If I could sum up EA’s performance in one word, it would be cringe. EA didn’t seem to understand what gamers wanted this year. They don’t want sports celebrities going up on stage and giving wooden performances. The audience that’s tuning into E3 doesn’t want a lackluster demonstration of a mobile game featuring obscure YouTube personalities. The silence from the audience throughout EA’s presentation was deafening and telling. The people in attendance just weren’t invested. EA’s presentations continue to follow trends that were never relevant to begin with.
7. Square Enix
Square Enix’s presentation contained two cardinal flaws: it was too safe and too short. Throughout the conference, we couldn’t shake the feeling that Square Enix just wasn’t confident in its lineup. Aside from Shadow of the Tomb Raider, not a piece of gameplay was to be found. The conference was just trailer after trailer, mostly of games we already knew about. And most of these trailers had already been previewed in other presentations. No fanfare, just trailers that lacked any of the pomp and circumstance deserving of E3.
The producers of Square Enix’s conference tried to salvage it with a narration by Keith David, and he’s got one of those voices that could make reading from a phone book entertaining. The man is nothing if not talented and has quite a few famous roles under his belt, including Dr. Facilier from The Princess and the Frog, Captain David Anderson from Mass Effect 1-3, The Arbiter from the Halo franchise, and Goliath from the old Disney cartoon Gargoyles. However, not even David’s delicious delivery could save this ultimately disappointing, but thankfully un-cringey, presentation.
Put down your torches and pitchforks, I’m not saying Nintendo’s E3 conference was bad, just that it wasn’t buck wild. The presentation was colorful and full of games audiences are looking forward to (especially Super Smash Bros. Ultimate), but considering this is a list ranking who was the flashiest, Nintendo was definitely lacking. It was missing…something else. In the past, Nintendo has demonstrated it is capable of this “something else.” Remember 2015 when Nintendo’s video conference featured Muppets? How about Nintendo’s E3 2014 presentation with Robot Chicken skits? Now those were E3 presentations.
While the games presented in Nintendo’s E3 conference were full of charm and imagination, the same couldn’t be said for the conference itself. It would have been fine had it been any regular Nintendo Direct video, but it wasn’t. It was a presentation for E3, the be-all and end-all in gaming news and announcements. Nintendo needed something like a video of a live actor/actress dressed in Samus’ Power Suit fighting off a giant animatronic Ridley constructed by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Yes, that would have required a ton of effort and special effects, but that’s the point of E3: to turn video game announcements into spectacles gamers fondly remember for years. Oh well, more importantly, we’re getting every single Smash character ever, so we’ll get over it.
Microsoft provided a fairly decent presentation. It had a reasonable pace and put an emphasis on hype. The presenters hyped the games on display, their features, and just about everything else. Hype was the name of the game at the Microsoft E3 presentation. Well, that and surprise reveals. Remember when I said Square Enix’s presentation was lackluster? We can place the blame squarely on Microsoft’s conference. Had we not already been spoiled by the surprise Kingdom Hearts III and NieR: Automata trailers during Microsoft’s presentation, Square might have left a bigger impact. But, that’s their loss and Microsoft’s gain.
Many gamers have been complaining about a lack of Xbox One exclusives for quite a while now, and the producers of Microsoft’s presentation knew that. They put a great deal of emphasis on Xbox One exclusives and Microsoft’s new acquisitions. The presenters also let the announcements speak for themselves. The conference was awash in self-generating hype, which kinda worked. However, Microsoft’s presentation would have been a more enjoyable experience had there been a little more panache. That’s not to say the conference was bad, just that it could have been flashier
Sony seemed to get everything right for this year’s E3. First, it presented its trailers in thematic venues prefaced with appropriate musical performances. For example, instead of being in a fancy theater, The Last of Us 2 was shown in what appeared to be a rustic building that had been re-purposed into a makeshift church. Very fitting for a game about surviving in a post-apocalyptic Earth ravaged by bandits and humans infested with a mutant strain of Cordyceps. But, more importantly and unlike other presentation, Sony gave the audience time to breathe and process what it witnessed.
As the old saying goes, slow and steady wins the race, and it was Sony’s slow and steady presentation that made it win E3. The beginning of the conference gave viewers ample time to soak in the videos, but even when Sony picked up the pace later on, the trailers were long enough so the audience did not feel overwhelmed. The presentation demonstrated that there can be fanfare in simplicity and subtlety.
Unlike EA, Ubisoft has learned its lessons and created one of the better E3 conferences. The cringworthy Just Dance presentation from 2016 was fresh in everyone’s minds when the conference started, but instead of something just as saccharine, Ubisoft provided a far more enjoyable Just Dance-themed marching band routine. But that’s not all Ubisoft did right. It also included a live band that played some of Grant Kirkhope’s beautiful Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle music, and when the conference wasn’t providing entertaining live performances, it was giving gamers what they truly want: an exhaustive rundown on game features.
All of the above would have been good on its own, but Ubisoft stood out thanks to three special moments: the reveal that gamers will be able to submit literally anything to HitRecord to have it featured in Beyond Good and Evil 2; all the presenters coming back on-stage at the end for a final goodbye, and the reveal that the Nintendo Switch version of Starlink would feature StarFox content. Sorry, I meant when Ubisoft co-founder Yves Guillemot walked up on stage to call out his good friend Shigeru Miyamoto to give him a prototype of the toys-to-life Arwing toy for Starlink. The uproar from the crowd was absolutely deafening. Well done Ubi!
The presentation started off strong with Andrew W. K. giving a live performance of his song Ready to Die, which is fitting because that’s exactly what the Bethesda E3 presentation featured: games filled with hapless enemies who were ready to die, and if they weren’t that was too bad because they died anyway. Throughout the conference, the presenters seemed as though they were having fun as they cracked jokes. Some fell flat, but more hit than missed, especially the “Not a Mimic” sticky note (seriously, that needs to become a real product). And really, that’s how you give a good presentation: by making it feel genuine.
While the Bethesda E3 presentation had plenty of jokes, it featured one trailer that I just have to mention: Skyrim – Very Special Edition. The video played out like an April Fool’s joke, but as many can attest, Skyrim – Very Special Edition is a real game. When is the last time anyone gave an E3 conference that teased a real product with a trailer that, on the surface, appeared to be nothing more than a jest? I have to give Bethesda extra points for that masterful stroke of pulling the wool over our eyes.
1. Devolver Digital
You might be asking yourself why Devolver Digital’s presentation is so high up in this list. One of my points of criticism for the Square Enix E3 presentation was it was too short. Devolver Digital’s presentation was even shorter, so why isn’t it ranked lower than Square Enix’s conference? Simple: because it didn’t feel short. Devolver Digital made the most of its runtime and created one of the most buck wild presentations in E3 history. And not just because the company is finally bringing Metal Wolf Chaos to non-Japanese audiences.
Devolver Digital’s E3 presentation was one great big parody of an E3 presentation, a continuous stream of meticulously chosen buzzwords that don’t mean anything. The company took the South Park approach and made fun of everything gaming related, from the recent trends of Battle Royale games and lootboxes to, well, everything that was wrong with EA’s conference. And Devolver Digital even somehow worked in an argument on how the word “GIF” is pronounced. Their entire conference was a not-so subtle jab at the gaming industry as a whole, and love it or hate it, it was balls to the wall crazy.