10 Things we learnt from E3 2015
From virtual reality and bittersweet nostalgia to women taking centre stage at the world's biggest gaming conference, E3 2015 was one for the record books
E3 may be over for another year, but 2015's event was one of the most dynamic and exciting to date. Read on the 10 key things we learnt over the course of this year's symposium.
Women made their presence felt
The games industry’s poor track record with diversity has come into particular focus over the past year. It was a significant step in the right direction, then, to see several of the industry's most talented women take the stage at several of the press conferences. 343’s Bonnie Ross, Mojang’s Lydia Winters and Beyond Eyes developer Sherida Halatoe were at Xbox. DICE’s Sara Jannson and Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir lead Mirror’s Edge and Star Wars Battlefront respectively at EA’s. Aisha Taylor again hosted Ubisoft’s conference with wit and verve, joined on stage by actress Angela Basset who is starring in Rainbow Six Siege. Writer Mary DeMarle presented Deus Ex: Mankind Divided for Square Enix and Emi Watanabe showed off Yoshi’s Wooly World for Nintendo.
There were no women on stage at Sony or Bethesda, so there is still some way to go, but even those conferences contributed to the increasing amount of women protagonists. Horizon Zero Dawn Dawn’s flame-haired heroine, Emily Kaldwin of Dishonored 2 and the significant choice of a woman in Fallout. These joined others across the lineup: Lara Croft, Evie Frye of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, Recore’s Joule, the unnamed female COG officer in Gears 4, Faith of Mirror’s Edge. This was not token representation, this was a watershed. There is still work to be done to make gaming more inclusive, but this was a fine start.
Bethesda take their place at the top table
With its successful Elder Scrolls and Fallout series, Bethesda Softworks were hardly a small publisher. But by effectively kickstarting E3 2015 with its showcase on Sunday, its marked itself as an industry leader. Response to the conference was good, too, with Fallout 4, Doom and Dishonored 2 making a strong impression.
Smaller studios took centre stage
The rise of the independent developer has been clear over the past few years, and it has now got to the point where the smaller creators are standing toe-to-toe with their blockbuster cousins. Their work doesn’t feel any less big, either. No Man’s Sky mind-boggling space exploration was a key segment in Sony’s conference, while Microsoft spent a significant amount of time showcasing games such as Beyond Eyes, Ashen and Ion. Even the usually triple-A focussed Electronic Arts were in on the act, with the beautiful Unravel. You don’t want the big publishers to swallow up too many independent creators, but the fact these most imaginative of games are getting their time in the spotlight can only be a good thing.
Toys-to-life market more populated than ever
Skylanders, Disney Infinity, Amiibo and now Lego Dimensions. Collectible figures that affect your game are in plentiful supply. As long as they haven’t all sold out of course. They are a top money-maker for game companies, combing video games with the compulsive side of collecting. Fortunately most of the games attached to toys are genuinely excellent Though for all their success, there needs to be caution. With so many different options appearing in a short space of time, there’s also the danger of the bubble bursting, as each format pinches customers from the other.
Virtual reality is kind of a big deal
Everyone is getting in on the act. Xbox are teaming up with Oculus Rift and Valve VR as well as producing its own augmented reality glasses Hololens. Sony has its own Project Morpheus. Ubisoft are pooling resources into getting the most out of the Oculus. These immersive headsets have seen an enormous amount of investment and their impact on anyone that tries them is clear. Though questions remain. Can they be leveraged to make interesting and comfortable games? And how can these companies communicate the benefits to a mainstream audience? They are products that need to be tried to be understood. Challenges to overcome, then, but the intention is clear.
The music game is back and we couldn’t happier
Hooray for both Guitar Hero Live and Rock Band 4. The plastic instrument craze that caused such a stir in the mid-2000s inevitably collapsed as the market became too saturated. Now they’re back. Rock Band is a classic multiple instrument party game with clear improvements on both gameplay and usability. Guitar Hero, meanwhile, focusses on just the guitar but has made some fascinating innovations elsewhere. A live crowd that reacts to your performance and, more intriguingly, Guitar Hero TV which offers up hundreds of streamed songs that you can dip in and out of. Both developers making some interesting decisions to get us back to rockin’ out.
Obsession with gaming’s past continues…
The biggest cheers of Sony’s boisterous conference came for a remake of Final Fantasy VII and the announcement of a Kickstarter for Shenmue III, a series that has been in stasis for 15 years. Microsoft are re-releasing the first Gears of War. Ahead of Dishonored 2, the original game is being remastered for new consoles. Fallout, Doom, Star Fox. Gaming’s apparent obsession with the past and the established can often seem like a negative. But at the same time, honouring legacy and building things fresh to take advantage of new hardware fits with how video games straddle the line between art and technology. As long as celebrating the past also has an eye on the future, then that’s ok with me.
…but we’ve never had more variety
For all that established franchises are the industry’s bread and butter, the volume of experimentation and new ideas seems to grow. We’ve already talked about how independent developers are bringing more and more to the industry, but the big guns seem happier to branch out too. With Recore and Horizon, for instance, both Microsoft and Sony are putting a lot of stock into potentially risky new IPs. Ubisoft are taking a punt on sword combat game For Honor. And even though Catalyst is the second Mirror’s Edge game, that EA are taking another punt on a commercially shaky prospect shows that they, too, are keen for a mixed catalogue.
Developers have needed time to adjust to the latest consoles
2014 was not a good year for games. Some highlights aside, there was very little to get excited over. Many games from that year’s E3 were either announced for or pushed back to 2015. Clearly the transition to the new consoles was not as easy as many had hoped, with developers struggling to finish games within schedule. But we’re soon to see the fruits of labour, with a pretty tasty lineup for the rest of the year. Fallout 4, Mad Max, Star Wars Battlefront, Batman: Arkham Knight, Star Fox Zero. While the first few months of 2016 also look strong — Uncharted 4, The Division, Doom all due by Spring.
After a tough 2014, the industry seems to be moving in the right direction
Far more distressing for the industry in 2014 than its mediocre lineup was its lack of diversity and the atrocious treatment that women faced. To say that everything is solved because of improved representation at one E3 is, of course, nonsense. There is still a long, long way to go. But it’s a first step. A promising statement of intent that most game companies in the spotlight will not stand for it and are looking to change their own attitudes. And you know what? It is probably no coincidence that a more diverse set of creators has lead to one of the most varied and interesting E3 lineup in some time. Let's keep it up.E3 2015 Catch-up 1 - Bethesda, Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft and Sony E3 2015: Catch-up 2 - Nintendo & Square Enix E3 2015: Bethesda announces Dishonored 2