9 Things We've Learnt At E3 2014

Ben Parfitt
9 Things We've Learnt At E3 2014

First and foremost, it’s been a pretty good one so far, right?

There’s none of the disaster or doom and gloom of 2013 and all three platform holders put on what should be regarded as good shows with lots of promising titles.

Which you rated highest will likely depend on your personal tastes and allegiances, but fans of all three platforms – and most importantly, gamers in general – should have seen plenty to get excited about this week.

Whether it’s the obscene value offered by Halo: The Master Chief Collection, From Software’s new PS4 outing Bloodborne, the luscious free-roaming visuals of Zelda Wii U, the ambitious four-player co-op and revolutionary leanings of Assassin’s Creed: Unity, the return of Grim Fandango or the wonder offered by No Man’s Sky, it definitely looks like good things are ahead for both the industry and gamers alike.

But what are the main messages to take away from the ongoing events in LA? There are many, of course, but here are nine that have got MCV pondering:


1. NINTENDO HAS NOT GIVEN UP ON WII U

In addition to its better than expected slate on show during its E3 video presentation, the fact that Star Fox Wii U won’t be out for over a year means that Nintendo’s plans for the machine, by implication, extend well into 2015.

That may be a given presumption for the platform holder’s many faithful fans but hardware that has enjoyed a better commercial performance than Wii U in the past has been abandoned before. From a raw business perspective, Nintendo could not be blamed were it to drop the machine and move on.

But it’s not doing that. Whatever the future may hold in regard to fitness strategies and Quality of Life and little plastic figures, Nintendo is here for the long haul and has not given up on Wii U.

It still needs to drop the price, though. And perhaps boost that 32GB of storage. And implement a respectable digital strategy. And maybe adjust the branding. And market it better. But with commitment comes time, and it seems that Nintendo is prepared to invest both.


2. BUT THIRD PARTIES REMAIN SCEPTICAL ABOUT IT

Ubisoft has admitted that it’s holding back a fully developed and complete Wii U game until the machine has sold more units.

Of course, you could argue that the machine would sell more with better software support, so releasing titles is what’s needed to help get those extra sales. It’s a vicious circle, but publishers can at least argue that their support was present from the off and all they are doing now is reacting to the reality of the market.

But while there are a few limited examples of third party faith, such as the exclusive Devil’s Third and Stealth Inc 2, there’s no escaping the fact that gaming’s big players are firmly keeping their distance from the machine.

None of the major publishers have anything of note lined up for either Wii U or 3DS, meaning once again the onus is on Nintendo to give consumers reasons to get out there and invest in the hardware.


3. HUMBLE MICROSOFT HAS LEARNT ITS LESSON

Microsoft knows it got Xbox One wrong. But regardless of the misjudgements that led to E3 2013’s disastrous reveal for Xbox One, there’s absolutely no faulting how hard it has worked on putting everything right.

“This week we share a common purpose with our friends at Sony, Nintendo and the developers and publishers in our industry,” Xbox boss Phil Spencer said throughout an incredibly humble start to the company’s E3 conference. “With the launch of two new consoles in the last year this generation is off to the hottest start in history. This renewed interest and excitement benefits everyone.

“On behalf of the entire Xbox team, I want to personally thank you, the millions of Xbox One owners around the world. We’ve been humbled and amazed by all of your comments, ideas and tweets, but most of importantly you support. Your feedback showed up in the console we launched in November and the updates we’ve delivered since. You are shaping the future of Xbox and we are better for it.

“We will continue to listen to you, our community and will continue to make Xbox for you. That’s not just my personal commitment but the commitment of the entire Xbox team. Thank you for making your voice heard and thank you for helping us shape the future of the new Xbox.”

Yes, that’s Phil Spencer thanking the internet for what can only be described as six months of hell and bile. And rightly so. Listening to and, more importantly, acting on the hate has left Xbox One in a far better position now than it was at the start of the year. Time will tell whether sales will benefit.


4. DAVID CAN NOW STAND TOE-TO-TOE WITH GOLIATH

Of all the millions of pounds of marketing and development costs on show at E3, it speaks volumes that perhaps the most exciting title arguably came from a tiny independent developer in Guilford.

Yes, Uncharted 4 will be great, Sunset Overdrive is a visual H-bomb and obviously Bloodborne requires an immediate investment in a PS4, but it was No Man’s Sky that lingered in the mind once the show was over and heads hit pillows.

Whether Hello Games can hit its lofty aspirations for such a beautiful and limitless virtual universe remains to be seen, but there are few games right now that command such unquestioned attention.

Furthermore, the growing interest in the achievements of smaller teams should also inform the development practices of the bigger industry players. On the right budget, new ideas and risks can definitely reap rewards in the modern market.


5. MEN WITH GUNS ARE POPULAR BUT ALSO A BIT DULL

Microsoft chose to open its E3 press event with a section dedicated to a third party title. Why? Because men with guns are still big business and the company still clearly believes that Call of Duty remains the market leading IP.

But amongst the hype was a creeping sense of derision. Phil Spencer’s use of the term “truly inspired” and his claim that Call of Duty: Advanced Warfighter “in every sense raises the bar for the next generation” paving the way for “the beginning of a new era for this franchise” was lessened somewhat when the video that followed depicted another helicopter crash and yet another ‘dragging a downed comrade to safety’ sequence.

