Like every gamer looking on at the events of E3 – I gorged myself on every scrap of information, every presentation and drank in every trailer that crossed my path. For one intensive week, like many, I tried to take it all in – tried to let it form and sculpt my opinion for the year ahead.
But this year was harder than most. Not because of the lack of information – there was plenty of that – but because of all the SENSELESS SHOUTING.
Trying to remain objective, impartial, considered is not an easy task in the midsts of all the braying and hollering surrounding the ‘Console War’ (a term that makes a little sick creep into my palate even as I type) and the incessant focus on the rights and wrongs of used games and online check in.
I’m not unsympathetic. I get that people are pissed off about the used games thing – though in Microsoft’s defence, this is a decision that is largely in the hands of Publishers, and so it’s unfortunate that Microsoft single handedly shouldered the burden of such a contentious topic.
Likewise – the decision to make Xbox one require online check in once every 24 hours is bewildering, and again, I understand why some people are going to be upset about it’s restrictions. I have little doubt, for example, that there are inmates in Parkhurst Prison (who’s lack of highspeed internet piped directly into their cells) are gutted that they won’t be able to play Halo 5 for longer than 24 hours.
Me? I’m concerned by the decision, certainly, but find myself otherwise unmoved by the restriction. My Xbox has been online once a day for the last four years. Hypothetically speaking, if my internet went down for a week, I might be a little irritated that I couldn’t play Crimson Dragon – but I wouldn’t consider it a breach of my human rights.
I’m fairly certain I’d be able to get over it.
Regardless, there’s no denying that Microsoft have taken a severe blow this year. Completely misjudging public opinion – or indeed the ferocity with which the internet and social media in particular can completely ravage public image.
This is not so much a failing of the hardware itself and more a failure on Microsoft’s PR department – most notably with their handling of the Xbox One’s 24 hour online check in system. If there are benefits to it, Microsoft should have had that ammunition to counter criticism well in advance. They didn’t and could only fumble for ill prepared, feeble excuses while the internet went about the business of sticking the knife in.
With this one failure, they allowed Sony to take full advantage and completely divert attention away from what was important (the games dammit) and focus it – laser like – on completely destroying the competition on a PR level.
The fact is, what’s done is done. Microsoft have made their decision. Xbox One is what it is, and ultimately consumers will vote with their wallet. I’m not here to sway anyone’s decision either way but I would like to see a line drawn under what is really a separate issue from the entertainment itself. Something that E3, and those reporting on it, seem to have completely missed.
My real problem with this year’s E3 has nothing to do what happened at either conference – rather, what didn’t happen.
Consider this, if you will.
Two of the biggest cheers, the biggest, in the whole of E3 were reserved for two ‘standout moments’ – the PS4’s ‘innovative! sleek! gorgeous!’ hardware design and PS4’s ability to do what every generation of console has done before – play used games and single player games without online check in.
Is this how the unveiling of a new generation should be defined?
Am I the only one that finds the fact that these two ‘features’ were the most important, most celebrated of the presentations, more than a little… worrying?
At this year’s Press Conference – Sony’s biggest achievement is that it didn’t fuck anything up. I believe the phrase ‘Congratulations! You didn’t shit yourself!’ is most apt here. Not making a fool of yourself is by no means a barometer for future success – lest we forget the disastrous conference of 2006.
In the midsts of all the PR willy waving, for me, this E3 is most interesting for the fact that industry and consumers alike were complicit in allowing the used game and online check in debacle to cloud what’s truly important. Stripping everything back to games, and games alone, it wasn’t a particularly earth shattering show in terms of announcements.
I’m not saying that the games were bad – but there was little that really stood out as being markedly different, or groundbreaking – and there certainly wasn’t anything revolutionary. All three consoles were guilty of lacking titles that could be seen as genuinely trailblazing. Lots of nice, great, fantastic titles – but nothing that made me cross my legs in the manner of a toddler fit to burst.
Everything all felt comfortingly familiar. Similarities to the last generation abound – only a little shinier.
When that chasm in visual fidelity between each generation is becoming increasingly slight, the onus must surely be in either remarkable originality and innovation, or a concerted push for exciting new IP and the kind of console exclusives that has a conference audience applauding on it’s feet.
These were conspicuous by their absence this year.
There was almost no real innovation at this show – gameplay wise. One of the most intriguing innovations came from a genre in which I personally hold little interest. The concept of cloud-based AI tinkering in Forza 5 is a genuinely exciting one with a myriad of practical applications outside racing. For me, it was one of the most interesting things to come out of the presentations, not that you’d know it from the lack of column inches or lack of exploration of it’s implications, that it received.
Outside a handful of new IP’s, truly awe-inspiring exclusives were also few and far between. Sunset Overdrive, The Order 1886, Crimson Dragon, Titan Fall, Killzone, Ryse, all very welcome, I’ll concede – but all games that riff off existing genres and tropes and ultimately didn’t once threaten to offer much in the way of spine-tingling excitement at their unveiling.
Likewise, Nintendo were not without fault either. With the exception of The Wonderful 101 – everything had the whiff of playing it safe – offering just a solid line up key franchises rather than the kind of interesting quirks or second tier favourites (Starfox! F-Zero!) that E3 typically wants to see.
For me E3 2013, PR furore aside, proved to be somewhat unspectacular – indicative of an industry increasingly unwilling to take risks, desperate to consolidate opinion. In this respect, perhaps the biggest risk of all was taken by Microsoft themselves – misguided perhaps – but a risk all the same. Only time will tell how that works out for them.
I, for one, am pleased it’s over. I’ll be even more pleased if I never have to read one more article about used games or the necessity for your console to be online every day.
I, for one, will be pleased when everyone calms down and we can get back to the business of focusing on what’s important – three great companies concentrating on creating and supporting the kinds of new games and new experiences that made us fall in love with this great entertainment industry in the first place…
Until the next time.
ILJG runs the I Love Japanese Games Facebook Page.
His views are not necessarily those held by Rice Digital or its partners.
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