June 8, 2012 at 2:47 PM ET
By Winda Benedetti, Devin Coldewey, Todd Kenreck & Matt Rivera
The game business is in transition. Never has that been more apparent than at this year's biggest video game show.
The Electronic Entertainment Expo, which just wrapped up in Los Angeles, is the place where the biggest and best game companies tend to unveil their newest technologies and forthcoming games, often to much fanfare. But with few bigsurprises from the game powerhouses this year, E3 seemed to reveal an industry playing its cards close ... and holding its breath.
Yes, as many had predicted, this year's E3 was ... quieter ... than in the past (if "quiet" can be truly used to describe this bombastic event). Sure, Microsoft unveiled its SmartGlass app and its forthcoming Spotify-like Xbox Music service. Sony showed off some exciting exclusive games in the works. And certainly Nintendo came out strong behind its forthcoming Wii U machine.
But this year's show seemed to be missing that "Holy-Wow!" moment ... or three.
Why? The smart bet says it's because the video game powerhouses are quietly getting ready for the big storm to come.
That is, they're getting ready for the next generation of video game consoles to launch. They're getting ready for some very big, and very interesting, years ahead. And, in fact, they're probably still trying to figure out how to play the cards they're holding close in the years ahead.
The Wii U will be the first of this next generation of game consoles to arrive. And while much skepticism seems to remain about the machine, it is sure to give the game industry a jolt when it launches this holiday. And while Microsoft and Sony didn't say a peep about their next gen machines at E3 this year ... everyone knows they're in the works. Many predict they'll be unveiled and perhaps even launched next year ... or 2014 at the latest. And won't that be an interesting showdown?
And here's the thing: If you knew where to look at E3 this year, there were plenty of signs that the industry is getting ready for big things to come. Developers and publishers showed off some fascinating new games that many predict are being prepped for the next generation of consoles. "Star Wars 1313,""Watch Dogs" and "Beyond" ... we're looking at you.
[Follow THIS LINK for a look back at E3 2012 in photos.]
What does this mean for gamers? It means look to the horizon, friends. This year's E3 may not have been the most exciting, and the video game biz may not be at its most interesting place in history ... but here's betting that changes soon.
Meanwhile, here's a look at the hits and misses from this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo as brought to you by our In-Game team.
TODD KENRECK - In-Game Editor
Hit: The Fans -- Unlike the Penny Arcade Expo, E3 isn't a show geared toward the average gamer. It's a trade show for the press, analysts and other game industry people. But dig past all the business stuff at E3 and you'll find the heart of gaming beating strong. People like Holly Conrad -- who makes creatures and costumes based on video games -– give this show some genuine gamer soul. And it was great talking to video game fan and violinist Lindsey Sterling. She has become something of an internet superstar due in large part to her video game music tributes (and a hefty amount of talent) and performed at E3's Video Games Live concert Wednesday night.
Miss: Staged moments -- E3 has a lot of heart (see above) but there's also plenty of hype. All of the big game companies use E3 as a platform to make some of their biggest announcements and kick off their marketing campaigns. That means overblown press events and staged moments that ring false are a common occurrence. This year the opening pressers had plenty of bad theatrics and cheesy taglines. My request for next year: More heart and less cheese please.
Hit: Gaming creatives -- All the marketing and hype aside, there are some incredibly creative people behind the games we play. And one of the things I love about E3 is getting a chance to meet these people and see their work. Seeing Quantic Dream's game "Beyond" and getting to talk to director David Cage about it was a great experience. He is on the bleeding edge of a new style of narrative and it was intriguing tohear the backstory about the tech demo "Kara." Meanwhile, game trailers have always intrigued me and I got a chance to see how Blur Studios in L.A. makes some of the biggest animations in the industry. It's great getting to meet game creators who just want to talk about their games.
Hit: "Doom 3" virtual reality headset - The oddest surprise of E3 wasn't a big announcement but a small one. John Carmack and Bethesda were showing off a homebrew pair of 3-D virtual reality goggles that will work with "Doom 3 BFG" when it launches in the fall. This head-mounted display -– which tracks the movement of your head so that you can literally look around inside the game -- felt quicker and more useful than a mouse. I have never had a gadget make me feel so immersed in a game.
