5 Storylines From E3 2021 That Will Shape Gaming's Future

This year's news could have a massive impact down the line

For the second year in a row, E3 went digital-only. Another June without huge Assassin's Creed billboards towering over downtown Los Angeles, or the wonderful chaos of the show floor. And lest we forget, it was another difficult year for vendors and workers in and around the L.A. Convention Center who rely on the income big shows like E3 generate annually. Our thoughts go out to these hard-working individuals and we hope to see them back at work on in-person live events soon.

Instead, E3, in its current iteration, has been stripped down to its core product—press conferences heralding the announcement of new tech and even newer games. In other words, just the good stuff. Last year's E3 welcomed a new console generation to the world, but that doesn't mean the 2021 show didn't have its share of news that we'll be talking about, and then eventually playing, for months and years to come.

1. Cloud gaming is about to take a huge step forward. (Microsoft)

Consider what Microsoft was able to achieve before and during E3 2021. They used their acquisition of Bethesda to assert dominance in the latest iteration of the console wars, but before the show even began, introduced a cloud gaming road map that could make the modern game console as we know it obsolete. Now that's a magic trick that's difficult to pull off.

Here's how they did it, and why it's important:

In the days before E3, Microsoft announced it would be bringing it's Game Pass subscription service to smart TVs sometime in the near future. No specifics were given in terms of timing, but when it does happen, the endgame will be another dream realized—gamers able to enjoy Xbox/PC gaming titles without a console or a PC in sight. The company also said it is developing a streaming stick to deliver an "Xbox experience" to any TV—yet another way to play with only a controller in hand.

Finally, there was news that in the coming weeks all Game Pass Ultimate subscribers would have access to browser-based gaming for Safari and Chrome with a multitude of performance improvements and streaming enhancements. That's 18 million+ gamers who can now enjoy the real benefits of cloud-based gaming play simply by opening a browser window. And this was all before the Microsoft E3 presser where we learned about a free-to-play Halo: Infinite multiplayer that could mirror the success of Call of Duty: Warzone, and got a complete look at the strategy behind the company's Bethesda acquisition (see below). It was almost too much greatness to consume at once.

We've been saying for a while that cloud gaming is the future, but now we know that Microsoft is looking to lead that charge in a very big way.

2. Proper fan service will keep millions from switching. (Nintendo)

Underestimating the power of the Nintendo brand is never a good idea. Sure, there have been some misfires over the years (the Wii U, allowing Elon Musk to play Wario on Saturday Night Live), but as a rule, the Japanese company always seems to make the right move at the right time.

For example, what's the best way to keep everyone happy as they anxiously await news about the next-gen Switch? Announce the first new game in more than a decade from a beloved franchise. Troops of fans growing restless that a sequel to the finest Switch game ever made will take an eternity? Give the anticipated follow-up a hard release date and share some new game footage. Done and done.

The announcement that Metroid Dread is coming this October and Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 will be gracing our presence in 2022 weren't the only announcements Nintendo made, but they were big enough to ensure the ongoing success of the Switch console, and strengthen the argument that dedication to your core brands and delivering the highest quality content—two things Nintendo does better than almost anyone—still mean a lot in our industry. The Switch is here to stay, and we couldn't be happier.

3. Release the Kraken: E3 Edition. (Microsoft/Bethesda)

It was the day Sony fans had been dreading. Even as they waited, denial hit a fever pitch.

"They wouldn't just forget about us," they said.

"Who would leave all this PS5 money on the table?"

But then it happened. Bethesda's long-awaited new space-themed IP, Starfield, will arrive in 2022 as an Xbox/PC exclusive. No PS5 ... probably ever. It was news so harsh, it even led to an apology from Bethesda vp of marketing Pete Hines, who said, "I totally understand if you are unhappy or pissed or whatever. I get it. Those are all real feelings and frustrations." Supportive words, to be sure, but ones that fell on deaf ears as Sony's devoted fans and followers allowed visions of future Fallouts and Elder Scrolls ending up being Xbox exclusives as well. And to add insult to injury, Microsoft proceeded to dump more classic Bethesda games onto Game Pass that very day.

The Bethesda acquisition was Microsoft's Kraken. And now it's been released on Sony. Here's hoping this console war isn't over before it even heats up, because the giant sea monster from the upper Northwest is playing for keeps.

4. Absence doesn't make the heart grow fonder. (Sony)

And what of the Japanese giant? Lately, it seems like Sony and its powerful PS5 console are only discussed in the context of what is not there. Proper supply of PS5s? Not there. Big announcements coming at E3? Also not there. Bethesda's upcoming blockbusters? Most definitely not there.

We're not saying Sony won't pull a rabbit out of their hat in July when their presser is expected to arrive, but the rumored announcements have been a tad underwhelming given the current climate created by Microsoft. A remastered GTA V (fast becoming the Benjamin Button of video games) and the sequel to Horizon Zero Dawn are great, but when the news comes after your biggest competitor just realized the dream of creating a Netflix for Gaming and is building a world where you can enjoy HD gaming without a console, even a reminder that God of War 2 is on the horizon falls a little flat.

5. Whatever you think about 2021, know that 2022 is going to be HUGE.

Let's just call it 2021: Revenge of the Quarantined Coders. Delays caused by development teams of all stripes in a Covid-plagued 2020 caused a ripple effect on way too many 2021 game releases. Over the course of several weeks, it seemed every game we were looking forward to this year was pushed out until holiday 2021, or in most cases, 2022. But time is a funny thing. It has a habit of passing quickly, and now things are coming together for numerous high-profile releases that are looking like a sure bet for next year, including:

Starfield (Bethesda)
Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 (Nintendo)
Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League (Rocksteady)
Gran Turismo 7 (Sony)
God of War 2 (Sony)

Throw in new Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings games, a Borderlands spinoff, the returns of Prince of Persia and Sonic the Hedgehog, and countless other games for the Xbox Series X and PS5 that will benefit from developers learning to truly master the systems and unleash their tremendous power, and it's easy to see why 2022 is shaping up to be another year that explores the limitless possibilities of gaming.

Only time will tell exactly how much impact these E3 2021 moments deliver over the course of the next 12 months, but here's to being together IN PERSON to discuss them in June 2022.

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Doug Scott
Doug Scott is co-founder and chief managing director of Subnation and a general partner in Surround Ventures.

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