My thoughts on E3 2019

So another year and another set of E3 live streams passes by. Often I tend to keep up with E3 more by accident rather than passionately following events. However this year I’ve managed to see quite a bit and I thought I would write down my thoughts. Obviously the way things are presented to those of us not at E3 is probably a very different experience to those actually there. Particularly as we miss out on the show floor and playable games. That said I can only talk about what I saw and so outline my thoughts based on the conference schedule.

Google

Hard to criticise the Stadia showing. They have an impressive list of publishers, games and some influential people at the helm. The initial founders pack due in November this year seems to be good value (£119 in the UK). And the two types of account; Base (free) and Pro (£8.99 per month) make a lot of sense. Also they might just beat Microsoft to market. Like all these things success may depend on the service being good enough and latency deemed acceptable. But there are billions of Chrome and Android users out there.

Electronics Arts

Unless you were in to an existing EA game, the series of lengthy live streams wasn’t particularly notable apart from the unveiling of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. I am genuinely not sure what to think of this one although it was nice to see a fairly lengthy demonstration of the gameplay.

Microsoft

Microsoft have been praised over the last few years for their E3 shows. Even though they often are filled with CGI trailers, multiplatform games with very little new IP. Microsoft’s show format was the same this year although a few notable exceptions. Cyberpunk 2077 surprised with a release date and Keanu Reeves. It felt like the big standout from this show was just how impressive Xbox Game Pass has become. The new PC service has been well received and Microsoft were keen to remind us many games would be ‘day one’ on the service. Forza Horizon 4’s LEGO Speed Champions DLC looked brilliantly light-hearted and fun.

There was very little time spent on either xCloud or the announcement of new hardware. The Project Scarlet announcement seemed to mirror 2016’s Xbox One X acknowledgment. The hardcore fans probably understand the specifications Microsoft name dropped but the announcement lacked the impact of Sony’s recent instant loading demo.

Bethesda

Yeeeeaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!!!! Bethesda’s show used the lure of The Elder Scrolls Online freebies for those watching. Which is great although with short notice and a US friendly schedule perhaps there can a better way of accommodating non-US players in future (1.30am BST in the UK!). Last year Bethesda’s show was probably one of the more memorable. However this year most content shown was for existing games. In more ways than one Ghostwire: Tokyo stole this show. A great concept in the CGI trailer. Beyond this a lot of time spent on mobile games which I didn’t personally find interesting.

PC Games Show

Loads of interesting games shown, but I did like the look of Valfaris (2d retro style platform shooter like Contra), Griftlands, Cris Tales (just looks uniquely beautiful) and Songs of Conquest. Although there has been criticism of the Epic sponsorship this year, the format of this show does work really well. Particularly the presenters. I really enjoyed Larian Studios talking about how they’ve tried for a few years to get the Baldur’s Gate 3 licence.

Ubisoft

Ubisoft opened strongly with Watch Dogs: Legion gameplay. And then unless you are particularly invested in one of their existing games not much afterwards. Mirroring a larger trend with E3 this year. Personally disappointed if Rainbow Six Quarantine is just Co-Op PVE. As a solo player I would love a Rainbow Six game to play. Gods and Monsters might be interesting though we didn’t see anything of it.

Square Enix

Square Enix got off to a good start and had one of the better shows. Seeing Final Fantasy VII Remake in action and hearing the developers passionately talk about the game was excellent. Also loads of other games; Dragon Quest Builders 2, Dragon Quest XI (Switch), Kingdom Hearts 3 DLC, Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers, Dying Light 2, Outriders and Final Fantasy VIII Remastered. I liked the look of their overhead racing game: Circuit Superstars.

The only let down was ironically the Marvel Avengers unveiling. A poor trailer which probably lacked impact in part as it isn’t related in anyway to the iconic Marvel Cinematic Universe. It also didn’t help that Square Enix talked about lootboxes, business model, exclusive PlayStation 4 content and roadmaps before we’ve even seen the game.

