E3 is always my favorite week in gaming – at least that doesn’t have a slew of new releases. It’s a full week where the industry can come together and show off just how big our industry has become. Excitement runs high, hyperbolic words flow freely, and trailers show us games in all different states of development. It’s not all sunshine and roses – I saw a couple really disturbing reports about sketchy and dangerous behavior at private events, which just highlights that even in an industry built around games, we have some darkness still to overcome. But overall, I think E3 is all about setting the tone for the coming year. A couple years back, it was a running joke that every game had a bow and arrow, but that’s not entirely off the mark – E3 is where we see the industry as a whole in one spot. It’s easier to spot trends that reach across platform and genre there.
If I had to pick one trend this year, I think it’s probably going to be beards. There were easily eight or so games that prominently featured a main character (player or not) sporting some notable facial hair. That might seem like a silly thing to point to, but I think it speaks to a deeper underlying theme. Traditionally in entertainment, we use facial hair (especially full beards) to denote wisdom, grit, determination, toughness and resolution. In gaming that can be seen translating to darker, more nuanced stories – even in games we might not expect it in. We saw the surprise return of Marcus Fenix with his gray bear in the Gears of War 4 footage – a wizened, older veteran imparting his knowledge to his son’s team. Kratos has a big beard in God of War 4 – notably bigger than any beard he had before – again, a father figure teaching his son; both games are set in dark, almost hopeless worlds. If all of this beard talk does end up pointing to darker stories, we’re going to need games like Trials of the Blood Dragon and even Mass Effect to balance it out. Gaming needs wackiness, it needs humor and love and actual human emotions to balance all of the typical conflict and angst we see. That’s what’s always drawn me to the BioWare games – yes, the worlds are embroiled in conflict – usually cataclysmic – but the characters that live in those worlds have real emotions – there’s humor, there’s joy, there’s love. The same works for Bethesda’s RPGs – sure there are dragons all over Skyrim, but you can balance that out by getting married, hunting game or forging arms and armor.
The other big takeaway I had was that this fall all of a sudden got really crowded, but in a different way than usual. Generally speaking, the busiest release window is late October, early November. We’ll often see multiple games coming out on the same day. I’ve noticed more and more over the last couple years that developers have been spreading out the releases. This year, that’s absolutely the case – Rise of Iron for Destiny launches on September 20, Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2 are all in October, Call of Duty, and Dishonored 2 are still set for November – and that’s just off the top of my head/games that I am already planning on playing. I know there are more in there, across all three months. It’s happening more and more – every year I think, “Boy, this fall only has a couple heavy hitters, I can branch out a bit,” then E3 hits and it’s suddenly full of AAA titles. That’s not even talking at all about the new trend of a swath of games in the Spring either. Gaming has definitely evolved to a year-round, massive entertainment medium. It’s here to stay, and if it keeps evolving as it has technology-wise, there’s really no ceiling. It’s a lovely time to play.