So, E3 2010 is over, and the general consensus is that it was spectacular.
I have been critical of conventions such as CeBIT in the past, but I do consider E3 to be an important event, as it brings the business and consumer sides of the games industry together like none other.
For the week of E3, publications as varied as the trade website gamesindustry.biz and ARN sister publication new find a common cause – new games and technologies are announced, and industry ramifications are pondered.
So what were the highlights and lowlights of this year’s show?
Nintendo’s big reveal was, of course the 3DS, and in all honesty, it was the reveal of the show. The system is spectacular and innovative, enhances the wildly popular Nintendo DS in just the right way, and is already well supported by some of the biggest publishers in the industry.
Facing increased competition in the handheld market from the Apple iPhone, Nintendo needed to get this right, and judging from the community reaction, it has. Every indication is that in 12 months when the console launches it will be a best seller.
But Nintendo also left some serious questions. It was important for Nintendo to announce some kind of firm online strategy going forward, but it didn’t. Other than a casual mention that the WiFi capabilities of the 3DS would be somewhat enhanced over the DSi, there was no other details laid out. Nothing about what shape the 3DS’s online services would take, no news on additional services beyond online play and a games shop, and no suggestion of a premium service.
The major developers and publishers at E3 all announced firm plans around online. EA went as far as to state it would double its DLC revenues in the year. Just before E3, Ubisoft opened an online download store, and OnLive, the cloud-based gaming platform, also came out this week.
Nintendo seemed to be the sole pillar at E3 holding out on making a big online announcement, and if indeed the industry is right and moves towards a virtual environment, Nintendo might well be too slow to build capabilities there.
Microsoft was all about Natal, which has been renamed to Kinect. The motion-sensing peripheral allows players to interact with the Xbox 360 without any controller by reading their movements via camera.
Predictably, a casual dancing game proved the highlight of the demonstration. With early feedback on the Kinect suggesting it does work well, it seems Microsoft has a genuine opportunity to take on the casual market that had, until now, stuck with the Nintendo Wii.
Microsoft also announced it was expanding its online services into nine emerging markets – including South Africa, Brazil and Russia, effectively granting it significant new opportunities in markets often ignored by the games industry.
Unfortunately for Microsoft, compared to Nintendo and Sony, the presentation generally fell flat, especially for the more ‘hardcore’ gamers unlikely to be swayed to purchase Kinect. For that audience, Microsoft had a poor showing overall.
Sony made it clear that online and 3D were equal parts focus for it moving forward. The vendor unveiled the PlayStation Plus – a significant expansion to its PlayStation Network online service, available to customers for an annual fee.
The vendor also got it right in revealing enough high-profile games to show that serious gamers will have plenty to invest in on the PlayStation 3 over the next year. Reports have shown that the core gaming market is interested in 3D technology, so Sony might just emerge as the console of choice for that audience this year.
Sony’s answer to motion controlling – the PlayStation Move, was also mentioned, but you get the feeling that Sony realises that’s a lesser battle for the vendor, and it’s prepared for the likelihood that it will lag behind the Wii and Xbox 360 for the casual gaming vote.
The PSP will also be a concern for Sony going forward – the 3DS will steal a lot of thunder in the handheld market, and with no sign of a PSP2, you have to wonder how much longer Sony will be in the handheld market.
It’s interesting that all three console vendors unveiled very different visions for the future of the games industry. Sony threw its lot behind online and 3D, Microsoft is aiming to recreate the casual gaming market, and Nintendo has continued to preference technology innovation than moving with market trends.
It will be very interesting to see what is and isn’t successful over the coming years. Bring on E3 2011.