is for both gamers- we can experience many different games!- and also the publishers and developers- many different games can be profitable now that it reaches its potential audience!