July 10, 2018

Electronic Entertainment Expo 2018 – Putting Gamers in the Driver’s Seat

Last month was the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), one of the biggest industry events of the gaming calendar, alongside the likes of Gamescom and Tokyo Game Show, hosted at the Los Angeles Convention Centre.

Where the business side of the games industry collides with the gamers themselves, E3 delivers fresh news on the latest gaming titles and technologies to an eager crowd of consumers and journalists.

E3 is the calendar highlight for gamers around the world

When E3 opened its doors back in 1995, it was open to the public as well as those from the wider games industry. As it grew from 50,000 attendees in 1995 to almost 70,000 in 2017, public attendance was restricted, and it became an industry-only event, much to the frustration of adoring fans worldwide. This changed when organisers opened up the floor once again to the public in recent years, splitting the week-long event among the industry and the gamers themselves, even welcoming cosplayers to show off their impressive hand-crafted outfits.

As the event has grown, a sort of ‘war’ has developed between Sony (PlayStation) and Microsoft (Xbox), culminating into fans crowning one as either the winner or loser of E3 based on the news they present.

While other major players, such as Bethesda, Electronic Arts (EA), Ubisoft and Square Enix, could arguably compete for the crown, it would be sacrilege for someone else to win. That being said, my winner was family favourite Nintendo, which I’ll go into more detail about below.

Regardless of who received the official title of ‘E3 2018 Winner’, it was most certainly a mixed bag of good, creative and, to be perfectly honest, weird conferences, underpinned with some genuinely interesting industry insights, and of course some great new game announcements.

The Good

Bethesda kicked off in style by announcing Fallout 76, a new online-only title, to an auditorium full of delighted fans. The announcement divided viewers, with solo gamers turning their nose up at the idea of exploring a post-apocalyptic wasteland with strangers, but Bethesda’s Director and Executive Producer, Todd Howard, later reassured fans that the game could still be played solo in an act of reactive, and welcomed, appeasement.

 

Fallout 76, Bethesda’s latest jaunt into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, is a prequel to all previous Fallout games, allowing players to explore the world ‘outside the vault’ before it was tainted with human corruption

The Great

Nintendo was my main highlight, with a pre-recorded conference and commentary from Nintendo’s loveable President and COO, Reggie Fils-Aimé.

Focusing on the Nintendo Switch, the conference included the usual suspects of Pokémon Go complete with physical Pokéball, and the classic Super Mario Party, but the real winner was the announcement of the latest Super Smash Bros game. Super Smash Bros Ultimate brings all playable characters from the previous titles under one roof, in what was a clear demonstration of Nintendo giving their community exactly what they asked for.

The Smash Bros Ultimate roster of fighters includes characters from The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Pacman and of course Mario, among many others

The Creative

Ubisoft are known for their alternative press conferences, and this year was no exception, kicking off with an announcement of the latest Just Dance title with a dancing panda and a brass band.

Things rapidly improved after this with an update on the hotly anticipated Beyond Good and Evil 2. Alongside sharing new footage of the game players have been waiting 15 years for, Joseph Gordon-Levitt took the stage to announce that creative collaboration platform, Hit Record, would invite gamers to contribute their own music, design and even vocals to the final product. This was amazing news for fans, and really brought home the message that gaming is more than just a way to pass the time; it’s a creative community, with gamers at the heart of it.

Giving players the power to contribute to the final game is an extremely powerful marketing tool, and is something that more developers should consider in the future

The Industry Statements

Continuing this trend, Microsoft opened their conference with the statement that  ‘gaming brings us together’ and brings great benefits to broader society, before discussing their charity initiative, Xbox Fanfest, with the clear message that gaming is the ultimate unifier, bringing people together under a shared love of the video game art form.

In a bold statement to the wider industry that Microsoft mean business, they also announced several game studio openings, including their own studio, The Initiative, as well as acquisitions of Undead Labs, Playground Games, Ninja Theory and Compulsion Games.

All proceeds from the tickets to the Xbox Fanfest went straight to charity, as well as giving fans exclusive merchandise and the opportunity to meet their heroes

Next, the words of EA’s CEO, Andrew Wilson, resonated with me as he took the stage to talk about disruption in gaming, how it will go on to be a great thing, as well as the benefits of cloud technology.

Cloud technology has made it easier than ever before to play games, read books and watch films, allowing us to consume entertainment across multiple platforms anywhere, and anytime. The same is true of modern marketing methods; we can target our audiences anywhere, and at any time, and we should take a leaf from EA’s book and embrace this.

Gaming can also have a much wider cultural impact, with Wilson highlighting EA’s Play to Give charity initiative, offering charity donations to the likes of He for She, National Bullying Prevention Center and Ditch the Label, through a variety of gaming challenges. A more than worthy cause from an unexpected source, and one we can certainly get on board with.

In an increasing trend for the industry, EA’s Play to Give initiative donates to charities that aren’t just within the gaming space, expanding gaming even more into the mainstream psyche

The Weird

Sony took a completely different direction with a bizarre format that included little to no stage time for the executives, resulting in an extremely short and sweet conference with new trailers and some alternative musical performances. While it was certainly bold, it didn’t quite deliver, and left the audience a bit confused.

The latest trailer for The Last of Us Part II kicked off the conference. While eventually met with cheers from an excited crowd, the way it was introduced is where the ‘weird’ comes in. Banjo player Gustavo Santaolalla took to the stage for an acoustic performance, and while it wasn’t bad, you could hear the confused murmurs and shuffles from the audience.

Cue the next unexplained reed flute performance to announce open-world samurai title Ghost of Tsushima. The game itself looked like a fantastic new take on the open world genre, but the musical rendition wasn’t really necessary.

The rest of Sony’s conference thankfully didn’t include any more impromptu instrumentals, but instead focused on the games, including a new trailer for Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding. While the trailer was impressive, I’m still none the wiser as to what this game is about, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s weird, futuristic, and by one of the Gods of gaming, so it will be undeniably awesome when we finally get to see the finished product.

No one really knows what Death Stranding is all about, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting

I’ve been tuning into E3 for as long as I can remember, planning my power naps and coffee breaks for the inevitable 2am weekday conference, and each year it gets better, but this was the first year there were so many direct references to the impact that gaming has on us culturally, and that was great to see.

I hope that E3 2019 has even more of this, and we see more games studios involving the gamers themselves from an even earlier point in development.

 

By Debbie Lloyd, Unity Account Manager – read more on her blog, or follow her for gaming-related updates