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E3 2016: Annual gaming bonanza still has a few tricks up its sleeves


Steve Tilley, Postmedia Network

, Last Updated: 4:47 PM ET

To E3, or not to E3? That seems to be the question.

If you’ve got any sort of interest in the creative and financial behind-the-scenes of video games, you’re probably aware of the annual, massive gaming trade show called the Electronic Entertainment Expo – E3 to its friends – which takes place next month in Los Angeles.

Born in 1995 when games were just beginning to be recognized as a legitimate form of entertainment and commerce, E3 is the place you go when you have a new game to show for an audience of tens of thousands of retailers, analysts and journalists packed inside the cavernous Los Angeles Convention Center. It’s ground zero for all the major gaming announcements in North America, if not the world.

Or, at least, it was.

I was in Santa Monica last week going hands-on with some titles that will be shown at E3, a lovely perk of being part of the Game Critics Awards judging panel. I skulked, shot and hacked my way around a dystopian Dubai, built Stonehenge on the outskirts of my city then defended it against American incursion, swung on an energy tether through a futuristic Grand Canyon to carve up enemies with my katanas, battled monsters alongside my perfectly coiffed homeboys in an emo Entourage, passed a mystical orb between the members of my triumvirate with the goal of casting it into my opponents’ fire, and lots more. (By the way, the first person who e-mails me and correctly identifies all five of these games wins a prize. For real.)

It was a lot of fun, and this was just a tiny advance sampling of some of the hundreds of titles that will be shown this year at E3. But as the 21st annual incarnation of video gamedom’s biggest show bears down on us, it’s clear a lot has changed. Not all of it for the better.

For one, some of the biggest players in the business – including game development and publishing titans Electronic Arts and Activision – will not have their usual presence at E3. EA is holding its own parallel event in L.A. called EA Play, which will include a segment that’s open to the public, while Activision is conducting small, private meetings in lieu of a giant booth.

Disney also won’t be at E3, having recently cancelled its Disney Infinity line of games and collectible figures. And Nintendo – who used to have lavish, glitzy E3 press conferences and a monstrous booth filled with a dozen or more playable games to demo – will be showing just one game: the new Legend of Zelda, which comes out next year on the Wii U as well as Nintendo’s new console, codenamed NX – which won’t be revealed at E3.

But in a move that’s probably long overdue, E3 – which has always been an industry-only event – will have its first public component this year, dubbed E3 Live. Tickets for the three-day event sold out within a day at E3LiveLA.com, showing there’s a strong demand from gamers as a whole to sample the E3 experience.

Thing is, I’m genuinely not sure if there’s going to be much in the way of big surprises at this year’s extravaganza of digital diversions. We know some of the things that will make a sizable splash – the rumoured announcement of an upgraded PS4 console, for instance, and upcoming games, such as The Last Guardian, Dishonored 2 and some cool new virtual reality experiences. But short of a genuine shocker, say, a glimpse of Red Dead Redemption 2, The Elder Scrolls VI or a rumoured revamped Xbox One, it could be a smaller, quieter, somewhat predictable affair. Maybe that’s good? Maybe not.

I suspect the next year or two will see more major publishers scaling back their E3 presence and holding their own events outside of the show, while the expo itself continues to embrace a mix of the general public and industry types, a format more in line with Germany’s Gamescom or Japan’s Tokyo Games Show. It will mark a new era that sees E3 shrink down while perhaps also opening up.

Whatever the case, I hope E3 isn’t fading away altogether, because video games still need a flagship event that brings everyone together in one place for a week, turning the spotlight on everything new and exciting and innovative about digital entertainment.

Take arms against this sea of troubles, E3. Your time isn’t over just yet.

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