The press conferences are now in the rear-view mirror for E3 2017 and the doors to the Expo proper have opened, letting in not only industry members but 15,000 ticketed consumers for the first time in E3 history.
What stands out from the big companies? What were the biggest surprises, the worst offenders and the most exciting announcements? The GamesIndustry.biz panel offers its thoughts.
I already spoke to how impressed I was with Microsoft's showing, but on a personal level I was really taken with Metro: Exodus, Shadow of War, Anthem, Beyond Good and Evil 2 and, of course, Super Mario Odyssey.
It's disappointing that none of the platform holders really gave the indie community attention the way they have in the past. Microsoft touched on ID@Xbox briefly, but Nintendo and PlayStation completely ignored the indie scene. Speaking of PlayStation, that was one of the oddest Sony conferences I've seen in some time, with barely any representation from studio heads or developers. Shawn Layden was the only one to speak and he was rather monotone and boring in delivery.
"Microsoft touched on ID@Xbox briefly, but Nintendo and PlayStation completely ignored the indie scene"
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at the evolution of these "press" conferences, as they aren't really for the press anymore. As Chris Dring pointed out in his evaluation of EA Play, it's all about the online influencers and YouTubers now. The big companies don't need journalists to deliver their messages to the players - they can do that directly with trailer after trailer. In that sense, Sony did exactly what it needed to do, showcasing great content like God of War, Spider-Man, Destiny 2, Days Gone, a remade Shadow of the Colossus and more.
I was surprised that Sony didn't attempt to capitalize on the Xbox One X's high price of $499 by cutting the price of the PS4 Pro, and I was equally surprised by Nintendo's decision to give Mario relatively brief airtime in its main showcase. It's the biggest title Nintendo has coming, it will sell Switch hardware this holiday, and yet the company only gives it a couple minutes at the end of an already brief and mostly dull spotlight video? Nintendo will no doubt have more to say in future Nintendo Direct videos, but the whole presentation did little to emphasize why consumers should buy a Switch. Hopefully Nintendo isn't getting complacent after its fabulous start.
The last point I'll make before I pass the baton to my colleagues is that there's now a very clear separation in terms of VR strategy between Sony and Microsoft. Sony has the most successful high-end VR headset on the market right now and made sure to show new content for PSVR, while Xbox chief Phil Spencer has told us that true mainstream VR is still "years away." It's not clear if VR will ever really be available on Xbox now, which is curious since many suspected early on that one of the reasons for the horsepower under the Xbox One X hood was to help push VR/AR. Time will tell whether Microsoft's decision to wait is the smart choice.
Xbox One X mostly failed to impress me, much less convince me to invest in a new TV and a $500 console that only plays games I can already enjoy on a $250 console. The PlayStation VR showing was also a bit disappointing; Moss looks wonderful, but the overall lack of a push from Sony on this front has me thinking it really is just another Vita/Wonderbook/Move/PSTV/etc.
"Xbox One X mostly failed to impress me, much less convince me to invest in a new TV and a $500 console"
This year also lacked new top-tier games. Most of Sony's (admittedly strong) lineup was held over from its last E3 conference. Bethesda seemingly held a conference not because the lineup justified it but because the company wants to be spoken of in the same breath as E3 stalwarts like EA and Ubisoft. And Microsoft's show had a big reveal in Anthem, I suppose, but I find it very hard to muster excitement for the infinite panoply of games about people shooting people these days.
As it turns out, though, I have a surprising amount of interest in games about people shooting Rabbids. From the moment I heard about it, Ubisoft's Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle sounded like just the worst idea. Once I saw it in action and realized it was secretly a Mario-XCOM crossover instead, I was intrigued. When I played the game in Nintendo's booth, and left the Luigi and Princess Rabbids to die horrible deaths at the, um, 'hands' of a Chain Chomp while Mario sprinted his way to the exfiltration zone, I was sold.
Overall, it's been an okay E3. If someone tells me they loved it, I would understand why. If they hated it, I think I could see where they were coming from, too. Personally, I think it's been a middle-of-the-road show, with no home runs, but no strike outs, either. Some publishers (Ubisoft) did better than others (Bethesda), but none were too far outside the range of expectations heading in. Fair job, everyone. C+.
