E3 2011: 5 things I learned

This year's E3 Expo had distinct trends running through it. As we wrap up our visit, here's what we took away.

E3 2011: Things we learned
Sarah Tew/CNET

LOS ANGELES--Another year, another show floor filled with bright lights, thunderous music, and scantily dressed women showing off big-budget studio games. Sometimes it feels like E3 never changes.

Yet, I've been to roughly 10 E3s in my life dating back to the Sega Dreamcast debut, and in my first on-the-show visit in a few years, the landscape has subtly and definitely altered from years past.

So here are my final observations about this year's show.

Related links
• First take: Wii U
• Can motion, touch win over console gamers?
• E3 2011: Complete coverage

The Wii U.
Sarah Tew/CNET

Everyone wants to be accessible.
The buzz language I keep hearing again and again, be it at Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft, or third-party booths, is "games everyone can enjoy." Forza 4 aims to be a game for hard-core simulators, or kids using motion control. The PlayStation Vita's myriad controls are meant for casual touch-based gaming or "hard-core" use. The Wii U's mission statement, according to Reggie Fils-Aime himself, is to satisfy mainstream audiences and more-serious gamers alike.

As Bill Cosby once said, "I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone." Game companies might be better off making some games for some audiences and some for others rather than trying to shoehorn all experiences into the same mass-appeal channels.

The PS Vita.
Sarah Tew/CNET

More might not be better.
The fact that the PS Vita and the Wii U both have a daunting number of thumbsticks, buttons, motion controls, and touch options either opens up these devices to become true Swiss army knives of gaming, or will daunt would-be owners . The lesson to be learned from do-anything devices like Apple's iPhone and iPad is that those gadgets are black-box simple: flat touch panels with nearly no button clutter. Time will tell if Nintendo and Sony are onto something or are making a mistake.

Creativity's hard to come by.
Endless sequels, particularly of the third kind , flooded the E3 show floor. Even if games aren't sequels, most are easily pegged as spiritual knockoffs of one genre or another. Gaming's not the only industry to suffer this repetition, and the reason it's so prevalent at E3 is because we're mostly seeing massive companies making top-down products. Only a few games, like BioShock Infinite , seem capable of bucking the trend and producing auteur-level brilliance.

Indie games are the solution. Garage developers are the ones who brought gaming brilliance out of the iPhone and iPad--otherwise, we'd be stuck with big studios and virtual analog pads. The Wii U, Kinect, Move, Vita, and 3DS--systems with unique hardware, controls, and interfaces--desperately need the imagination of individuals who will burn the midnight oil and fearlessly develop groundbreaking ideas. This is particularly true for motion and touch games , which still have a long way to go to become truly compelling. Otherwise, we're destined for stale games in the future.

Everyone might not be afraid of Apple, but it sure seems that way.
Not every company will admit it, but the new hardware at E3 2011 offers more of a nod to Apple's iOS devices than ever before. The PS Vita's touch screen and motion controls are reminiscent of the iPod Touch and iPhone (and many Android phones), and the Wii U's tablet controller has more than a passing resemblance in form and function to the iPad. Game companies are quick to remind people how much richer dedicated gaming consoles are than other entertainment experiences. Apple's simultaneous WWDC conference this week was no accident: iOS gaming is a force to be reckoned with, and the influence of connected mobile gaming devices and cheap apps made by hungry independent developers is affecting the mainstream landscape.

PC gaming might be in a state of evolution.
PC gaming feels even more marginal at E3 2011 than it has before, possibly because it's getting squeezed not just by gaming consoles and handhelds, but by smartphones and tablets. A dinner I attended dedicated to PC gaming steadfastly trumpeted that services like EA's Origin and Valve's Steam are part of a hardy, vibrant industry, but I'd argue that we've never doubted the PC's ability to play games. Rather, desktops and laptops just aren't fun machines for most people to play on. The faster that legitimate tablets can rise with significant gaming power, or that PC games can adopt interactivity with small devices like smartphones and existing tablets, the sexier (and frankly, more mass-appealing) PC gaming will be. Alternatively, services like PlayOn could be a gateway to MMOs and other PC games on ultramobile devices, or cross-platform games like Minecraft, which is emerging on everything from phones to consoles.

What struck you about E3 2011? Let us know in the comments.

 

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