The Electronic Entertainment Expo has been described as gaming’s Superbowl – the event that pulls together gamers of all different colors and creeds in celebration of our hobby. I don’t know if I agree with the Superbowl comparison – what is E3 really if not one big Superbowl commercial? – but regardless of what you call it, this event dominates the gaming landscape for months before and after it happens. Speculation leads to hype, which comes to a boil before either being fully realized or being completely let down. As this year’s conference comes to a close, I think a thorough look at how we allow ourselves to be hyped and shape ridiculous expectations is appropriate.
Expectations can lead to an unfair evaluation of circumstances. Often, gamers build up a certain level of expectation not as a result of what companies say they are going to deliver, but as a result of their own desires. We feed off of each other and create an environment where we believe we’ve been promised the world. When we don’t get the world, or when the world doesn’t look quite how we wanted, the result can be disappointment.
Take a look at Nintendo, for example. I wrote a somewhat harsh criticism of their Direct when I was fresh out of it – I didn’t give any time for my opinions to settle or for the logical perspectives of others to help me see the Direct in a different light. I criticized that Super Smash Bros Ultimate was the only game shown to any meaningful degree – but at what point did Nintendo promise me anything different? This is par for the course for them. Two years ago, they only showed Breath of the Wild. Both the Direct and the Treehouse focused on that game almost exclusively. Last year, a couple of other games made an appearance but Super Mario Odyssey was the only game really given a blowout.
This is par for the course for Nintendo. This isn’t unprecedented for them. But I was caught up in the hype of the Switch and so full of my own predictions and expectations that I couldn’t imagine a scenario where they gave me less than exactly what I wanted. Nintendo didn’t promise me that. Heck, they didn’t promise me anything. Any expectations I had were expectations that I myself established.
Now don’t think that I’m saying we should all just be grateful for whatever these companies hand us. We need to hold them accountable for legitimate mistakes – hello, Electronic Arts – and there’s nothing wrong with being disappointed in a presentation that is objectively poor quality – hello, first thirty minutes of the Sony presentation. It’s totally okay to check out when you’re just not interested in what someone is selling, and it’s even okay to express your opinion about it on the internet; goodness knows I do! But what I am saying is that if your disappointment stems from the expectations and hype that you imposed on the event (like me at first), getting angry or upset about it isn’t hurting anybody but you. So let it go, and enjoy what parts of the conference were enjoyable! You’ll feel a lot better about it.
I think there were some interesting ongoing trends with E3 when you take in all the conferences together. There’s been some concern in recent times with the whole idea of the death of single-player games – some companies think that multiplayer (specifically online multiplayer) is the only way to find success in the industry. We’re seeing multiplayer integrated into a number of experiences for that very reason. Games are adding battle royales or raids, including co-op in previously single-player experiences, or taking established franchises and creating dedicated multiplayer entries. Even BioWare, the creator of famously deep single-player RPGs, is dabbling in online multiplayer now.
Still, I don’t think single-player is as dead as we might make it out to be. Sure, Bethesda is making an online multiplayer Fallout, but they’re still giving us Elder Scrolls VI and Starfield, both of which seem to be the kind of dedicated single-player experience that series fans desire. We saw Assassin’s Creed, Ghosts of Tsushima, The Last of Us 2, Beyond Good and Evil 2 – developers still believe in the power of single-player games. And by signal-boosting those games through our chatter online and buying these games from retailers, we can communicate to creators that single-player matters and should continue to be invested in.
Some time back I wrote about the idea of games as a service, the idea of video games now updating rather than having sequels and using DLC to continue support of a title over a long period of time. This model seems to be gaining some traction based on the way a number of games are going – plenty of DLC was shown off at E3 this year, and even new games were confirmed to have lots of paid DLC or free updates that would keep the game relevant for years. We also saw some experimentation with streaming and subscription services this year, so the industry as a whole seems to be challenging our conception of what the gaming hobby has to be like in the future. Still, I don’t think any of these models are developed enough yet to have a serious impact on our hobby for a long time.
One interesting thing to see this year was the balance of titles showing or not showing gameplay. Folks collectively lost their minds over Elder Scrolls VI, a game where we saw nothing except for a title screen. But how can we really be excited about a game we know nothing about? It feels silly to reveal only a title, but there’s an extreme on the other end, too. As we learned when EA showed more Command and Conquer on mobile than anyone ever asked for, or when Square spent half their time on stage on Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
Should E3 be a deep dive into specific gameplay elements, like what Sony did with their titles? Should it be a punchy series of trailers designed to get you hyped without spending too much time on any one thing, closer to the Microsoft conference? Should a middle ground look more like Ubisoft (trailer then presenter then gameplay) or like Nintendo (press event for trailers, separate long streams for gameplay)? Every company seems to have a different presentation style and I think it’s hard to say whether one is objectively “the best.” Although I think many could agree that EA is pretty much “the worst.”
If I had to choose a favorite conference from the whole show, I’d have to say that I think Bethesda did the best. Their sense of humor led to a lot of great moments in the show (I particularly loved the Skyrim Super Special Edition), but more than that, Todd Howard’s skilled presentation of Fallout 76 dispelled a lot of fears and doubts about the game and helped to make it something that fans could be excited about rather than dread. A lot of single-player RPG enthusiasts were worried about what online multiplayer could mean for Fallout, but the Bethesda conference helped assuage those fears and I’ve seen very little negative press since then – whereas the atmosphere around 76 before E3 was a lot more tense.
So what about you, adventurers? Where is your hype level at after E3 2018? Did you think the conference as a whole went well? Or do you think there were some alarming trends or announcements? Let me know in the comments below, and be sure to come back this afternoon to talk about our favorite games from the event!