I had to wonder what horror fans made of last night’s Summer Game Fest presentation.
Every time I went to write this critique of Geoff Keighley‘s show, I couldn’t help but imagine what it’s like on those horror game forums right now. There was Alien, and Layers of Fear, The Quarry, The Last of Us and all those games that looked like Dead Space. With Resident Evil during Sony‘s State of Play, this must be one of the best E3s (or whatever you want to call it) yet for fans of survival horror. And that’s without actual Dead Space, or the reported Silent Hill games, or the new Alan Wake, or the rumoured Kojima title.
That’s the challenge with reviewing video game showcases. What was tough going for me might have been one of the best events yet for someone else. Nevertheless, it’s hard to deny it wasn’t a particularly surprising two hours. Geoff Keighley warned us as much earlier in the week. A remake of The Last of Us Part 1 – as cool as that is – was a pretty tame ‘headline act’, even if it hadn’t been spoiled moments before the show. There was no Elden Ring moment this year.
This isn’t the fault of anyone at Summer Game Fest, of course. In my day job as a business journalist, we’re frequently talking about the current game drought and the reasons behind it. Keighley referenced it himself last night when he effectively thanked Glen Schofield, the developer of The Callisto Protocol, for being able to get a game out before 2023. The release schedule is looking a bit bleak right now.
As the worlds of TV and movies recover from COVID, the games industry is only just starting to suffer from it. It’s one thing finishing games in lockdown that were towards the end of development, when most of it is just squashing bugs and going through the process of getting things ready.
It’s quite another for those earlier in development, when there’s a need to be creative, to bounce around ideas, to playtest and receive feedback and react. This stuff has proven harder to do with people in their home offices and collaborating over Zoom, than it used to be in an environment where everyone was together.
We’re starting to see that play out now, with a 2022 that started strongly but has quickly ground to a halt.
“It’s one thing finishing games in lockdown that were towards the end of development, when most of it is just squashing bugs and going through the process of getting things ready.”
As a result, there are fewer games to talk about and announce right now, and last night’s Summer Game Fest just underlined that fact. There was plenty of interesting projects and updates, but there wasn’t as much variety, the paid-for slots felt more obvious, and there were very few genuine surprises, if any.
It also made me think about the nature of trailer events like this. The idea of having one big showcase that the entire games industry takes part in – PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo, PC devs, smartphone game makers and everyone in between – is a great idea. As someone who finds the whole toxic console war rhetoric immensely frustrating, I appreciate what Geoff Keighley is trying to achieve through his shows. It’s a coming together moment for fans of all games.
But as a viewer, it can be a slog having to sit through hours of trailers for things I’m not remotely interested in to get to the gold that appeals to me. Before Keighley’s event, Xbox released a media briefing where they talked about how games communities today are less tied to specific platforms, and are more around specific games. It’s less ‘I’m an Xbox player’ and more ‘I’m a Destiny fan’.
That means producing something that appeals to all types of gamers is near impossible to do in a deep way, because there are just so many different communities. It’s not just Summer Game Fest that struggles with this. Every time a Nintendo Direct starts talking about JRPG remasters, I used that as an opportunity to put the kettle on. For others, that’s the best bit.
Of course, part of the Summer Game Fest pitch is around discoverability. At the start of last night’s event, Geoff Keighley said that he hopes players will find things they weren’t expecting. The idea is that you tune in for Call of Duty, but go away pre-ordering or wish-listing Goat Simulator 3. The show is partially about introducing one community to another and breaking gamers out of their specific bubbles.
That’s a really great ambition and it seems to work for thousands of gamers out there. But to me it’s like going to Comic-Con because you want to catch that Star Wars panel, but being forced to sit through talks on Doctor Who and Attack on Titan first. I might be interested, but I probably won’t be. So it doesn’t feel like the best consumer experience.
Unless, of course, you’re into horror games.