E3 2010: The Biggest Disappointment In E3 History?

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) used to be the most important day within the game industry for publishers, developers, and consumers, but numerous issues over the years had taken away the spectacle’s appeal. This year’s E3, however, certainly had the emotion behind it to propel it back to its former greatness. Unfortunately, “great” isn’t quite the word I would use to describe it.

There are three types of gamers in this world: the hardcore gamer is generally the teen or twenty or thirty something that is awake at 4 AM blasting away his or her buddies in Modern Warfare 2; the casual gamer owns a Nintendo Wii, plays games like Super Mario or Tetris, and, quite possibly, enjoys a good night’s sleep; and the social gamer plays FarmVille, Second Life, or World of Warcraft, and enjoys social interaction with their fellow gamers to the demise of all productivity.

This year’s E3 was all about the social and casual gamers. Never before has E3 been bestowed with as many promises of attracting gamers of all ages, races, and genders. Actually, this was the primary theme that was presented from each of the big three, with Sony putting on a worthy effort to put a blanket over the heads of their hardcore gamers.

Speaking of hardcore gamers… well, they didn’t have much to cheer about.

Nintendo, with the Wii, has for the longest time been in the best position to make its case to the casual gamer — that is, after all, their primary audience.

Microsoft and Sony, on the other hand, have typically appealed to the hardcore gamers — the ones yearning for bloody graphics, mind-blowing explosions, and all things action. That is their core audience, which I am also part of. However, instead of sticking to their core audience, they pleaded their case to the casual and social gamers of the world. Sony, admittedly, did a better job of marketing to their hardcore players, but Microsoft, apart from a handful of interesting demonstrations, hit the casual gamer hard and left the hardcore gamers in the dirt.

And so, as painful as it might have been to my eyes, the big three eventually took the stage and presented the future of gaming that will have an impact on the industry for years to come.

 

Setting the Stage

Microsoft took center stage first. The focus: Kinect, Xbox 360’s peripheral that promises to take the controller out of the equation entirely.

Kinect received so much attention during Microsoft’s conference that it almost felt surreal. Sure, there were some cool things about it: the ability to wave around your hand to control your video playback experiences, the voice recognition that allowed even the most lazy of us all to do some interesting things, and the girl who played with Skittles, a virtual pet (actually, the virtual pet thing was just sad and creepy). Nevertheless, Kinect obviously has some desirable functionality. But there was one downside.

Kinect is priced at $150. So if you add in the price for an Xbox 360 ($150 for the recent price-reduced Arcade version) for those who don’t already own the system, it could easily add up to over $300 (or $450, if they want the cooler, slimmer, and newer Xbox 360 pictured above). In comparison, for $200, a consumer could purchase a brand new Wii and use the extra money to purchase a few games and accessories — not to mention that Wii already has an impressive library of games already designed for their platform and control interface.

In the end, though, Microsoft’s conference really felt more like a Nintendo conference, with kids dancing around on stage, waving their hands in the air like crazy, and talking to cute virtual pets. It almost made me want to puke. Everything about it, beyond the first few minutes, felt weird. I only wish I could have been in attendance to nab one of those new Xbox 360s that Microsoft possibly used to bribe gave away to the press.

Nintendo followed up with a strong showing of its 2010 and 2011 lineups, featuring old and new characters. It was a breath of fresh air, and Nintendo made sure to point out that people are actually playing their Wii systems, instead of letting them collect dust.

Then Nintendo finished up strong with the Nintendo 3DS. The whole big deal about that is really the inclusion of 3D. Much more on that later.

This conference was definitely the most subdued of the three. It wasn’t as ridiculous and in your face as the others. As previously noted, the focus was on the games and content, which is usually what Microsoft has been good at (oddly enough). But this is what Nintendo Wii fans want: a strong showing of games that will prove to the world of casual gamers that their investment in the Wii was well worth it.

Even though the Wii’s games aren’t my cup of tea, Nintendo delivered.

Again, there was also that three-dimensional-handheld-device-without-ugly-glasses thing.

Sony, however, had the most enjoyable and action-packed (if not somewhat longish) conference of the big three. Sony was the only one to really strive to market itself to the hardcore gamer this year, with tons of demonstrations of action packed games and a hilarious monologue by Kevin Butler, who is well known for his PS3 commercials. It shouldn’t shock anyone if the PS3 takes away some of the Xbox 360’s thunder this holiday season.

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But the biggest announcement from Sony was the PlayStation Move. It is pretty much a knock off of the Nintendo Wii controller idea, but it promises much more accuracy, which is supposedly what hardcore gamers want. While I couldn’t help but think “Wii” all throughout the times they showed the PlayStation Move, I was happy with the approach they took.

PlayStation Move is somewhat more reasonably priced for what it offers users. For $100, users can purchase the entire package to get them setup using the controllers, and there will be a $400 bundle that includes a PS3 as well. That said, a casual gamer would still probably get more value from the Nintendo Wii at $200.

But it is a toss up between Sony and Nintendo for which had the best showing this year. Microsoft’s conference was, without question, the most disappointing of the bunch.

