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Did (not) E3 2024 provide hope for a beleaguered games industry? | Opinion

This month's showcases had plenty of treats for established audiences, but showed little potential for overall growth

I really enjoyed the spring/summer games showcases we've just watched.

Even the PlayStation one, which was notably lacking in big names, had something to offer. In the past Sony would have done some 'jazz hands' and stuck on a trailer for a game that is early in development (or, harking back to the days of the Final Fantasy VII Remake reveal, isn't in development yet). And maybe it should have done that. Instead, it showcased a handful of games that are due out in the next few months. And one of those games, dear reader, was Astro Bot, which I suspect will be a game of the year contender. It may not have been the most exciting of showcases, but at least all of it was coming soon.

Xbox's showcase proved to be the headline act, and it had a bit of everything. There were games coming out soon, games for 2025, games for further out. There was real gameplay, there were some jazz hands, there was Fable. It was a superb show front-to-back. And what's more, Microsoft made a very public commitment to Game Pass, silencing those who were suggesting – including myself – that the company might scale back its subscription efforts. Now it just needs to deliver on all that promise.

Nintendo was the surprise package. With the Switch in its twilight years, expectations were muted for the firm's June Direct, so the reveal of new Mario, Zelda and Metroid games sent the fanbase ablaze (and Nintendo didn't even need to show more of that Pokémon Legends game that was announced back in February). Many of those games are out imminently, and although Nintendo's main development teams are probably beavering away on the next console, it's clear that the current Switch isn't about to just fade away.

Personally, I loved the big titles on display. I've got at least ten AAA games on my wishlist that weren't there in May. And there were some fantastic looking games on show. I've rewatched that Doom trailer a bunch of times. And a new Zelda where you actually play as Zelda? Wonderful. Where do I sign up?

Yet as a business journalist, I remain deeply concerned by the situation the games industry finds itself in, particularly the AAA console business. And when it comes to the big companies, I saw very little to reassure me.

If before these events you were asking what the games industry has up its sleeve to progress the artform, attract new fans and take the business to greater heights, I suspect you are still asking those questions

The brutal layoffs that have blighted the industry over the past 18 months is continuing. We hurtled into this announcement period following heavy redundancies at Take-Two and Microsoft, and then immediately ran into more at Sumo Digital on the other side. Analysts expect another year of this to come, and everywhere is feeling it. Looking at the numbers across the industry, the current financial quarter is going to make for depressing results.

The industry is desperately seeking growth, and something new to drive some excitement in the market. And on that side of things, I am not sure I saw anything in recent weeks that is going to deliver that.

PlayStation's State of Play offered little beyond 2024. Xbox's showcase was jam-packed with games, but so many of them were thematically similar. There were shooters, there were Dungeons & Dragons-style fantasy adventures. It opened with the crimson-stained, brutal horror shooter Doom and ended with the crimson-stained brutal horror shooter Gears of War. There was some interesting things such as South of Midnight and Mixtape, but overall it was an event for the fans.

Nintendo's event was the same. It was a bunch of remasters, another Mario Party, another Zelda game (18 months since the last one), and the third Mario RPG in a year. I loved all of it, but I didn't see many things that are speaking to people who aren't me.

If before these events you were asking what the games industry has up its sleeve to progress the artform, attract new fans and take the business to greater heights, I suspect you are still asking those questions.

Of course, it's wrong of me to expect those answers from games alone. This wasn't a hardware 'E3', and it's usually new consoles that deliver that kind of excitement. There's a growing impatience around things like Switch 2 and Xbox's rumoured handheld, certainly from me.

And as for the games, well there was an important message that opened Geoff Keighley's Summer Games Fest event. In that opening, he reminded us that some of the biggest games of 2024 (so far) have not been major franchise titles from established AAA teams. It's been games like Palworld, Helldivers 2 and Balatro. The suggestion, quite rightly, is that the biggest games of (not) E3 probably won't turn out to be Doom, or Metroid, or Astro Bot, but rather something completely unexpected. Perhaps it'll be that game where you play as a bean, or the one with the deer, or the one where the adventurer is running a tea shop. There were over 700 games showcased over the past four weeks, and one of them is bound to surprise us.

During this time of the year, I often look to the big companies to see where the industry is headed. I look to them to tell me what will take our medium to the next level, both as a business and as an artform. Instead, what I got was a lot of AAA companies playing to the gallery. Perhaps that's okay. At a time when our industry is struggling, there's logic to playing it safe. And it's arguably wrong of me to expect 'not' E3 to provide all the answers.

Yet I still feel this industry is ripe for disruption. Not just in terms of business models and platforms, but also in terms of experiences. And based on the last few weeks, it seems like that disruption will most likely come from those outside of the biggest publishers.

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Christopher Dring avatar
Christopher Dring: Chris is a 17-year media veteran specialising in the business of video games. And, erm, Doctor Who
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