While this maybe falls more under general opinion than a true to form editorial, I think it’s worth taking a seat back and asking who “won” E3. I mean, metaphorically of course. There’s always that fun gag of saying “the gamers are the ones who won E3!” While silly, the sentiment is there, and it’s one I like.
You can take a step back into the fun and joyous, as one of many players of games out there, and talk about how E3 is kind of like Christmas for gamers. The season is abound, and the gifts are the fun and surprising announcements coming from all the biggest names in the video games industry. You can also take that cynical step to the side and force down the grim curtains of “reality” and discuss how E3 is the time of the year where publishers and hardware manufacturers alike make their backroom deals, have their meetings, strut their stuff like attention-getting peacocks for the sake of consumer respect or ire. Either way you look at it, E3 is a “show”, in the most literal sense, and it comes with all the baggage and entertainment value that you get with any show.
So trying to boil down who won is ridiculous. You just put that in the title of the article so people come and see what you think went down. That being said, you can definitely get the feel of tone for what the next 12 months are going to look like for each of the big companies thanks to what E3 is and where it’s placed in the year. So let’s take a look, at the big three, and see how they did.
Let’s start with the big one. The Nintendo Switch is all the rage, there are still games coming out for Nintendo 3DS (much to many a consumer’s chagrin) and people feel really good about Nintendo for the first time in a long time. Against all odds, after that Switch unveil event, after all the weird marketing missteps for Nintendo’s latest console, the Switch is a smashing success. People got that thing, they like the thing, and they like the hardware itself so much that regardless of the weird games coming to it, any excuse to hold the Switch in your hands and play more of it is welcome.
So since the Switch’s launch I think the only real misstep NIntendo has taken, aside from not having the thing in stock anywhere, is continuing to announce new titles coming to the Nintendo 3DS, in addition to a new SKU of the 3DS, the “New Nintendo 2DS XL” which, while a mouthful, is another iteration of a console that’s seen half a dozen over the years. The 3DS came out initially in 2011 and a lot of folks agree the thing needs to be put to rest so Nintendo can focus its efforts on the Switch as both their handheld and their home console platform.
I think the running theme of all of the E3 showings this year wasn’t just what you did see and hear, but what what you didn’t. The massive step forward from Nintendo’s E3 Spotlight direct is that everything shown was a Nintendo Switch game. Sure, a lot of the announcements were non-announcements. We got a tip of the hat to the fact that Pokémon is coming to Switch, a nice make up for the lack of discussions in the recent Pokémon Nintendo Direct. We also learned about Metroid Prime 4, the next major Metroid installment, is also coming to Switch, yet no details beyond a title. Even with the Pokémon game we at least learned that it was a proper, GameFreak-developed title. With Metroid we’d learn that a new Kyoto-based studio is heading it up, not Retro, who are still working on a mysterious project.
We also saw the announced of “Kirby” and “Yoshi”, two close-to-home Nintendo properties with clearly no final names, coming in 2018. This is another quiet, good sign because these smaller scale titles definitely have the feel of 3DS teams moving onto Switch. Maybe that’s being passively reductive to the titles and saying they look “budget,” which is not my intention, but it’s a good indicator that smaller, traditional games like this, which we’ve seen release on the 3DS before, are now going to be full projects on Switch. Another quiet nod to the fact that Nintendo is moving on, and to the right page.
Lastly, we saw Nintendo double-down on the big games they have coming this year: Mario, which has a firm date, Fire Emblem Warriors, which was the only disappointingly short part of the Spotlight, and Xenoblade 2, which was reaffirmed for 2017. That’s a solid showing of Holiday games, and with the small battalion of indie games they have coming through then, as well as their strong line up of first party in the back half of the year, Switch’s first 12 months are going to be great. Zelda alone proved that one big Nintendo game, if good and different enough, is plenty for the consumers craving Switch games out there. If Mario Odyssey is in any way that game for the fall/holiday, and it totally looks like it is, then they’ll be okay this year.
I think all these things are why a lot of folks feel Nintendo came out on top this year. They have a strong foundation of things happening this year, and continuing that momentum is enough for people to not start chucking Switches. Laying the groundwork for the future while addressing two big franchises people want to see on Switch (Metroid and Pokémon), you look like you’re poised for success, even if both those games are still off in the distance. Plus, Nintendo has all these new 3DS games coming out this year, but they didn’t focus on them. They focused on Switch. That’s all Switch users want, to feel like they’re the primary focus because they’re supposed to have the future of Nintendo games. You can’t risk the situation with Wii U where the future of games feels in flux at all times, and rightfully so when the Wii U Zelda game ultimately got moved to the next console. Nintendo didn’t do that this time around.
Sure, the Virtual Console/Paid Online Service questions are still up in the air, but they’ve bought themselves enough time that they’re at least in a strong position. Nintendo did great this year, and I’m happy to be able to say that, because above all I want the Switch to excel where the Wii U never could.
