Best and Worst of E3 2016
After spending the week in Los Angles, home of the meaty air, we look back at E3 2016, the annual gaming event that will shape the tone of the gaming industry for the year to come. There were some good moments and bad, smart decisions and WTF headscratchers. In short, here’s the best and worst of E3 2016.
To clarify, the show technically began on Tuesday, June 14, but in a practical sense it began on Sunday, June 12 with the first of two days of press events. Electronic Arts kicked it all off with its own press event, which Bethesda then followed later that same evening. Microsoft started things on Sunday, followed by Ubisoft, and then Sony capped off the day. The Los Angeles Convention Center then opened its doors on Tuesday, June 14, officially kicking off the event. The event then ended, June 16.
We there all week, taking in the press conferences and booths. We laughed, we cried, we grudgingly spent $4 for a small cup of mediocre coffee. Here’s what took our fancy and what didn’t.
For the last few years, Sony has been playing chess with Microsoft, while the Xbox maker continues to play a nonsense game it made up. This year was no different.
To be clear, this isn’t a question of who has the better hardware or games (although the answer to both right now is Sony), but it’s more a question of messaging. Even though Microsoft and Sony tend to do a lot of the same stuff at the same time (they both have VR coming, they both have new mid-generation consoles on the way, they both released their current hardware at the same time, etc., etc.), Sony has consistently done a better job of rallying its fanbase.
Take this year’s show. Microsoft and Sony both have new hardware on the way. Sony hasn’t made a secret of this, and yet beyond confirming the code name of “Neo” we don’t really know much about it. Microsoft, on the other hand, has the new “Project Scorpio,” a system it is claiming is the most powerful console ever, partly because the GPU can handle six terraflops!
One tiny question: what the hell is a teraflop? Did they make that up?
Before you start to correct me, I do know what a teraflop is. Six teraflops essentially means the new console can process six trillion calculations per second, which is incredible. I know that because someone explained it to me later, in much the same way that Microsoft notably did not. All we’re really left with is the promise of super powerful hardware that does the same thing your current Xbox One does now, just better. That’s a serious problem with messaging.
Beyond the Project Scorpio announcement, the Microsoft show was just alright. It showed some promising indie games, a few exclusives, and a bunch of games coming out on both consoles. It was also very flashy, which, ironically, just helped to highlight how skimpy the lineup actually was. Sony, by comparison, went in almost the exact opposite direction, and it was pitch perfect.
Sony began its show by introducing a live orchestra, composed by film and TV composer Bear McCreary. It then went directly into an exclusive look at the PS4 exclusive, God of War 4. It followed that up with a quick declaration of support for the victims of the Orlando shooting and the LGBT community. Microsoft and others all had moments of silence, but they were unaccompanied by any comments. That in itself isn’t a bad thing – at least they did something – but by comparison, Sony’s message of solidarity felt heartfelt and genuine. Intentionally or not, Sony once again one-upped its rivals.
It then showed exclusive after exclusive, only breaking so Sony execs could come out and casually drop another major announcement, like Hideo Kojima’s first non-Konami game coming to the PS4 exclusively. The show was concise and powerful.
I have both a PS4 and an Xbox One, and I use them both often – I am not a Sony fanboy. But if anyone watched both the Microsoft and Sony shows and claims Microsoft won, they are either high or are considering an Xbox One tattoo.
Worst: Xbox One S
So the Xbox One S is an Xbox One, but smaller! It’s also white, has a built-in power source (as opposed to a bulky power brick), and it can accept a hard drive of up to 2 TBs. And it will sell for $299. That’s cool and all, but the first model comes out in August with a 2 TB hard drive, which will put it at $399. More
More importantly though, it releases just a few months before Project Scorpio comes out, presumably offering a significant hardware upgrade for maybe $100 more (it could be more, a price wasn’t revealed). More Xbox One S models will follow, each with a different hard drive and price.
So where does this Xbox One S fit in? It’s a replacement for a console that is itself being replaced. It is already an afterthought, months before it will even be released. And given that we don’t really know anything about Project Scorpio other than it’s really powerful (six teraflops!), that’s not a good way to build hype for the new, slimmer console. That’s not a great way to kick things off.
