E3 was a wake-up call for the industry

We mull over a lack of excitement and announcements that didn’t happen.

To understand this year’s E3, you first have to look back at what happened during the 2010 event and things that transpired since then.

Last year, E3 was mediocre by any sense of the word. Microsoft was, of course, peddling nothing but Kinect, Nintendo had nothing special up its sleeve, and Sony made us think Playstation Move would be the next great thing.

In the months that passed, both Kinect and Move scored impressive sales but disappointed gamers with a serious lack of worthwhile content. We were left with what could only be described as a rut. Because there was no new hardware, and advancements in existing hardware was marginal at best, video game sales began to decline and investors became worried.

But these factors were just part of the story. Console gaming seemed to be dying and suffering from a loss of interest. Meanwhile, at the same time, there was another segment that was growing and generating more excitement:

Mobile games. Over the last year, there has been so much talk about mobile gaming, with analysts making bold predictions anywhere from mobile games becoming a multi billion dollar industry in record time, to mobile games making the rest of the industry irrelevant.

After all, let’s go over all the advancements that happened in the mobile gaming space between E3 2010 and E3 2011:

– The Sony Ericsson Xperia Play was released

– Microsoft launched Windows Phone 7 with Xbox Live

– Sony announced “Playstation Suite”

– Qualcomm promised “PS3 quality” graphics on a mobile chip

– Epic Games released Unreal Engine for iPhone, Android

– EA acquired Chillingo

– Games like Angry Birds topped the headlines

It is thus with little surprise that a lot of people expected mobile and social games to be a front-page story at E3 last week.

And yet, during the major press conference sweep, the only thing we heard was a very terse mention of Playstation Suite from Sony, and fleeting references to some EA games coming to mobile platforms.

This was hardly the year that mobile games shined at E3. Instead, here’s what happened: hardcore games like Gears of War 3 and Uncharted 3 were what everyone wanted to talk about. Kinect functionality now finally seems ready to blossom. Nintendo and Sony are both releasing new hardware for the core market.

It was a very different vibe than last year, but something still seemed amiss. The buzz and energy that was once synonymous with E3 was not there. It hasn’t been for years.

Some expected this to be the year when all that energy returned, especially with the new hardware announcements and such a stellar line-up of games. Analyst Michael Pachter projected it would be the biggest E3 of all time. But it certainly didn’t feel like that on the show floor.

Sure, the show has been restructured from the glamor that it had in 2006 and before, but there are still millions of gamers who stream live video feeds from the show, watch commercial-free TV broadcasts, and stay up all night watching the latest trailers. Somehow that buzz fails to materialize on the show floor anymore.

Maybe it’s because it’s a smaller event than it used to be – gone are the days when independent companies roamed the lower halls of the convention center, and no longer do we have booth babes in every square foot of the floor space.

In the end, while this year’s E3 was almost a throwback to the days when being at E3 actually meant something, it didn’t live up to our high expectations.