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Why Big Video Game Announcements Don’t Hit Like E3 Used To

"It’s that wider sort of crisis in not just games, but a lot of cultural stuff"

Microsoft

Another Summer (One Week) Of Video Games has come and gone, and while companies like Microsoft brought out the big guns, it remains undeniable that Keigh-3 isn’t quite E3. What happened, though? Why does one showcase of shiny new triple-A games not feel as momentous as the other? On this week’s episode of Aftermath Hours, we discuss that.

This time around, we’re joined by some guy we know named Ethan Gach to discuss the aftermath (lol) of Summer Game Fest. Ethan was on the ground at the show in LA, so he fields questions about the experience of attending the show in person. We ultimately arrive at the same question people do after every single one of these things: Is an event like Summer Game Fest needed in a digital age where video game companies can spin up showcases whenever they want? 

Then we move on to our favorite games of the show, which consist of Killer Bean, Doom, and probably even a third thing. We also discuss a general feeling of malaise that hung over this year’s show. On one hand, Geoff and associated companies debuted some cool games, but it all felt so… expected. Where once the original Fable pioneered wild new ideas about what a game could be (even if it didn’t entirely stick the landing), the trailer for the latest installment is just a bunch of callbacks. It’s the natural endpoint of an industry obsessed with same-y safeness in pursuit of profit. Finally, we close out on a conversation about sending cats back in time, so you’ll definitely want to stick around for that.  

You can find this week's episode below and on Spotify, Apple, or wherever else you prefer to listen to podcasts. If you like what you hear, make sure to leave a review so that we can finally give the world the acorn tree-growing simulator Peter Molyneux promised us all those years ago.

Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:

Ethan: It’s funny for me seeing Gears in the showcase, and it being sort of a callback to that nostalgia for the characters and the series, but also what it meant when a new Gears came on the screen and you saw those characters. Versus now, it’s perfectly like what Luke was saying about Wolverine looking at the photograph.

Nathan: I guess that was my broader feeling, especially coming away from the Xbox showcase: I remember when a lot of these games and series did mean something. It felt so much more momentous when a new one was announced, or when one was announced at all. I mean, the whole thing about Fable when it was first announced was that it was this legitimate stab at something very new and ambitious. Whereas the new Fable, based on the trailer, feels like it’s just trying to hark back to a thing that we had before.

I guess that was sort of my bigger issue: Nothing I saw made me feel like ‘Man, those folks are just going for it’ outside a few of the indies. Most of the games just felt like another installment in whatever series. And I’m sure that they’ll be perfectly competently made – or made up to that exacting triple-A standard where each little individual portion of it is polished to a gleaming sheen, but the overall experience is like, yeah, I had a good enough time. Was it particularly memorable? Not really. But that was a fun way to kill 30-some-odd hours. I guess watching a procession of those things kind of leaves me feeling the same way I would after playing one.   

Ethan: I’m trying to think of the other really ascendant franchises right now. Like, when CD Projekt Red is at a showcase, it’s a big deal. Maybe those sorts of things are on their off year right now. They’re out of cycle, and now it’s the bench of players who are aging out and should be just retiring. They’re trying to fill that space.

Luke: It’s that wider sort of crisis in not just games, but a lot of cultural stuff, where they’re just so addicted to predictable, bankable IP that when you get to a show like this, it’s quite jarring when you think about how many of these games are just the sixth, eighth, tenth, twelfth entry in a franchise. When you talk about how we used to find E3 more exciting, a lot of those games made their debuts during those older E3s. Assassin’s Creed used to be a new and exciting game series. Now it’s on its god knows what – 15th, 16th game? I don’t know. 

Every franchise that these studios peddle out – whether it’s a direct sequel or you do the Xbox route this year where it’s a sort of rebirth or revisiting of an older series – there’s none of that excitement that, Nathan, you were talking about earlier. There’s none of those groundbreaking, mind-blowing announcements, because you associate those announcements with being a major publisher or platform holder showing off something that’s brand new but is also the centerpiece of their offering for the next year or two. 

PlayStation didn’t get up and show a brand-new, triple-A action adventure series. They played the hits. Even Astro, as cool as it looked, we kind of know it’s cool because we’ve played the demo that came with the PS5. It’s not new. And all the Xbox stuff was… like I said, I like the idea of revisiting old friends, but they’re old friends. There wasn’t much brand new there either. We talked about Doom being the third Doom game. That’s not the third Doom game. It’s, like, the eighth game in a series that’s 35 years old or whatever. 

If anything, that’s what’s really missing. And you don’t even blame Summer Game Fest. You don’t blame individual game studios. It’s just this wider cultural malaise we’re in where all these massive, multinational companies that control our cultural content are just so addicted to the IP and the predictability that comes with IP, because that creates dependable fiscal results. We watch a show like this and get left with this feeling of ‘Eh, that was cool, but it’s not as exciting as the rush you get when it’s a cool new idea.’ A big cool idea from a big company – that’s exciting. It’s left to those indie games to fill that space, which is admirable, but they can’t do it. They fill it to some extent, but it’s just not quite the same spectacle.  

Ethan: And that’s like you saw at the beginning of the Summer Game Fest showcase when Geoff was, in his attempt to sort of acknowledge the weird state of the industry right now, holding up the top ten best sellers on Steam for the year – or maybe the month. But you see the games people have gotten really excited about this year, and they’re emergent games that are out, and either there’s a demo or the full thing is there and your friends are talking about it, whether it’s Hades 2 or Helldivers 2

I think partly at a lot of these companies, a lot of the money has been sucked up by forever games. It might be boring to see a reveal for a new Apex Legends character or Valorant coming to console, but they don’t need to keep showing stuff for that. They’re not gonna make a sequel. They’re making hundreds of millions per year, potentially. So there’s a black hole. Where before it used to be ‘We need to get a new Gears out every two to three years to make money,’ now that money has all gone to Fortnite, and you’re kinda left with these weird moonshots every once in a while – or just falling back on the old IP stuff. So I think part of it is that the money is not there behind the types of games you used to see at showcases like this.

Nathan: Yeah, and on top of that, another price of the many layoffs we’ve had not just this year but also last year and other years – and also various under-the-radar cancellations; you’ll see a sentence in an article that’s like ‘They canceled two or three in-development projects’ – is that you reach a year like this and there’s nothing really, truly new to show. All that stuff got canceled years ago. That is a larger problem. If you’re smothering all your babies in the cradle, then years later, you’re only gonna have the same stuff playing on repeat forever.        

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