 

A Casual Atmosphere

But let’s get back to the casual trend at E3.

Every person I have seen that owns a Wii tends to be a casual gamer, and vice versa. So it is isn’t too crazy to assume that a significant portion of casual gamers have already invested in a Wii. Nintendo took a crazy idea and followed through with it to create an enjoyable experience on their platform. So why would these people switch to Xbox 360 or PS3? For a cute virtual kitty named Skittles? For the death and destruction accompanied with Killzone 3? I don’t think so.

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Those who own an Xbox 360 have it because they are hardcore gamers. And those who own a PS3 have it because they are hardcore gamers (or they wanted it for its multimedia features). Those who own a Nintendo Wii, however, own it because they are a casual gamer.

Given the option of either owning Kinect or Move, Microsoft’s endeavor does seem more remarkable from the standpoint that it is doing something completely unique. Sony is merely emulating what Nintendo has done with the Wii controllers, while Microsoft is doing away with them entirely.

Still, it just doesn’t seem right.

 

The Third Dimension

The other big hype at E3 is the invention of the third dimension — the same thing that the movie and consumer electronic industries were hoping to jolt sales has arrived to the game industry. Sony and Nintendo pushed on this hard, but Nintendo took it a step further with the announcement of the Nintendo 3DS.

But let me make this clear: I’m completely skeptical about 3D. I saw Avatar in 3D and it was neat, but I also saw Shrek: Forever After in 3D and was disappointed — the 3D was more annoying than anything else. So the thought of playing every single game in 3D (just as seeing every movie in 3D) does not appeal to me. I’m not too sure that everyone else is excited about that possibility either.

True, the Nintendo 3DS is a cool trick, and one that will likely impress you and your friends for a few days or weeks. But then what?

PopSci said it better than I could. It’s eye candy:

“In the demos we played, the 3-D effect shows the same ambient restraint as the latest crop of 3-D Hollywood offerings. After a few minutes, you find yourself tuning the effect out. But then it leaps back into your attention at odd times, like a giant snake popping out of the foliage in Metal Gear Solid. But as the ‘off’ position on the 3-D depth slider makes clear, the effect is more eye candy than primary gameplay element.” – David Thomas, PopSci

VentureBeat noted that the 3.5-inch screen is lacking in size and the 3D awesomeness might require more attention than one might expect:

“But the 3.5-inch screen is not very large, and it means that you have to concentrate on the screen. You can’t play this casually or move around while playing it. It’s sort of like a book that way. You have to give it your undivided attention.” – Dean Takahashi, VentureBeat

Either way, it is a gimmick. It does not add to the gameplay. It does not add functionality. All it does is add an artistic twist. I owned a few of those 3D books when I was young, where you began with your head really close to the page and then moved away slowly to get the 3D effect. Cool stuff, right? But I haven’t seen one in over 15 years. I have a feeling that this 3D fad will suffer the same fate.

Regardless, 3D is here to play, at least for awhile.

Just as games these days struggle with the focus of gameplay versus graphics, I fear that we may face a future of 3D vs everything else. Games might become more focused on 3D experiences than anything else.

Of course, there will be a huge investment from a game studio that will create the Avatar of video games — it will have the story, graphics, gameplay, 3D, wow factor, and praise from all the reviewers. But, at the end of the day, people will hopefully realize that this 3D hype is nothing more than a mind trick and a way for companies to charge a few more bucks. (If you know anything about LED TVs that are being heavily marketed as this amazing new technology — which they’re not — you’ll know exactly what I mean.)

So is all this really worth it?

 

E3 2010 In A Word: Disappointing

To wrap up this article, I just wanted to say that I believe that E3 2010 had a lot of potential. There was plenty of excitement in the air, with promises of big things that would revolutionize the gaming industry and propel it forward in 2010 and beyond. But those promises didn’t become reality.

Sure, there were quite a few interesting moments. There were a few games announced that I was really pleased with. There were some cool presentations revealing these new technologies. But they didn’t live up to the overall E3 2010 expectation.

Ultimately, we became victims of gimmicks and eye candy.

It was disappointing. This wasn’t the worst E3 I have ever witnessed, but it is pretty close.

I just hope the game industry doesn’t rely on these tricks in the future to generate buzz around their products. Eventually, people will see right through it.

Written by James Mowery

James Mowery is a passionate technology journalist and entrepreneur who has written for various top-tier publications like Mashable and CMSWire. Follow him on Twitter: @JMowery.
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Comments
  • http://www.glitchritual.com tydunitz

    I’m a hardcore gamer who owns only a Nintendo Wii. The disinformed believe that the Wii is about casual gaming only, and the amount of ridiculous early childhood bullshit shovelware available for the console doesn’t make that look untrue. However, with the retro revival going strong on the Wii, insanely difficult twitch gaming is totally vogue, and it’s odd to see Microsoft and Sony moving in the opposite direction. No one legitimately termed a ‘gamer’ cares about casual gaming anymore. Even the Wii has very few new games coming out fully utilizing the motion gimmick. Yeah, Wii Tennis was fun four years ago. Sorry, Microsoft, but it isn’t fun in 2010.

