E3’s first showcase since the start of the pandemic satisfied gamer appetites with presentations revealing new games, release dates and more.
But beyond what gamers typically want to see, the event (virtual version only this year) has a way of spotlighting key trends in the games industry.
2021 was no different.
As gaming IP invades Hollywood, the inverse is still true for publishers.
Without more diverse revenue streams, publishers have a stronger need to foster IP partnerships with Hollywood.
French publisher Ubisoft is highly active in bringing IP like “Assassin’s Creed” and “Far Cry” to screens big and small, on top of original projects such as “Mythic Quest” for Apple TV+.
Still, E3’s “Ubisoft Forward” presentation was overshadowed by its surprise announcement of “Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora.”
Developed by Ubisoft’s Massive Entertainment, this new “Avatar” game is planned for 2022, a year that will see the first of four long-delayed sequels to the record-setting 2009 20th Century film finally hit theaters. Massive is also developing an open-world “Star Wars” game, placing Ubisoft alongside EA in efforts to bring that IP to gaming.
Then there’s Square Enix, known for “Final Fantasy” and “Tomb Raider,” which kicked off its presentation with the reveal of a “Guardians of the Galaxy” game set for October 2021 from subsidiary Eidos-Montréal. This follows a 2020 “Avengers” game made by Crystal Dynamics (also a Square Enix studio), which is getting a “Black Panther” expansion.
While Sony Interactive Entertainment does have one studio making “Spider-Man” games and Xbox Game Studios will publish an “Indiana Jones” game via subsidiary Bethesda, both studio collectives are in a sweet spot in terms of continuing to develop and publish original IP thanks to console and storefront sales.
Enabling cross-play is a priority to keep cloud gaming in the picture.
On the tech side, Ubisoft is showing optimism for cloud-only gaming services like Google Stadia and Amazon Luna.
At the end of June, Ubisoft will enable cross-play for its “Rainbow Six Siege” competitive shooter, meaning players on PC, Stadia or Luna will be able to play together in the same sessions. Users will also get cross-progression, which will maintain game progression on the same account for users playing on multiple platforms. In 2022, these same features will arrive on PlayStation and Xbox.
This mirrors plans for “Halo Infinite,” set to release at the end of the year with a free multiplayer mode that will allow cross-play and progression between Xbox and PC players, though support for Xbox Cloud Gaming hasn’t been confirmed yet.
The timing of the “Siege” update is good news for Luna, which will become available to Amazon Prime subscribers on a trial basis Monday, granting users a week of free play before a monthly fee for the base version or the Ubisoft+ add-on version is required.
If prospective Luna and Stadia subscribers were worried “Siege” would have sparse activity in the cloud, Ubisoft’s announcement is an assurance their current experience won’t change, as such embracing of cross-play for popular games is a key strategy for cloud services to make their subscriptions more appealing overall.
Hollywood talent continues to get involved in games.
Geoff Keighley’s “Summer Game Fest” kicked off E3 with a host of game announcements and reveals, with Bandai Namco’s January 2022 release “Elden Ring” getting a spotlight at the end of the stream.
While the game is certainly hyped as the next FromSoftware release following acclaimed “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice,” the other half of that hype is George R.R. Martin, co-creator of “Elden Ring.”
Martin’s influence was present in the game’s first trailer, which has enough dragons and fantasy warfare that one could easily mistake it for a “Game of Thrones” game. This makes “Elden Ring” a potentially lucrative release if it attracts those itching for another Martin project before HBO premieres “House of the Dragon,” a prequel to the network’s hit series set for 2022.
Meanwhile, “Far Cry 6” from Ubisoft, set for October 2021, has actor Giancarlo Esposito cast as its villain. Known for “Better Call Saul” and “The Mandalorian,” Esposito is by far the biggest Hollywood name yet in the open-world shooting franchise.
The gaming unit of producer Megan Ellison’s company, Annapurna Interactive, showed off “12 Minutes,” a top-down mystery game with characters voiced by James McAvoy (“It: Chapter Two”), Daisy Ridley (“Star Wars”) and Willem Dafoe (“The Lighthouse”). Another Annapurna game in development, “Open Roads,” has Keri Russell (“The Americans”) and Kaitlyn Dever (“Booksmart”) cast.
Likewise, Bandai Namco dedicated its showcase solely to the next installment of its “The Dark Pictures” horror franchise, a series that has cast the likes of Will Poulter (“Midsommar”) and Shawn Ashmore (“X-Men”) and is modeled after developer Supermassive’s hit game for Sony, “Until Dawn,” which starred Rami Malek (“Bohemian Rhapsody”).