Three Things I Learnt From E3 2019

So that’s it. E3 2019 is in the bag and along with it, plenty of refreshed hype about the future of video games.

But something felt different this year. I’m not talking about Sony being absent from the show. It just had a different energy - one of a show that’s not necessarily dominant, but one that is trying to prove its reason for being in the worldwide public spotlight.

Fine, I’ll say it. It just felt underwhelming. Not to say it wasn’t good - just that the big announcements that were made didn’t necessarily reach E3 2016 levels of hype. It was either games we knew about, updates to games that already exist or smaller surprises to celebrate.

Instead of following the pack and reporting on every single bit of relevant news to come out of it (summed up: Keanu Reeves, Jon Bernthal’s dog and a next generation Xbox coming next Christmas), I thought I’d share three important lessons learnt from this year’s show.

I Am Terrible At E3 Predictions

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Twice in a row I’ve ended up with zero points.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me - maybe I’m just too optimistic? Maybe I’m just not reading up on the E3 speculation enough? 

Don’t worry, there is a point to this ramble, and it’s not that I should try to take this seriously next year. It’s that anybody who thinks E3 press conferences are all-too easily spoilt are clearly wrong. 

Granted, there were a few games we found about before they were announced, and many companies had beaten leakers to the punch by announcing they would be at the show. But there were some great surprises (love you, Keanu Reeves).

From Psychonauts 2 and the Final Fantasy VIII remake, to a brand new Blair Witch game and Gods & Monsters, there’s a whole lot to get excited about from these conferences.

While I can appreciate the cost cutting and easily controlled delivery of a Nintendo Direct-style video, they do lack that raw excitement you get from a live show. The crowd going wild, as gameplay is unveiled. The energy in the room that radiates through the screen. It’s unmistakeable.

I Was Wrong About Google Stadia

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Speculative writing is always such a double-edged sword. 

It makes for great readability and drums up plenty of debate amongst your visitors, but it’s so easy to get wrong. And once one writer goes down this route, a landslide of misinformation ensues, as we all get a bit excited about the future.

What am I referring to? Well, I wrote something about the end of traditional games consoles (much to the dismay and backlash of many forums), which took the concept that Google pushed with Stadia and made a prediction for the future, grounded in common sense and market analysis.

Much like what has happened with film and music, games is the last entertainment medium left to make that leap into the streaming world. There have been flirts with it in the form of PlayStation Now and several other services, but nothing has really set the world on fire.

With Google Stadia, I felt there would be a true Netflix-ification of gaming moment, and I fell for it just like many other people. But I should have been skeptical from the start, primarily because they never mentioned that you didn’t have to buy the games. It’s important to focus on what people don’t say, as well as what they do say at keynotes of this nature.

This was confirmed by a slide at their E3 connect event, stating that users will have to buy games - a bit of a far cry to what I assumed would be the case here.

It’s unfortunate, as I felt like we were on the precipice of something big. The content of my previous piece was not actually about Google Stadia being the market leader. This isn’t the 90s anymore - you can’t just make a colourful mascot, talk about polygons and dominate the market. It takes time to earn the trust of gamers.

The purpose of my piece was a bet that the next generation will be a transformative one. As consumer behaviours change, I believe we could see the end of brick and mortar game stores, an end to the necessity of games console hardware and a move of the big three over to becoming streaming service providers. 

You can already see Sony and Microsoft preparing for this with their Memorandum of Understanding - working together on “streaming and AI solutions,” basically a response to Stadia.

But unlike many other bloggers and journalists in this field, I will openly admit that I did get a little excited about Google’s platform and

I expected a Netflix for games, but got something similar to iTunes, and Apple’s shutdown of this software because of its archaic online distribution structure could be the ideal metaphor for Stadia’s approach.

Let’s wait and see.

Sony Was Right - E3 (In Its Current State) Is On Its Way Out

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I hate myself for saying that.

E3 has become a bloated juggernaut of consumerism that nobody ever really talks about. It’s only talked about because of the companies who attend, making as much noise as possible about their big news and releases.

But ironically, it was the company that never attended that spoke at the loudest volume, through sheer speculation of what they would sneakily announce during the show. 

And while they never did, maybe that was the PR strategy all along - be the looming shadow over Microsoft’s show without actually doing anything. Maybe at a time when there just isn’t that much to talk about (the end of one generation/beginning of a new generation of consoles), it’s best just to not polish a high quality turd.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved E3 ever since I was a kid. It was that exciting time of year when the world got to see the future of video games - get hyped about what was just around the corner. That’s not the world we live in anymore, however. 

You may have noticed in the first learning point of this blog that I never mentioned E3 in isolation… It was always next to the words “press conferences.” That is because what the show has turned into is a convention tacked onto a bunch of far bigger keynotes.

This is not a bad thing, but companies like Microsoft, Devolver Digital, Square and Ubisoft have a far greater power than the name of E3 does, to establish their own news cycles and make announcements in what PR people would call “clear air” - unobstructed by industry competitors.

E3 should continue to exist, but the purpose should be cleared up, as it’s a bit all over the shop at the moment. It’s part-B2B relationship-establishing convention for retail giants, part-journo focussed expo/hard reset for the games news cycle, along with this huge general-gamer focussed show too.

Lean in on what it has become - a show for gamers. Think Insomnia but on a massive scale. Keep the press/retail side out of it, as we all get this stuff online far easier anyway. And by all means, drop some big info, but surprise people on the show floor and leave the stage antics for times in the year when you can land a bigger impact.

Take a second to let your anger out that I’m talking like this and ask yourself one question as a gamer - would you rather have one big jamboree of shows, timed in a way that some announcements lack any real substance beyond a title, or those same shows spaced out throughout the whole year?

Don’t know about you guys, but I’d pick the latter. Gives publishers more breathing space for their news to permeate, gives developers more flexibility to come to the table with something significant, and gives gamers a calendar chock full of amazing shows.