    Anyway, with new Zelda, new Kid Icarus, and new Donkey Kong Country hitting Nintendo’s consoles this year (among other things), I can verify, without being a casual gamer, that E3 2010 was far from disappointing.

    Unless you’re a pimply teenaged Xbox Halo jock. Then it really, really sucked.

    Also, E3 is three days, not one.

  • Collin

    Your article is based solely on subjective cynicism.
    While you are quick to point out the obvious faults in all three companies presentations, you don’t see the potential.
    I am a hardcore gamer. I love the challenge, the immersion, and just the joy games can give. And from what I’ve seen, E3 rocked.
    You try to equate a core gamer as someone who only loves lush crisp graphics and. That is not a core gamer. Zelda, Kid Icarus, and Donkey Kong are just some of the games, that past their somewhat cartoony graphics, will offer a challenge. People who play those are just as much as core gamers as those who play Fable 3, Gran Turismo, and Halo Reach.

    And the 3DS a gimmick? Now, didn’t the word gimmick get pegged onto the DS and Wii too originally? Haha, I don’t think they stuck.

    I think the only bad thing that came out of E3 was this article.

  • http://www.davidbohorquez.com/ David Bohórquez

    I think you have the wrong concept of what a core gamer is. Hardcore games are not those who display gore, explosions and violence. Core games are not only the FPS. Mario Galaxy, Zelda, Donkey Kong Country, Metroid, Final Fantasy, World of Warcraft, etc, are hardcore games. These games are for those gamers who spend hours trying to collect every star, discover every secret, get the best weapons and armors, and complete every side quest. In fact, most of the gamers that play Halo are casual gamers. They don’t know what E3 is, they don’t care about achievements, they play their FPS for a while with their friends and don’t thouch their Xbox until months later they receive another shooter for christmas.

    3D and motion controls are gimmicks, but some games manage to use them to enhance gameplay and the overall experience. Look at the swordplay in the new Zelda. In Twilight Princess motion control was only a gimmick, but now it actually adds something to the gameplay. As for the 3DS, the plan to use 3D to enhance the depth perception in the 3D games and to find a new way to make puzzles and to enhance exploration.

    Microsoft conference dissapointed me, but Sony’s, and specially Nintendo’s were really satisfiying. I can’t wait to get my hands on a lot of the games that were presented this year.

    So sir, I think you need to reconsider your knowledge about videogames. I mean, you put WoW as a social game and not as a hardcore game.

  • Proxima

    This was a terrible article. The author is just an idiot (with an OBVIOUS bias for sony).
    Kinect seems awesome and will only further pave the road for greater innovations.
    Also, 3d is an amazing effect and to be able to do it without glasses is just tremendous and will bring a lot of interesting new gameplay features to video games.
    Sony I would say is the least innovative; but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a good product.

    There were plenty of games that looked amazing and it was a VERY exciting E3.
    Your article on the other had was borning and a waste of time.

  • Blaney

    I disagree, while you may feel 3d is gimicky, you strike me as the same type of person who would call the internet gimmicky in the early to mid nineties, or the iPhone gimmicky 3 years ago. A lack of foresight to what the future of technology will be on your part shouldn’t constitute a reason to shun easily one of the most impressive e3’s in years. In comparrison to last year, where we only just heard about Natal, there was almost no new technology demos at all in 2009. And this year… we have amazing new motion sensing technology that has already revolutionized gaming with the Wii and will continue to do so across other platforms with the 360 and ps3. 3D is emerging faster now than it has in the past 15 years and players will be immersed further in the game than ever before; coupled with motion capture technology they’ll be able to interact in the 3rd dimension as well. Anyone who seriously cannot see the near unlimited potential in these innovations I seriously doubt their ability to be a tech writer. New technology aside we also saw some amazing games announced and other anticipated games presented; such as a New Zelda game, Metroid, Twisted Metal (one of my favorite franchises of all time,) a new Final Fantasy MMO. I honestly believe this e3 is one of the best in the past decade. I would like to know the author’s favorite e3 with reasons to back it up.

  • Nino

    All comments so far disagree with the author. Which is a relief to me because I couldn’t believe what I just read.

    If you consider E3 2010 a “disappointment”, maybe you’re a spoiled child who doesn’t deserve the gigantic varieties of candy in the candy store. Listening to some people, every E3 is disappointing if each company doesn’t announce 2 entirely new consoles each year.

    Plus the definition of what is a hardcore player or a casual player is outdated. My girlfriend plays only two games: Farmville and Plants vs Zombies. Yes plays them like she’s intoxicated, way more hours than I played Uncharted 2, Dead Space and Mass Effect 1/2… Is she a “casual” gamer ? I tell you’re she’s gotten pretty freaking hardcore by now.

    Also, E3 is not supposed to be a business of seducing the hardcore gamers only, who are just a demographic in a huge industry now, it’s also about showing the press and investors what you have in stock and how you’re planning to raise your share quote. I’d say in 2010, the 3 companies have made a pretty rad effort catering mostly to hardcore gamers despite this reality.

    Wake up. :)