The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the game industry’s largest U.S. trade show, is just around the corner. This is the place where major game companies will tell the world what is coming. We’re expecting one of the most exciting shows in recent memory because there will be two new consoles on the block.
Last week, we heard from Mike Gallagher, head of the group that puts on E3. He also thinks the new consoles will breathe new life into a sector that has declined for a couple of years. But success isn’t a given. We can predict what we won’t hear. We know what to expect. But we really want some breakaway surprises that will change the industry for the better and help it stave off the barbarians at the gate — or figure out what to do with them. Mobile and online games could really hurt the consoles, or help them in the goal of turning everyone into a gamer.
Now the show is coming next week in Los Angeles, drawing an estimated 45,000 to 50,000 game industry professionals to eight football fields of exhibit space at the Los Angeles Convention Center. This column is about what we want to hear at E3 next week. It’s also about the reality of what we expect to hear and of what we know we won’t hear as well.
Apple will also have its own event on Monday, and we’ll look into what we can expect from that event.
John Riccitiello, former chief executive of Electronic Arts, told me about some of his own expectations, which he framed as questions. “Will Microsoft sharpen their message and explain Xbox One to gamers? What are the really new big ideas for next generation games? Battlefield 4 vs. Call of Duty: Is Activision Blizzard’s gravy train over? Will Sony bother talking about Vita?”
He expects that Sony and Microsoft will dodge questions about pricing for their consoles and supplies available at launch. He also wants to know what kind of mix we’ll see of downloadable games versus disc-based games with the new consoles. He wants to know how all the extra entertainment services will impact game performance (a good question for Microsoft). And, he said, “Will anyone see a side-by-side comparison of a game optimized for Xbox One and Sony PlayStation 4?”
Riccitiello thinks that there will be huge demand for the new consoles if they are “cleanly positioned for gamers” and are in plentiful supply at launch. Microsoft and Sony just have to do the simple things right. Then the gamers will follow.
I think that Riccitiello’s got a good ear for the issues, and he was no doubt complaining about them to the console makers not that long ago. We long for surprises, but we’ll be happy if the console makers can just do enough of the right thing to make the video game business thrive and restore the faith of fans in the core of the industry. If these usual suspects don’t come up with the surprises, maybe we’ll see more of them come from upstarts, such as Oculus Rift, the creator of the virtual reality goggles that have captured the imagination of thousands of developers.
Here’s what we …
… want to hear: Show us the games. Halo 5. Dying Light. Quantum Break. We want to see some of those 15 exclusives that are launching in the next year for the Xbox One. We want to see some eye-popping Kinect 2 games that can’t be done on any other platform.
[Updated] Microsoft clarified what we wanted to hear on important details on consumer rights. How will we play used games on the Xbox One and why is this a good deal? What options do consumers have for playing offline games and turning off Kinect in the name of privacy? We also want firm answers on what games will be available on cloud platforms that the console can easily access.
… expect to hear: We’ll hear more about all the non-gaming things you can do with the Xbox One. We’ll see a bunch of celebrities and partners use a lot of time showing off games that aren’t going to be really surprising.
… won’t hear: We don’t think Microsoft will fully embrace cross-platform gaming at all unless you’re talking between Windows platforms only. For instance, Microsoft’s Halo mobile game won’t run on iOS or Android.
… want to hear: Games that play and look better than what you can see on a high-end PC already. Sony already showed of great games like Killzone Shadow Fall, Infamous: Second Son, and Destiny. Now we’d like to know what the launch titles will be. We also hope that Sony will show some surprises that it didn’t talk about back in February.
Like Microsoft, we have the same consumer rights questions for Sony. We’d like to have some clear sign of what the Gaikai cloud technology can and can’t do for Sony in terms of providing things like limited backward compatibility. We would like some clarity about whether you will have to re-buy games that you already bought on the PlayStation 3 if you’re playing them from the cloud.
… expect to hear: Games that look good but not quite what we had in mind for next-generation quality. Sony already showed off a ton of great-looking games. Sony is likely to try to embrace indie game developers more so than Microsoft, since Sony has adopted the Unity game engine for the PS 4, and many indies already use that. Sony also has actually show its box this time, to prove it isn’t make believe.
