E3 2012 Preview: What's next in videogames

By Philip Morton

Next week, 45,000 people will descend on Los Angeles for the E3 Expo, the highlight event for the videogames industry.

It’s a chance for manufacturers, publishers and developers to show off their latest games and hardware, months before they go on sale to the general public. Few industries cram so many announcements into a single week, but for videogames, this is where it all happens.

E3’s track record is hard to argue with. Last year, Nintendo announced the Wii U console, while Sony launched the PS Vita handheld. The previous year saw the unveiling of motion sensing devices for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, while 2005’s expo featured the debut of three consoles in the same week.

What should we expect this year?

Consoles are released in cycles of 5-7 years and, as we move towards the end of the current generation of hardware, rumours have picked up about what’s coming next. Nintendo will release the Wii U later this year, but all eyes are on Microsoft and Sony.

The consensus is that this E3 is too soon for either to announce the next Xbox or PlayStation, and the current generation of handheld devices is also at the beginning of its cycle. The focus will likely turn instead to new accessories, services or most likely, blockbuster games.

As the sales of consoles slows during the cycle, manufacturers have to find new ways to increase their revenues. The Kinect and to a lesser extent, the PS Move have fulfilled this role and we should expect these to be featured prominently again.

The battle for the living room

In the past, it’s been easy to look at the videogames industry in isolation, with its slow, predictable cycles. In the last few years, things have become more interesting as the industry has branched out into broader entertainment categories such as film and TV, while new threats have emerged from elsewhere.

The shadow that Apple (who don’t attend E3) casts on the industry is significant and growing. With an annual release schedule for the iPhone and iPad, they’ve been able to quickly improve their hardware to a point at which it can run full 3D games. Combine this with the App Store and the low prices which have become the norm on it, and you’ve got a formidable competitor to the videogames industry establishment.

At the same time, Microsoft and Sony have been repositioning their consoles as entertainment systems, rather than just gaming devices. Both now provide access to TV and film on demand, with streaming content partners including LoveFilm, Netflix, Sky and the BBC. Consumers now have a wealth of choices when it comes to accessing video and the videogames industry is aiming to become people’s default choice for accessing content through their TV.
 

Multi-channel games

One intriguing trend which we’re likely see more of this year will be multi-channel gaming experiences. One great example of this is the latest Ghost Recon game, in which you command a squad of futuristic soldiers. While the game is primarily played on the PS3 or Xbox 360, a separate tablet app allows gamers to customise their weapons and then use them in the game. There’s also an online gallery in which you can share your weapons and view those that others have made.

This kind of innovation takes advantage of the way in which gamers are interacting with content and devices to provide a more engaging experience. Allowing people to continue interacting with games after they’ve left their living room or bedroom extends publishers’ reach into the rest of customers’ lives.
 

Get in touch

I’ll be in Los Angeles for E3 for the whole week and will be writing about the emerging trends in the industry. If you’re going or want to keep up to date with what’s happening, follow along on Twitter @Foolproof_UX or @PhilipMorton.

Philip Morton

I help businesses create better products and services by putting customer insight at the heart of the design process. In the last six years, I've worked with the likes of Sony PlayStation, HSBC, Sega, Tesco and TSB. In that time, I've seen our research, design and strategy work improve both the experience for customers and commercial outcomes for clients.

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