The PC doesn't matter at E3… if you're looking for razzmatazz, that is.
For an audience of online fans the show business begins on Monday when Microsoft takes to the stage, and ends on Tuesday when Nintendo finishes at the Nokia Theater.
But when the press conferences close, and you enter the LA Convention Center, it's clear as day: the PC owns E3. And it's delivering more innovation, driving new business and creating hot stories – hotter than, say, adding a second screen or getting Netflix on a new device. The PC is showcasing stunning, better-than-next-gen games.
PC hardware innovation was all over E3; whether it's the latest chipsets, or new advances in streaming. Nvidia showcased both: the Tegra chipset for portable PCs, plus a demo of the gorgeous Hawken, streamed from its new cloud grid. Razer's Blade laptop demonstrated a portable with specs that will make next-gen consoles blush.
You could have been fooled that Alienware was powering E3: so many games publishers were demoing their games on its laptops, desktops and X51 machines. Of course the PC will lead the way in hardware specs so late in the console cycle. But we're seeing leaps in graphical complexity, even before the new hardware from Microsoft and Sony gets out of the starting blocks.
But nothing came close to John Carmack's tech, virtual reality googles built with PalmerTech. His VR headset was the surprise story of the show, running a hacked Doom 3 to promote the BFG edition in full immersive 3D, with almost zero latency. Scoreline: SmartGlass 0: John Carmack's amazing holodeck: 1.
Free-to-play has always felt like the underdog at E3; but in 2012, the play now, pay later games were easily the match of big boxed products. Hawken is going to create a massive crater in PC gamer's wallets. Planetside 2 is staggering, offering FPS sci-fi warfare on a 1,000+ player scale. Wargaming.net's confidence in World of Warplanes is clear: its travelling roadshow and rammed stand was an impressive statement of intent.
Subscription MMOs like Bethesda's Elder Scrolls Online show that there's still appetite within the industry for taking on WoW. Despite rumours, Star Wars: The Old Republic is still pushing the subscription model. Square Enix's belief in Final Fantasy XIV is clear: an ambitious reboot aims to bring their aging MMO up to modern quality standards.
PC UNDEREXPOSED AT E3
But generally, in most E3 game of the show lists you won't find SimCity, or ARMA III, or Planetside 2 – because the media has a blindspot when it comes to even going to see new PC games. In those game of the show lists, though, there's a hint of the PC's dominance: many winning titles were demonstrated on PC (but with Xbox 360 controllers) and will hit PC.
The PC is in a frustrating spot. Fighting for share of voice, with no one to fight for it, confronted with amedia focused on the yearly console war. The value chain on PC is simply not reflected by shouty game trailers, dancing men on stage and a focus on physical retail. On the PC, big media is Reddit and your conversation with a retailer doesn't involve selling boxes into Walmart.
You can tell the problems E3's format faces for PC by counting the absentees. Blizzard and NCSoft's Guild Wars missed the show. Valve booked a tiny set of meeting rooms and ended up under siege. Microsoft mentioned Windows 8 in passing, but didn't explain its vision for games on Windows 8. Or if it has one.
E3 is a great show for retailers, for distributors, and for big media. But how good is it to get the message out to PC gamers? SOE and Paradox brought some of the most popular YouTube and Twitch.TV and allowed them to livestream directly. The exposure levels wereextraordinary: views in excess of any previews the major sites will carry.
E3 isn't about to change any time soon, especially with more new consoles on the way. But engagement on the PC is constant and social. Smart PC publishers talk to their consumers every day… so perhaps E3 doesn't matter to them after all.