So That Was E3 2015 (With Video)

Normally when I do these post-show posts, I talk about not only the show itself but games that interested me. This year’s different because myself along with various friends and members of the RambleCast talked over all of the E3 press conferences this year, Giant Bomb style. It was a ton of work but also a ton of fun and we gave a ton of real-time impressions of everything that was announced. If you’ve got a bunch of time, check those out and if not, we recorded an episode of the podcast itself with impressions of some games too. Seriously, give the RambleCast a listen, it’s a good show and I’m not just saying that cause I’m frequently a guest on it.

Holy Hell, what an E3 this was! I honestly went into it with pretty high hopes (certainly more than some professional cynics did) but those were eclipsed and then some. The general mood around this event has been somewhat down the last couple of years and not without reason. There was a period where AAA games and consoles sales weren’t very good and the buzz was that this kind of gaming was going away and everyone was moving to mobile. I thought that was bullshit then and it seems I was right. A lot of publishers waited to see if the new machines would sell enough to justify big investments in them and lo and behold, both the Xbox One and PS4 are selling better than their previous generation counterparts did at this point. As a result, money is going back into AAA development and while we still saw more sequels than I would of liked, we also saw a ton of new IPs this year, both from first party and third party publishers. It’s a breath of fresh air this industry desperately needed. A bunch of indie games showed off trailers too and many of them look great as well. Some of these shows were controversial, in particular Nintendo’s because they announced a Metroid game but not one people wanted to see. I admit that I would have loved a new Metroid Prime on the Wii U but I don’t know, Federation Force looks alright.

It was also a rare time when basically all of the press conferences were either well done or at least decently done. EA’s was lacking in content again and Square Enix had some format issues but they were all pretty good watches. Sony in particular just kept dropping one huge fan service announcement after another, essentially announcing everything fans said they wanted but thought they’d never get. They pretty much emptied the barrel on that though so they’ve set a potentially impossible bar to eclipse next year. I also am not a fan of certain elements like announcing a Kickstarter for a SEGA IP on the stage of Sony’s E3 press conference. I’m glad Shenmue III is getting made and that fans of the series will get it but it really felt like it went against the spirit of crowdfunding to me. That said, people funded it so hard they crashed Kickstarter so clearly it worked.

It was also nice to see PC gaming get its own dedicated show, though it wasn’t without its first-timer problems. While Day9 was a pretty good host, the show was way longer than it should have been, clocking in around two and a half hours. There was also way too much telling and not enough showing and while I get that the show was sponsored by AMD, there should have only been one segment talking about their new RADEON cards, not two. It should have worked more like the other press conferences where a developer comes out, talks for a bit and shows footage. Instead, most of them talked for minutes and only showed short trailers. The response has been mixed but a lot of people dug it so I hope they get a chance to do it again and I hope they’ve taken lessons from this and that it gets better next year.

The two biggest takeaways I got from this year’s E3 was that while a lot of good stuff was announced, much of it’s not coming to 2016. I’d say that’s a bummer but when I looked at the calendar after the show, I realised that there is still a metric ton coming for the holidays this year, more than enough to make me wonder how I’ll have time to play it all. I hope the industry can keep momentum because if we’re just talking about the same games again at next year’s E3, that might be a problem. If you want exclusives for this year, the Xbox One is definitely the way to go as well. Both they and Sony have first-party stuff coming but most of what you’re going to be playing on the PS4 this Fall are third-party games that you can get on Xbox One or PC as well. Sony’s got a commanding lead in this generation but this could definitely hurt that lead this holiday season.

The other big thing this year was virtual reality and augmented reality. There’s now five players in the VR fight between Oculus, Sony’s Project Morpheus, Valve & HTC’s Vive (which didn’t appear at E3), Microsoft’s HoloLens and now Starbreeze Studios of all people have announced that they’re bringing their own headset to market called StarVR. It’s becoming quite the arms race. Despite following it closely, I’ve never tried a VR headset yet. I really want to and though this is something that’s receiving a ridiculous amount of hype, a lot of it is coming from places and people I trust. I don’t think this is just a bunch of people gushing over “the new hotness”, there’s clearly something to this. The biggest problem VR has and will continue to have is that it’s literally impossible to demonstrate it on a stage or in a video. You have to put one of the things on your head and experience it first-hand to understand it. That’s going to be a goliath of a challenge for this industry to overcome.

