After a long week of hype, big reveals, and lots of videogames, E3 2016 has finally come to a close. What were our main takeaways? We all have a few thoughts as we leave E3 in the rearview mirror and look toward the rest of the year.
It was fun. Good games, and plenty of them. Consider me pleasantly surprised.
As always, though, my favorite moments always come in the form of my developer interactions. The little interactions where the barrier between creator and critic starts to break down and you're able to connect on a deeper level than "mandatory business exchange." It's a welcome reminder that the people who make games are, in fact, people.
Well, also, I really like playing fantastic games ridiculously early. Zelda, ReCore, The Last Guardian, Gravity Rush 2, Final Fantasy XII's remake, and more — E3 was kind of like a tasting menu of an incredible feast I'm going to be enjoying for the next 12 months.
Going into the show I definitely had a few concerns that it might feel a little dead due to some of the major publishers pulling out and doing their own thing. However, those fears were soon allayed when I saw the sheer volume of quality products on display - and indeed heard the volume of noise from the thoroughly excited crowd. From huge upcoming AAA titles to interesting indie games, E3 2016 felt as vibrant as ever, and there were lines everywhere as people queued up to play the latest games.
As a big racing fan, it was a great show for me. Gran Turismo Sport and Forza Horizon 3 both had really solid demos that showcased what they do best. In GT Sport's case it was close and tense multiplayer racing, with 12 players simultaneously competing on the new Tokyo Expressway street track in full racing pods equipped with steering wheels. Forza Horizon 3 was just beautiful, with a multi-part demo that gave you a really good taste of the diverse racing and environments that the game has in store. Whether you own an Xbox One or a PS4, racing fans have got a real treat in store when both games are released at the end of this year.
But my takeaway from the show is that E3 really needs to have public days. Perhaps start off with a couple of very strict business/media only days, but then open the show up to the general public. There was a public side event this year called E3 live, but it was pretty disappointing, with little on offer to get excited about. It just felt like an afterthought. To me, I think E3 should be a real showcase of gaming for business people and consumers alike. I'm sure the management of a public event would be challenging, but considering the expense companies go to to build impressive E3 booths and the fact that the entire industry is in LA for a week, why not extend the show by a couple of days and let gamers in? I bet it would be a huge, huge success.
When we heard that EA was not having a booth at E3 2016, it gave everyone pause. "Is this the beginning of the end for E3?" we all asked. Could the show survive in a crowded convention schedule?
The answer is "yes". E3 was still great this year. Yes, there's been a slow shift into events at that near E3 itself, but not on the showfloor. EA Play, Devolver Digital's pop-up, or the Ubisoft Lounge all allowed professional and fan alike the chance to play some new games. E3 may continue expanding in that direction as consumers become more important, and retailers less so.
We have great games from Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo's conferences, including The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wind, God of War, Days Gone, and Sea of Thieves. Ubisoft and EA showed up with Steep, Watch Dogs 2, Battlefield 1, and Titanfall 2. And even on the showfloor itself, I found games that didn't get press conferences, but were still great: Persona 5, King of Fighters XIV, Aragami, Civilization VI, and Gwent. VR is in full swing and I played games on PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive.
It was a good E3. If the show is dying, it'll be because of a massive coronary, not a slow whittling away. I had a good time and played some great games. What more could you want from a show?
EA made big waves when they announced that they would be moving offsite to their own venue during the first part of E3 2016. Some even said that it was a sign that E3 was on the decline. But if anything, EA missed E3 more than the other way around. Their absence left them out of sight and out of mind in a year in which they really need all the mainstream attention they can get for games like Battlefield 1.
Granted, it wasn't a total failure. The event they held wasn't all that far from the show itself, and it was reasonably packed in the hours after the first press conference. But according to those who were there on Tuesday (I went on Monday), it withered once the showfloor opened and everyone rushed over to see Zelda. After that, EA was almost totally absent outside of a couple kiosks at the Microsoft booth, and no one seemed to care much.
