E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, was in full swing in Los Angeles this week. The annual trade show for the video game industry was not without a few surprises, a few disappointments and as usual a few companies that opted to forego the whole thing. Sony was among the companies that chose to skip the event, while rival Microsoft was present only via its annual press conference.
Sony announced last year that it would be pulling out of E3 and instead would consider other opportunities to connect with the gaming community.
"Sony could decide to hold its own event, separate from the next E3, to officially announce its next game system," said Marjorie Costello, editor of Consumer Electronics Online News.
"This is similar to the way Apple makes its product announcements, choosing the timing and venue that aligns with its needs, separate from trade shows such as MWC Barcelona -- formerly Mobile World Congress -- and CES," she told TechNewsWorld.
With both of the console giants missing from the show floor it was by many accounts a lower key E3 -- but not to the level of the truly select industry insider event that it had become in 2007-2008. E3 this year was still loud, brash and at times over-the-top.
Even before the restructuring of E3 more than a decade ago, which actually reduced the number of vendors on the show floor, many companies held press conferences that were semi-affiliated. Sony's decision not to hold such an event could be a consequence of the pre-show events having become somewhat overwhelming for attendees.
Major publishers such as Electronic Arts, Bethesda, Square Enix and Ubisoft each pulled out all the stops. Microsoft also offered quite a spectacle. Google held a Stadia Connect event just prior to the event, and was joined by other tech companies that sought to show off their latest hardware.
"AMD hit hard and early hosting its 'Tech Day' before the show and taking the strongest shot yet at Intel's dominance, arguing with some compelling benchmarks that they were not only competitive with Intel's best, they cost less than half as much," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
"What was fascinating was they anticipated Intel's response, which was to announce a faster high-end part by hinting Threadripper, which is their performance monster, would refresh in September and arrive right on top of Intel's improved offering," he told TechNewsWorld.
"Intel was so upset they broke from their policy of ignoring AMD and challenged them to a public shootout, giving the firm even more coverage," Enderle added.
The Show's Biggest Winner
All those press conferences -- and the celebrities and special guests that make an appearance on stage -- in many ways have overshadowed the games on the show floor. This year was no exception, and the biggest winner of this year's E3 might have been one such celebrity.
"If there was a winner at the show it was Keanu Reeves, who showed up surprisingly at the Microsoft press conference," said Paul Semel.
Microsoft had gone to great lengths to keep Reeves' appearance at the press event a secret, and according to online reports a stand-in was used for Reeves during rehearsals while the actor was referred to by a codename.
"He plays one of the characters in the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 game, and when he came out on stage the response was overwhelming," Semel told TechNewsWorld.
"He was clearly overwhelmed and received a standing ovation, and it was clear he didn't understand how much people liked his appearance in the game or the actor himself," he said.
"The Cyberpunk 2077 game took the show though, thanks to Keanu Reeves clearly leveraging the continued success of the John Wick franchise," remarked Enderle.
"This game is the one that I'm lusting for, and sadly it is around a year out," he said. "Of all the games, this one seemed to be the biggest hit with the audience."
Microsoft's Other Key Notes
Where Sony was a no-show and other rival Nintendo took a far lower-key approach, Microsoft upped the ante at E3 this year -- even it if was just "hinting" at things to come.
"Microsoft's Project Scarlett was announced, and it will run on a future AMD part, reinforcing AMD's presence at the show, and it looks to be one hell of a system," noted Enderle.
That system could end up in a head-to-head battle with Sony's already-announced PlayStation 5. More importantly, Microsoft made sure that the game that helped make the original Xbox a success would get a refresh as a way to keep the faithful toeing the party line.
"The trailer for Halo Infinite looked amazing," said Enderle.
"The latest Gears of War title, Gear 5, further supported the fact that the next Xbox would be the platform to beat at the show," he added.
This was further reinforced by other Xbox announcements, which included Elden Ring, a title in development from the makers of the popular Games of Thrones tie-in.
