E3 2016 In Review

E3 is strange every year, but typically strange in the same way. Enormous expenditures, tens of thousands of dollars spent on banners hanging outside, hundreds of thousands spent on enormous citadels built within the gigantic LA Convention Center, the caste-like segregation of the masses – it’s a strange thing.

This year, though, things were different even by E3 standards. No EA, nor Activision. Oculus occupied a large space, as did 2K, but things weren’t the same. Vast empty spaces dominated both halls and aisles were wider than ever. The general sentiment of those working the booths was uncertainty: was this even worth it? Would they be back next year? The potentially imminent death of gaming Christmas is nigh.

Also known as the running of the nerds, I overheard one man telling an executive 'positioning is very important to Them'
The initial surge of visitors to E3 2016 (Courtesy of the ESA because media weren’t allowed to take shots from the entry way)

That didn’t change some things, though. Enormous lines dominated the entrances to each hall all three mornings. Within moments of opening, people from all across the gaming industry milled about, bedecked in four foot tall totes promoting Final Fantasy XV, shirts promoting ReCore, and bags from half a dozen other publishers.

VR dominates what remains of E3, beyond the Oculus. The Pico, OSVR, and Samsung Gear VR all have large presences. There are no less then three booths dedicated to varying brands of racing chairs for gamers. E3 has always been a marketing and publicity function, but now it seems the giants of the industry have left the remains of its relevance behind for the carrion eaters.

I don't know why on earth you would think bringing random hiphop acts onto a show floor like this is a good idea
The Samsung Gear VR section of the show floor was an eclectic mashup of terrifying things like skateboard VR and 4D moving theater experiences and Little Wayne appearances

There are other differences. Media badges don’t appear to carry the cachet they once did. The top tier outlets, Gamespot and Giant Bomb and IGN, make no appearances within the media room from what I can tell. They carry exhibitor badges that allow them access to the show floor before the doors open. Their coverage, as always, is arranged far in advance of the death march of appointments that lesser outlets are subject to.

There is also an uptick in audio/visual equipment present. Everywhere hosts of YouTubes, Twitch channels, and first party media outlets pop out of the crowd, cordon off a slice of the floor thanks to their enormous, cyborg-looking camera operators, and flick on floodlamps to bring the latest to their masses. Xbox has a special ‘Influencer’ entrance; Twitch has a special partner booth.

aka the place to wait in line for Battlefield 1
The Xbox booth at E3 2016

The world of gaming coverage is changing, and the changes are readily apparent in how individuals are treated according to their affiliation: do you have a cult of personality? Then step right this way. You? You just write for a living? Get in the lines with the rest of the plebs.

The hands down hype winner of the year’s E3 is the new Zelda game. For a franchise as old as recorded history, it is an impressive feat to lure what appears to be half of the regular attendees of the show to lines longer than those at Disneyland. Stampedes develop even at the opening of day three, historically a somewhat looser, more laid back day of E3, just to attempt to secure a position in one of those lines. And within 30 minutes of day 3’s open, Nintendo workers approach the remaining hopefuls in the back of the West Hall with bad news: they are all full. For the day.

Other lines are long, as well. The line for Sea of Thieves, a new pirate game over in the Microsoft section, stretch in excess of two hours. I ask several people, about to finally play the game, what made them wait so long for a ten minute demo of an unfinished game; judging from the troubled looks I receive in response to this question, the attendees themselves don’t really know. It’s just what you do at E3.

The long lines were largely reserved for tentpole releases: your Call of Duties, your Battlefields, your God of Wars, and your Farpoints (a new VR title that looks to be what I’d consider the first fully complete, designed-for-VR game, coming for PlayStation VR). Smaller titles dominate the kiosk style rows available for play in the middle of the Big Two’s spaces (Microsoft and Sony). By Thursday, these kiosks see less traffic. Some have rather hapless looking devs standing near them, either hoping that someone would play their game or hoping they wouldn’t – it’s always hard to tell by day 3 of E3 if people are hopeless or helpless from exhaustion.

Then, it was over. This year, I skipped the party circuit. They are empty promises, most often, of connections made, deals forged, and futures drafted. By 6pm, I’m in my car heading home. By 8pm, I’m in a pool with a beer in hand. E3 changes a little every year, but the aching feet and infectious enthusiasm never do.