Although there aren’t really any stats to back this up, there was a much great sense of balance between male and female gamers than in years past. In 2010, for example, the show was probably closer to 70 or 80-percent male (that’s entirely my estimate, but I bet others would back it up).
There are probably good, and complex reasons for the sausage fests of old disappearing, but it is a good sign – both for general reasons of equality in the humanistic sense, and as a sign that the industry continues to grow. Much to the surprise of older developers, women also play video games. Granted, the hardcore shooter games that drive the industry are still disproportionately played by guys, but women are becoming a factor in development.
Call of Duty and similar franchises aren’t going to change, and nor should they. But the influx of female gamers should lead to a new way for developers to think about their games. That, in turn, should help the industry evolve beyond the “more of the same but bigger” mentality of many games.
Worst: The future of E3
E3 was officially attended by over 50,300 people, with another 20,000 checking out EA Play nearby (which was also overseen by the Entertainment Software Association, the group in charge of E3). That marks a slight uptick from last year by a few hundred people, and yet the show felt somewhat muted, even less busy.
There’s no single, easy answer for why this year’s show lacked the punch of those of the past. Blame publishers like Activision for not having a booth this year. Blame EA Play for taking away attention. Blame the rise of streaming coverage on platforms like Twitch and YouTube that makes it easier – and significantly cheaper – for press to stay home and cover at least some of the show remotely. Blame the uncertainty caused by three still only vaguely defined consoles coming out next year. Or just blame the changing nature of the industry that no longer requires major events to get the word out about products, not when people can watch a live stream directly from the developers and follow the top titles year round anyway.
E3 still has a lot of life in it, of course, but it may never reach the same heights as before. It may be time to open the doors to the public, or at least try a change of venue.
Although Nintendo’s presence at E3 was somewhat limited, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was one of – maybe even the – best games of E3.
Zelda remains one of the most important franchises in gaming, and its return to consoles is long overdue. Breath of the Wild is a reimagining of the series, and yet, it feels true to the origins. It is very much a Zelda game, but it is unlike anything that has come before it. That’s a delicate balance, but one that Nintendo seems to have nailed. Nintendo’s booth was also a recreation of Hyrule, which helped ease the pain from fans at the show who waited hours for a chance to try it out.
It’s too bad we won’t see the game until 2017, but Breath of the Wild should be able to help the beleaguered Wii U, and act as a must-have launch title for the new Nintendo console. That’s something Nintendo desperately needs right now.
If you take away The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo’s lineup was positively anemic. The new console is still being kept under wraps, the Wii U seems to be an afterthought, and third-party developers have pretty much given up on Nintendo.
Nintendo is in a transition period. It won’t waste a marquee property like a Metroid or even a Super Mario Bros. on the Wii U. It will hold those titles until the NX is released – or at least announced – leaving this E3 a one trick pony. And given the situation Nintendo is in, coming off of what is essentially a failed console, it needs to show people that it is still very much a power player and not the next Sega.
Best: The games
At first, it seemed like this was going to be a year filled with nothing but reboots and sequels. The rumors leading up to the show all focused on hints at more of what we are familiar with, then EA and Bethesda unofficially opened the show with a pair of press conferences devoid of a single new IP (Prey doesn’t count). Microsoft had a few originals but most were smaller, indie games. Ubisoft followed that with only one original title.
Thankfully, Sony kicked it up a notch with several new IPs, but there were plenty more new titles waiting on the show floor. From lesser known AAA titles like Focus’ The Technomancer and Vampyr to fan favorite developer Volitions’ Agents of Mayhem to Kojima’s Death Stranding, there were plenty of new titles on display. New IPs are a good sign for an industry that – like Hollywood – has been justifiably accused of being risk averse.
With that said, many of the coming sequels and reboots did actually look good. The aforementioned Prey isn’t exactly new, but it might as well be. Games like Ghost Recon Wildlands will feel familiar to fans, but it is doing old things in a new way. Even Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is offering a new aspect of gameplay with space combat.
Regardless of what type of game you like, there was a little bit of something for everyone. E3 offered a diverse lineup, which should excite gamers everywhere.
Worst: The water in LA.
Water isn’t supposed to be tangy, right?