"Putting the icing on this impressive cake was Microsoft announcing you could play your games anywhere on PCs, tablets, or smartphones tied to their huge cloud pivot, offsetting substantially Google's similar Stadia effort and fully eclipsing Sony," suggested Enderle.
"The cross-platform announcement, which basically blends both Xbox and PC titles into a multiplatform solution, suggests that while PCs and the Xbox dominated, Microsoft was likely the biggest winner at this show -- while AMD, partially thanks to Intel, got the most potential uplift."
The major publishers all had something special to offer at this year's E3, but in some respects it seemed a lot like more of the same than anything truly revolutionary.
At Electronic Arts' press conference included new footage from the upcoming Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, gameplay from Madden NFL 20 and FIFA 20, and the announcement of new content for the popular World War II shooter Battlefield 5 -- the latter adding not only new maps in the Pacific but additional weapons and more.
Bethesda also seemed to be doubling down with its current line-up of games at its event. This included new content for Fallout 76 and The Elder Scrolls Online. It also highlighted the upcoming Wolfenstein: Youngblood and Doom Eternal.
Ubisoft also promised additional content, including new features for Assassin's Creed Odyssey, while the company highlighted new sequels such as Watch Dogs Legion, Ghost Recon Breakpoint and Rainbow Six: Quarantine.
Perhaps the two biggest surprises from Ubisoft were the announcements that a movie version of its game The Division is headed to Netflix, while the company somehow is involved with a project called Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet from Rob McElhenney, creator of the comedy series It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
One the most surreal moments at E3 occurred during Ubisoft's press conference when actor Jon Bernthal, who stars in the upcoming Ghost Recon Breakpoint game, came out on stage with Bam Bam -- one of his three rescue dogs.
"The audience loved the dog. He was the hit of the press conferences after Reeves," said Semel.
What Wasn't Said
This year's E3 may stand out for what wasn't said and what wasn't shown. Google held a pre-show press conference for Stadia Connect but games for the new system were largely absent. So it wasn't just Sony that was missing.
"There was very little on virtual reality or augmented reality either," said Michael Heiss, principal consultant at M. Heiss Consulting.
"There was almost nothing about the cloud at the show -- so really this year was a show with no loser but certainly no winner," he told TechNewsWorld.
Details remain murky even about what was shown.
"Microsoft didn't really offer much about its new console, and it was more about performance and load time than graphics," said Semel.
"It could be said Microsoft gave the fan boys enough meat to chew on, but not to fill them up," quipped Heiss.
"We know that Sony and Microsoft's next systems won't likely come out until 2020 at the earliest, and that each will have plenty of games and plenty of exclusives," he added.
Also notable about the systems is that each likely will feature an optical disc drive and be backward-compatible with the current Sony PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
"That is something that didn't get a lot of attention but is important, because just like in the home theater world there are those who don't want to rely on the cloud," suggested Heiss. "The cloud is cool, and 5G is cool, but the hardcore gamer will want the discs."
For every winner at the show there was a loser. As usual a lot of the upcoming titles could be more than a year away, but the bigger issue was that much of the content shown didn't appear to be actual "in-game" footage.
"People actually seemed leery of the trailers being more CGI than game footage," explained Semel.
"The Gears 5 trailer showed a new mode, but it wasn't clear whether it was actual game footage," he said.
Gamers also could be a loser -- if not at E3 then perhaps where the industry is headed, warned Heiss.
"The cloud could be an issue for some gamers -- such as if you have Comcast and face data caps -- so the cloud isn't going to be an ideal solution for games," he noted.
However, the biggest loser might not have been a game or even a publisher.
"The biggest loser might have been the show itself," said Semel.
"The South Hall still felt like E3, but the West Hall lacked Microsoft and Sony, and the noise and energy were lower," he noted.
"You could feel something was missing the minute you walked in. There was almost a malaise to it -- those companies were always in the hall, and it was kind of sad," Semel added.
"Sad" could be used to describe another loser of the show.
"The biggest loser was some dude going by the handle 'Dr Disrespect' that decided that it would be smart to Twitch stream from inside a bathroom and got banned," said Enderle. "What an idiot."