E3 2016 Conference Strategies

Now that the dust has settled on the conferences, let's look back and look at the strategies employed by the six presentations I evaluated. As a pseudo-business-minded person, one of the most fascinating aspects of this week was how each company tackled their presentations in a different way.

Electronic Arts

Electronic Arts kicked off the week's festivities with their own fan-centric event. While still very much rooted in the traditional E3 conference-style we've seen from them in the past, there were a few very notable changes this year.

The most notable change was the fact that they held two conferences simultaneously in Los Angeles and London. And (rehearsal stream Titanfall 2 leak aside) the whole thing went off incredibly well. This let Peter Moore present the FIFA portion of the conference to the much more receptive European audience, while keeping Titanfall 2 and Battlefield 1 firmly in the LA portions of the show. It was a bold strategy that only really faltered because of how little else EA had to show off, with Mass Effect Andromeda and Star Wars being virtually nonexistant pieces of their portfolio at the moment.

But overall, the real crux of EA's strategy was not built around that conference but rather the multi-day event they hosted both in LA and London for their fans, who I'm sure probably ended up having a great time.

Bethesda

Bethesda surprised pretty much everyone when they decided to return for a second year in a row. Bethesda was very much a mixture of celebrating their success since last year's conference (Elder Scrolls OnlineFallout ShelterFallout 4, and Doom), and laying out the groundwork for the next year.

Highlighting fan-favorite announcements like Quake Champions and Skyrim Remastered gave the audience what they wanted. Introducing the idea of Bethesda VR showed that Bethesda is dedicated to the new technology with a showcase title like Fallout 4 becoming one of the first really Triple-A experiences announced for the fledgling systems. They weren't afraid to sneak in a blink and you'll miss it tease for a new Wolfenstein title. And they devoted a lot of stage time to their next really high-profile launch: Dishonored 2.

An all-around victory lap of sorts for the last year while effectively setting the stage for the rest of 2016 and their plans for 2017.

Microsoft

Microsoft came out swinging on Monday. Showcasing a balance of a diverse catalog of games, network updates to improve the end user experience, and kickstarting the conversation on the new iterative consoles in the public arena, Microsoft presented things they knew their competition likely would not.

While never openly speaking ill toward Sony and fueling unnecessary fan wars, every mention of Xbox Live continually striving to improve their network served as a subliminal reminder that Sony has had trouble on that front. Introducing the Xbox One S and Project Scorpio as a significantly more powerful console and bringing in notable developers to sing Microsoft's praises for leading the charge subconsciously draws out all of the editorial pieces that have gone around since GDC saying that developers were unhappy with the PlayStation 4K/Neo.

And the direction to make most of the Xbox portfolio part of their Xbox Play Anywhere program that allows Cross-Buy functionality between the Xbox One console and a player's Windows 10 account suggest looking toward the future of the industry, especially when combined with Microsoft's ongoing efforts to support Backwards Compatibility on their system. Following in the footsteps of something like a Steam account where your games is yours no matter what system you want to play.

Ubisoft

Ubisoft celebrated their 30th Birthday/Anniversary during their conference. Presenting their typically diverse catalog, Ubisoft, as they often do, made their conference about spectacle as much as they made it about games.

Kicking off with the very flamboyant dance number to Queen in order to promote Just Dance 2017, Ubisoft would proceed to treat their conference like a circus, with host Aisha Tyler acting ever the ringmaster. Matt Stone and Trey Parker came out to discuss South Park: The Fractured But Whole. Levar Burton, Jeri Ryan, and Karl Urban appeared via video to praise Star Trek Bridge Crew for VR, with Burton appearing onstage himself for a time. Film producer Frank Marshall came out to discuss Ubisoft's venture into film with Assassin's Creed before showing interviews with the director and Michael Fassbender.

The games almost took a backseat to the celebrities. Presumably the marketing strategy behind these decisions was centered around the idea that the audience would walk away thinking, "if celebrities like these things, I should buy them." It feels very much like a strategy that would have worked like gangbusters even five years ago. But in the ever-growing landscape of Twitch streaming and YouTubers, perhaps Ubisoft is targeting the wrong set of tastemakers.

Sony

Sony closed out Monday with what many people walked away from calling the best E3 conference ever. With a live orchestra playing throughout, Sony showed trailer after trailer after trailer and didn't let up. While every other conference featured developers coming out to introduce their games to the world, Sony featured three people: Shawn Layden, Andrew House, and Hideo Kojima.

This strategy was built entirely around the notion of letting the games speak for themselves. This strategy was even echoed in the notion that Sony Executives were not really setting up appointments for interviews at E3. This strategy wound up coming across incredibly flashy as nearly every game shown was a heavy hitter. Of the nearly 20 games shown or announced, almost all of them were included as highlights of PlayStation's exclusive titles.

The most notable exceptions to this rule were 3rd party titles Resident Evil VII: BiohazardCall of Duty, and LEGO Star WarsResident Evil makes sense because the announcement that the whole game, while compatible with consoles, is playable in PlayStation VR, makes the VR story almost as big as the announcement of the game itself. Call of Duty is a subtle reminder that Activision left Microsoft behind for this generation and is rewarding Sony with timed exclusives. Similarly, WB Games has been signing over exclusive content in their LEGO games to Sony this generation as well. And it didn't hurt that showing LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens meant that the orchestra got to play Star Wars music a second time.

Ultimately, though, I have seen people slowly dawn on the realization that while a lot of new exciting titles were shown, people have started realizing just how many of those games have release dates and speculation of how many of them will even come out in the next 18 months has started to drive the conversation.

Nintendo

Lastly, Nintendo avoided the Direct-style prepackaged videos of recent years in favor of two days of live-streams from the show floor. Day one focused on the marquee titles of Zelda and Pokemon and day two focused on everything else.

The strategy here was two-fold. First, give the world as much gameplay of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as they can find to showcase the size, scope, and direction of the title. And two, bring the E3 experience to everyone that couldn't get to LA by giving the audience direct (albeit highly curated) access to the rest of the upcoming Nintendo catalog.

People who watched the live stream got to see way more of Zelda than those who went hands on with the game. And most, if not all, of the other titles shown weren't on the show floor. So with a series of Let's Plays combined with developer interviews and commentary, Nintendo packaged all of their announcements into these live-stream showcases of their last real line-up before the next console is introduced early next year.

Sony and Xbox also had their own assorted live streams throughout the rest of the week but because this was pretty much all we were going to get from Nintendo, the news from the Nintendo streams likely attracted a bit more coverage, especially as it related to the Wii U's swan song: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Closing Thoughts

Regardless of which conferences "won" or "lost" E3, all of them tried to make their waves in the news cycle in different ways. No two conferences felt the same. They all had their pros and cons. And all of them will have their defenders. Given the diversity of this year's line-up, I can't wait to see what lessons and strategies everyone pulls from one another for next year's convention. I really hope I'm able to make my way to L.A. June 13-15, 2017 (and probably a couple days before and after) to cover it live from the event.