E3 2017 : An Indie Developer’s Review

I’ve talked about E3 every year since this site started, and I wonder if I should stop the tradition. It’s fun to talk about the new announcements, but I can’t help but feel that I repeat myself, and that it’s just adding to the thousands of other opinions that came out this week (never mind that this article is a few days after everything is over). That being said, I have something to say about how indie games were represented this year.

Generally, Ubisoft impressed everyone the most, purely because of the official reveal of “Beyond Good and Evil 2”. The cinematic trailer was great, and the intentions are ambitious, but as I feared immediately after the show, almost nothing except the game engine itself turned out to be ready, so I expect it won’t be out for another 3-5 years. “Mario + Rabbids” looks exciting for being the only Mario strategy game we’ve had. Otherwise, their show was a bit trite… even the new “Assassin’s Creed” seems weak compared to the games we’ve had over the last year, and it seems well-poised to be the last if it doesn’t sell. Bethesda had little to show, and until “Elder Scrolls 6” is ready they should probably not renew themselves for another official press conference next year. Of the other shows, I thought EA impressed me the most, mainly for the impressive debut of “A Way Out,” a great new cinematic exercise in co-op and labelled as a indie game no less. Microsoft I thought outdid Sony this year (regardless of whether I think Xbox One X is risking the idea of what a console lifecycle is or whether the name is silly), although the new “God of War” is still the thing I’m most interested in (generally, all of the new announcements don’t fair well against the standout games from the past six months).

What I really want to talk about this time is the indie games and their representation. “A Way Out” is fantastic, but I wonder exactly how much money EA is giving to it given it looks more impressive than their other games from the show (even more so than Bioware’s new “Anthem,” but I’m probably in the minority), and being set up as a follow-up to indie hit “Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons” I think developer HazeLight will be considered at least a AA studio under EA’s label a few years from now. But other from this, the indie games I though were not represented as well this year, despite being more relevant then ever.

You don’t need to look further than the Devolver Digital and PC Gaming press conferences this year. Devolver Digital is a popular indie publisher, but they always had a certain style to them that I personally avoid. Their press conference represented that at its worst: a 30 minute pre-taped sarcastic parody of the hyped conferences from other studios, trying Monty-Python-esque humour and violence and ultimately not being as funny as it thought it was. It ultimately only showed 2 trailers to indie games during that 30 minutes, both of which are the typical 2D-shooter-type-of-genre that all of Devolver’s games seem to be, and I don’t think anyone will be hyped for them any more than if the conference didn’t exist. Both Devolver after the pre-taped show and PC Gaming’s (now I think 2nd or 3rd) conference were mainly couch talks and live gameplay with the developers, with few announcements to mention. Which is ok… except that these interviews are live from E3 for about 5 days straight, and without knowing that a certain hour will be announcing anything new, I expect no one was watching during the interesting parts. Never mind how difficult it was to find a live stream of these shows, despite being known on the E3 schedule… clearly the press already knew what to expect.

This isn’t what E3 is about. Ok, maybe it is for the people who actually attend the show after the press conferences to demo the games, but most media and fans who watch live online are lost by then. What E3 had succeeded in for years, better than technology and geek conferences anywhere else, is the idea of streaming live brand new trailers from a theater stage designed to get you excited and hyped for the year to come. It has a day and a time, such that millions of fans know when to tune in, such that millions of fans can watch unblinking at the exact same moment, such that they can share the moment of excitement.

No such equivalent exists for indie developers. The big players were nice and had 1-2 games each year during their show as a sign of charity and appealing to people like me who complain about it. But today their are thousands of games in development at any moment, and a good number of them do deserve the same attention that the big boys get. They are every bit as cinematic and as exciting while sometimes being developed with less than 1% of the budget. There is no reason such a press conference – a TRUE press conference – can’t exist to purely cater to smaller titles outside of the blockbusters. It doesn’t need a lot of money to book a theater necessarily (as cool as that would be), Nintendo is able to get around that based on their merit alone, but I think similar can exist for indies to play debut or gameplay trailers for a good hour. I understand indie developers are generally not good at putting together good game footage and trailers for this type of press (marketing is a difficult task to do well), but a press conference could help highlight the importance on this and help developers that way as well in how they market themselves.

I don’t know who would do such a thing. Devolver Digital maybe could but didn’t. “IndiE3” was attempted once as a good example but didn’t get much attention outside the unfortunate controversy from lack of moderation of its debut in 2014. EA/Ubisoft/Square Enix and others probably wouldn’t agree to share a conference to separate their smaller/niche titles from the big franchise footage. “Indie MEGABOOTH” has made a successful business in having indie games on the show floor during conferences, they might be best suited for the task in the future. Maybe Steam can stream trailers of their top picks of a couple dozen games and start promoting them on the show floor, although there is little incentive for them to do so now. Even Kickstarter and Indiegogo could put something together to take advantage of E3. Whatever the case, someone needs to put SOMETHING together to have a press conference that the rest of the gaming community can look forward to. I hear that E3’s plans in 2020 have not been set to be in Los Angeles… maybe a new venue can spur new organization and format, and maybe then something can be put together.