And the Winner of E3 2015 Is...
Virtual reality, or granting gamer wishes?
Microsoft. If we’re talking solely on presentations. Because that’s all E3 really is.
Every June, “Who Won E3?” think pieces bombard the net and it’s a boring question. E3 can’t be “won,” it’s a trade show. It’s not Thunderdome. Winners are declared on Black Friday or Q1 of the next fiscal year.
Elsewhere, clever journalists divert convention by declaring trends or types of gamers “winners.” This year in particular has been touting women as winners — small, inclusive steps taken by games like “Dishonored 2,” “Recore,” “Rainobw Six: Siege,” “Gears of War 4,” and “Fallout 4” amounted to a big leap. Gaming needed it, because last year’s GamerGate controversy is still a sour topic. But wasn’t it great to see two women — Angela Bassett and Aisha Tyler — on Ubisoft’s stage and pass the hell out of the Bechdel Test?
E3 started in 1995 because the video game industry was tired of being isolated in the corner of CES next to all the porn. The convention has since evolved into an annual dog and pony where promises are made, hoping they can keep them until the next year they have to do it all over again.
Let’s finally accept that E3 conferences are performances, forget the actual quality of the games they’re shilling. Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, and all the like get up on stage to tell a story and sell you on an experience they hope to deliver. There are twists, and turns, and “One more thing” to leave you excited to rush out to Best Buy and purchase whatever has their brand on it.
Now it’s a question of who did that best, and so if a “winner” had to be awarded, it was Microsoft.
Dazzling with its HoloLens, teaming with Oculus, delivering its crop of tried-and-true triple-A blockbusters, and finally making the Xbox One the console it should have been already allowed Microsoft to dominate the show.
Microsoft won by investing towards the future. There are chinks in the armor, but its HoloLens technology was jaw-dropping to see happen in real-time. Beyond gaming, try to imagine this applied to other industries. Medicine, forensic sciences, the space stuff NASA does. Whereas E3 at large pleased the hardcore gamer, Microsoft showed gaming could actually change the world.
And yes, they did impress with games. New “Gears of War” and “Halo” will please the legions of shooter fans it has already won over, but improvements to the Xbox One machine, like backwards compatibility with the Xbox 360, and an improved UI — improvements that kinda should have already been there — give Microsoft an edge over this year’s competition.
Let’s not forget its other initiatives, like PC gaming integration and a little something called Oculus Rift.
VR gaming is the new motion gaming, but the benefit is that no one has quite mastered it yet. Years ago when grandmas played bowling on the Wii, Sony and Microsoft tried to play catch-up with the PlayStation Move and Kinect respectively. Those died sooner than said grandmas playing Wii. VR gaming is the new frontier, but there are no models to follow or anyone to imitate. Oculus Rift and Sony’s Project Morpheus are competing alongside each other instead of anyone else playing catch-up.
(It’s also worth nothing the Oculus Rift had their own E3 conference, but the technology is still some ways away from being in consumers hands — or on heads, rather. They had the unenviable task to educate over entertain, so for that they’re left out of this list.)
Relying on shock that made the fantasies of gamers a reality, as well as its own crop of incredible games put Sony on the tip of everyone’s tongue. But based on their show their goals were remarkably narrow and short-term.
Sony didn’t have much to show, they only talked.
Whether or not Project Morpheus ends up being a better piece of tech than Oculus or the HoloLens is a conversation for later. For now, what was shown at E3 was all anyone can go on, and the HoloLens stole the show.
Still, Sony wowed with shock. Catering to the absolute hardest of the “hardcore” gamer” by granting their most far-out wishes was an ace move. “The Last Guardian,” thought to be a dead project, was the first thing Sony showed for the PlayStation 4. This set the tone for what was to come: a full remake of “Final Fantasy VII,” the most popular of all fantasies that are final, and “Shenmue 3.”
Oh dear, “Shenmue 3.”
Nintendo’s mission to appeal to a wide range of gamers with their particular image have ironically made their games so niche. They appeal only to their gamers, and their refusal to let their technology soar beyond a toy is maddening. The puppet humor was too cute for cuteness sake.