Sony is in a perplexing place. They have near limitless power in the sales department. They’re so far ahead now it makes the 360/PS3 competition look like child’s play. Though the PS3 did creep back into the running by the end of its life cycle, I don’t see the Xbox One doing the same here. Regardless, Sony really doesn’t have much of a first party game to stand on in the immediate future. With Horizon Zero Dawn’s success, Uncharted 4’s success, and pretty much a whole bunch of games with a whole bunch of no dates, Sony is just riding the lightning at this point. Which, if we’re being honest, is the smart move.
Sony hasn’t had to do much this year to see a myriad of varied and exciting releases either maintain some exclusivity to their console or have exclusive content there. Resident Evil 7 had its exclusive VR mode to PS4, at least for the first year. Nier Automata, Nioh, and Persona 5 all find themselves as, at least, console exclusives to Sony platforms. Destiny, Call of Duty, Hellblade, and Ni No Kuni 2 coming this fall mark more console-exclusives or Sony-exclusive downloadable content. Sony has a tight lock on exclusives this year, even if it doesn’t seem like it. Their third parties keep them afloat and the people flocking to their platform. So why bother pushing their first parties to rush the games they’re making when Horizon Zero Dawn proved that taking the time you need makes all the difference in polish? And if Sony games are going to be few and far between, they should be as polished and universally approachable as possible.
What we didn’t see at Sony’s E3 press conference were the games we know are flung out into the future. We saw no Death Stranding, a game that just recently settled on an engine, and no The Last of Us Part 2, a recently announced title that is assuredly years away. This was the smart, logical move to, again, get specific games out of sight and out of mind. If Sony truly intends on releasing both Spider-Man and God of War in 2018, it’s better to focus in on those two.
The issue is, this doesn’t make for a very good show. If we take that necessary step back and watch Sony’s presser as just a fun-loving consumer, we see a lot of what we saw last year. We see a Days Gone and a Detroit demo, both without even a hint of a date. Detroit has been shown three years in a row, and Days Gone two, and neither have even been given a year as a window of release. That’s frustrating. Regardless of how fun the demos were, having Bethesda come on just the night before and announce two games, both of which are coming out in October of this year, it just makes that long-term hype strategy seem less and less fun. Sony has, seemingly, shown and announced all of their first party games, save for Sucker Punch’s next title.
The only big surprise was the Shadow of the Colossus remake. That was a genuine and out-of-left-field surprise, that really blew me away. Seeing that game come back in a refreshed form, even if it is after the PS3 remaster, is just so exciting for someone like me.
I think Sony is going to be fine. They still have secrets up their sleeve, they still have PSX to showboat and appeal to their indie/Vita fans, and they very much have plenty of bases covered this year. Their show just wasn’t as much of a knockout as it’s been in the past.
Microsoft unquestionably had the most to prove. Not just because the Xbox One is nowhere near outpacing the PS4, but just because their first party line up has become very vague in general. There’s definitely a reliance on shooters, whether that be Gears of War or Halo, the genre-availability has never felt so slim, especially in the face of their out-there “weird” game, Scalebound, getting cancelled this year. Oh, and that whole thing about putting the “world’s most powerful console” out this holiday.
Did they do all that? Well, no. I don’t think the pitch for the Xbox One X, as it is now known, was the strongest in the world. But I could say the same for the PS4 Pro, and I at the very least want an Xbox One X, where I want nothing to do with the PS4 Pro. The X differentiates itself with clear power, and performance will just straight-up be better on it. Past the 4K compatibility, hearing about supersampling for normal 1080p TVs was a good nod to the viewers like me that aren’t on the 4K level yet either. While Microsoft as a whole spent too much time going over specs in the beginning 10 minutes of their show, they more than made up for it with an onslaught of video games.
Everything from Super Lucky’s Tale to Life is Strange to the big AAA hit of the weekend, Anthem, got the time in the limelight to shine. That’s the way to appeal to my heart, as someone who loves games of all shapes and sizes (and budgets), and the true MVP announcement, outside of giving a date to both Tacoma and Cuphead, was announcing Ori and The Will of the Wisps. There was a lot of things like that, and it’s why Microsoft stole the show in my heart. I feel like they really did have something for everyone, and while maybe they didn’t convince me that the Xbox One X was a must-own, maybe something for the better in the long run, they made me excited to buy and own games on the Xbox platform.
If you want to boil down the PR stuff, 42 games to show was a lot. And it felt like there is just a lot to see and own on Microsoft. Again, what we didn’t see here was any mention of VR or VR support. Again, maybe this is for the best, only because any more time on hardware or things you have to also buy for this already-$500-costing device would go far beyond overkill. It makes you wonder what Microsoft’s plans for VR are, but them doubling down on putting out a console with games you’d want to own for it was the smart play, and I truly think it’ll payoff for them in the long run.
E3 has changed and morphed so much out of a show where it’s relevant to actually be at. I think the showings this year really reiterate what 2017 and Vinny Caravella have been telling us from the start: there has never been a better time to play video games.
Regardless of “who won” or however you’d want to say it, from third party to console manufacturer, everyone had a solid showing and plenty to be excited about. Oh, and there are still way too many exciting games coming in 2017 on all these platforms, and it’s going to be a continually exhausting and exciting year for video games. What we didn’t see at this year’s E3 showcases, in addition to what we did see, is massively important and indicative of the future these consoles are taking us in. And oh boy am I excited.