Long ago, in ancient history (about 2005), E3 was the hottest show of the year, with more than 70,000 attendees, giant industry “islands” and lots of buzz and press coverage.
Sometime after that, it lost its way.
Responding to criticism that too many nonprofessionals were attending, it became an invitation-only event. Attendance plummeted, and reached a nadir of only 5,000 by 2008. SimCity creator Will Wright noted: “It almost feels like a zombie at this point; it’s the walking dead.”
Fast forward to 2015. The show is big, colorful, loud, spectacular and full of smiling faces, with more than 50,000 people filling the entire Los Angeles Convention Center. Industry sales are shooting past $75 billion, and game company startups have recently been bought for $2 billion (Oculus Rift, by Facebook) and $1 billion (Twitch, by Google).
The show tried a new model of selling tickets only to professionals — but allowing booth holders to invite 5,000 players as their guests. E3 has regained its buzz as a “must-see” event.
Prominent trends at the show include:
The New: Bigger, badder, faster. Games have noticeably higher speed and resolution, aided by higher-speed GPUs, and many new weapons and features, including better sound effects for the demons, chainsaws, swords and magic. It’s mind-boggling to imagine some future gamer saying, “I can remember 2015, when the Xbox One had only one terabyte of internal memory!”
EA showed its Star Wars: Battlefront game, which is multiplayer and lets the gamer join either side. A voiceover reminds him of his group’s mission. The speed and high-res scenery are remarkable.
Bethesda did what it does best: provide highly anticipated post-apocalyptic games, including Fallout 4, the latest installment of the RPG series, set in Boston. The player can take part in construction, not just destruction, of the wasted city, and gets the help of a dog.
Back to old school. Several games and game makers that disappeared off the radar have come roaring back. Several such blasts-from-the-past came from Nintendo, which returned this year with its World Championships, last held in 1990. Mario’s Tennis series returned as Ultra Smash, which drew crowds of watchers. Rows of dancers lined up and clutched Wii U’s to follow Lady Gaga’s moves on the newly updated Just Dance.
Another Phoenix-from-the-Ashes is Guitar Hero Live, which Activision announced will launch in October. A Guitar Hero bundle with one guitar will cost $100. Twenty new songs have been added, and the band Avenged Sevenfold will be featured for the online mode. The game, originally created in 2005 by Red Octane and Harmonix for $1 million, became wildly popular. Red Octane was bought by Activision and Harmonix by MTV. Guitar Hero disappeared in 2011, but is now back with a vengeance. Its competitor, Rock Band 4, also will launch in October.
One of the most popular keynotes was from Microsoft, which announced backward compatibility for Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One. Instead of the usual blinders-on total focus on upcoming games, the news that fans will be able to play 10-year old games on the new console was met with wild applause.
(Part two of this series will follow soon.)