The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) week for 2015 is over, but the massive coverage in the media is only beginning. While most places are focusing on the games, E3 is an important occasion to learn about the state of the business, and where game marketing is going. Let’s take a deeper look at what’s going on in the games industry.
At its core, E3 is focused on console gaming, and this year it’s clear that the marketing focus has shifted from making people aware and excited about new console hardware to let’s get people excited about all the great games that are coming. Beyond that shift, though, there are some major trends occurring in gaming that E3 highlighted clearly when you looked at the bigger picture.
Mobile and console games can work together
Out with the old, in with the new
Sometimes it’s what you don’t see that tells you something important. Was there an Xbox 360 or a PS3 to be found anywhere at the show Not anywhere in the Microsoft or Sony booths. (For that matter, there was barely a trace of a PS Vita, and the PlayStation TV seemed missing in action as well.) Is this a bad thing Not at all, it means that Sony and Microsoft are doing well enough with the newest consoles that they don’t really care much about the older ones. Both manufacturers now have a backwards compatibility solution for their latest consoles, too, so keeping the old hardware going means less than ever. (Microsoft will be making Xbox 360 titles available directly on the Xbox One, while Sony offers its PlayStation Now streaming service to let you play PS3 titles on your PS4.)
For publishers, though, it means they shouldn’t expect to sell too many of their titles for Xbox 360 or PS3. That message has certainly come through, as no one was showing any titles for those old systems, anyway. Though there was no official ceremony to make their passing, we can say goodbye to the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 (and the Wii, though that passed away last year). Thanks for all of your service. The only question remaining is how much, if any, shelf space these older consoles will take up at retail stores by the time the holiday rolls around. Probably not much.
New technologies beckon
You couldn’t walk very far at E3 without running into some example of virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR). Sony had Project Morpheus on prominent display in several places in its booth. Oculus had a crowd around its booth. Bigger publishers tended to have something in their booth to show how they are experimenting with VR or AR, and a number of smaller companies were scattered around hoping to garner attention for their AR or VR related products. Whether or not VR and AR become major consumer markets in the near future, marketing will be using them to show how future-oriented a company is.
More than VR and AR, though, we saw plenty of new hardware from accessories companies. The new generation of consoles has reached sufficient size and momentum that new lines of accessories are being created and introduced in a big way. New lines of headsets, extra data storage, keyboards for yur console controller, and more were on display. It’s going to mean plenty of marketing this fall as these companies compete for all those Xbox One and PS4 owners to upgrade their accessories.
Even Microsoft is jumping into the fun with its Xbox Elite controller, a $150 (!) controller for the Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs that’s fully customizable in both hardware and software. It’s a premium device with a premium price for the hardest of the hardcore gamers. The biggest concern for Microsoft about this should be manufacturing enough to meet the demand, which is likely to be high.
Project Morpheus on the wall at Sony’s booth
Marketing moves to the masses
You could not avoid the presence of Twitch at E3, with monitors everywhere showing the constant streams from the show floor. Multiple companies were streaming from E3, and no doubt plenty of Periscope and Meerkat moments joined them. Gloriously, the LA Convention Center seems to have fixed its massive connectivity problems, and thus social media could have a field day at the show. The crowd of 50,000 plus attendees obliged, with a massive wave of sharing.
The larger trend that’s evident, though, is how much of the marketing is being taken over by the masses. In the past, companies were in tight control of the messaging, with carefully orchestrated press events and carefully screened journalists in controlled interviews. Yes, that still occurs, but it’s much less important than the influencers on social media and video who are giving their own impressions to millions of devoted followers. Working with your audience is now primary, not just lecturing to them.
Even the E3 show itself recognizes this, as it began to open up its doors to those outside the industry. Exhibitors got 5,000 badges to give away, and most choose to give those their biggest influencers and fans. You can expect to see this again in the future, and in general more and more marketing will be about supporting the voices of your biggest fans rather than just trying to directly create some fans.
E3’s show floor is merely the tip of the gaming iceberg
For all of the attention directed at the E3 show floor this last week, it’s not the majority of the game business. PC online games are racking up billions of dollars, and the mobile game business worldwide is surpassing consoles, and eSports are becoming vastly more popular globally. All of those trends are strongly affecting console games. Ubisoft’s Just Dance 2016 uses smartphones to expand its audience to all console owners, not just those with a Kinect or a PlayStation Eye. Beyond that, even, Just Dance Now lets you play with just your smartphone or tablet… that console experience has gone mobile.
Fallout Shelter is now the #3 top-grossing iOS title in just a few days, kicking King’s Candy Crush Saga out of its position among the top three titles its held since 2013. This astonishing development came after the surprise announcement of the mobile game at Bethesda’s E3 press event on Sunday, which was all about console and PC games. If there was any doubt whether hardcore console gamers paid attention to mobile, this should answer that question with finality.
In the larger sense, mobile games are aiming at the core. Zynga’s upcoming CSR Racing 2 will go beyond console graphics with astonishing visuals. Nexon/Big Huge Games’ DomiNations is aiming right for core gamers, and in two months has already garnered more fans than all the games Big Huge Games ever produced in the past put together, according to Big Huge CEO Tim Train. Electronic Arts is pushing to make Madden Football as big a hit on mobile as it is on consoles, and its FIFA Ultimate Team is already a terrific mobile success that boosts the console and PC FIFA games. Activision/Blizzard’s Hearthstone has acquired an audience of over 30 million because it’s gone beyond PCs and made a great tablet and smartphone version of the game, tremendously broadening the appeal.
While you are marveling at the new console games being celebrated at E3, it’s important to realize that gaming on other platforms is right there with them — and in many cases going beyond them. Gaming is expanding into the future on many fronts, and success in the future will go to those who realize this trend and take full advantage of it.