E3 2012: A Quiet Year For Videogaming

E3 took place in LA last week, perhaps for the last time, but it failed to really hit the headlines in the way it usually does. Why? Well, as expected, it was a very quiet year for announcements, with most firms recognizing that now is not a great time to heavily invest in the industry (see the recent game retail crisis, etc.). It was common knowledge that Sony and Microsoft were unlikely to announce new consoles, but even Nintendo failed to excite, despite the Wii U coming out later this year. However, there was some interesting news aside from the inevitable announcements of game title sequels.

  • Microsoft focused on the “home entertainment” angle. The Xbox has always been a potential Trojan horse to get Microsoft into consumers’ living rooms — and it demonstrated this strategy at this year’s E3: new music services, deals on video streaming, and, most interestingly, SmartGlass technology to link various Microsoft-based platforms.
  • Sony played it straight. Along with some new game announcements (mainly sequels, of course), it announced a revamp of PlayStation Plus — adding more free full games to make the service even better value. Sony’s interesting new product was Wonderbook: Book of Spells, an augmented reality (AR) book tied to the Harry Potter franchise that works with the Move peripherals. Sadly, while Sony has years of interesting AR/video products (dating all the way back to EyeToy in 2003 and EyeToy:Chat in 2005), these never seem to draw in consumers in sufficient numbers.
  • Nintendo snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. It should have walked away with the conference, but instead it failed to impress — failing to confirm pricing or launch details for the Wii U. Still, we got Pikmin 3 — finally! Luckily for Nintendo, at least some of the third-party publishers announced some interesting Wii U titles.

Elsewhere, the show highlighted a slew of sequels from the major publishers and the continuing resurgence of the indie developer sector. Most interestingly, Peter Molyneux’s new firm 22Cans announced Curiosity; it’s not really a game but more of a social media experiment. Elder Scrolls Online also got its first real showing. Whether the franchise can reverse the ongoing trend toward free-to-play (F2P) MMOs remains to be seen; it’s a strong brand but, arguably, not Star Wars strong and The Old Republic is losing subscribers.

What is E3 good for?

Slow years like this inevitably lead to questions about whether E3 is as relevant as it once was. After all, many of the new game announcements were trailed or leaked prior to the show; with so many online sources (Eurogamer, Joystiq, Kontaku, Spong) covering gaming every day of the year, E3’s no longer a great way of getting that big-hit mainstream press coverage. However, E3 is:

  • Great for doing proper business. While the gaming media (and gamers) bemoaned the move to a much smaller show in Santa Monica in 2007 as lacking in glamour, you can bet just as much useful business was done between distributors, retailers, developers, and publishers.
  •  A useful date in the diary for an industry temperature check. E3’s June date puts it right at the point when vital Q4 titles and hardware have been finalized — meaning distributors, developers, and the media get hands-on with near-final game builds or hardware. Admittedly, given that some titles have already slipped to 2013, the usefulness of the timing has been somewhat diminished this year.
  • A great venue for the whole gaming ecosystem to have a meeting of minds (hopefully). E3 was born in the PC gaming age, just as consoles were enjoying their second coming (e.g., original PlayStation, Sega Saturn). It has continued to be dominated by these platforms — mostly the consoles and their portable stable mates. While recent years have seen some embracing of mobile gaming, the booming casual/social game market hasn’t been particularly well represented. This is changing: Zynga was at the show this year for the first time — albeit on more of a recruitment drive rather than to demonstrate its wares — and the pace of change should accelerate, turning E3 into a truly platform-agnostic forum for the industry.

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