E3 2012: Social and mobile games play the silent giant at this year's show
It's almost ironic that mobile and free-to-play games have sent the entire gaming world into a tailspin, but that's not likely what you'll see at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, which takes place in Los Angeles this week. While everyone will be buzzing about Nintendo's new WiiU console, Halo 4 and the just-announced Star Wars 1313, it'll be easy for games like Insomniac's Outernauts, Resident Evil VS for mobile and some other potentially interesting games to get lost in the commotion.
That could spark a debate as to whether social games and mobile games even belong at a conference like E3, but that merits a separate discussion. Here is a list of a few games and companies that we're looking forward to seeing at this year's big event.
The popular Japanese social gaming network GREE has just arrived Stateside and is a serious contender for becoming the Facebook of mobile, as far a creating an easy plug-in social solution for mobile games, which seems to be the last big barrier for the Zyngas of the world.
GREE, much like Apple's GameCenter, et al allows users to sign up for an account, track your games and follow friends who also use the app. The big difference is that GREE works across both Apple and Android (much like Open Feint did, which GREE acquired earlier this year). The US version of GREE is still in its early stages, but the company is showing six new games at E3 this year, including a new Resident Evil game with a social twist, called Resident Evil VS, plus a brand new game from Crowdstar.
EA recently brought the axe down on a handful of its social games, including, oddly, Bejeweled Blitz on Google Plus.v The subsequent rumors about EA's The Sims Social being sent off to die seem to have quelled momentarily as the Facebook version of the bestselling PC game just rolled out a new feature that lets your virtual people travel via car.
So with all of the cutting, we can only hope that means that the gaming giant is prepping to unleash the rumored SimCity Social game on Facebook, that will maybe, possibly put Zynga's CityVille in its place (if it's lucky). Electronic Arts is still a big player in the social games space, thanks to The Sims and the company's acquisition of PopCap, responsible for Bejeweled Blitz, Zuma Blitz and Solitaire Blitz on Facebook, but since it has been beaten out recently by both King.com and Wooga, it'll be interesting to see how (and if) EA plans to level the competition.
Disney's social arm Playdom struck social gaming gold when it released Gardens of Time on Facebook. Not only was this the first hidden object game of note, but it was the start of a new trend we're seeing on the social network – taking tried and true casual games and giving them a social spin. In this case, the hidden object game meets ville game struck a chord and boasted some pretty impressive audience numbers.
Since then, Disney has released two more hidden object games, Blackwood & Bell and Disney Kingdom Animal Explorers, which have not fared as well, along with the new Armies of Magic, an interesting strategic role-player which seems off to a slow start. There's talk that Disney will be showing off social games that incorporate more of its famous characters, and with news of a new Mickey game in the works, we can't help but ponder how the famous mouse and pals would fare in a Facebook game of their own.
Even though this is a quote-unquote traditional gaming console, Nintendo has managed to tap into the casual game market betrer than its rivals, Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's PlayStation 3. And while some might be dubious about how the current Wii audience will take to the new console, replacing the motion controlled wand with a tablet and an Xbox style controller called the Wii U Pro, Nintendo has a history as being the console for the people. Nintendo's mascot Mario, whose appeal now spans generations, can alone guarantee that gamers of all stripes will gather around the WiiU when it's released.
We're very curious to see, in person, how this new Nintendo contraption works and get a chance to try the new online chat system and social Wii-verse that Nintendo teased in this video over the weekend.
Outernauts by Insomniac
The creator of Ratchet and Clank for PlayStation has decided to take an unexpected turn, creating Outernauts, a new game for Facebook, which is best described as Pokemon in Space. CEO Ted Price says his studio is looking to turn Facebook games on their heads and offer "a deep story with real RPG strategy, coupled with Insomniac's signature sense of humor." So far, traditional video game makers have not made a splash on the social network, e.g. Sid Meier's CivWorld , but after 20 years of fostering hit game franchises, it'll be interesting to see if Price & Co. can make the magic happen once again.
What we're not going to see: Anything from Zynga
The big dog of social gaming, Zynga, will not have a large presence at this show ("Just a meeting room," a company representative tells me) and neither will the new number 2 most popular Facebook game maker, King.com.
Back to that argument that social and mobile games don't have a place at E3, which is dominated by Hollywood blockbuster-style shoot-em-ups: I'd argue this could be indicative of the larger game industry's inability to accept these games are not just providing short-term disruption, but like a precocious younger sibling, are here for the long run.