E3 2019 was more about what is beyond the horizon than before it.
This generally happens to me when I fly to Sydney. The captain politely announces that descent to the destination has commenced. Ten minutes later, a voice from the cockpit returns to the inflight communication to inform all those on board that air traffic control has requested that we remain airborne until the airport becomes decongested. And thus begins 25 minutes of sweeping turns as the aircraft flies circles over the Blue Mountains in a holding pattern, forcing everyone on board to become steadily more frustrated as they realise that plans/meetings/objectives have now gone awry.
I probably couldn’t use a better analogy for E3 2019, to be honest. Having covered E3 over three console generations, I’ve experienced these show lulls before the inevitable arrival of new hardware the year before. While forthcoming launch games can be teased with elaborate cinematics, there’s always an awkward time period where already announced titles fall somewhere between the “Should we put it out now or save it to use as a new-gen launch title?”
But in those days these shows featured all the big players, and E3 2019 didn’t. What to make of Sony’s omission is of course a matter of conjecture. While the gaming giant that has categorically bossed the eighth generation of consoles towed the “We’re looking for new ways to engage with gamers” line, it could be that with little to show at this point, given the extortionate fees associated with having such a dominant – and indeed elaborate – presence on the show floor of the Los Angeles Convention Center, it was a decision based more on economics. Will they return in 2020 to showcase new consoles? Impossible to say given the company has introduced a February-based Destination PlayStation event designed to give retail a longer window of planning for the Christmas period. With EA and Activision absent, and Microsoft – although officially linked to E3 – operating offsite at its own theatre a mere stone’s throw away from the Convention Center, gauging how the show will shape up next year (gaming’s biggest since 2013) is anyone’s guess.
You can get a good feel for an E3 by its press briefings. EA followed in Nintendo’s footsteps by communicating its line-up digitally, leaving Microsoft to kick off in a physical venue on Sunday the 9th of June. The way was cleared for Microsoft to own E3 and depth and quality of the games was evident. But we knew most of the line-up before we got to Los Angeles and while its new console, Project Scarlett, was unveiled through a delivery of vague details, we’re no closer to knowing what it looks like. Phil Spencer’s announcement following the show that it would feature a disc drive certainly won some applause. But the biggest talking point at the Microsoft press conference, and indeed E3 itself, was the arrival of Keanu Reeves onstage and the news that he would feature in Cyberpunk 2077.
Just think about that for a moment.
Bethesda used its press briefing as an opportunity to apologise to the Fallout community, acknowledging it really did drop the ball with the launch of Fallout 76, but has been working incessantly hard to put that right. The unveiling of Deathloop from Arkane – the studio behind the sensational Dishonored series – was definitely a highlight. From a personal perspective, there were two titles that ticked my box during the Ubisoft briefing. There’s more on that later in the write-up, but here’s a clue… Just Dance wasn’t one of them.
Then Square polarised not just E3 but the internet with its Marvel’s Avengers game. Outside of Cyberpunk 2077 and Keanu, there was no other game more debated in the halls of the Convention Center. “I love it and can’t wait!” and “They’ve betrayed the Marvel universe” were the two common responses, but if Square wanted press for the game, that objective was certainly achieved.
Finally, Nintendo. I was in the E3 press room when the Breath of the Wild sequel was announced. I can’t remember the last time at E3 that I’ve witnessed that level of elation from the media. Screams, hugging, fist pumps and tears – you name it, it was all happening. The company also announced a slew of other new titles on the way, many of them at the end of this year.
“There’s never a bad E3 – you’re getting the chance to play incredible games from some of the most creative minds on the planet. But this year’s E3 was all about 2020.”
And therein lies the problem with this year’s show. There’s never a bad E3 – you’re getting the chance to play incredible games from some of the most creative minds on the planet. But this year’s E3 was all about 2020. Don’t be mistaken, there’s some quality releases dropping this year including Borderlands 3, Gears 5, DOOM Eternal, Ghost Recon Breakpoint, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, but the first four months of next year are going to blow our socks clean off – not least with the arrival of the most anticipated game in recent history, Cyberpunk 2077.
Oddly, considering E3 is now open to the public, the crowds were significantly down. Last year, at times, getting from the South to the West Hall was like swimming upstream amidst a torrent of swag-laden gamers always seemingly travelling in the opposite direction. This year, traversal was easy. Official figures revealed that numbers were down 3,000 on the previous year but I’m calling BS on that. At times, it actually reminded me of the media-only events back in 2007/08, and while there were always queues of eager gamers desperate to play their favourite games snaking around booths, in the West Hall the vacant space behind the exhibition plots was alarmingly significant.
The Entertainment Software Association, who host the event each year, have confirmed that E3 will return to the Los Angeles Convention Center in 2020. But there’s a lot of work to do to. I’ve always banged on about how important E3 is, not just for those in attendance feeding thoughts and opinions through a multitude of ever-evolving channels, but for business being conducted in meeting rooms, the discussions in the creative forums directing the future of the industry, and the millions looking on from a afar, searching for every available scrap of news about their favourite titles that is generated in that frantic week in June. I still believe that is the case, and although E3 2019 did feel like that flight in a holding pattern, it’s imperative that all the major players are involved when the show doors open again on June 9, 2020, because next year in the gaming industry, from both a hardware and software perspective, is going to be a corker. Hold on to your hats!