This year's was an unusual E3. The general quality of the games on show was ludicrously high, possibly the highest it's ever been – and yet there were almost no surprises, few new announcements, and so much of the news was leaked before the show that there was an almost total lack of megaton moments. Third-party publishers emerged triumphant with almost all of IGN's Best of E3 awards, with barely any big new games from Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony. It was a show comprised largely of things we already knew about.
We're used to E3 being a wellspring of huge gaming news, but this year, things were different. It begs the question: has E3's role in the gaming calendar changed?
The biggest news by far was the unveiling of the Wii U, which managed to take everybody by surprise despite months of speculation and rubbish home-made models and Powerpoint presentations masquerading as Secret Internal Nintendo Documents. It didn't enliven the conference quite as much as I'm sure Iwata and Reggie were hoping, largely because of the perceived ambiguity about whether it actually was a new console rather than just a new controller (we'll be taking an in-depth look at confusion that later this week).
But despite the excitement of a new console announcement – and there was palpable excitement on the show floor, with day-long queues of people eager to get their hands on that fascinating new controller – we were left without the excitement of any actual games for it. A strong 3DS line-up (Luigi's Mansion 2 was probably my favourite surprise of the show) couldn't make up for that.
Other than that one big reveal, this really was The Year of 3s – Resistance 3, Battlefield 3, Just Dance 3, Mass Effect 3, Modern Warfare 3, Gears of War 3. We're almost six years into this console cycle, and it's really showing. The end-of-year line-up is dominated by sequels and much-anticipated but nonetheless disappointingly predictable new instalments in well-established, long-running franchises.
Many of the best games of the show were games that we've already seen - Bioshock Infinite, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Deus Ex: Human Revolution (which has been previewed to death), even Dark Souls. There were a few exceptions; Tomb Raider and Hitman: Absolution, to name two, but neither of those is a new IP. Meanwhile, there were no big new announcements about the hot franchises: no new Grand Theft Auto, and only the briefest glimpse of Halo 4.
It's a real sign of generation fatigue. Although Vita and Wii U were there to provide a new technology fix and Kinect showed signs of coming into its own with FunLabs and Fable: The Journey (seriously, it's not as on-rails as it looks), none of the platform holders showed us where we're headed, and none presented a really strong, clear vision for the future. Instead, everyone had their feet firmly planted in the present.
It's possible that E3 just isn't as important to the gaming calendar as it once was. Having one conference for all the year's announcements never was the best idea – even great stuff often got drowned in the flood of information – and August's Gamescom has really eaten into E3's influence, offering publishers the chance to actually show their games to the public.
Publishers, meanwhile, want to own the news – and that's much easier at other times of the year, when the Big Three aren't dominating what IGN and every other games outlet in the world are writing and talking about. That's why Activision gave Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 an early reveal a few weeks ago, why the Tomb Raider trailer debuted a few days before the show started, and why Capcom, Namco Bandai, EA and many more publishers hold their own specific events throughout the year rather than showing everything in LA.
Tomb Raider was a stand-out title, but it's not a new franchise
If you were actually there, E3 2011 was an exciting one, largely due to the sheer, unrelenting quality of everything on show. I had back to back appointments for four days, and almost everything I saw was extremely good – to the point where it was impossible to pick just one or two stand-out titles. From the outside, though, the lack of fresh games and new announcements made E3 2011 look like a bit of a damp squib.
Through all of this disappointment about slow news and a lack of genuine announcements, it's easy to forget just how good E3 2011 has been in terms of the breadth and quality of the games themselves. One thing's clear: from Dance Central 2 to Super Mario 3D, Battlefield 3 to Disneyland Adventures, gaming has never been broader. E3 2011 didn't really show us the future of gaming, but it did show us that the present is as good as it's ever been.