E3 2017 shines with some truly memorable displays of unlikely unity
E3 2017 shines, giving us some memorable displays of unlikely unity. Also, hangovers
We mostly remember the bad times. The standout moments of E3 conferences past tend to be infamous, rather than revered: we think of Mr Caffeine, of Ravidrums, giant enemy crabs and, well, just about everything at Konami’s infamous conference in 2010. This year’s show was not without its cringe, of course – we’ll get to that later. But E3 2017’s most enduring, endearing moment will live long in the memory for all the right reasons. It’s the CEO of a colossal multinational publisher, and the most famous developer from a multinational platform holder, having a mock shootout with comically oversized guns in front of a worldwide audience of millions. Yves Guillemot and Shigeru Miyamoto’s tensecond playfight will go down in history not only for its playful silliness; it was momentous, too, and set the tone for an E3 that was characterised by unity, of long-standing walls finally coming down.
Nintendo and Ubisoft have long been partners, sure, with the latter publishing games on the former’s systems for generations. But as publishers, they are also rivals – especially at E3, where attention is so coveted. The reason for their coming together is Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, a game whose existence had been rumoured since before Switch was even revealed, and widely written off as a terrible idea. The leaker, however, omitted two crucial pieces of information. First, the game is basically XCOM in the Mushroom Kingdom; second, it is fantastic. The game went over brilliantly, and as Miyamoto and Guillemot mucked about on stage, the camera cut to creative director Davide Soliani, overcome, biting back tears. And to think people still try to tell you that E3 no longer matters.
Elsewhere, Microsoft, for so long one of the biggest proponents of the walled software garden, tore down another barrier. It announced cross-platform multiplayer for Minecraft alongside a raft of sweeping changes that are finally starting to show why it paid $2.5 billion for Mojang’s world-conquering block-builder. Psyonix would later do the same with Rocket League, announcing alongside the newly revealed Switch version that its astonishingly successful driving/football hybrid would enable players on just about every system to play against each other online.
Yes, just about – because Sony is still having none of it. Playing devil’s advocate for a moment, the runaway market leader has no need to share its colossal userbase with other platform holders; there are already, to put it mildly, sufficiently busy Minecraft and Rocket League communities on PlayStation platforms, and why should Sony let its rivals take a slice of that pie? It’s a reasonable enough perspective in the boardroom, perhaps, but this is an ideological issue, a question of values. It sticks in the craw that a company which has spent the generation claiming its business is For The Players should be the last one bricking up the walls that keep them apart. For The Players Who Give Us Money, admittedly, doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
This was an uncomfortable year for PlayStation in general. Its E3 win streak was always going to come to an end at some point, and with no new hardware to announce – and knowing that Microsoft would be pushing its new offering and a resurgent Nintendo would have Super Mario Odyssey – it made sense to have something of a fallow year. Shawn Layden, the sole stage presence, bookended an hour of game trailers and demos that was solid enough, but lacked the spark and spectacle of its showstopping recent conferences. It was all oddly muted.
And we could have done with a pickme-up by then, since Sony’s show brought to a close a marathon three-day run of events and press conferences that had us pining for the days when everything was condensed into a single, if exhausting, day. Two years ago, Bethesda brought E3’s opening party forward to the Sunday night; last year EA moved it back to Sunday morning, and this year it took things even further, beginning its three-
E3 2017’s most enduring, endearing moment will live long in the memory for all the right reasons
Having 10 million subscribers on YouTube does not mean you can speak live to all of them at once
day EA Play event with a livestreamed press conference on Saturday morning. This was the second year of EA’s fanfocused experiment, and it went over well enough, with the more sizeable Hollywood Palladium complex a much better fit than last year’s cramped showing at a hotel in the shadow of E3’s home, the LA Convention Centre. On stage, even robotic CEO Andrew Wilson managed to show a little humanity when bashfully acknowledging the lukewarm response to 2015’s Star Wars Battlefront. More came from affable, yet freakishly tall VP of studios Patrick Söderlund, but he had nothing on Josef Fares. The director of Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons is the latest to sign up to the EA Originals indie initiative with his co-op crime tale
A Way Out, and he stole the show, passionate, animated and just the right side of bonkers.
