5 big takeaways from video game fest E3 2021

E3, the annual video game industry trade show, is usually a boisterous affair, overstimulating both attendees and people watching from home with a thumping soundtrack and a deluge of game news. This year’s virtual gathering, which concluded on Tuesday, was more modest, but there were still some notable moments.

While the show suffered from the absence of major publishers like Sony, Electronic Arts, and Konami, the announcements still got gamers excited about what lies ahead.

Here are biggest takeaways, trends, and observations from the show.

Microsoft steps out

Microsoft has spent much of the past eight years in Sony’s shadow. Sony’s PlayStation 4 console outsold Microsoft’s Xbox One, and the PlayStation 5 has had more pop culture cachet than the Xbox Series X. But Phil Spencer, executive vice president of gaming at Microsoft, and his team have been playing the long game—and this year they made a strong case to attract gamers to Microsoft.

The company’s Xbox Showcase included a barrage of new blockbuster games, from Halo Infinite to Starfield to Forza Horizon 5. Any one of these titles could have kept players talking all week, but beyond just rolling out big games, Microsoft confirmed that it was all in on Game Pass. The video game subscription service gives players access to well over 100 titles for $10 to $15 monthly. It was the strongest value argument to date for the service and is almost certain to cause a surge in sign-ups.

Nintendo’s flex

Microsoft wasn’t the only console publisher to get attention. Nintendo unveiled details about several eagerly awaited game titles. Metroid Dread, a game whose name leaked out a whopping 15 years ago and was thought to be a myth, was shown for the first time—and will be available in October. The company also showcased The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2, the sequel to the hit Switch title, which hasn’t been seen since it was first announced two years ago. (Developers said they’re “aiming” for a 2022 launch.) Throw in updated adaptations of favorites like Advance Wars and WarioWare, and the Switch is likely to continue to be a strong competitor to Xbox and PlayStation.

No drought soon

Many of the games announced this year won’t be out until 2022. That’s not unusual at E3; it’s the industry launchpad for the next two years. But holy cow, the games that are in the long-term lineup—Starfield, Breath of the Wild 2, The Outer Worlds 2, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 Heart of Chernobyl—are potential blockbusters. That’s good news for the millions of people who picked up a gaming habit in the past year during the pandemic.

Hardware can wait

The E3 rumor mill seemed pretty certain Nintendo would announce an updated Switch game system, but in the end, that didn’t prove true—and it didn’t matter. There were enough big titles unveiled that even the gaming audience, whose crankiness is legendary, didn’t really seem to mind. Nintendo may well be working on a new Switch to keep up the momentum with its hit platform, but if so, it may announce the device’s debut closer to the holiday shopping season or even next year.

In-person matters

E3 2021 had some terrific announcements, but it didn’t have the usual urgency and fervor. Given the planning that goes into the show and the uncertainty of the world, virtual was the only option in 2021, but the return of the crowds next year—as is expected—will be welcome. Video games, after all, have always been a social medium. Sure, there are single-player modes, but the best moments often come with others. In the early days, that was on the couch with a friend. More recently, it’s been online, with both colleagues and total strangers.

E3 is no different. It’s a show that thrives on human contact. And here’s hoping that E3 2022 takes the best of this year and past shows to create a hybrid event that casts a net to gamers everywhere.

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