7 Things We Learned At E3 2017

Somehow another whirlwind year at the Electronic Entertainment Expo is over, and with our collective wallets looking nervously over their shoulders once more, it’s always fun to work out the trends that define the year’s most bombastic videogame event. Doing so is one of the clearest ways we have of determining where the larger industry is at during a given year, so here are my takes for 2017:

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We’ve Been Spoilt in Recent Years

Judging by the prevailing consensus on the suite of 2017 E3 press conferences, you’d swear almost nothing good was announced – Never mind the complete and utter deluge of news. Looking at all the new games, new footage and new details we have been inundated with over the last week is an exercise in pure exhaustion – with future-minded budgeting an exercise in futility – and yet the lack of so-called “hype moments” has left many feeling slightly empty. Of course this was inevitable, especially regarding Sony, as after two consecutive years of bombshell-laden shows lacking release details and/or real footage, the company’s proverbial chickens have come home to roost. Hype moments did arrive (see below) but when they don’t come from the current industry leader, the impact ain’t quite the same. Nonetheless, I genuinely believe that all things considered, 2017 was a pretty great E3 to watch, mostly because…

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(Almost) Every Publisher is Improving Their Stage Game

There’s no guarantee that this trend won’t reverse immediately next year, but when compared to 2016, the majority of the E3 conferences have largely improved in leaps and bounds when it comes to window dressing and pacing. EA didn’t seem to get the memo, but Microsoft and Ubisoft seemed to take direct notes from Sony’s remarkably snappy game-after-game 2016 structure, while Bethesda seemed to look more to a Nintendo Direct-style format by wrapping their titles in a charmingly consistent theme park aesthetic. Sony, meanwhile, took what they did last year and cranked it up by matching each major game showcase to a specific mix of lighting tricks, props and even live actors, as Nintendo squeezed a few megaton announcements into the company’s shortest show ever. It’s easy to forget that 2017 brought us fewer awkward stage interactions and irrelevant media distractions than we’ve had in recent memory, which is surely worth acknowledging.

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Watch Only the Conferences And You’ll Miss a Lot

If it wasn’t already obvious that there are more worthwhile videogames than any sane person could possibly play releasing these days – a state of affairs that gets truer every year – just take a look at the games featured outside the main E3 conferences (or even outside E3 itself) this year. Sony only found room to talk about Gran Turismo SportKnack 2, Ni No Kuni 2 and Undertale – all allegedly actual 2017 videogame releases – in its poorly-advertised pre-show presentation. Nintendo relegated its entire 3DS slate – including an honest-to-goodness 2D Metroid game coming in a matter of months – to its post-show Treehouse stream. Square Enix showcased new footage from popular games like Dissidia Final Fantasy NT and Kingdom Hearts 3 right before E3 even got underway. Where was the news that a full HD remaster of the original Age of Empires was on the way? Not on any of the main stages, that’s for sure. Keeping your eyes and ears on as many channels as possible during E3 week has never felt more necessary.

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Microsoft Isn’t All That Fussed About Xbox One X Sales

This may come as a shock to some, but it is now clearer than ever that Microsoft as a company views Xbox console sales as more of a bonus than anything else. For the company behind Windows, that state of affairs has always kinda made sense in the grand scheme of things, but never has it been so markedly obvious. While Phil Spencer continues to do an excellent job rounding up armfuls of worthwhile games to show off on the biggest gaming stage of all, so few of the ones we saw this year at Microsoft’s show will stay away from the Playstation opposition for long, and literally none of them are playable only on Xbox thanks to the Windows 10 Play Anywhere initiative. Combine this with the newly revealed Xbox One X’s high $649 price point and limited appeal to non-4K gamers, and you have a company that seems content to market its newest product to an enthusiast crowd almost exclusively. The Xbox One X is still an impressive piece of kit, though. Hoo boy.

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You Don’t Have to Show Much to Steal the Headlines

Amidst an E3 lacking the universally acknowledged highs of recent years, a curious (or perhaps not) pattern has emerged. With the arguable exception of the Beyond Good & Evil 2 re-reveal, all the announcements carrying the loudest cheers and most over-the-top YouTube reactions have been short, concise and lacking in visual representation. Metroid Prime 4‘s modest logo animation is the most obvious example, but the original Xbox backwards compatibility stinger and the “Oh, didn’t see you there, now stop bothering us” manner of the core Pokemon Switch statement definitely qualify as well. There’s something to be said about how easily shareable these moments are, which helps them catch fire online, but also worth considering is that the shorter and more direct the message – as long as the message relates to a highly desired release – the less content there is for Twitter and such to tear down immediately afterwards. This is the one time of year where a lack of concrete details doesn’t seem to matter to a fresh announcement’s impact, and those who have taken note of this have come off looking pretty good at E3 2017.

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Pirates Arrrrre Back

As far as unexpected E3 2017 talking points go, comparing two big-budget, online-focused pirate games must surely have ranked pretty highly before the start of the show. Yet that exact talking point has already popped up in multiple places amongst all the E3 coverage I’ve been digesting. It has yet to quite sink in for me. For what it’s worth, the pair in question focus on two very different aspects of the pirate fantasy, with Rare’s Xbox/Windows exclusive Sea of Thieves concerned mostly with the thrill of exploration and discovery in co-op while Ubisoft Singapore’s Skull & Bones delves more into the competitive potential of layered ship-to-ship combat. It’s somewhat odd how often two different takes on one theme end up facing off in the world of entertainment media – I’ll be watching this one with great interest.

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Yet Again, the 3DS Refuses to Die

I have mixed feelings about this one. As much as I love the 3DS, I’ve been ready for it to go away ever since the Switch reveal trailer at the end of last year. But the strong sales of Nintendo’s new hybrid, combined with its healthy-looking upcoming game lineup, have allayed my fears of the 3DS’ continued presence somehow negatively impacting potential Switch releases – at least for the next little while (playing a ton of the new Fire Emblem has definitely helped this mindset). Regardless of what I think, it turns out Nintendo wasn’t bluffing when they talked up their ongoing 3DS support, because at E3 they added not only that aforementioned 2D Metroid game, but an expanded remake of GBA classic Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga that should sit nicely next to Pokemon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon in a surprisingly robust year for the six year-old handheld.

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