It may simply come down to a lack of games that people were really interested in. Battlefield 1 has been getting some hype, but it didn't get much attention at EA's press conference, so it ended up being overshadowed by Infinite Warfare, which won plaudits from its showing at the Sony presser.
Thinking about it, I think EA's problem is less its lack of presence at the showfloor and more its uninspiring slate overall. Mass Effect Andromeda barely featured this year, and Star Wars appears to be in an of year. Titanfall 2, for whatever reason, is barely a blip on the radar screen right now, though I'm guessing it'll get more hype as we get closer to its actual release. Battlefield 1, as I already said, didn't get featured enough to really make an impact.
With that, EA was quickly forgotten as everyone focused on Zelda, God of War, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Forza Horizon 3 - surely not the result that EA hoping for. In trying to get the all the spotlight for themselves, EA ended up basically forfeiting it all together. That's not to say that EA Play should be abandoned - I sure didn't mind having a private press area in which to play FIFA and the like - but it would help next time to have some level of hype going in. This year there was none.
This is my sixth E3 in a row as a journo—and the second I've covered from home—and I have to say things have been pretty average. Not disappointing, but average. The VR onslaught I expected didn't really arrive, mostly because console manufacturers are waiting for us to buy a second $400 unit before all of our headset-related dreams can come true. (Sigh.)
And Nintendo's presence was a bit strange as well. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild stands as my game of the show, but most of what they showed off was a known quantity—including the 3DS port of Dragon Quest VII, which is 3.5 years old as of E3 2016. With their "no NX" policy at this year's E3, you can really tell Nintendo had their hands tied—which is probably why they padded out their livestreams with not one, but two Pokemon roundtable discussions. Now, interviews can be interesting, but when you're watching a live translation of questions vetted by the company itself, you're not in store for the most exciting time. Still, Breath of the Wind is everything I wanted Skyward Sword to be, and I'm extremely happy Nintendo is taking Zelda in the direction it desperately needed to go.
To be honest, the events in Orlando really cast a shadow over E3 this year. Having such a historic tragedy happen less than a day before the event really put into perspective how trivial video games are in the grand scheme of things. For we industry folks, the Orlando massacre will be inexorably tied to E3 2016, and there's no getting around that. Still, I definitely have to tip my hat to the conferences that acknowledged what happened: From my perspective, each tribute was tasteful, meaningful, and didn't feel like an opportunistic approach to humanize a corporate monolith.
I guess one of the bigger signs that E3's purpose is changing can be found in how many of its big titles saw a reveal before the show itself. Poring over a list of showcased games for the sake of voting, I couldn't get over how many of the titles I'd seen prior to this year's E3. And I'm honestly fine with that: If a publisher wants to announce a game whenever they want to avoid getting crowded out of the E3 spotlight, more power to them. Even if it's a much different show than it was 10 years ago, E3 will always have a purpose. And though this year felt particularly sleepy, I still managed to maintain my enthusiasm throughout. So, here's to E3 2017… just let me take a little break, first.
For me, this E3 was the third bowl of porridge: Just right. I’m happy with the new direction The Legend of Zelda is going in (and kudos to Nintendo for drumming up so much thunder even though the company technically, y’know, wasn’t “doing” E3 in the traditional way), and the show touched base with some of the other games I’ve been curious about up ‘til this point, e.g. Final Fantasy XV and Horizon Zero Dawn.
The show even managed a few surprises, like whatever the hell Death Stranding is, and encouraging proof that Paper Mario: Color Splash might be OK after all (not that it’ll be Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door, but as I often say, few things in life are).
Outside of the Zelda reveal, E3 2016 didn’t prompt me to stick to the ceiling in glee. That’s totally OK. I was provided with a steady stream of good news about good games, so I’m satisfied.
(Besides, I need to save my freak-out energy for the day Nintendo announces it’s acquiring the Mega Man property. I gotta believe.)