Long before I reported on games, I enjoyed gorging on game industry rumors ahead of each E3. I still do. Rumors inspire conversation and speculation and excitement. They’re communal, like little inside info to be shared with people just as obsessive as you. They exist between fact and fiction, a world of possibility for what could be, rather than what is.
This post is part of that conversation, and naturally, comes with the appropriate caveats. Most rumors are just that: rumors. So take what follows with a grain of salt. These predictions are rooted in gossip and forum posts and “leaks” and gobs of industry observation. They’re not guaranteed, so please don’t place any bets. I would hate for you to lose money to your local bookie on the existence or non-existence of Gears of War Royale. (But do speculate as much as you’d like in the comments.)
Looking through this story, I’m optimistic about E3 2018. This is a great time to care about gaudy video game announcements. We’ve hit the threshold in a video game generation when typically risk-averse publishers push their weirder, riskier and more innovative stuff. Midway through the console life cycle, developers have shipped a couple of games and learned the idiosyncrasies of the hardware. With less focus on creating tools, learning middleware or simply getting games to run, more time and effort gets spent on craft and creativity.
Which is to say, this E3 should be focused not on brand partnerships, media apps and incremental hardware upgrades, but games. Lots and lots and lots of games. Microsoft has barely revealed its catalog, while Sony has announced a massive slate for the coming years. Bethesda and Electronic Arts both have big new sci-fi franchises in the works, while Square Enix and Ubisoft have a variety of sequels in the wings.
E3 2018 should be dense with new, strange, imaginative, shrewd and wonderful stuff. Here’s what we expect to see.
Microsoft will triple down on Xbox franchises
Halo, Forza and lots and lots and lots of Gears of War
Last fall, Microsoft promoted Xbox head Phil Spencer to executive vice president of gaming, awarding him a seat at Microsoft’s senior leadership group. The move reflects a sea change within the company, one largely overseen by Spencer. Under his watch, Xbox has begun to expand beyond hardware, most noticeably with the Play Anywhere initiative, which allows games to be purchased on console or PC, and played seamlessly on both. In light of his greater position at the company, we expect to see Microsoft to use E3 to reveal new features and expand ongoing programs to further bridge the divide between Xbox and Windows PC gaming.
But what about the games? Microsoft’s big original properties haven’t found huge success this generation. Nonetheless, we expect the company will commit to its established brands, announcing Halo 6, Forza Horizon 4 and another Gears of War. In fact, we’ve heard rumors that Microsoft could announce up to three Gears games, including a traditional sequel, a real-time strategy title in the style of Halo Wars and a battle royale game. Perhaps the franchise will get traction with the larger user base on Windows 10.
Focusing exclusively on its core franchises likely won’t be enough to compete with Sony’s lineup. Rumors of a new NBA Jam sounded unlikely initially, particularly since EA was the last company to publish an entry in the franchise. But a recent update to the Xbox 360 version of 2011’s NBA Jam: On Fire Edition has me reconsidering the possibility. Something like NBA Jam would make sense for Microsoft, which needs new, buzzy games that won’t require years of development time and budget, but would net goodwill among not just the hardcore, but also the folks who only play the occasional sports game.
And hopefully we get a release date for Crackdown 3.
Sony will cut back on big announcements
Spider-Man, Death Stranding, Ghost of Tsushima and Days Gone
Sony is operating from a position of power, having sold significantly more PlayStation 4s than Microsoft has Xbox Ones. Its portfolio of exclusives in this console generation has dwarfed Microsoft’s output, which has been hobbled by high-profile delays, cancellations and studio closures. Sony already shipped a critical and commercial hit this year in the form of God of War, and it has a bounty of announced games to be released over the next year and change.
Strategically, Sony has little reason to show any more of its cards. So, expect its E3 conference to be focused on deep dives into known commodities, like The Last of Us Part 2, Spider-Man, Days Gone, Death Stranding, Dreams, Ghost of Tsushima and a remaster of MediEvil.
We’ve heard and read rumors about a handful of unannounced games, like sequels to Bloodborne and Horizon Zero Dawn, along with another remake of a PlayStation classic (maybe Syphon Filter) and an upgraded PlayStation VR headset. But with so many games to promote and ship in the next 12 months, and God of War DLC still a question mark, Sony will probably hold most major reveals for future events.
Besides, there’s some precedent to Sony spreading big announcements across the calendar. In the past couple of years, the company has begun to make big announcements at conferences and its own events, particularly using Paris Games Week and PlayStation Experience to reveal new titles and promote trailers in the fall, building hype ahead of the holiday shopping season.
Nintendo will show Mother 3
Earthbound 2, Mother 3 HD, Mother 64 Revisited
Look, we don’t know what Nintendo will do. The place is the Fort Knox of game secrets. The company will definitely show Super Smash Bros. for Switch. It will likely show Metroid Prime 4. A Pokémon appearance of some kind seems fair to assume, considering the company has freshly revealed two new entries and promised another for 2019. We could see the rumored Star Fox: Grand Prix. And the Switch is yet to host entries in Pikmin, Mario Party, Animal Crossing, Wave Race, Punch-Out, Kid Icarus and plenty of other Nintendo franchises. But frankly, when it comes to big surprises, we’re stumped.
