Our week-long celebration of video games has come to an end. While some people may have been a little more disappointed than others in how E3 played out, the general agreement is that it was a fun week. We saw a lot of video games, and even with the expectations of it being a slower year than usual, it still had some heavy hitters and surprises. All in all, E3 2021 left most of us excited for the future of video games as a whole.
Having said that, there were still a handful of companies that left us wanting more — bigger announcements, a more succinct show, or in one case, any information at all. Some presentations left us wanting to purchase a console or play the newest game, while others failed to meet our already low expectations. Everyone gets a mulligan this year due to a significant amount of delays, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find some winners and losers.
Winner: Microsoft Bethesda
Nobody at E3 had a stronger show than Microsoft and Bethesda’s presentation. The two combined into one presentation as both a show of unity following Microsoft’s purchase of Bethesda. The show itself was well organized, with enough room to breathe between announcements while never being boring. It had heavy hitters like Starfield, Halo Infinite, and The Outer Worlds 2, but it also featured some intriguing smaller titles. Shredders might be the return to snowboard games many of us have been begging for, and anyone not excited for Microsoft Flight Simulator getting a Top Gun expansion must not know joy in life.
Then there was arguably the biggest selling point of the entire event: Game Pass. Microsoft has been putting a lot of support behind Game Pass for the last few years and this year’s E3 was the big payoff. This was as close to a perfect conference as possible with many fans, frustrated over their inability to find a new console, deciding they would get an Xbox so they can use Game Pass. This was more than just a presentation for Microsoft, it was a coming-out party. Years of work to change the landscape of gaming all peaking at once. Now, we get to see if their efforts were successful in increasing sales.
Looking around at a few of the other conferences, Sony choosing to not have a presentation this year was a great decision. If there is nothing to show, then forcing a presentation for the sake of a presentation is only going to lead to frustration. So in that sense, Sony didn’t lose E3, but with how strong some of their competitors were, it definitely didn’t feel like a victory. The PlayStation 5 has been largely successful so far, but every day, the reasons for buying an Xbox increase, while the differences between a PS5 and PS4 blur with every update. Sony needs a big winner before the end of the year if they want to keep their lead over Microsoft in this console generation.
There have been rumors of a new Switch being on the way, but when Nintendo announced their Direct for E3, it was stated that it would only be about upcoming games. Without a new console, we all just kind of assumed it would be a tame Direct, but Nintendo quickly put those concerns to rest. A new 2D Metroid game, alongside Breath of the Wild 2, gave them one of the stronger presentations over the weekend. They even threw in a new Warioware to top it all off. We still don’t know what’s happening with this reportedly new Switch, but those of us who already have one have plenty to be excited about right now.
There were hundreds of indie games showcased over the week, and with a lot of the AAA publishers not having much to show, it was a major victory for small developers. We already know that indie games are generally on the rise in terms of what they mean for video games as a whole, but this was a year where we have very few must-grab titles arriving. Those of us who are starved for new releases can turn towards all of the indie titles available as a means to hold us over. Many of them are available in early access or will be coming out soon, and each one is more unique than the last. Indie games aren’t forced to stay in the realm of the norm and that allows them to explore new ways to stand out, or maybe give us something artistic, or wholesome. In a year where we don’t know what the next big AAA game is, we can be happy about the plethora of indie games to choose from. This is a win for gaming as a whole.
Loser: Square Enix
The Square Enix presentation wasn’t bad, but it was extremely limited in what it had to offer in terms of new games. They had three major announcements in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Final Fantasy Pixel Remastered, and Stranger of Paradise Final Fantasy Origin. The Guardians game looked pretty fun and was easily the best part of the presentation. Pixel Remastered is a great idea in concept, but instead of packaging Final Fantasy I – VI in one whole game, it’s going to be individual releases, which feels like a cash grab. Final Fantasy Origin has some of the worst dialogue of any trailer ever, and the demo didn’t even work at launch. It’s hard to call this a winning presentation.
Ubisoft probably could have gotten away with not having a presentation and just posting a few of the trailers online. They chose to show off most of their biggest upcoming title, Far Cry 6, in the weeks leading up to E3, which led to a bit of a vacuum in the presentation itself. They spent a lot of time on the new Rainbow Six game and a Rocksmith update. They ended with a new trailer for the next Mario + Rabbids game, and that was exciting, but the presentation itself was lacking in content. Ubisoft maybe should have considered skipping out on a presentation this year.
E3 has been on its heels for a few years now in terms of how developers view the event. While it’s always a good time, it’s becoming pretty clear that companies like Sony and EA are wondering why they should be taking part in E3 when they can do a better job speaking to their fans directly or hosting their own events. As a result, the ESA went out this year, got a bunch of different companies that typically don’t have presentations, and gave them slots.
The results for this ranged from “mixed” to “bad.” Events like Capcom, BANDAI NAMCO, and the Indie Game Showcase were painfully short. The BANDAI NAMCO presentation, in particular, was literally there to just show one game. It came off very much like the ESA was just trying to fill time where it could. Maybe in the future, now that some of these companies have slots, we will get larger presentations. For 2021, however, it ended up being a lot of dead time between the major events.
Winner: Summer Game Fest
By virtue of E3 being a loser, Summer Game Fest is a winner. Geoff Keighly’s direct competition event, which is meant to showcase games the same way E3 does, ran alongside E3 but no one really paid attention to it beyond the first two days. Still, those first two days did feature major announcements like Elden Ring and garnered quite a bit of attention. It showed that it belonged to be a part of the summer games showcase conversation, which should be interesting in following years. While it may have not made too much noise this year during E3, I would expect that to change next year when developers have more to show.