I was really excited about this year’s E3. At first.
It’s the end of E3 day one, and I’m looking back on all the news the press conferences brought us. Fallout 4, Fallout Shelter, Dishonored 2, Doom, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, Unravel, Tacoma, Hololens, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, The Last Guardian, Horizon, Uncharted 4, Shenmue III, Final Fantasy Fuckin VII—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The future of big-budget gaming is suddenly looking much brighter than it was before. I’m pretty psyched.
Flash forward a couple days. The feeling’s waned into a dim glimmer, a thing that can hardly even cast a shadow. I’m frustrated. Being excited is fun! Why did it go away so fast? I mean, this was the year where all that stuff we wanted to happen finally happened. Games long thought dead like Last Guardian and Shenmue resurfaced as though by necromancy, there was a big uptick in lady protagonists, there were indies on the big stage, we got an entire conference dedicated to PC gaming, and so on. We can always ask for more, but that’s a pretty damn impressive spread. This year’s show may as well have been called E3 2015: Welp, Here Ya Go.
I wondered if maybe it was a case of “you only want what you can’t have.” Now that I have it, it’s stopped being exciting. But then I realized that, no, that wasn’t it. I thought back over the past few days and that’s when it hit me: this year’s E3, more so than others, was a glimpse into the distant future. Final Fantasy, Dishonored, Last Guardian, Shenmue et al won’t be out until mid-to-late 2016 at the earliest. I imagine we won’t see a couple of those until 2017 or 2018. It’s also a future that looks a lot like the distant past—remakes and sequels galore—even as exciting newcomers like Horizon populate the, er, horizon. It makes me a bit worried, like the big budget side of the gaming industry is flailing, trying to attract customers it’s lost to mobile or free-to-play or any number of other services by any means necessary.
But hey, there’s still plenty of cool stuff in the pipeline for this year, right? Even then, though, a lot of it wasn’t playable. Games like Fallout 4, Uncharted 4, and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (aka Deus Ex 4) were eyes-on only, allowing us to glean only so much. I talked to friends at the show, and they agreed: the buzz died quickly this year. We stumbled through the desert and found a giant ice cream cone, but when we unhinged our jaws, snake-like, to ingest it, we realized it was only a mirage. We could look, but we couldn’t touch. Which is not to say there weren’t plenty of cool playable games at the show. The heavy hitters, however, were conspicuously absent.
But something else—something more systemic, intrinsic—was also responsible for killing my vibe. It took a conversation with our own Kirk Hamilton for me to nail down exactly what it was. He and I were discussing the show at the Hotel Figueroa—the entire industry’s evening convergence point of choice, complete with a swimming pool that I am phobically terrified of falling into—but our conversation didn’t stay on topic for long. We quickly shifted not to months or years down the line, but to next week. A new Tales From The Borderlands episode is coming out! So is Batman: Arkham Knight. We’ll be playing those in mere days. There will be tons to chew on, digest, and talk about (as opposed to pooping about, which is where it sure seemed like that metaphor was going). That’s excitement backed by substance.
It only became more apparent during the first (probably annual) PC Gaming Show, a PC Gamer and AMD-hosted counterpoint to the console heavy conferences that generally rule E3’s lineup. I listened to presenters dispassionately drone on like press releases given flesh and rattle off tech specs like they were The Lord’s Prayer, and I couldn’t help but think, “This isn’t PC gaming.” Not really.
My main beat at Kotaku is Steam. To me, PC gaming is weird games that traditional publishers wouldn’t touch with a ten foot rod (which you can upgrade with DLC for only $3.99), communities doing crazy, brilliant things, people congregating around new and exciting games they had no idea about until they launched, modders making shit that’s bizarre beyond conception, and everything being hilariously broken until, eventually, it stops being broken (hopefully).
It’s tangible. It’s people. It’s the way they interact with games that are already out. It’s busted and even shitty sometimes, but charming despite that. Those things are exciting—properly exciting—every day. Used to be that, yeah, exciting game releases were fewer and further between, but now it never ends. We’ve gone from drip feed to Niagara Falls. Even when there is a dry release week, people are doing all sorts of awesome stuff in games that have already been released. E3, on the other hand, presents me with stuff so far out that all I can do is shove it to the back of my mind, save the feelings for later.
E3 used to be more relevant to the way I learned about and played games, but now it’s just... not. I think it still serves a purpose as an industry lightning rod, as a spectacle for outsiders and insiders alike (and as a giant neon PRE-ORDER EVERYTHING sign, something I’m much less OK with). It’s just not one that’s particularly interesting to me anymore. The glitz and glamour and yarn puppets and (human?) men wearing moon face masks are fun for a bit, but they ultimately reveal themselves to be hollow, verging on empty compared to the video game turducken we’ve got on our table right now. Why rely on ephemeral “hype” when I’ve got all that?
You know what’d be cool? If more E3 games pulled a Fallout Shelter. Announced one minute, released the next. Because despite everything else, I do still enjoy E3’s Christmas-morning-like cavalcade of surprises. But what fun is a new toy if you can’t play with it, especially when you and your friends already have so many others waiting for you back home?