That’s why we’re swinging for the fences. We’re putting my wish into the world, hoping it will return to me as a reality. Mother 3 will be announced for the Nintendo Switch, and we predict that for no other reason than I’d really like it to happen.
Bethesda will show everything it has
Fallout multiplayer, Rage 2, Starfield and the next Elder Scrolls
Though Bethesda has been around for decades (did you know it played a role in the original John Madden Football?), it’s relatively new to hosting major press events at E3. In its short run over the past few years, the company has largely focused on upcoming releases, sometimes revealing games just a few months before they hit store shelves. But this year, we’ve heard rumors that Bethesda’s show will be exhaustive, showing games much further from release.
Bethesda has already revealed Rage 2, and its sci-fi RPG, reportedly called Starfield, has been a longtime rumor. We’ve also heard rumors that the newly announced Fallout 76 will focus on multiplayer. We wouldn’t be surprised if a beta launched shortly after the event. Nor would we be surprised to see a new expansion for The Elder Scrolls Online, along with a tiny preview of the next stand-alone Elder Scrolls game — which is rumored to be in the earliest stages of development. And perhaps we’ll get an early look at whatever is in the works at Arkane Studios. With Avalanche Studios helping on Rage 2, could id have enough resources to get cracking on a sequel to Doom? So many question marks.
A few things seem more certain: Bethesda has been hinting at some sort of downloadable content or stand-alone follow-up to last year’s Prey. And considering the success of the mobile game Fallout Shelter, launched at a previous E3, some sort of update or sequel makes sense.
EA will make a case for forgiveness
Anthem, Madden and Battlefield 5
Electronic Arts had a very bad year in 2017, which says something when you consider that EA has faced a decade of rough publicity, notoriously receiving back-to-back “Worst Company in America” awards in 2012 and 2013. Last year, EA published the middling and messy Mass Effect: Andromeda, potentially kneecapping the franchise; shuttered popular development house Visceral Games, suspending development on the studio’s Star Wars game; and pushed a controversial loot box business model through Need for Speed Payback and Star Wars Battlefront 2, inspiring online petitions and legal questions about the industry’s flirtation with gambling mechanics.
Expect this year’s E3 to be a not-so-subtle mea culpa. We predict the publisher will show a lengthy demo of Anthem, the new franchise from some of the original Mass Effect team. More importantly, it almost certainly will take a hard stance against loot boxes. EA already laid the foundation with its Battlefield 5 reveal event, in which its developers briefly touched on a new business model that will do away with downloadable content season passes and loot boxes in favor of a marketplace that sells players non-advantageous cosmetics, like costumes and weapon skins.
Perhaps EA will go a step further, giving a new or classic game for free (getting more people to join its Origin service in the process).
Surprisingly, we haven’t heard many rumors about EA entering the battle royale space, despite Battlefield, with its focus on humongous multiplayer spaces filled with large numbers of players, being a perfect match for the genre. But what would E3 be without a surprise?
Ubisoft will champion old games alongside new ones
The Division 2, Beyond Good & Evil 2, Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell
Ubisoft is playing an entirely different game from its contemporaries. Where other big publishers release new games with a short cycle of downloadable content, Ubisoft seems hell-bent on creating a roster of evolving, long-term successes. Games with average launches, like For Honor and Rainbow Six Siege, have had surprisingly lengthy lives thanks to ongoing support. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands has become a major success, one largely overlooked by the press. Ubisoft is even supporting Rocksmith with new DLC — the team wrapped May with the addition of three Norah Jones tracks!
E3 is a showcase for big announcements and flashy updates on unreleased games. We expect to see trailers for Beyond Good & Evil 2, The Division 2 and Skull & Bones. Maybe we’ll see a new Splinter Cell. We’ll probably see a new Assassin’s Creed, rumored to be set in Greece. But peppered between the new games, Ubisoft may showcase updates to games already available. Ubisoft hasn’t forgotten its older games, and it will want to ensure you haven’t either.
Square Enix will remind everybody it’s a competitor
Shadow of Tomb Raider, The Avengers, Kingdom Hearts 3 and Just Cause 4
In the past half decade, Bethesda sort of took the place previously held by Square Enix and Konami at E3. While Konami’s game output has continued to flounder, Square Enix has returned to form with Final Fantasy 15 and Nier: Automata. This year, the publisher is set to build off that momentum with new entries in the Kingdom Hearts and Tomb Raider series, along with a huge collaboration with Marvel on the Avengers and an unannounced (but probably Guardians of the Galaxy-related) game.
Activision will continue with business as usual
Destiny and Call of Duty
When was the last time Activision really surprised everybody? It’s hard to remember. Maybe the return of Guitar Hero? We don’t think this year will break from the norm. We will see more Call of Duty. We will get an update on Spyro. We’ll get a look at the next Destiny 2 expansion. And the Blizzard half of Activision-Blizzard will reserve its news for another venue, one where it has total control.