DEVIN COLDEWEY - In-Game reporter
Hit: "The Last of Us"/"Watch Dogs" -- I have to join the rest of the gaming community in lauding "The Last of Us" and "Watch Dogs." Not only are they new titles instead of franchises, but they're ambitious, interesting, and modern. I have some issues -- the gunplay in "Watch Dogs" seems kind of incongruous with the deliberate strategizing elsewhere, and "The Last of Us" will need to work hard not to glorify the violence it portrays.
Hit: Wii U -- I got a relaxed, behind-the-scenes playthrough with a few of the games and while I think Nintendo is mis-handling the whole thing, the fact is that these games are just plain fun. You pick it up, you get it, you have fun -- it's that simple.
Hit: "Planetside 2" - This game is kind of what I always hoped the next "Tribes" would be like. Taking part in big battles all over a huge planet, lots of loadouts, big structures -- I can't wait.
Miss: "Medal of Honor" Warfighter" -- Something really jarred me about this one. The game itself doesn't seem to offer anything new at all, and the multiplayer is a tasteless pitting of friendly countries' soldiers against one another, with no reason or context other than patriotic brutality. Can't we do something original around warfare instead of the same chest-thumping garbage again and again?
Miss: Poorly staged press conferences -- What the gaming community craves right now is people who love games being genuine about it, not half-baked celebrity appearances and executives droning on about how a game will revolutionize this or that. The games with the most buzz this year were just played on stage, plain and simple. People saw them and thought "wow, I really want to play that." It's not a new problem, but the pomp and the stilted jokes are only getting worse. Show us the games.
WINDA BENEDETTI - In-Game reporter
Hit: Original games -- At a time when so many video games seem to be sequels, I was thrilled to see some really interesting, original games make a big splash at E3. "Beyond," "The Last of Us," "Dishonored," "Watch Dogs" -- they're all still in early development but just seeing developers working on games that present entirely new ideas makes me really excited to be a gamer and to see what else they have in store for us.
Miss: Anticipated Games -- For all of the interesting games that were revealed at E3 this year, there were some big names that were missing. "Grand Theft Auto V," "Destiny," "The Last Guardian," "Half-Life 3." Where-oh-where were thee?
Miss: New hardware -- We all know Microsoft and Sony are working on the next generation of game consoles. And I'm sure they have good reasons for not revealing anything about them at this year's E3. But it would have gone a long way toward pumping some excitement into an event that sets the tone for the industry if one of them had decided to give us a look at what they're working on. We gamers love this kind of stuff. And an E3 without a big hardware revelation ... well, it's just not the same.
Hit: Wii U GamePad -- I know there's a lot of skepticism about the Wii U and its GamePad but I'm intrigued. I really do think having a second window on our games could make playing more interesting and I liked the way some of the games that will launch for the Wii U are going to make use of the GamePad. "ZombieU," "Pikmen 3," "Batman Arkahm City: Armored Edition" -- they make me think I'd like to own a Wii U.
Miss: Wii U details -- Nintendo talked a lot about the Wii U ... but didn't answer many of our most burning questions. What are its technical specs, when exactly does it launch and, most importantly, how much will the thing cost? If Nintendo wants people to get behind their machine at this critical time, they should have dished some more details.
MATT RIVERA - msnbc.com video producer
Hit: "The Last of Us" revelation -- When Sony unveiled "The Last of Us" at their big press event, the crowd reacted with a level of attention and emotional involvement that you would expect at the nearby Stanley Cup Finals. It might be a PR stunt to show a rehearsed game snippet to a crowd of fans, but it's still exciting to watch a solitary game, like "The Last of Us," elicit cheers from an audience in the thousands. In the future, that game will be played by individuals at home, alone. It will never again reach that level of shared, in-person experience. And to be there, and to feel the room become emotionally locked on a game that celebrates strong writing and drama, was exciting.
Miss: Mobile gaming -- Social and mobile gaming giants Zynga and Gree made their first-ever appearance at E3 this year. And yet, if you didn't know better, you could walk around the show floor and not realize that there is a booming mobile gaming movement happening outside, in the hands of commuters and kids everywhere. Where are the giant Angry Birds and Doodlejump statues? As more tablets are sold and more powerful hardware makes its way inside of phones, the potential market for mobile gaming will continue to grow. And yet this trend is virtually absent from E3.