Monday, June 17, 2013

Kawaiian Punch weighs in on who won E3 and the state of modern gaming

By now, you’ve probably heard of this little conference called "E3". 

Every year, for the past 18 years, the most influential names in video game hardware and software descend on Los Angeles to show off their latest offerings for the year and rattle sabers with their competitors.

Both Sony and Microsoft are gearing up to launch a new console later this year (the PlayStation 4 and Xbone Xbox One, resp.) and many have wondered which console "won" E3.

The answer is neither.  Pulling a complete dark horse upset, your friend here at Kawaiian Punch is declaring that the 3DS stole the show.

Yet this wasn’t because of anything Nintendo actually did at E3 to show off the 3DS or its library of upcoming games.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  Most of Nintendo’s ample booth space was dedicated to the struggling Wii U and the new titles that will be available for it in the months ahead, while the 3DS was relegated to a swag carousel run by booth babes that had a ~2 hour wait if you actually wanted to spend some serious time with one.

So how did the 3DS win E3, exactly?  

Because every-freaking-where you looked, there was someone with a 3DS or 3DS XL in hand. Admittedly, most of the people where using their handhelds to Streetpass (exchange player data with other 3DS owners), but when lines were idle or when attendees were in need of rest, people were gaming on their 3DSes.

This is a particularly important point to examine, because the undercurrent of this year’s E3 was that we as a community of gamers are looking at "the last generation of traditional gaming consoles" and soon big mobile publishers will destroy the market for console games with their twitchy, casual-friendly titles like Clash of Clans, Puzzle and Dragons, Angry Birds, and Candy Crush Saga.

While certainly the companies behind those games (Supercell, GungHo, Rovio, and King) are all making more money than most sub-Saharan nations will see in a decade, they’re not going to erode - or even eat into - the dedicated gamer playerbase in the foreseeable future.

While the PS4 and Xbox One titles are still finding their feet, it's extremely unlikely that a console player who's used to sinking 60-200 hours on an RPG or 3-4 hours a night on an online FPS will change their gaming habits to play a low-invesment puzzle game that's really only designed to give you something to do while you’re on the toilet.

Angry Birds? I'll stick to Fire Emblem, thanks

Intriguingly, I didn’t see a single person gaming on a smartphone or tablet at E3. Perhaps this is because of the representative sample of people in attendance, but I made a point to look for smartphone gaming and it just wasn’t there.

Sure, people were using their smartphones to check emails,  but when idle time was present games were almost always being played on the 3DS - a system which, not two years ago, mobile game enthusiasts gleefully declared to be a failed piece of gaming hardware.  

While many people brought their 3DSes to E3 for the express purpose of streetpassing, they turned to them when they needed and wanted entertainment - which underscores exactly how brilliant and forward-thinking Nintendo was in designing the streetpass feature.

I don’t really have the time or the inclination to sort through the ~250 streetpasses I picked up at E3 to crunch numbers on the most recent game being played, but I’d estimate that 50 percent were playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf and 40 percent were still playing Fire Emblem: Awakening - both of which are decidedly high-investment games that most casual mobile gamers wouldn’t think of persuing.

The point to all of this is, don’t believe the hype about this being the last generation of consoles or mobile handhelds. The Vita's software line-up was absolutely amazing and the 3DS was all over E3.

Soon, those in the mobile games industry will come to realize that core console gaming and casual, twitchy, free-to-play mobile gaming can exist in the same space because - hey - they’re catering to two completely different audiences.

And anyone who tells you otherwise probably has a vested financial interest in the future of mobile gaming.

[Image Source: meito (maze)]