Last week’s PlayStation Showcase set off a wave of discourse, as everyone watched it quickly found out that nobody else on the internet agreed whether the show was good, bad, or a secret third thing. I’m pretty firmly in the last category, but not because there weren’t any games I wanted to play.
I’ll check out Assassin’s Creed Mirage, play a whole bunch of Spider-Man 2, and bask in the melancholy autumnal vibes of Revenant Hill. None are ‘most anticipated’ level games for me, but the thing is, even the games I’m most excited to get my hands on don’t inspire the same nervous energy they did a few years ago. It would be tempting to say that’s because they don’t make ‘em like they used to. But the truth is, I’m just getting older. If you find yourself feeling oddly disappointed or a little empty after most gaming presentations, maybe you are, too.
When I think back to the times I’ve been most excited by games presentations, each time was at least a few years ago. There are material reasons for that, which have nothing to do with me or my special interior life. I got stoked for Sony’s 2018 E3 showcase that gave extensive looks at Ghost of Tsushima, The Last of Us Part 2, Death Stranding, and Spider-Man. The Night City Wires that CD Projekt Red hosted in the run-up to Cyberpunk 2077’s release inspired a similar anxious excitement.
I haven't felt much of that at all in the past three years. Those games launched at the very end of the PS4/Xbox One generation and represented the peak of achievement possible on last-gen hardware (or in Cyberpunk 2077’s case, what happened when you attempted to move beyond the peak and descended into the ravine on the other side). In 2023, we're just now beginning to consistently get games exclusively designed for current-gen hardware. Horizon Forbidden West, God of War Ragnarok, Forza Horizon 5 — all were big ‘next gen’ games that also released on last-gen consoles. In 2020, games like Ghost of Tsushima and TLOU2 showed off their developer's mastery of the hardware. Tears of the Kingdom points to the same prowess on Nintendo's part, but it will be a few years before Sony and Xbox fans are looking at games that similarly display all their consoles can do. We’re just not there yet.
New console launches weren't the only thing that happened to gaming in 2020 and, three years later, we're still feeling the effects of the pandemic. Development cycles have been slowed, delays have been constant, and many games have launched in rough shape. Plenty of developers have pivoted to working from home, and succeeded in getting games out the door. In other cases, it seems that COVID has exacerbated problems that were already there. E3 was on life support before the pandemic, but COVID killed it. Now, publishers have little incentive to show games before they're ready or to rush to get a demo prepared for the summer trade show.
That's good for developers, who don't have to spend months working on showcase levels that may not even make it into the game. It also means that we have a very murky idea of what's on the horizon for many of the biggest companies in gaming. Publishers used to have a reason to let us know what their slate looked like for the next few years. With E3 dead, they’re only revealing information when they’re good and ready.
All of those are real reasons that showcases haven't been quite as good as they were a few years ago. But I can't shake the feeling that, even if they were, I wouldn't be satisfied and many players wouldn't either. I used to watch these presentations with wide-eyed excitement, willing to give any game a try if it looked promising. But I've gotten older. I have limited time. When I watch these shows now, I have a harder time extending games the benefit of the doubt. I have less time to risk on the seven out of tens in the genres I love or ten out of tens in the genres I don’t.
That’s a bummer, but it’s just a bummer for me. It doesn’t mean anything about the broader state of the industry. My (and maybe your) inability to get excited about video games is not an indictment of those video games. Games probably won’t ever feel quite as fun as they did in our youth, and that’s okay. It only becomes a problem when you expect corporate presentations to fulfill you.
NEXT: PlayStation Showcase Was Messy, Awkward, And Everything It Needed To Be