The Playstation 4 and Xbox One consoles are almost two years old, but few can say this is the innovative gaming future we were promised. Most of the best games released have been upgrades of PS3 & 360 games, which are nice to have but aren’t what we’re here for. In reality, the cycle so far has been more failed promises, disappointment, and delays, and let’s not kid ourselves-E3 is a huge reason for that.
For the uninitiated, E3, or Electronic Entertainment Exposition, is an annual convention where gaming software and hardware developers come to unveil their latest games, and in some cases their newer hardware. This year Bethesda Softworks, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Nintendo, Square Enix, Sony, and Microsoft all have press conferences lined up. For many of these press conferences, this will be the first time gameplay footage for their most anticipated titles is shown off. It is great, especially when titles have been years in the making, or nothing more than hopeful rumors for years. It will be cool to finally see footage from Star Wars: Battlefront or Fallout 4.
But this year I’m taking everything with a grain of salt.
ConsiderArkham Knight, a game I and fellow Stereo Champions writer Zelena Williams are dying to play. The game was announced in March of 2014, and gameplay (including the fully playable Batmobile) was shown off at E3 2014 and expected to release in October 2014. It was delayed to February 2015, and delayed again until June 2015. And what was to come out June 2nd of this month was pushed back again to June 23rd. Batman isn’t the only one to fall victim to the delay game. Just look at this list of delayed games, which isn’t the complete picture. It should be noted Tom Clancy’s The Division was a game that has been delayed again to 2016. Too often in very recent memory have we seen press conferences where the release dates were thrown away months later. We can’t hear a release date and actually place any stock in it anymore. But delays aren’t the only thing E3 has done wrong in recent years.
When many games at E3 are shown off, the developers frequently show off a completely designed level or sequence from the game that is meant to look as good as they hope it is. The reality is that these slices of the game look better than they ultimately are as developers’ budgets come into conflict with time and the amount of the game left to make. Imagine building a car from scratch. You put 40% of your money into really fancy wheels, but the other 60% of your budget can’t match how nice the wheels are, so they cut corners for the rest of the project. So much of what is shown at E3 is an ambitious vision of what usually is a less developed project. To their credit, CD Projekt Red and Rocksteady, who made The Witcher 3 and Batman: Arkham Knight respectively, have delayed their games seemingly so they have the time to deliver on what they promised at E3. CD Projekt Red has been refreshingly forthright and transparent, admitting they need the extra time, unlike Ubisoft which will release one of the most notoriously buggy games on schedule, and spend weeks patching it.
The following video regarding Aliens: Colonial Marines paints a very good picture of what I’m talking about.
And then another E3 problem would be that the games themselves are being misrepresented by their own publishers, which some might call lying. I’m not talking about failing deliver on graphical promises, but on gameplay promises. One of the more egregious examples of this was with Watch Dogs, an Ubisoft title. Watch Dogs was marketed as a alternative to Grand Theft Auto, where you could play the entire game without picking up a gun. Rather than shoot the answer to every problem faced, players were told they could use their phone to hack into the systems of the in-game city of Chicago, and wreak havoc by hacking bank accounts, causing power outages, shutting down security cameras, and more. The final result was that the phone controls were gimmicky and limited, and the game was more of a GTA clone than it intended. It should be noted as well that Watch Dogs was announced at E3 in 2012 to be released in 2013, but was ultimately released in 2014 so it could be released on the newer consoles as well. And delaying games so they can be released simultaneously on newer hardware rarely works out and one release type of the game frequently suffers.
All this is bad for gamers. And once again, E3 is only making things worse. Game development these days takes a long time, and publishers are both hurt and profiting off of this. They are hurt because games take more time and resources to develop, and we’re in a world where the production cycle is scrutinized from day one. Publishers compensate with pre-orders, an awful practice that has only gotten worse. The pre-order process means gamers can buy the game months before it is released, even before it is finished. This is without any assurance as to it’s quality either. And most digital pre-orders are nonrefundable. Imagine spending $60 on a game that was shown at E3 to be the greatest thing ever, and was ultimately the greatest disappointment (cough, Aliens: Colonial Marines, cough). And if pre-orders weren’t bad enough, more and more games have an in-game stores where you can buy in-game items for real world currency. The worst part? Most of the in-game items you can purchase can be unlocked with enough time and skill sunk into the game.
So next week the next E3 Hype Train will pull into the station. Will this year be any different? It’s hard to tell, but unlikely. The only comfort is that the chaos of delayed releases and graphical downgrades may be softened now that the console transition is largely complete, and developers won’t be struggling to adapt to the new hardware. I am curious for what this next year of gaming will bring, but E3 is more likely to bring further disappointment. Gamers have been lied to and exploited too often, and that mistreatment has regularly begun at E3. I don’t think we should stand for it.