E3 has been and gone for another year and pundits are discussing it back and forth, but we ask – does anyone truly ‘Win’ E3? Let’s be honest, E3 this year was… what it was. The reasons are complicated. We can’t ignore that Covid 19 has left a massive mark on the game industry, and we need to accept that as fans. A lot of games are global enterprises that take a lot of collaboration and that has been disrupted big style. There is no way we can get grumpy about it. Though we are still amazed that Insomniac Games managed to release 3 games in the space of a year.
Anyway, this year was always going to be thin on the ground for new releases and anything coming in the near future. E3 highlighted that. Thing is though, that’s not the reason E3 was so lacklustre. It has been for some time. Publishers have steadily been moving away from the big live events. Sony doesn’t bother turning up, preferring to control its own hype. Nintendo have just been launching their directs as they have the last few years. Microsoft still seem wedded to the concept but ultimately, it’s a show without direction. With so many other trade shows popping up through the year, each with their own hype expectations things are messy.
This year we saw a fair few shows that had, well, nothing to show. That is not to say there were not a lot of top notch games announced or even showcased. Our wishlist is now bulging at the seams here at Any Button Gaming. Still, the gaming media is awash with comments of disappointing shows and who ‘Won’ or ‘Saved’ E3. We’d ask, what does that even mean?
What makes an E3 winner?
What makes something at E3 a winner? Well, let’s look at previous ‘Winners’ shall we? 2015 was (according to the internet), won by Sony. In their show, they announced lots but fans literally wet themselves as the revealed Final Fantasy VII remake, Shenmue 3 (despite it being a kickstarter campaign) and the long in development Last Guardian. What a moment!
Let’s pick it apart though. Final Fantasy VII Remake was announced with a snazzy trailer but took an additional five years to be released, including a full development reboot. The Last Guardian was a new game from the creative minds of the Shadow Of The Colossus but… received a muted release and hardly ranks amongst the most successful or even well received PS4 releases. Shenmue 3 was eventually launched, yes. No one bought it. Why? Because it was a sequel 20 years late from a series of games that are the definition of ‘niche’.
What does this tell us? That fan service and surprises mean more at E3 than games people want or will get in the near future. It wasn’t about the product – in the instances of The Last Guardian and Shenmue 3… very few people actually bought the games compared to the hype they generated. FF7 Remake did sell well, but the game they got wasn’t necessarily the one that the trailer showed off.
A special moment?
Another example of a recent E3 ‘win’ – Fallout 4 in 2016. Fans had gone without a Fallout title since New Vegas in 2010 and a mainline title for even longer. Bethesda came out of the blue, announced Fallout 4 (woo hoo) then announced it was being released in six months. That was great – the hype machine went mad. THIS is how you release a game. No years of waiting, announce a trailer etc. Announce a game and release it the same year.
Until it did release, had a slew of bugs and had gamers complaining it wasn’t as good as the previous instalments. Of course, the same tactic didn’t work several years later for Fallout 76 – possibly proof that E3 announcement lightning doesn’t strike twice.
Bethesda, again, stirred headlines when announcing ‘The Elder Scrolls VI’ in 2018. One review we saw said it gave fans a ‘special moment’. Really though, all Bethesda gave us was a placeholder that said development was starting on it. With it now being 2021 and Bethesda’s next big game being Starfield in 2022, we aren’t getting anything for a good few years more. The cynic in us may think it was a ploy to cover up for Fallout 76’s lacklustre reception.
Then we’ve had some, well, out and out lies. Killzone 2, Bioshock Infinite, Watch Dogs (and many others) all wowed us with trailers and gameplay that turned out not to be representative of the real deal in the slightest. No Man’s Sky put on quite a show and turned out to be… OK, so we know what No Man’s Sky turned out to be.
When Keanu Reeves walked out on stage to state he was in Cyberpunk 2077, it was a marketing masterclass. It was ‘breath-taking’. A massive win for the Microsoft Conference. Until the game released and it turned out that what had been shown in that presentation was VERY much padded and done just for the demo. At that stage, the game was nowhere near completion. You could say it still isn’t.
Yet a lot of these moments are regularly ranked as being the big moments in E3 history. Lots of commentators have tried to work out who ‘won’ E3 2021 or lamented that it didn’t really have any of these moments. It was a poor E3.
Is that really fair? We don’t think so. There was some amazing games on show. First look at Elden Ring, some wonderful titles like Sable, Somerville, and Replaced. Nintendo and Microsoft both had shows that showcased a lot of games. So what are people really looking for in their E3?
We want it all
Ultimately, they are looking for the unexpected, the nostalgic and the brand new. To be a winner at E3, you to need to announce something that people already want but weren’t expecting. If it is releasing soon, even better. It doesn’t have to be finished though. Heck, it barely needs to have been started. Ideally it has to be AAA as well.
It seems every trade presentation, whether E3 or not, is ranked upon how many of these moments are stuffed in them. They don’t need to correspond to a reality. They can just sell a dream that may or may not be realised. Just give the fans something to stand up and clap to.
That’s how you win E3. But who wins? Is it the publisher who has to commission, work in secrecy and craft reveal after reveal? Nope – bungle it up and people will moan about the game up until launch. Is it the consumer? Certainly not – being promised something is not the same as actually getting it in your hands. If you had a ratio of hype to deliverables, you could argue that few of the big hype cycles actually translate into very well received end products.
Is it the games themselves that win? Well, we’d argue not. Is Elden Ring ever going to satisfy the hype that has built around it? Unlikely, though it will no doubt be a great game. Metroid Dread (this authors E3 ‘winner’) is a 2D Metroid game – a niche product if ever there was one. Commentators are already getting upset at the $60 AAA price point for a platformer.
Does anyone truly ‘win’ E3?
Is E3 as an event a winner? Not anymore. The above are reasons why publishers are starting to shy away from it. Controlling the message in a very designed way is the way Nintendo, Sony and Ubisoft are starting to go. Expectations can be better managed. Possibly the only person that benefits from clear E3 winners are the games media industry, but ultimately (just like we are doing here), a good or bad show will generate clicks by having analysis articles regardless.
Does anyone truly ‘Win’ E3? In our opinion… No. It is clear that winning E3 has little to do with game quality or release schedules or anything else at this point. The gaming community want constant big and unexpected announcements that can be totally divorced from reality. In the end, there is only so much of those that can be announced in any given show, especially since that sort of hype doesn’t always translate into big sales.
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Rudy Manchego has been gaming since the days of the BBC Micro Computer and spreads himself thin with a love of retro, indie and mainstream gaming. He’s one half of the Jambags Comedy Gaming podcast and likes nothing better than kicking back with a nice pot of lapsang souchong, a good game and a background podcast on the intricacies of Spanish cheese making.