Five Questions This Year’s E3 Needs to Answer
It’s time once again for E3, the videogame industry’s annual showcase of excess and the “big” games that will soon be jockeying for shelf space at Walmart and Gamestop. It’s by no means a reflection of the whole industry, but with games pointing the way for new technologies and revenue forecasted to top $100 billion this year, interactive entertainment is more relevant than ever.
Here, then, are five questions I want to hear answered at this year’s E3 (and the likelihood for each that we’ll actually get that answer).
Are companies (and gamers) switching to new hardware?
Are mobile-console hybrids ready to compete?
How long until virtual reality comes to normal people?
Can Nintendo turn the Wii U around?
Will free-to-play disrupt console gaming?
This is one of the biggest trends to watch at this year’s E3. The new hardware is officially out in the wild, so the pressure’s on to prove to millions of last-gen gamers that an upgrade is worth their hard-earned dough. The number of new-gen exclusives, as opposed to games being released for both old and new systems, will indicate how much faith publishers have in the continued uptake of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Likelihood: Very good. Getting an answer to this one is as simple as listening to how new game announcements throughout the week are positioned.
Last year at this time, buzz about the Android-based micro console Ouya was in the air, with people asking if a cheap enough device based on mobile architecture could pose a threat to the then-unreleased new consoles. With the Ouya’s top-selling game only moving 7,000 copies, it seems safe to say that the ambitious bet was a bit ahead of its time. That’s not stopping others from trying, of course — the most prominent mobile-to-TV project yet announced is Amazon’s Fire TV, which hopes to hit the middle of the gamer market with some top gaming talent embedded in the company.
Likelihood: So-so. We’re unlikely to see much evidence of game development for mobile-console hybrids in the big presentations, for the same reason that normal phone and tablet games generally don’t get stage time. A game like Amazon’s shooter Sev Zero looks good for a game running on a $99 device, but wouldn’t look so great when contrasted with the latest Call of Duty. Instead, conversations about the Fire TV and other devices of its ilk will likely happen on the show floor and at parties.
We’ve been hearing about the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset since E3 2012, but neither the Rift nor its more recently outed competitor, Sony’s Project Morpheus, has yet to receive a release date.
Likelihood: Not great. Both companies will likely be showing new virtual reality experiences, but Sony has already said we shouldn’t expect Morpheus in 2014, and Oculus’ founding team has said both before and after its $2 billion Facebook acquisition that a consumer-ready VR experience will take patience. Plus, Oculus has yet to ship its second development kits to the game makers, and their feedback will likely wield significant influence over the launch strategery.
Nintendo has already said it won’t introduce a new console at this year’s E3, which is no surprise at all — it still has another year to prove that the struggling Wii U isn’t an unrecoverable wreck. Although it’s hard to see the two-year-old console catching up to the younger competition from Microsoft and Sony without better third-party game support, its latest flagship title, Mario Kart 8, has shown real promise, selling 1.2 million units in its first weekend. This December will see the Wii U release of another potential system-seller: A long-awaited new entry in the Super Smash Bros. fighting game franchise.
Likelihood: Decent. If Nintendo has any big surprises for the Wii U up its sleeve, this is the time to let them loose. It’s also likely we’ll be hearing more about its plans for the company’s new interactive toy initiative. The reactions of its lapsed fans — as well as the Nintendo faithful — following the company’s digital press conference on Tuesday will be a good barometer of the console’s chances.
E3 is in many ways representative of the business establishment in gaming, with unveilings of new titles — many of them built on top of already-popular franchises — on which gamers are expected plunk down $60. But the success of the free-to-play monetization model has recently driven PC game revenue ahead of console revenue, according to DFC Intelligence. Although not all gamers are on board with free-to-play, the absence of a huge League of Legends-esque f2p title on consoles means money may be being left on the table.
Likelihood: Good. As with the transition to new hardware, this comes down to a simple question: How will [insert game name here] make money? Both Sony and Microsoft have free-to-play games on their consoles already, and have expressed mild support of seeing their ranks grow.
The E3 festivities kick off Monday morning with four glitzy press conferences that are available to stream online: Microsoft/Xbox at 9:30 am PT, Electronic Arts at Noon PT, Ubisoft at 3:00 pm PT, and Sony/PlayStation at 6:00 pm PT. Nintendo will show off its latest in an online-streamed event Tuesday at 9:00 am PT, and the conference proper opens at 10:00 am PT.
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