Article: Takeaways from E3 2018

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Another E3 in the bag.

While the show feels like it’s lost a lot of its charm and magic, there was still enough games, people, lights, music, props, and theatrics to be an assault on the senses.

Read on for some takeaways from 2 days at the show.

Note: I had no special passes or invites to events and behind the scenes demos. So, I had to take the event purely at face value. This can be a good thing, as it also means that there is no bias, or incentive to favor anyone.

 

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The Highlights

PlayStation Continues to Reign

Sony continue to have the most gamer-centric platform in PlayStation. It’s tight focus on being the best high-fidelity, large-screen destination for playing games was once again backed up by an incredibly strong portfolio of 1st and 2nd party titles. Spider-Man looked great. The Last Of Us pt2, Concrete Genie, and Ghost of Tsushima show much promise for 2019/20. Shame though, that there weren’t more games on their part of the show floor. It felt a little empty.

Ubisoft Portfolio Blends new with GaaS

While the other large pubs appeared to struggle with deciding if they’re in or out on E3, Ubisoft remained confident and committed. They displayed a great range of games that continued to double-down on their philosophy of large, open world titles, that are supported by regular updates. The Division 2 and Skull & Bones looked impressive. While R6 Siege and For Honor showed expansions that will continue to keep their fans engaged. It was a little surprising to see Ubi firing up another Assassin’s Creed title so soon, as it seemed as though they’d become weary of franchise fatigue in recent years.

Spider-Man Stands out in a Sea of Franchise Sequels

Most of the big companies continued to show off new iterations of their tried-and-trusted franchises, so Insomniac’s Spider-Man felt fresh and new. It looked fast and fluid, with Spider-Man zipping around while acrobatically taking on the bad guys, in a beautiful world. No small accomplishment, given the competition often have studios that are twice their size. The success of open world games is often determined by what the player can do when they’re not following the main quest line. So, it will be interesting to see what Insomniac have up their sleeves regarding this. Can't wait until this game drops.

 

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Of Interest

Xbox Fights for the Future

You don’t have to be in the games industry to know that Xbox has been starved of exclusive content. At E3, Microsoft unveiled their plans to address the problem. The purchasing of several game studios, and the creation of a new studio in the talent hub Santa Monica will go a long way toward providing more games. These are bold moves, showing Xbox is up for a fight. However, there are no overnight fixes in game development. Existing studios may take 2-3 years to kick out new titles, while the new studio may not bear fruit for 5-7 years. (Unless it’s first goal is to support an existing product, while it builds up dev muscle.)

Nintendo on Usual Trajectory?

There can never be any doubt of Nintendo's ability to create games of the very highest quality. The Switch to date has given us some of the best games of this generation in Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Oddyssey, and Splatoon 2. The classic problem for owners of Nintendo hardware is 'What's to play beyond Nintendo's 1st/2nd party titles?' Pokemon: Let's Go, Super Smash Bros, and Mario Party will keep players entertained for a while. But, not even Nintendo can produce enough quality games alone. While some will see this as a platform weakness, this is exactly how Nintendo likes it, with a large percentage of sales flowing directly into its coffers. 

 

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The Lowlights

E3: An Identity Crisis

E3 has had a rough time of it over the last decade and this year was no exception. Although all the big console platforms holders that anchor the show were (sort of) present (Microsoft being next door) it felt like a ‘tween year for them. Major players in the publishing world continued to blow hot and cold on their level of commitment toward the show. With EA being a very noticeable absentee. The show floor now has space filled up by live stream programming, consumer products displays, mystery box stores, e-sports, and large theatre screen areas, running trailers. E3 now straddles being an industry event and public expo, without really meeting the needs of either. The organizers needing to rally the industry, or begin talks on converting it over to a Gamescom style event.

Loooooooong Lines

For many, day one will have been a disappointment, with a ridiculously long line that threatened to spill onto the surrounding roads at times. Why there was only one line for such a huge number of people was a great mystery. It was especially galling giving the Staples Center was sitting across the road, where they can pack in around 21,000 people in the 2 hours before a game. In a way, the long line outside was prep for people wanting to get hands on with titles once inside, as the usual long lines to get hands-on with titles were once again in full effect. There needs to be more effort to distribute badges ahead of time and having pickup centers located at both halls. One success though was the banning of large bags and luggage. These pests were not missed in the slightest. 

Evidence of VR Slowdown

After years of talk about VR being the hot new thing in games, it’s showing at E3 was solid evidence of its slowdown. There were still plenty of exhibitors showcasing hardware and titles. However, the spaces weren’t as flashy as previous years, and the atmosphere around VR just wasn’t the same. VR games have been around for a number of years now, and the sentiment is that we still don’t have our hardware selling, must-have title that persuades many players to jump in. E3 did little to change this perception. The issue perhaps becoming how to get the much needed hardware improvements to market fast enough, at an acceptable price-point, and without burning the early adopters that have gotten us this far. VR sorely needs an interaction device that gives the user the same degree of control freedom that the headset does for viewing.

 

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What's Next?

One can easily argue that unless you have top-tier 'all access' press credentials, the advantage of attending E3 is eroding. Staying home can mean skipping the lines and seeing more of the show, via the numerous live-streams and corporate events. The greatest remaining advantage for those in the industry being that the show gathers so many other industry colleagues, from around the world, in one place. However, catching up and biz dev are often done in the surrounding hotels, restaurants and bars, rather than on the show floor itself. 

It will be interesting to see what becomes of E3 2019. The current format is obviously not working for many companies and unless there's surprise announcements of new hardware, its difficult to see what will be the big draw. Evolving into a celebration of games for the public, might be the show's best hope of survival. Here's hoping that all involved can negotiate a solution, as a year without E3 would be a very sad turn of events.

 

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