E3 2011: Shooters, not social, are still king

e3 2011 playstation vita

At the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, aka E3, thousands of journalists and industry insiders gather to see the latest and greatest in gaming.

Over the past few days, companies like Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft have been putting on big-budget events to show off shiny new gaming hardware such as the PlayStation Vita and Wii U consoles, along with a slew of new games with names like Gears of War 3, Halo IV, Call of Duty: modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3. These games all have the budget of a Hollywood blockbuster films and promise to put hair on your chest as you take out enemies -- both human and alien -- using an arsenal that would rival that of a medium-size army.
Based on everything that's been pimped and promoted on six-story high screens in the Los Angeles Convention Center this week, it's clear that shooting -- not social -- is still number one when it comes to making video games. This, despite the fact that social games like CityVille and FarmVille have somehow managed to rake in millions of dollars and attract as many, if not more, 'non-gamers' than the Nintendo Wii has done over the past several years.

margaritaville onlineWalk the gigantic halls of the convention, and you see hoards of gawkers struggling to catch a glimpse of the new Batman game from WB Interactive, but you'd be hard-pressed to find any social games in the midst of all the hubbub. For instance, there's no giant Zynga booth with booth babes dressed as farmers or mobsters. After a quick tour of the floor, the only social game getting any major representation was Jimmy Buffet's MargaritaVille (which we covered several weeks ago) at the THQ booth, but not a single person was stopping to take a look at the game, even though it was sitting smack dab in the middle of a festive-looking straw hut. (Maybe they should serve free Margaritas to attract more attention.)

The only big social gaming announcement at the show came from Electronic Arts, which debuted The Sims Social at its big press conference with a slightly awkward video trailer. The other big social gaming announcement of the week -- Zynga's new iOS game Hanging with Friends -- didn't even happen in the hallowed halls of E3. Last year, Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft all bandied about the term 'social' in their press conferences, which were mostly lip-service to one of the year's hottest buzzwords, but this year, that has been replaced with extensive chatter about 3D and catchphrases like, "You are the controller."

Does this bode well for the social gaming scene? It's clear the video game world is still not quite sure what to make of social games, and whether these so-called 'disruptors' will be able to hold on to their explosive popularity for the long term. Maybe social games will go the way of casual games like Bejeweled, which have an equally passionate fanbase as a Gears of War or Halo but have been shoved off into their own little gaming ghetto, labeled as something that your Mom likes to play, or maybe in future editions of E3, smart game companies chasing profits will find a little space for farmers and frontier pioneers along the marines and superheroes.
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