EA says that Play is about getting games into the hands of its customers sooner, and while that rings true, the live show suggested that it is probably more interested in the hands of people with millions of YouTube subscribers.
Sizzle reels of famous – forgive us – content creators praising EA’s games made the publisher’s priorities clear, yet the show also proved that these things have their limits. YouTube prankster Jesse Wellens, tasked for some reason with introducing Need For
Speed Payback, had an absolute brainfart on stage: whether the teleprompter failed him or he got stagefright, EA will have learned that having 10 million subscribers on YouTube does not mean you can speak live to all of them at once. A cynic might wonder if maybe that didn’t need testing in a live environment to be shown up as a bad idea but really, we don’t want to rub it in. Poor sod.
Sunday was Microsoft’s day, with the platform holder finally cottoning on to the obvious fact that going live on Monday morning means you only get a couple of hours in the headlines before attention changes to the other conferences, and only a few more hours after that before Sony stuffs it up for you by announcing something that’s not coming out until 2025. For all its power, Xbox One X was a difficult sell. It’s a very expensive way
of playing games you already own, that also risks making owners of the base model feel like they’re now sitting at the kids’ table. This, however, was a finely judged conference, with a decent balance of hardware bluster and game demos. Sadly the frequent trumpeting of the word ‘exclusive’ should have been accompanied by a bunch of asterisks; much of what was shown is either headed to PC at the same time, or to other consoles later on. Strip away all the caveats and Microsoft’s firstparty lineup is as troubling as ever. Sea Of Thieves is great and
Crackdown 3 is, well, Crackdown. Beyond that, however, the firstparty Xbox studio lineup is too mired in the grind of
Halo, Forza and Gears to suggest that anything truly exciting is on the horizon.
Still, if it was excitement you were after, then Bethesda had you covered – so long as a mocked-up themepark, a surprise set by MOR EDM-peddlers The Chainsmokers, and a few trailers are your idea of exciting. This was the Bethesda presser’s third year, which means the publisher can’t really take a year off now without losing face. After all that we were hoping for a quiet Monday, but it took us back to EA Play, then to Ubisoft for that wonderful Miyamoto moment, then over to Microsoft again for a hands-on event, then finally to Sony. Only the final journey was walkable, and we have one major takeaway from the day. A message to Los Angeles Uber drivers: we know making a living in the gig economy is rough, and you need to keep costs down. But please, if a gaggle of sweaty Brits crams into your back seat, do us a solid and crank up the air conditioning.
After all that, there was the small matter of the biggest videogame show on Earth. And while Miyamoto, Guillemot, Minecraft and
Rocket League had done their bit for breaking down borders, E3 organisers the ESA had saved the best for last. For the first time, E3 was open to the public, with some 15,000 extra bodies helping fill up a show that has, over the last few years, felt progressively emptier. E3 2017 was packed, sweaty and teeming, and honestly a bit of a nightmare for anyone with appointments to keep. In years past, even at its busiest, E3 has always worked: everyone inside the LA Convention Centre has somewhere to be, and a desire to get there on time. A sudden influx of people with no real agenda meant that the first day in particular was an absolute mess. Call Of
Duty: World War II was at capacity within an hour every day. On Wednesday, Nintendo did it in four minutes.
Yet while it made life difficult for people scurrying between appointments, game makers were delighted. Every developer we spoke to was delighted by the change: more people were playing their games and more were talking about them, sharing their delight on social media in their thousands. It was a headache, yes, but it was also a celebration. Yet most of the people we spoke to agreed that something, somewhere, will have to give. The model of Gamescom or Tokyo Game Show, where the trade has the floor to itself for a day or two before the public are allowed in, seems most likely. A change of venue – or dramatic remodel of the existing one – is another option. Either way, it’s a good problem to have. E3 is, for all the doomsaying, actually getting bigger. And it’s doing so by bringing people together. It would be a shame if the price of success would be pulling them apart.
E3 is, for all the doomsaying, getting bigger. And it’s doing so by bringing people together
Microsoft’s staging changes little year on year; we wish they’d at least move the teleprompter, which half the crowd can see. We like surprises too
Despite all the power contained within, Xbox One X is the smallest console Microsoft has ever made
After last year’s Hyrule stylings, Nintendo made up its 2017 booth like New Donk City. It was quite a sight, if you could actually get to it through the crowds