In a few weeks time, the great and the good of the games industry will assemble for the biggest event in the calendar: the E3 Expo. While companies have a wealth of venues to announce new projects, E3 is widely considered to be the number one platform for reaching the worldwide gaming audience. The conversation is generally dominated by the press conferences given by Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, and this year will be no different. All three platform-holders are at a major turning point, either launching new hardware or trying to provide compelling reasons to stick with the current generation of technology.
For most people, however, E3 is entirely about the games, and 2011 promises to be a stellar year in that respect. With the prospect of a new console generation lingering in the air third-party publishers will be reluctant to announce new IP, so steel yourself for a barrage of sequels, expansions and a sprinkling of blatant cash-ins. That may sound like a bad thing, but when that list includes the likes of Bioshock Infinite, Max Payne 3, Far Cry 3, and new Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, Hitman, Thief and Silent Hill games I’m not so sure.
Of the third-party publishers, this feels like EA’s year: Bioware is working on The Old Republic and Mass Effect 3; DICE is busy with Battlefield 3 and, I hope, a new Mirror’s Edge. Elsewhere, there are new entries in the SSX, Medal Of Honor and Need For Speed franchises, and even some very promising original properties: 38 Studios’ Kingdoms Of Amalur, for example, or its high-profile collaborations with Insomniac Games and Respawn Entertainment. Not even Activision can match the breadth and depth of EA’s line-up
Before we get to the press conferences, it’s worth mentioning some very important topics that almost certainly won’t be explored at E3: mobile gaming, social gaming, and the industry’s continuing push towards digital distribution and cloud-based gaming. E3 might seem like the focal point for the entire industry, but that’s an illusion: it’s a venue for selling largely traditional products to a largely traditional audience. If the most dynamic and fastest growing areas of the games industry are major topics of discussion I’ll be very surprised indeed.
E3 Press Conference: Microsoft
The notion that Microsoft had won last year’s press conference war seemed hopelessly misguided at first. Core gamers recoiled in horror as the initially promising Kinect was revealed to be a device for dancing and petting virtual tigers, but a year later the sceptics have been proved wrong. Microsoft was reaching out to an audience that wasn’t present in the LA Convention Centre, and it found them. The Kinect has now sold 10 million units, and is the principal reason Microsoft won’t utter a word about a new console this year.
However, Microsoft still hasn’t sold the Kinect to core gamers – the main constituent of the Xbox 360’s customer base – and I expect this to be the focus of the press conference. There will be more on the Steel Battalion and Panzer Dragoon games announced at last year’s Tokyo Game Show, and it’s likely that the rumoured Gears Of War and Star Wars Kinect projects will also emerge from the shadows.
That said, Microsoft’s software line-up going into next year is simply too weak for Kinect to be the whole show. We all want demonstrations of Gears Of War 3, Forza 4 and Modern Warfare 3 and we’ll get them, but that’s old news and Xbox owners have a right to expect some games for 2012 and beyond. Crytek’s exclusive Codename: Kingdoms should be shown in more detail, 343 industries’ long-in-development Halo project is also a distinct possibility, and I’d be astonished if new games from Microsoft’s lynchpin internal studios - namely Rare and Lionhead - weren’t also part of the proceedings.
Maybe, Just Maybe: I’d like to believe that Rockstar will announce Grand Theft Auto V at Microsoft’s press conference, but it’s highly unlikely. However, a high-definition remake of Halo: Combat Evolved would be a very welcome surprise.