What happened to Nintendo? “The Wii U happened,” is probably the right answer. Although not failures like that guy still reliving his high school glory days, Nintendo hasn’t recaptured the magic when they wowed with motion control gaming (That’s a “loser,” by the way. Kinect is dead, RIP motion gaming) all those years ago with the Wii. They saw the top of the mountain and they haven’t been back since.
They’re not broke, for the record. Amiibos, plastic garbage that gamers use to unlock stuff across Nintendo’s library, have brought millions in revenue. But this year at E3, they focused on Nintendo. First-party games was their strategy, which basically meant “anything Mario” or “Star Fox Zero.” Third-party games were hardly a thing, and were mostly niche anime titles. The Wii U and the 3DS were only mentioned in regards to games, with no change to their hardware or software.
Nintendo are not major innovators in tech. They’re a toy company, they have their audience and they will cater to them in the way they know how. But when even those fans are asking what the fuck happened, perhaps Nintendo should reconsider their image. Weird, unfunny skits performed by puppets and bizarre anime games made Nintendo’s E3 performance look like Hunter S. Thompson’s mind on an acid binge in Akihabara.
The major publishers — Ubisoft, EA, Square Enix, Bethesda — should be judged on their own right. None of those guys will present Earth-shattering innovations, but for the most part they delivered what gamers wanted: games. It was just how that was a question.
In their inaugural presentation, Bethesda dropped their mic hard. “Doom” is a true evolution into this generation of gaming, but “Fallout 4” in detail (and promising an earlier-than-expected release date) set the tone for what would be a rollercoaster E3.
Bethesda set a high bar. Enthusiasm poured from “Fallout 4,” and gamers have already pre-ordered the special edition because they all want to wear a Pip-Boy. “Doom,” a remake/reboot-ish of a game that was just inducted in The Strong’s Hall of Fame, was a gory wonder.
A presentation that went from 100 MPH to 0 so quick, EA was burdened by its sports and extremely profitable family games to bother to care. Unable to show more “Mass Effect,” their saving grace was a lengthy “Star Wars: Battlefront.” But we had to earn seeing it.
EA was a snooze. “Mass Effect: Andromeda” was a great start, but then “Need For Speed” felt like it was selling a trashy club and not a video game. By the time “Minions” came on screen I was tuned out.
It’s understandable that EA has to devote ample time for its line of sports games, but with the promise of “Star Wars: Battlefront” at the end of the presentation made sitting through some kid named @TheHoopGawd talk about “NBA Live” facial mapping irksome. Pele may be a legend, but no one knew what the hell he talked about for those awkward five minutes to shill “FIFA 16,” and FIFA doesn’t have the best image right now.
Aisha Tyler has proven herself to be a reliable, energetic host. She only added to this year’s show that had impressive games that either look good or actually will be.
Ubisoft did well with Aisha Tyler (of Archer fame) as a host. Nervous as she appeared to be, she had charisma to carry the show even when bits fell flat. “South Park: The Fractured But Whole” was a clear highlight.
As was the brand new “For Honor” with the most intense game director on the planet. This guy could command a kung-fu school.
Square Enix: C
They have their franchises and they know it. With their remakes, reboots, sequels, and mysterious new IPs allowed Square Enix to kick their feet up. And they got too comfortable.
Square Enix put on a textbook “press conference.” As in, a guy in a podium awkwardly talking for however long they need. You could half-expect the NYPD to be there with their latest drug bust on a table. It was a boring show that relied too heavily on its “Final Fantasy” and “Kingdom Hearts” bombshells to put on a worthwhile effort. And it was a shame, “Hitman” and “Rise of the Tomb Raider” are bound to be massive successes for Square Enix.
Sony made the wildest of dreams come true, but Microsoft above anyone else at this year’s E3 looked towards the future. More than any other entertainment medium, video games have the power to move our society forward. The applications of HoloLens and Oculus (as well as Morpheus, but it wasn’t shown during the show) are boundless, and it lives up to video gaming’s promise as a vanguard of technological progress. And they just put on a damn fine show to boot.