… won’t hear: Sony won’t get rid of the PlayStation Vita. That’s like asking Nintendo to get rid of the Wii U console. We also aren’t sure if Sony is going to take the necessary step toward openness that consumers want. It is not likely to embrace Android games on the console. But if it did, and figured out how to make money doing that, it could be very disruptive.
… want to hear: Nintendo should shut down the Wii U and make its games available on other platforms. Sega didn’t handle this right, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. The Wii U isn’t selling, and we’re not even sure a price cut is going to help. We want Mario on the iPhone and Zelda on the iPad.
… expect to hear: Nintendo will announce some new Mario, Zelda, or (insert cute Nintendo character here) games.
… won’t hear: Nintendo won’t give up that easily on the Wii U. It could turn out to be a fateful decision.
… want to hear: What if EA says, “We’ve got a new CEO. And it’s … we’ll get back to you on that”? EA does have a financial analyst breakfast on Wednesday. But they probably haven’t had enough time to bring in their new replacement for Riccitiello yet.
… expect to hear: The Battlefield 4 demo will knock our socks off. We can also expect to see a demo of the first game coming from Respawn Entertainment, which is backed by EA. Respawn’s founders include Vince Zampella and the team that turned Call of Duty into a worldwide juggernaut. EA is also going to show the latest with its sports games and growing mobile offerings. The biggest EA game of the show could be Plants vs. Zombies 2 for iOS devices.
… won’t hear: We don’t think EA will show a game that represents a risky-but-cool major new creative work for next-generation consoles.
… want to hear: We would like to see a surprise from Activision Blizzard. Activision has generated a billion-dollar business with Skylanders, one of the riskiest bets. And it is also banging the drum on exciting new ideas from Bungie with Destiny. Call of Duty: Ghosts is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.
… expect to hear: We’ll see Skylanders: Swap Force, Destiny, and Call of Duty: Ghosts. Blizzard will show Diablo III on the PlayStation 3. If there is any more than that, we’ll be very surprised. But the company is going to have its hands full getting these games just right.
… won’t hear: We aren’t likely to see much from Activision that will dwell on mobile or free-to-play online games. An online-only Call of Duty for China is in the works, but we don’t know what else is going on from Activision in the fastest-growing part of games.
And don’t expect to see anything about Titan, the recently reset massively multiplayer online game from Blizzard that will one day replace World of Warcraft. The title has been delayed and many of its developers have been reassigned. Activision has thrived so far by taking market share from existing console players. We want to see it expand the market.
… want to hear: Ubisoft has surprised us with great new intellectual properties like Watch Dogs, but we want more.
… expect to hear: We’ll see Watch Dogs, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Rayman Legends, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Black List, and South Park: The Stick of Truth. We know this because Ubisoft already announced what it will show. We’re not really sure why we have to go to its press conference.
… won’t hear: A new Ubisoft-branded game console. And we don’t expect to see Ubisoft make anything completely exclusive for just one of the game consoles.
… want to hear: We want an Apple-branded television that plays free or 99 cent apps on a big screen. We also want to see if Apple will offer some solution that helps game developers deal with the rising cost of user acquisition on its platform. Getting discovered is harder than it has ever been, and Apple could help out more.
Of course, we’ll be upset if the biggest game news during next week happens at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference instead of at E3. (Don’t worry, the GamesBeat crew will be covering Apple’s event, too). We’ll just be happy if Apple acknowledges that gamers exist.
… expect to hear: Somebody else will enable iOS games to run on the TV. That’s probably how we’re going to be able to play them. We know that whatever Apple announces, games will commandeer the top-grossing list on that platform.
… won’t hear: We won’t be seeing a dedicated game device since Apple goes after the broader market. And we won’t be seeing much cross-platform friendliness. Tim Chang of Mayfield Fund says that if Apple pulls a rabbit out of its hat, then “all bets are off.”
… want to hear: Android games that stand out from the pack as mobile invades the console territory.
… expect to hear: Not much at the show but plenty of noise for its June 26 launch. We do not expect Ouya to emerge from the show with much mindshare.
… won’t hear: We’re not expecting blockbuster exclusives.