Well, last night was a bit better, wasn’t it. Nice to wrap things up on a positive note with a lovely showing from Nintendo. I’m a little short of time today because the youngest woke up with a slight fever so is home for the day, and needs a negative Covid test before nursery will have him back. Talk about back down to Earth with a bump.
It’s time to bring not-E3 2021 to a close, then, and while I think we can all agree that it’s been disappointing overall, some people and companies have emerged better off than they went in — and some really, really haven’t. To which end, charge your glasses as we quickly (dis)honour the winners and losers of not-E3 2021.
The expectation coming into not-E3 was that Japanese developers would have been harder hit by the pandemic, given Japan’s well-documented struggle to adjust to working from home; it is a nation whose idea of ‘flexible working’ is sleeping under your desk. Yet aside from the slightly disappointing news that Breath Of The Wild 2 won’t be here until next year, last night’s Direct brought only good news to Nintendo fans, and portrayed a company that has worn the pandemic surprisingly well. Sure, maybe the 2021 line-up is a little reliant on remakes and remasters, but I’m not about to complain about Advance Wars and Super Monkey Ball returning. And Wario Ware: Get It Together might just have been the best announcement of the whole week.
Not only was this the best, most exciting and most coherent show the Xbox crew has put on at E3 in years; it also ran unopposed thanks to Sony thinking itself above such trifling matters, and so was made to look even better. I’m not sure how much of an impact it will have in terms of hardware sales, but it deserves one, certainly. What a job Phil Spencer’s done over there.
The main beneficiary of everything being streamed, and demos being downloadable rather than tucked away in some easily overlooked corner of the convention centre. Tradition, and the search algorithms, dictate that most of the press working the E3 show floor put their focus on the triple-A big hitters; this year, through the likes of Day Of The Devs and Wholesome Direct, smaller developers were better able to showcase their work to the world. The struggles of some of the bigger companies made that work look even more appealing.
No awkward interview questions to worry about; barely any interviews to staff at all, in fact. Just a few press releases to email out with a link to the trailer and supporting assets. You got through the whole week without once having to say, ‘We’re not talking about that right now.’ You have never had it so easy, and hopefully never will again.
No longer dependent on online media’s traffic-focused filtering, blessed with more demos than ever and with Microsoft’s showing redefining the entire concept of value for money, this was quite a year for people that play games. They also got to see E3 warts and all, and have hopefully learned just how exhausting, and deflating, it can be to witness and work at in person.
I’m sure they’ll be happy, what with PS5’s sales figures, Ratchet & Clank topping sales charts, and the State Of Play broadcasts racking up millions of views. I’m still cross with them.
In short: all of the work and none of the perks. I’ll defer to those who’ve been at the coalface over the last week on this, but with minimal interview access, precious little hands-on time and robbed of a precious change of scenery, the games press has been reduced to a megaphone, merely reporting the news as it happens instead of shaping it over the course of the week. The newsdesk grind is rough at the best of times, but I’ve never been more relieved to be out of it than I have been this year.
In fairness, E3’s organisers have a reasonable claim to a slot in the Winners section. I think just about everyone will agree that this year’s all-digital offering didn’t really work. But that strengthens the argument for a return to business as usual in 2022. I think there are parts of not-E3 that can be carried over to a traditional in-person event: the indie-focused livestreams, and greater number of downloadable demos for those at home, should become the new normal. But if this year’s experiment proved anything it’s that there’s no substitute for a real E3, and that the calls for its reform should perhaps quieten down a bit. The ESA may well be happy with an L this year if it makes its life easier after the world opens back up.
And that’s your lot. Thanks so much for reading. In addition to your sign-ups, paid subs and shares, I must also today ask for your thoughts and prayers, as I go off to stick a swab up the nose of a three-year-old. Been nice knowing you all.