Nintendo

A short and snappy Nintendo Direct where Luigi’s Mansion 3 opened the show and looked great. The anticipated The Witcher 3 and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 also impressed. More was seen of Pokémon and Animal Crossing, although the latter is delayed until 2020. However perhaps the real measure of the success of the Switch is the flood of multiplatform games from third-party; Dragon Quest Builders 2, Alien Isolation, Minecraft Dungeons, Dauntless and Wolfenstein Youngblood etc. An impressive mix of old and new games sometimes releasing alongside other formats. And finally Nintendo confirmed a direct sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. A very good showing.

Overall

A quiet E3 which reminded me of the show in 2012 as games like Watch Dogs were shown before the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One became reality. From a trends point of view this years E3 Live Streams included; lots of CGI trailers, a lack of games probably due to the impending new consoles and number of existing Live Services games. Although there were a few games which I am interested in but perhaps the fact there isn’t much more provides a little relief for those of us that need to spend the next 12-18 months catching up with our backlogs.

What cross-play should mean

Update 27 September 2018:
Sony announced that cross-play is coming to Fortnite on PlayStation 4. I’ve written a new blog to reflect this news. So whilst some of the criticism below is outdated the thrust of the blog remains.

Original Blog Post:

During the recent criticism of Sony and Epic for locking-out Fortnite accounts on other systems, there seemed to be a lot of feedback that cross-play should be allowed. But that this wasn’t a new thing. However since Epic opened up their game with an update in March of this year I simply don’t recall an incident like this before. In other words a major release such as this that lets you play your game on any system.

Just to be clear cross-play matchmaking is the ability to play multiplayer with users of the same game on other platforms. This isn’t new. However Fortnite also allows for cross-play progression and purchasing. This is new. And also brilliant.

You see publishers and developers have loved transitioning from Games as a Product (GaaP) towards Games as a Services (GaaS) because of the greater earnings potential and the record revenue and profits being made. Online only games with potentially multi-layered business models (i.e. buy to play with season passes, DLC and microtransactions etc). But arguably part of offering a service rather than a product is being available to as many people as possible and on as wide a range of platforms as possible. All other entertainment industries have embraced allowing consumers to take their media with them. Even with restrictive Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems if you buy a movie from Google Play Store, or an eBook from Amazon Kindle, you can watch or read on your mobile phone, videogame console, computer, browser or numerous other devices. Same with all the streaming services, like Netflix or Spotify.

So why is it that games like Warframe, GTA V, The Elder Scrolls Online are separate entities on different formats. Why can’t I play my PC Elder Scrolls Online character on PS4 or Xbox versions even if I have to buy the game again? Given how some of the most expensive games to play are actually GaaS games, it arguably isn’t an unreasonable request for a consumer to have access to their purchased on more than one format. Certainly when games have a lifespan of over a 5 or 10 years then it’s also very conceivable formats will change over that time.

Of course it isn’t relevant for all games to offer cross-play. Many games are largely single-player, or small budget indie affairs and rely on buy-to-play business models. And here it would never make sense for cross-play to be offered.

In SkillUp’s recent Youtube video interview with Digital Extremes (the makers of Warframe) he asked if he can continue to use his existing Warframe account with the new Nintendo Switch version. The muted and slow response was both slightly predictable and disappointing. They talked about a possible one-time account transfer as they did offer for PC players who wanted to move to the new PS4 or Xbox One versions. But realistically a one-time transfer brings about its own risks and pitfalls that the customer is fully expected to accept and live with (i.e. what if the Switch version stops being supported).

For me the positive reasons for publishers and developers to embrace cross-play progression, play and purchases simply outweigh the negatives. I applaud Epic for making Cross-Matchmaking, Progression and Purchases a thing for consumers even if for now those who play on Sony’s systems can’t utilise this. And Sony and Epic do deserve massive criticism for their handling of Fortnite cross-play debacle. Denying access to consumers own accounts and purchases they have made is completely unacceptable and needs resolution, like yesterday.

Personally I think Fortnite has probably changed my view of what I should expect from GaaS or Live Services. If companies can’t or won’t bother offering cross-play. Then I’m not sure I can be bothered with their games.