11 things we learnt from E3 2016
Oh sure, there were a shit-tonne of game announcements. And we saw new hardware and played new games and it was all so shiny and wonderful. We had a great time!
But what did we learn from E3 2016? What patterns can we see, what trends are forming and where are publishers steering video games as we head towards 2017?
We tried our best to decipher the undercurrent, to feel the vibe, and suck up the zeitgeist of E3 2016 without using words that make us sound like wankers. We failed, but here are 11 things we took away from the show.
Sony loves you
E3 has gone from being a trade show with a strong press presence to a three-ring circus beamed directly to consumers. As journalists this makes our job both easier (no more trying to get liveblogs out to editors over weak event WiFi!) and harder (slow down and give us some actual details, you vandals), but for you it means sitting up to watch a livestream is more rewarding than watching your moustache grow in.
This transformation is most clearly evidenced by Nintendo, who has dropped out almost completely in favour of regular content drops, and by Sony, which just keeps being perfectly delightful. “What’s that, Twitch chat from every livestreamed E3 conference of the past decade?” Sony cried. “Show you some games? Get the executives off the stage? Stop blathering on about TV and kids’ products? Give Hideo Kojima a lot of money and absolutely no restrictions? Your wish is our command.”
Nintendo is eternal
The power Nintendo has over hearts and minds is baffling from the outside. In terms of core gamer experiences, it’s absolutely muffed it for two generations in a row – the Wii sold 100 million units in the same way that tamagotchi did, as a clever gadget to be forgotten, and the Wii U couldn’t even stand up to the consoles about to be replaced by a new generation and was, as usual, unable to attach third-parties for any length of time.
Nintendo continues to pour out Marios and Kirbys and frankly I’d expect you all to have packed it in and jumped ship by now … but then it does something like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and it all becomes crystal clear. What a reward for your patience.
Microsoft is still so confused about the Xbox One
Every year since reveal it’s been a different message for the Xbox One. It’s an entertainment box. It’s a games machine. It won’t need to be upgraded when it uses the power of the cloud. But here’s two new Xbox models. Xbox Scorpio is more powerful than the other. Except when it isn’t. Are you 4K ready?
By revealing Scorpio Microsoft has admitted the Xbox One hasn’t performed to expectations. Only three years since launch and it’s already pushing to be at the front of a new 4K generation while Sony – the company that actually makes 4K TVs – isn’t rushing anywhere just yet. Sure, there were new first-party games but no one was surprised to see Killer Instinct, Halo and Forza up on that stage. It’s the same brands every year.
Coming out of E3 it looks like Microsoft is as muddled as ever. What exactly is it doing with Scorpio, but more importantly, are our Xbox One’s going to be outmoded in a year?
Dad games have peaked
Remember when Kratos from God of War was all about fighting and fucking, preferably on a bed of sacrificed goat? Not anymore, the God of War is settling down.
It’s something we saw with The Last of Us, as Joel reluctantly adopted Ellie, before coming to love and care for her as his own. It was his whole reason for savagely staying alive (even though she was more than capable of doing that herself) and your reason for playing through most of the game.
As has been observed before, it’s a trend no doubt reflecting game developers growing up and having family themselves. But can you relate? I have children and the last thing I want to do is be responsible for digital kids as well. Call me selfish and black-hearted if you must, but wipe your own ass, I’m off to kill a bear. It peaks here, as Kratos, PlayStation’s most brutal, randy and violent anti-hero trades T&A for TLC.
Superheroes are fun and colourful again
I’m sure the Arkham Batman series was great and all, but christ, can someone throw a light on and cheer up a little?
Volition can! Volition is making a new game with a bunch of made up superheroes and they all look like they’re having a right old time of it. Even the villains are hamming it up. Comic books used to be fun and then they grew up to become graphic novels and the only way Hollywood could successfully translate them to screen would be to go dark and edgy and mumble. Video games obviously followed that trend and we ended up squatting in the pissing rain of Gotham wondering who’s really the villain?
It’s not just Agents of Mayhem that’s bringing the sunshine back. We didn’t know we wanted a new Spider-Man game until we saw Insomniac’s trailer. It feels as liberating as putting on your wife’s tights for the first time. This gameplay of Injustice 2 is funny too, but I don’t think it’s meant to be. It’s just because Supergirl calls someone a baby and the baddie has a flying space-cat.
