Why E3 Will Continue to Disappoint

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Jared Newman / TIME.com

The blaring subwoofers and flashing lights of E3 just didn’t have the same pleasant ring this year.

All around the show floor, there was a sense of disappointment with E3 2012. Although the annual video game trade show had plenty of good games to play, it was short on major news and big surprises.

Among the reasons for the general malaise: Nintendo’s Wii U showing was a letdown, with only a handful of game announcements and no Zelda, Metroid or Mario Kart. Microsoft spent much of its press conference talking about things other than video games, such as its upcoming music service and its SmartGlass Xbox companion app for phones and tablets. Sony seemed to neglect the PlayStation Vita at a time when the handheld needs some serious TLC. In lieu of new ideas, third-party game publishers showed off more sequels to the same tired — but dependable — games. And Grand Theft Auto V was a no-show.

The bad news is that little of this is going to change. If you thought E3 2012 was disappointing, be prepared for more letdowns in the years ahead.

The Stuff Gamers Hate Will Just Keep Growing

The Xbox 360’s transition to an all-purpose entertainment device isn’t some passing fad. Microsoft is getting an early jump on Apple, which will inevitably try to revolutionize the TV industry with app-based content consumption, just as the company did for phones and tablets.

That doesn’t mean game consoles are going away, but it does mean that the masses will have other options for living room entertainment – options more catered to their interests than oversized, overpowered video game boxes. Video game console makers will have to respond, and although Sony and Nintendo currently insist that E3 is all about games, I think they’ll change their tune as the industry shifts.

The Sameness Isn’t Going Away

The feeling that every game on the show floor was another military shooter molded from Call of Duty or Gears of War? It’s been a long time coming. The video game industry has been in a downward spiral for the last two years, according to NPD, and publishers’ reliance on tried-and-true sequels are a direct response to that trend.

New ideas can be worth the risk during good times because they can give birth to successful franchises. (EA’s Mass Effect and Dead Space are great examples.) But right now, publishers are sticking to what works. Unless the industry magically rebounds, publishers will continue to be risk-averse with big budget games.

Companies Don’t Need Trade Shows to Spread News

E3 is a great place for journalists to get hands-on time with unreleased video games, but as a venue for big announcements, it’s no longer essential. With blogs, social networks and YouTube, publishers can reach fans directly with new game announcements and can avoid getting buried under the E3 avalanche. Publishers also have a prime time television venue for major announcements in Spike TV’s annual Video Game Awards, and they can connect with fans directly the Penny Arcade Expo. Trade shows are still valuable, but they’re not as necessary for big news as they once were.

The Good News

I’m not trying to be all doom and gloom here.

For one thing, E3 is still an interesting show. The industry is at a crossroads, on the brink of a new hardware cycle but faced with the possibility of an Apple invasion. The industry’s response has been, and will continue to be, fascinating to observe.

And there are great games at E3 if you look in the right places. Kiosks for downloadable Xbox Live and PlayStation Network games were beacons of innovation, and even the major publishers had some fresh ideas, like Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs, Bethesda’s Dishonored and Warner Bros.’ Scribblenauts Unlimited. The big-budget sequels aren’t all terrible, either. (Here are my 15 favorite games from the show.)

Also, I’ll concede that E3 2013 will likely be more exciting than this year’s show, assuming Microsoft and Sony bring new hardware. But new console buzz will only last a year, and then it’ll be back to the grind.

MORE: Check out Techland’s E3 coverage