This was my thirteenth E3. As I walked the show floor this year, on more than one occasion I looked around and wondered how the industry got here and where it is going.
The 2018 version of the show reflected an industry in transition towards several potential futures. And yet, few of these potential futures were provided a concrete vision or timeline.
- Future consoles? They were referred to, almost casually. New hardware is coming, someday.
- Streaming? Despite currently available streaming services still striving to find significant mass market adoption, some positioned streaming as the future of gaming, while others described it as a way to expand the audience for immersive gaming. But these additional services and improvements are not ready yet; and few clues were given as to when they would be, or how streaming will overcome challenges around infrastructure, latency and the potential impacts regarding changes to net neutrality.
- Subscriptions? There are new and expanded services on the way. But, outside of Microsoft’s commitment to bring its first party games to Xbox Game Pass day 1, the content and timing of these potential services remains unclear.
- Games? We saw games featuring incredible assets and fidelity, but few beyond the first quarter of 2019 had concrete release dates, and even the platforms they’re being created for remained a mystery.
However, on the show floor itself, it’s not the future that was reflected. Some of the biggest games on the floor were games that can be bought and played today. While I was there, I had hands-on time with Fortnite, For Honor, and Divinity: Original Sin 2, and saw many other games that people can play at home, right now.
Some titles have additional content coming, while others will be released on new platforms. But odds are high that if one were given a random kiosk on the floor to play, it’d be a game that may already be in the library at home.
The announcement with the most concrete impact of any conference may have been the release of a Fortnite port to Switch. In a world of games as a service, is this not only the present, but the future as well?
Yes, there were new games on the floor, and others that were announced at the conferences, but it seemed to me fewer were playable this year than in the past. Perhaps this is partially due to Microsoft’s presence being missed, with its focus on having “indie” type games on the floor being absent this year. Or maybe it is because the games shown are 2+ years out, possibly for consoles that haven’t been announced.
As the show evolves, other trends are noticeable. The fan experience seemed expanded and improved but seeing the massive lines for the fans signifies that there is much more that needs to be done. The E3 Coliseum showcase was incredible. Microsoft, Ubisoft, Sony and others broadcast conferences full of amazing games. The focus on diversity and representation throughout the conferences was encouraging. And highlighting and showing respect to the game makers was on full display.
The games industry, particularly the console space, is looking at an uncertain future. As always happens during these periods, some ideas will thrive, some will die, and we’ll be left, for the most part, with services, platforms and games consumers are willing to spend money on.
I did not miss the stalwarts of a decade ago: bar charts in the press conferences, “booth babes”, the goofy schwag, and the incessant noise.
And perhaps I shouldn’t be missing the lack of clarity from the presentations. There are many potential futures for the industry, all of which should lead to continued expansion and growth, providing experiences that can be found in no other medium, delivered by some of the most talented people in the world.
As I look at the road ahead and its multiple forks, it’s becoming evident that the industry is prepared to go down all of them.