Zombies just won’t die
When there’s no room left in hell, the dead shall take a crap on your games console. You’d think we’d all get a bit tired of zombies by now, but no, they just keep on coming.
Dead Rising 4 is back and admittedly looks fun. And then there’s Days Gone, which just looks like the action bits of The Last of Us without all that emo bullshit to fill it out. Naughty Dog probably spat coffee out when they saw that.
Zombies give us an excuse to slaughter obscene amounts of bodies in cruel and gruesome fashion. It’s fun! But it’s also a cheap way of getting around the fact that games can be horribly violent and ghoulishly infatuated with dismemberment. Kill another human with a sawblade and we wince, kill a zombie and we laugh. Still, it’s way too late to wring hands about violence in video games. Here’s to more years of killing with impunity!
Everything is an open world action adventure
There was probably a time when you could fire up a new triple-A game and not be directed to climb a tower and populate your map with activity icons, but we’re having trouble remembering it. As video games get more and more expensive to make and our thirst for “content” outpaces reasonable development periods, developers are having to back up the six hours of content they really believe in with up to 200 hours of wandering around doing repetitive chores, copy paste by a team that may or may not sit in the same room as the one working on the story missions.
There’s no chance of any Ubisoft game escaping this formula, but it’s a terrible thing that we’re glancing nervously at a game like Horizon: Zero Dawn, which looks like it has a great deal of personality and charm, and dreading the full gameplay reveal. It seems inconceivable that there won’t be an endless checklist of fetch quests and collection chores to back up all that open world roaming.
The biggest names in pop culture are coming to VR
VR has plenty of problems, and one of those is we don’t recognise any of the games that are using it. New IP is a wonderful idea, but it won’t appeal to a mainstream audience. And VR won’t pay for itself as an entertainment medium if the everyday gamer doesn’t pick it up in the same way they grab FIFA and Call of Duty every year. It can’t afford to be niche.
Which is why Sony is very cleverly wooing some of the biggest names in pop culture. Here’s a Star Wars X-Wing game that will mean so much more to 99% of the population than an EVE Online dogfighter. Here’s your chance to be the Batman. See? If Sony wants PlayStation VR to reach further than the core audience, it needs the names even your dad recognises to grab interest.
Horror is slowly coming back
If you’re really into the zombie shooter series Resident Evil turned into, you’re probably justified in your disgruntlement over Capcom chucking the formula out the window. If you’ve been on board since the terrifyingly weird haunted house of the original, you may be more interested in seeing a mainstream publisher turn its attention to a genre indies have thankfully kept alive in triple-A’s absence.
Technology has moved on – even putting aside the whole VR thing – and the things that scared us in 199X barely raise an eyebrow now that we can see them at a resolution better than that of your first Nokia phone. We can’t wait to see what can be achieved with a decent bankroll. If Resident Evil 7 and Prey succeed Sony may go from backing indies to having a go itself. We can only hope.
Successful multiplayer is still a unicorn
Online multiplayer has so many potential benefits. It keeps discs in trays instead of back at GameStop. It maintains interest and drives DLC attach rates. It provides all sorts of microtransaction openings. If nothing else, it’s another bullet point on the game case.
It’s also very expensive, and difficult to get right, and close to a decade on from Modern Warfare publishers are still desperately trying to figure out how to put a Call of Duty or a Battlefield in their catalogues. Bethesda is desperate for DOOM to go full eSports, but if it doesn’t make it, then there’s always Quake Champions, right? Unfortunately, for every Overwatch there are a hundred Homefronts – or insert whatever forgettable multiplayer you fancy here.
Battlefield might just do it
Remember a few years ago EA went really big on multiplayer shooters? “We’re coming for you, Activision,” it said. “We’re gonna take a slice of the pie.” It didn’t, because both of Medal of Honor games were middling at best and the last two core Battlefield games have launched in a laughably broken state, but by gum: this might be the year. Battlefield 1 is generating enormous hype while Infinite Warfer is setting records for dislikes and eliciting comments about how much it doesn’t look like itself.
You never can tell, and the power of the Call of Duty brand is such that a huge proportion of the people who buy it every year never even think about doing something else, but this is the first time we’ve ever seriously entertained the notion that Activision might have to hand over its crown, even if only for launch month. We’re not giving great odds – but we have opened the book.