It would be easy to simply say that Sony “won” E3 and be done with this almost inescapable question – I’m only trying to answer it because it’s such a recurring theme – but actually, after the dust has settled on the handful of press conferences, I find it hard to pick anyone that actually “lost”.
You see, each publisher and hardware manufacturer has gone into E3 this year with very clear aims and goals. EA’s main goal, for an otherwise rather functional press conference, was to take one step away from E3 and present their games independently (while still not-so-secretly riding on the coattails of the trade show), while allowing some members of the public in as well.
Similarly, Ubisoft’s press conferences have long settled into a groove with Aisha Tyler’s presentation style – love her or loathe her, she makes a change from just having business-y guys in suits or developers who are afraid of their own shadow. Watch Dogs 2, a Tom Clancy game, seeing more of For Honor, it kept to Ubisoft’s formula. Of course, that also means there were slightly more unusual games, with South Park: The Fractured but Whole, the delightful whimsy of Star Trek: Bridge Crew for VR, and the snowy extreme sports of Steep as the now traditional surprise to close the show.
From the established giants to a rising one, Bethesda’s second E3 press conference was more assured than their first, spreading their wings to talk about and reveal more games, instead of leaning on a single landmark release as a crutch. Admittedly, Dishonored 2 was still the focal point, but with Prey, Quake Champions, talk of Bethesda VR and a tiny teaser of Wolfenstein, they’ve shown that they have the legs to support a major E3 presence each year.
Of course, the real battle is always between Microsoft and Sony, and Microsoft came out swinging with major hardware announcements and a showcase for the strong line up of their core IPs coming at the end of this year, with Gears of War 4 and Forza Horizon 3. During the press conference – but perhaps less so since – they strongly defined where the next iteration of console hardware can and will be able to achieve. For Microsoft, that’s hugely important, because as it stands, with Sony reticent to talk about a heavily leaked console that is reportedly much less powerful than the Scorpio, it’s a battle that Microsoft can win and win convincingly.
That could have been the defining moment of E3, especially if Sony had decided to talk about Neo, but Sony’s press conference countered with a relentless stream of trailers for new and upcoming games. Days Gone, Death Stranding, Spider-Man, Crash Bandicoot remasters, X-Wing VR Missions, Batman VR. It barely slowed down for even a second, but think back on it and you’ll see that Sony’s focal point was far, far off into the distance, just as it was last year. This is the real point of contrast between Sony and Microsoft’s show.
The games that Microsoft spent the longest showing off are generally coming out this year, but GT Sport was nowhere to be seen on Sony’s stage, The Last Guardian’s trailer and release date felt like a footnote, and PS VR’s presence was essentially just a handful of interesting teaser trailers. At the same time, there’s the endless allure to that which is so far out of reach, that God of War, Death Stranding and Detroit Become Human are games that can light up your eyes as you imagine their potential. Don’t get me wrong, they’re exciting games and announcements, but this screen from after the end of the press conference undercut some of that excitement and interest, especially in the context of last year’s press conferences.
In the end, E3 is always about building excitement for the future and dealing with the intangible. To a large extent, EA, Bethesda and Ubisoft all focused on what you have to look forward to this year, while teasing what’s set for 2017 and beyond, but both Microsoft and Sony indulged heavily in the intangible in very different ways, and it’s been fascinating to see how that has developed since.
Phil Spencer has been bogged down trying to keep the simple message of what Scorpio means for Xbox and why you’d want to buy an Xbox One S, while Sony have happily gone about simply demoing games behind closed doors, continuing to ride high on their staggering success over the last few years.
And that’s why Nintendo are the real winners. With no hardware to talk about, no E3 Direct, and no promise of huge reveals, they exceeded expectations and did so with a single game.
Yes, I’m being flippant, but it’s a stupid question anyway.