This is one of those E3s.
They come along every few years. It's the one where the big games (and consoles) the publishers showed last year aren't out yet, and the big future revolutions and evolutions are still a way off. We call them filler years, and this was one of them.
Xbox One X was the console that dominated proceedings, but even that was supported by a number of familiar games - many of which aren't available until 2018. Sony's conference was wall-to-wall 2018. EA's big new title, Anthem, is 2018. Ubisoft may have stolen the show, but most of its major reveals - Far Cry 5, The Crew 2, Skull and Bones and Beyond Good and Evil 2 - are 2018 or beyond.
"Beneath the surface and behind closed doors, the real battle of E3 was being waged. The one for the hearts and minds of the family"
And Nintendo, despite promising to focus on 2017, got its rabid fanbase excited by a Metroid Prime 4 logo and a the promise of a Switch Pokemon RPG. They won't be out for a while.
This is fine. It happens. Good games take time and the industry goes through these little dips. But there were hidden depths to E3 2017.
I point you towards the kids and family games. Sony didn't show it on stage, but Playlink was a genuinely brilliant PS4 project, and a great social multiplayer experience that uses the smartphone as the controller. A newly resurgent Nintendo confidently showed nothing but family titles, while even Xbox has signed a few games that go broader than the core gamer (Super Lucky's Tale, for instance).
4K may have been the E3 buzzword, but hidden beneath the surface and behind closed doors, the real battle of E3 was being waged. The one for the hearts and minds of the family.
As Chris said, this was unquestionably a filler or mid-generation E3 - something the industry hasn't encountered for several years thanks to the staggered beginning of the current console cycle and the rise of VR. In years like this, companies rely on software rather than technology to impress consumers; particularly those who have yet to buy the current consoles, while also experimenting with new models to monetise those who have.
On the latter point, two examples stood out to me. EA's decision to drop the season pass for Star Wars Battlefront II not only shows it has listened to feedback about the arguably overpriced DLC plan for its predecessor, but also takes inspiration from the likes of Ubisoft and its free DLC for Rainbow Six Siege. With so many AAA shooters relying on expansions to keep generating revenue beyond launch, it will be interesting to see if microtransactions can offset the lack of a season pass - particularly given the model's troubled history with full-price console games.
Meanwhile, Bethesda's decision to launch a paid mods service for Skyrim and Fallout shows a firm attemp to carve new revenue channels from an audience that is already actively engaged. Whether consumers take kindly to this remains to be seen.
But as so many execs said this year, E3 is all about the games. While there were plenty of impressive titles on display, there doesn't seem to have been that single 'wow' moment, that one reveal that keeps everyone talking in the way Watch Dogs, Zelda: Breath of the Wild or the original Scorpio tease has done in past years. Perhaps, on reflection, that's because this year's line-up was filled with so many semi-wow moments. Less 'wow', more 'ooh, that's interesting'.
Most of the publishers and platform holders, particularly Xbox, bragged about having the most diverse line-up in their company's history, and a casual glance at our recaps showed that this year really did deliver. In the past few days, we've seen: a co-op game about a jailbreak; two vastly different pirate adventures; superhero outings ranging from the action of Spider-Man and Crackdown to South Park's comedy; lots of racing games, each with a different spin; smatterings of cool indie titles; revived and remade IP such as Metroid, Shadow of the Colossus and Beyond Good & Evil; new sci-fi and fantasy worlds with talk of neural networks and dynamic AI behind them; a fresh take on toys-to-life; kids games that weren't just from Nintendo; all of the annual or bi-annual franchises retailers rely on come Q4; and, inevitably, more sodding zombies. And that's just the highlights.
The games on display this year were not only diverse enough to offer something for almost any consumer's tastes, but also to spare us from the usual 'Year of the Bow/Boat/insert common trope here' meme. It's easy to feel disheartened when expectations going into E3 were so high, but take a long look at everything shown off this year and I think you'll feel a little more optimistic about the future of our medium.