Call of Duty’s sales curve isn’t the only reason to suspect a growing lack of interest. The first person shooter genre desperately needs some new ideas. Microsoft’s evangelisation on Call of Duty and its repackaging of every Halo game you’ve played before suggests that the big money still believes otherwise.

There was a time when green-lighting an FPS was always the safest ROI a publisher could sign off. Is that still the case we wonder?


6. ZELDA DOES ROSE-TINTED LIKE NO OTHER

It’s definitely one of the most loved IPs in the world. Which is of course very different to saying it remains one of its most important, but there’s no denying the tremendous good will just the mere mention of Link can bring to the masses.

Nintendo’s long-awaited reveal of its final vision for The Legend of Zelda on Wii U surpassed all bar the very wildest expectations, promising a beautiful open-world with a cel-shaded graphical style and expansive vistas.

More so than Super Mario, Mario Kart, Smash Bros of even Pokemon, memories of the wide-eyed wonder and sense of adventure that the Zelda series has injected into so many childhoods ensures that there is no better rose-tinted filter in the world than the Triforce.

The flip side, of course, is that simply by inserting game elements (such as that fancy open world) that have been widely employed by its rivals for over a decade, Nintendo can instantly be heralded and peace bringers and saviours. Imagine the heat EA or Activision would endure were they to champion open-world as the chief innovation in one of their upcoming titles.

Will Nintendo also make other bold advances such as, god forbid, voice acting? The world would literally crumble.

Here’s the rub, though – there is not a hotter property in gaming this week. And that’s why it’s still not quite time to write off the Wii U.


7. JUST FORGET ABOUT THE LAST GUARDIAN ALREADY

Yes, it’s on the way. When, you ask? We don’t think anyone, including Sony, has any idea.

After Monday’s kerfuffle and the passion with which Sony refuted claims of a cancellation for The Last Guardian, some sort of E3 presence was a certainty, right? Wrong.

The Last Guardian was once again no-where to be seen, meaning that either it’s being saved for a big spot at the Tokyo Game Show or, more likely, Sony is still struggling to cement a workable vision for what must surely now be a work-in-progress PS4 title.

Our best advice is to just forget about this one for now and simply hope that one day you’ll awake to a pleasant surprise.


8. ALL THE MEN NEED TO REALISE IT’S 2014

The old stereotypes of gaming may live on in the bedrooms of some players, but in this brave new world of mass-market appeal there is simply no excuse for the way many publishers and consumers continue disregard gender equality.

Yes, obviously in a game where there is one lead character there can of course be a justifiable argument for the exclusion of playable female characters. And, like it or loathe it, there remains a commercial argument for favouring male characters – and that won’t change until the entire structure of public companies who must answer to share holders is addressed.

But in a game where four players are able to co-op together? In a series that has previously featured female protagonists? Please. Ubisoft’s excuse is insulting. I’d almost be less irritated if it was just honest and said that “we could have invested £X in developing a second character model but then we’d have had to pull at least two of the 20 teaser trailers we have planned for the month before release”.

It’s not just publishers who are to blame, however. The reaction from parts of the community to the Rise of the Tomb Raider video in which Lara Croft is seen speaking with a therapist is also incredibly saddening.

The logic was as follows – ‘If the last game was all about Lara overcoming adversity to become a strong woman, then why would she need to see a counsellor? That makes her seem weak.’

Which, I should hope, is so patently and obviously pathetic so as to drag the entire industry down. Like the stereotypes that continue to confront women throughout the industry, the notion that seeking therapy is some how a sign of weakness is medieval.

The fact that Lara is seeking advice on coming to terms with the horrors she witnessed and murder she was forced to commit in the first game implies just one thing – she’s human. In fact, is this the most grown up treatment yet of the actions players are forced to perform in the vast majority of video games?

We should be celebrating this, not whining about it like ignorant imps on comments threads.


9. NINTENDO STILL SERVES A VITAL ROLE

Regardless of Nintendo’s dogged refusal to acknowledge the problems of Wii U or ability to offer a reason for third parties to invest in its hardware, you have to hand the company one thing – if you’re interested in anything other than gruff men shooting things, gruff men stabbing things or gruff men driving things, then Nintendo is where you should be.

That’s an exaggeration, of course. Gaming has never been more diverse than it is now and there’s a wide variety of experiences to be found on PlayStation, Xbox and PC. Especially PC.

But at the very least you’ve got to give Nintendo a slap on the back for an E3 presentation that was full of character, colour and a welcome lack of violence. And the way in which its executives are willing to make complete tools of themselves in those videos is so very, very welcome in a world where we’re so often presented with faceless suits who will be flogged around the testes in the VIP lounge with rolled up £50 notes if they dare deviate from the pre-approved PR script.

Nintendo may be stuck in a dreamworld much of the time, but in lots of ways it’s a place that would be pretty cool to live, right? Maybe if the Wii U was £150 a few more of us would consider moving in.

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Tags: Opinion , analysis , lessons , E3 2014 , things we've learnt

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