We get excited about E3 every year because we get to see what’s coming next. While developers have always called their shots well in advance, announcing games years before release, much of the action at the show revolves around showing games set to launch sometime between July and next year’s E3.

After spending the last week weighing all the publisher press conferences and the deluge of pre-show trailer drops and leaks, I took a step back and noticed that the second half of 2019 feels… light. Many of the biggest games at the show — new and returning — are coming out in the first few months of 2020, or later. And while the cupboard is far from bare — I doubt many of us will have trouble finding games to buy or put on holiday wish lists come December– the dearth of high-profile releases is noticeable.

To give you a sense of what I mean, let’s compare October, 2017, an especially hectic year; with October, 2018, which was a little less busy, but still had plenty going on; and October 2019, as we understand it today. For the past few years, October and November have been the busiest months of the year for critics.

Here’s a rough list of widely anticipated games that launched in October, 2017:

  • Forza 7

  • Middle-Earth: Shadow of War

  • Evil Within 2

  • Gran Turismo Sport

  • South Park: The Fractured but Whole

  • Assassin’s Creed Origins

  • Super Mario Odyssey

  • Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Here’s the same list for last October:

  • Astro Bot Rescue Mission

  • Forza Horizon 4

  • Mega Man 11

  • Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

  • Super Mario Party

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 4

  • Starlink: Battle for Atlas

  • Soul Calibur VI

  • Red Dead Redemption II

And here’s what we have coming up this year:

Final Fantasy 7 Remake E3 2019 Trailer Screenshots

Obviously, there will be more than three games coming out in October, but I think you see what I’m getting at, here. It’s a big decline in volume at the highest level. The drop in November is not quite as steep, but it is also substantial, and unlike past years there’s no AAA-release runoff into the first weeks of December.

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Of course, there are some caveats. Without Sony and a generally more livestream-oriented show, it’s possible that there be more games we haven’t seen yet. There are also a few games, like Darksiders: Genesis, Concrete Genie, and Auto Chess, which are on track to launch in 2019 but have no release date. The calendar could still fill out. Though, even if a few more games come to light, it seems unlikely that there will be enough latecomers to keep 2019 from looking like an off year, at least on paper.

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So there are fewer AAA mega-hits at E3 this year; so what? Well, it’s a pretty significant shift, so it means something, but you could read it in a few different ways. First, you could say that we’re hitting an unannounced soft gap between hardware generations. Many of the games coming in 2020 have the ambitious, forward-facing look of titles that will play fine on PS4 and Xbox One, but will be poised to take advantage of more powerful consoles. At E3 2018, there was a lot of talk that Cyberpunk 2077

might be a next-gen game. Watch Dogs: Legion’s looks really nice as well, and its “play as anyone” conceit seems pretty demanding, no?

The exception that proves the rule is Nintendo. Between previously announced games coming out over the summer, like Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and games locked in during or just before the show, like the Link’s Awakening remake and Pokemon Sword and Shield, respectively, the number of big games coming to the Switch is incredibly impressive, especially relative to other platforms. Then again, the Switch is in year three, entering its prime, so it makes sense that Nintendo would be publishing more games, not less.

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Of course, there are also more games sticking around. More and more developers are supporting their successful games for years after launch, which means there’s less pressure to churn out new games at a steady rate. Capcom hasn’t announced a new game at E3 yet, but is at show hyping up Monster Hunter World: Iceborne, an expansion for its best-selling game ever. If you have a game with a fanbase you can support, that’s one less reason to make a new game and start the process all over. Plenty of companies do both, of course — Ubisoft announced new content for Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, Rainbow Six: Siege and For Honor, but also announced plenty of sequels and new IP — but the balance at some of the E3 keynote announcements seems to be shifting towards a more even balance between teeing up new hits and launching roadmaps for existing ones.

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You could also chalk it up to the industry’s love affair with livestreaming and game announcement sprawl. Here’s a fun fact: Did you know Mortal Kombat XI wasn’t shown at an E3? Netherrealm held it back from E3 2018, then revealed it at its own event this February just a few months before launch. There are also many more opportunities for developers to launch games at events on their own timetables. Maybe there’ll be a substantial number of big names coming down the pipe, which we’ll see at surprise livestreams, shows like Comic-Con and Gamescom, and across Nintendo Directs and Sony State of Play streams.

If I had to guess — and I do, it’s kind of the point this whole piece — I’d say it’s a mix of all three. I do think we’ll find that more games are launching this fall before the week is through, and the undated games will fall into place. At the same time, the gap is still too large: Even if you think E3 will be gone before too long — and there’s reason to — it still clearly carries a lot of cache; enough that if these games were around, we’d be seeing at least some of them.

On the bright side, as we saw at the PC Gaming Show and the Kinda Funny Showcase, there are plenty of promising indies that look like they’re deserving of our time. Hopefully, some of them will be able to step in and grab our attention.

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Mike Epstein is a freelance game and technology critic in New York. You may have read his work at PCMag, Lifehacker, Gizmodo, Variety, Digital Trends and, of course, here on IGN.



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