Sony’s absence from E3 this year served to highlight a curious trend - the almost total lack of gameplay footage and gameplay trailers shown during E3 2019. By the time we got to Ubisoft’s showcase on day two, we’d basically only seen two gameplay walkthroughs across six hours of press conferences - Doom Eternal and Watch Dogs Legion. Microsoft dedicated 10 minutes to Gears 5 and didn’t show a single second of gameplay. Gears 5 is out in three months’ time.
It’s an odd trend, but about 90% of the trailers during the major E3 press conferences were cinematics and theme setters, offering practically zero insight into how any of these games actually played.
Fortunately, some of these trailers were fantastic. GhostWire: Tokyo’s set the scene for an eerie mystery; Halo: Infinite’s was a mood piece that perhaps showed us the opening moments of the game; Deathloop was a dangerously stylish spy thriller that was both slick yet devoid of meaning.
So, why? Well, Occam’s razor tells us the simplest answer is usually the correct one, and the simplest answer is developers and publishers simply don’t want to show us gameplay. This will be all because of the eye-rolling trend of stitching together downgrade comparison videos on YouTube, overlaying ancient E3 trailers with release footage.
You’ve probably seen a few of these videos for yourself, breaking down trailers in excruciating detail and hammering the developers for removing some shadows or, best of all, PuddleGate for Spider-Man.
Developers try to show off a game two to three years before it’s even out, and then, obviously enough, launch rolls around and it doesn’t look exactly like the vertical slice they produced all those years ago. It’s a target, not a promise, and most people don’t take these early trailers too literally. Some do though, as we saw everywhere when Watch Dogs launched. It was effectively ground zero for downgrade controversies. Instead of judging a game for what it is, people are judging it against what it was.
There’s a give and take here, of course. Developers and publishers shouldn’t deliberately fake a gameplay trailer with no intention of the final game looking like that. Case in point: Aliens: Colonial Marines. It’s still amazing to think The Witcher 3 was a victim of a downgrade furor. It looked fantastic despite any differences from the reveal, and to suggest CD Projekt RED were being deliberately deceptive feels absurd.
These downgrade comparisons have always been daft as hell and E3 2019 is the logical conclusion. Developers aren’t keen to share gameplay too early for fear of downgrade complaints nearer launch. Ironically, Watch Dogs Legion ended up one of the few games which showed gameplay. It was all the more enticing for it. We could get a feel for how Watch Dogs Legion would play, and we could understand the frenetic pace of Doom Eternal, because they showed us rather than told us, and they were all the more memorable for it.