VR already has appeal among hardcore gamers and is being touted for its speciality uses like architecture, museums, medicine and even things like PTSD treatment. All of that’s fantastic but to justify the levels of investment many of these companies have received, these things have to go mainstream and that’s incredibly hard to do when you’re selling an expensive product that at time of writing, needs a high-end PC just to use it at all and people can only understand the benefits of it by trying it in person. I’m sure we’ll see lots of kiosks and pop-up stores for these things but will that be enough to get people in, especially as more and more are reducing how much time they spent in physical stores? I really wonder. Regardless, these companies are playing the long game and we aren’t going to see VR suddenly vanish if it’s not an immediate hit. Personally, while I’m still sceptical of its mainstream potential, it sounds like amazing technology and I really want to experience it myself. It clearly drove a lot of the hype that people and even often cynical members of the “enthusiast press” were feeling this year and that’s great.

I was also pleased to see that while those who have been endlessly trying to stoke outrage culture for attention and money in the last year (I’m not naming people or sites but it’s pretty obvious who) were out in full force, they seem to be getting less attention. Last year’s E3 was insufferable because of these characters and it’s clear from watching them this year that while they may believe what they’re saying, it’s clear their primary interest is just finding the most popular games of the moment, injecting themselves into the conversation and using the ignorant lemmings that blindly follow them to try and stay relevant. They did it with Witcher 3 before E3 and they tried to do it with almost every popular game at the show this year. Some of them are now even treading back into Jack Thompson territory, saying that not only do games make people sexist but also banging on the old chestnut that violent games are rationalising violence. Seriously, do these people not remember what happened to Jack Thompson when he kept barking up that tree?

I was starting to get angry about this the other day but when I took a step back and thought about it, I realised that the best thing for these perpetually and professionally outraged people to do is just to keep bitching. From observing the Internet this week, it’s clear that they aren’t being taken as seriously as they used to and people are starting to have outrage fatigue. Many more developers and press are starting to push back against their rhetoric and even some people who normally would side with whatever they say have been saying that they’re maybe going a bit too far. Rather than back off for a while, they’re doubling down on their incessant whining about any little negative bit of a popular game they can use and it’s clear they’re running up against diminishing returns. The more they keep this up, the more those returns will diminish so to those people I say, please, keep going!

As I’ve said many times before, I think there are real issues with representation in video games that need to be addressed. I think the number of female protagonists we saw this year is a sign that the industry realises this too. I think that’s great and I can’t wait to play most of those games. However, it’s also clear that this endless addiction with outrage is not what’s driving that change. The people who have deemed themselves the moral arbiters of video games and the culture surrounding them are not the people who should be leading this change. They aren’t academics, they aren’t theorists, they aren’t scholars, Hell, many of them aren’t even gamers at all. The more they act as they did this week, the quicker they’ll burn out and that’s better for everyone, including the people they claim to be championing for while they get rich off of not delivering what they promised.

Overall though, I think this was a fantastic E3. I think the industry has learned that yes, consumers do want AAA games, they do want stuff that pushes the limits of technology, that there is a place for both big and small games and that console gaming isn’t going anywhere. A lot of people in the press are saying this is the best E3 in years and some are even saying it’s the best one ever. Bold statements indeed but they certainly show that people and the industry are feeling more positive than they have in a long time. I hope this positivity carries forward and I certainly hope that gamers actually step up and support all these new IPs that everyone was excited about. We complain that the industry doesn’t take enough risks and that everything is a sequel but ultimately, it’s on us to make the good new ideas successful so more of them get tried. A celebration of consumerism E3 may be but as a loving consumer of this medium, I saw a ton to be excited about. It doesn’t matter what type of games you like or what platform you play them on, this E3 showed that it’s a fantastic time to be a gamer. Let’s play on!

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