The event is over and the dust is settling. The different factions emerge to proclaim their viewpoints.
“E3 2017 was amazing.”
“E3 2017 was disappointing.”
“Sony won.” “No, Microsoft won.” “No, Nintendo announced Metroid Prime 4 and Pokémon Switch, and even though both are probably years away, they overshadowed all else.”
Every viewpoint and opinion carries equal weight, and to attempt to shout down those who stand opposed to any given perspective is a futile task. What should be universally accepted, however, is that E3 2017 was a more muted affair than the show has been in the past. With only a few notable exceptions, every major announcement was predicted, and even Sony forewent its usual surprise clincher, opting to close with a lengthy demonstration of Insomniac’s Spider-Man, which was announced last year. Instead, the press conferences seemed to revolve around the consolidation of existing messages.
Microsoft, of course, led the charge with the Xbox One X, reiterating existing messages about the unparalleled power of the machine, supported by the stunning presentations of Forza Motorsport 7 and Metro: Exodus, both of which are breathtaking. Sea of Thieves was less impressive, if only because the presentation was overlong and less humorous than intended, but the diversity on display during the indie showcase was truly delightful. Despite these showings, the Xbox One X failed to leave a mark because the sole demonstration of Forza Motorsport 7, as glorious as it was, was simply was not enough. Microsoft has an unfortunate tendency to lag in the production of system-selling exclusives and that shortcoming took centre stage during the company’s press conference. An exclusive new IP on the scale of Halo or Scalebound would have stolen the show, but, without that, the company’s showing felt oddly toothless.
Sony’s press conference was not much better. Again, consolidation of existing messages was at the show’s forefront, with new glimpses of the publisher’s propensity toward grim narratives leading the charge. As jaw-dropping as the presentations of God of War, Days Gone, Detroit: Become Human, and Shadow of the Colossus were, they felt oppressive. Knack 2, Gran Turismo Sport, and Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom might have offered a change of pace and a spot of breathing room, but they were relegated to the pre-show, robbing Sony’s conference of much-needed colour. That being said, the decision to end with Spider-Man was brilliant, with Insomniac’s latest lifting the entire show with a breakneck demonstration full of wit and charm and reinforcing, if only on a small scale, Sony’s continued dedication to variety in both the indie and AAA sectors.
Similarly, EA and Bethesda were on-point. The former blustered through messages about both its sporting franchises and upcoming blockbuster offerings, with a brief nod to the EA Originals program with the unveiling of A Way Out, though the lack of last year’s surprise announcement Fe was mildly disappointing. As exciting as both Need for Speed Payback and Star Wars: Battlefront II look, both are iterative products, neither offering freshness to EA’s existing line-up. Similarly, Bethesda’s showings of The Evil Within 2, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, and Dishonored: Death of The Outsider were appropriately atmospheric, but dishearteningly predictable (not helped by the fact that two of the three were leaked ahead of time). The lack of a new game from the core RPG studio also left the presentation feeling flat, while the publisher’s commitment to VR is commendable, but hardly exciting when efforts revolve around ports of existing games.
Meanwhile, Nintendo and Ubisoft continued their trends of mock-innovation. The former stole the show with the aforementioned announcements of Metroid Prime 4 and Pokémon Switch, but the first fully-fledged showing of Super Mario Odyssey was delightfully off-the-wall and showcased, once again, what the company is capable of when charged with introducing new ideas. Nintendo has always been about fun, however, and the collaboration with Ubisoft in the form of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is one of the most bizarrely perfect pairings in recent memory. As for the remainder of Ubisoft’s showings, Assassin’s Creed: Origins had the wind taken out of its sails by months of leaks; Beyond Good and Evil 2 was enticing, but too far away to be exciting; and the messaging around Skull and Bones is confused at present, with details of the single-player element lacking.
More than anything else, E3 2017 is a response. After many years of hyping experiences that are yet years away, most of the publishers have acknowledged the mistakes of the past. With, perhaps, the sole exception of Beyond Good and Evil 2, every game shown during each of the major press conferences is currently expected to release by the end of 2018. The shortening of the hype cycle is an intelligent—perhaps even vital—move, but for all of the major publishers to do so dulled the usual bombast and spectacle of E3. Microsoft and Sony were lacking blockbuster announcements, Nintendo reiterated the family-friendly image it has cultivated over many years, and the other publishers were all regurgitating well-executed lines. In some ways, E3 2017 left the impression of things winding down, raising echoes of 2012 and 2013 when the industry was dominated by safe sequels and predictable outcomes. Whether this impression is lasting or ephemeral remains to be seen, but E3 is no longer the powerhouse that it once was. Nintendo provides regular updates throughout the year; Sony reserves some of its biggest announcements for the now-annual PlayStation Experience in December; Europe’s Gamescom has risen in prominence; and the holiday season is no longer the driving force in games sales, meaning that the six-month hype window that used to begin with E3 is no longer as necessary.
At the end of the day, E3 2017 was neither spectacular nor lacklustre. The event played out predictably, which took away some of the shine, but that is to be expected. Each platform holder and publisher has settled into a particular niche and came to the show with a message in mind. Microsoft heralded the Xbox One X’s power and the primacy of timed exclusivity. Sony focused on the story-based games that other publishers are increasingly ignoring. Nintendo brought fun and the promised fulfilment of fans’ long-held hopes. EA held to the blockbuster mentality that has steered it aright for years. Bethesda offered new iterations of some of its biggest successes. Finally, Ubisoft realised the fever dreams of more Black Flag-styled naval combat and Beyond Good and Evil 2 in entirely unexpected ways.
The overwhelming impression is that the big players are playing things safe, leaving excitement through innovation to the small fish, such as Focus Home Interactive and Deep Silver, but with the current console generation getting long in the tooth, the situation is unsurprising, and E3 simply followed that wider trend.