It has to be said: E3 2016 has been disappointing if you’re a PC gamer. Yes, there’s no shortage of great looking PC games at the show this year. We have No Man’s Sky, Battlefield 1, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Mass Effect: Andromeda, LawBreakers, For Honor, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Recore, Tekken 7, Tyranny, Civilization VI, and many more. But the one thing these games have in common, other than being slated for release on PC, is that these aren’t new announcements.
In fact, so far, we don’t know a whole lot more about these games than we did before. We’ve seen a bit more gameplay, watched some new trailers, and maybe learned some new information about their mechanics. But the news is fairly rote—the type of news you’d expect to arrive any given week. There are no big cheering moments for new PC games. This year, the big game reveals were almost all for console. Just look at Sony’s show with the likes of God of War, Death Stranding, Days Gone, and Spider-Man. Each of these are pretty huge announcements.
It’s not all bad news, as there are a few newly announced PC games. The headliners, I suppose, are Resident Evil 7 and Titanfall 2, although the latter had been rumored for some time. We also have Steep, State of Decay 2, Dual Universe, Gwent, Serious Sam VR, Quake Champions, and a Skyrim remaster. None of these, at least to my mind, are enormous announcements. And indeed, the media attention has largely been elsewhere. Then there are the new indie titles, but that’s true just about every day of the year given the sheer amount of content available on Steam.
Almost certainly the biggest PC news to come out of E3 so far was actually from Microsoft’s press conference, at which they announced their “Play Anywhere” initiative. This means that any games purchased digitally under the Xbox Play Anywhere flag will be playable on both Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs. To put it another way, when you buy a digital copy of a game on one platform, you get it on the other for no extra cost, with full cross-play functionality.
Make no mistake: this is huge news. This also means that PC gamers are getting Gears of War 4, Forza Horizon 3, Dead Rising 4, Halo Wars 2, Sea of Thieves and many others. It means the Halo franchise will likely forever now be on PC as well. More importantly, this gives Microsoft a massive advantage over Sony when it comes to getting developers on board, and it may well spell the end of true console exclusives generally.
But for me, and I suspect many of you, the most exciting thing about E3 is the announcement of new games. And for PC gamers, there simply isn’t that much. Perhaps nothing can quite live up to last year’s E3 when Bethesda stole the show with their multiplatform announcements of Fallout 4, Doom, and Dishonored 2. This was especially true given how soon the release dates for Doom and Fallout 4 proved to be. But last year’s show wasn’t huge for PC gamers solely because of Bethesda. Consider that other games announced at that E3 included For Honor, Mass Effect Andromeda, Dark Souls III, South Park: Fractured But Whole, Sea of Thieves, Anno 2205, and a number of others. 2015 was unquestionably a strong year all-around, but 2016 seems to be weak by any standards.
PC Gamer once again valiantly tried to put PC gaming on the pre-show press conference schedule, but the event felt largely devoid of new content. Most of the time was taken up with developers talking about games we already know about or showing new trailers for games known to be in development. I’m glad there’s a PC gaming conference, but it’s too bad that even the big PC reveals tend to come from the console shows if they’re multiplatform games, and the focus is of course never on the PC version. And even PC exclusives, of which there are plenty, are often announced elsewhere.
As Warren Spector said on the PC gaming show, PC gaming is stronger now than ever—this is no doubt true. It’s possible that PC gaming doesn’t really need E3. In many cases, large PC focused developers have their own events or promote their products through their own community channels. Blizzard is perhaps the most obvious example. While not exclusively PC-focused, PC remains their primary market. But they save all of their big announcements for BlizzCon in November, which also serves to house the eSports championships for their games. Companies like Valve, the creators of Steam, also clearly have their own messaging platforms through both Steam itself and large events like Dota 2’s The International, should they have something to announce. And because PC gaming is ruled by digital distribution, there are lots of mid-level publishers, like Paradox, that release great PC games but aren’t big enough to put on their own E3 conference. Console games that still have to be put on discs inside of plastic boxes and shipped around the world to retail shelves require a lot of money from their publishers, which is why there are just a handful of Activisions, EAs and Ubisofts.
In fact, what many people may not know about E3 is that, at its heart, it’s a trade show designed to connect publishers and physical retailers. Retailers use the show to choose how much stock to purchase of a game, or which games should be on their radar. While this aspect has declined in importance as digital distribution has increased on consoles and as gaming media has grown, many gamers still get their console copies physically, and the show retains some value in that. For PC, however, digital distribution is totally dominant, meaning that E3 only serves a media purpose. And PC gamers seem more likely to follow gaming news year-round, rather than getting swept up in the hype of E3.
At the same time, though, there is something to be said for all that hype. E3 is a fun experience that increasingly brings the gaming community together around new games and general discussions of the medium. It’s where we really see the new trends in gaming and where the future is often revealed. It would be nice if PC gaming was more often included in that discussion, and if we saw more of a discussion from developers about how they’re making their games work for PC, rather than how great they’ll be on console. Sure, there’s Game Developers Conference, where these things often get discussed, but most consumers are only passingly aware of it at best. Everyone knows E3 for the giant media spectacle that it is.
If that discussion is ever going to get started, PC gaming needs to attract attention with big new PC games, and big publishers talking about the PC experience of their multiplatform titles. Maybe this is just a bad year, and PC gaming will be getting big news in 2017. I hope so. But it’s still hard not to be disappointed reading through PC gaming news this year.