T-minus seven days to the big show…the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the biggest video game trade show in America, arguably the world. Trust me when I say most of our schedules are already locked down for the entire week, with behind-closed-door meetings, after-hours parties, and two-hour windows for sleep meticulously planned out.
We already know a lot of what we'll see. The Wii U will make its debut (again), and odds are we'll play around with a good cross-section of its launch titles. We'll get hands-on with Halo 4 (multiplayer guaranteed, possibly campaign). We'll see hands-off previews of Call of Duty: Black Ops II — I'll go on record right now to claim it'll play exactly like the last five Call of Duty games — and get face time with the Tomb Raider reboot…though word is it'll be under indefinite embargo, so don't expect a whole lot of news there.
Still, every year someone drops a surprise or two on us. That's the fun part of E3…walking into the unexpected. And while none of these would come as a complete shock, I've got my list of things I want to see happen this year that aren't currently on anybody's schedule.
Wii U third-party support
We already know the centerpiece of Nintendo's E3 will be their new catch-up console, the Wii U. And while many questions remain about its specifications and capabilities, third-party support — long Nintendo's Achilles heel — remains the big question mark. When they showed off their Wii U sizzle reel last year, their announced-yet-not-announced titles almost universally consisted of games set to release on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 long before the Wii U hit shelves. Exclusives? Forget it.
So let's just say I'm very curious to see what kind of muscle Electronic Arts, Ubisoft (who've already thrown their weight behind Microsoft's Kinect), Activision, et al bring to bear on the Wii U…particularly given how badly some of them were burned developing games for the Wii. For that reason alone, I'm doubtful the Wii U will get much (if anything) in the way of exclusives, so that leaves the same question that's hung in the air for the last 12 months: Will those games play better on Nintendo's new box than they do on the competition's?
Grand Theft Auto V
With so many top-line games getting pushed out into 2013 — BioShock Infinite, Aliens: Colonial Marines, the Tomb Raider reboot, among others — karma owes us this one. Developer Rockstar Games almost never puts in a appearance at E3, but publisher Take-Two Interactive — which does — has been fairly coy about what they're bringing to the big show…to the point where their repeated evasions (and a lack of flat denials) speak as strongly as an official confirmation.
Certainly, with all the release-schedule defections away from this holiday season, GTA V would have a fairly clear field to dominate the last quarter of 2012. A very suspicious mind might even wonder if those other games just wanted to get clear of a crushing presence like a new Grand Theft Auto. If so, the hype train must start now, on the colossal stage E3 offers. So maybe the real question is who spent more money to parade it on their stage, Sony or Microsoft. My money's on Sony, possibly with a few timed exclusives. Unless anybody would like to guess what a GTA with Kinect support might look like.
The future of free-to-play games
If one thing wants to make its presence felt at E3 more than anything else, it's the legion of freemium games throwing down this year. I almost get the impression that free-to-play shooters will outnumber their retail counterparts 3-to-1 on the show floor. It's not just the indie developers, either. Plenty of major players want in on that action. Crytek's almost certainly bringing Warface, running a very respectable version of their CryEngine 3 in a browser setting, and everyone's just waiting for EA to announce that they're converting Star Wars: The Old Republic — currently bleeding subscriptions — over to a microtransaction model.
That could constitute a major sea change for MMOs in general and Electronic Arts in particular…the first of the big three publishers to embrace a freemium model for major release. If history's any judge, it would be to their benefit. But with more games picking that route over standard subscriptions and more of them choosing E3 as their official coming-out party, this could be the year we see the stigma around freemium games dissipate slightly. If we can all find some stellar titles to champion.
The crisscrossing lawsuits between Activision and the former heads of Call of Duty developer Infinity Ward peeled back a few veils in the last two weeks. Primary among them: the new franchise created by Halo developer Bungie as part of the four-game contract that lured them away from Microsoft. We know it's a massively multiplayer online game, it's a sci-fi shooter, it could really screw Bungie out of a lot of money, and it's codenamed Destiny (with planned DLC codenamed Comet). That's all.
And wouldn't you know, Microsoft's scheduled behind-closed-doors meetings for a super-secret unannounced game. Coincidence? Possibly. The first game in the Destiny series won't drop until Fall 2013, but the double-whammy of Halo 4 and a sneak peak at the MMO from the house that built Halo could eclipse anything Sony brings to the show (save GTA V, of course). For that reason alone, Microsoft absolutely wants Destiny there, and if it's even remotely ready for prime time — be it a teaser, a trailer, or Alpha-stage gameplay — you can bet it will be.