E3 Preview: What to expect from 2017's marquee video game expo

Hope you like video games, because your social networks are about to get flooded with countless tweets, posts, pics, hot takes, snarky asides and full-on rants about interactive entertainment. The reason? E3, otherwise known as the Electronic Entertainment Expo.

You’ve likely heard of E3 — it’s in its 24th consecutive year — but you might not know why the annual video game industry convention/circus is such a big deal. Focused primarily on upcoming games and hardware, E3 offers a glimpse into the strategic motivation of some of the world’s biggest entertainment companies. Microsoft (MSFT), Sony (SNE), Nintendo (NTDOY) and others parade their latest and greatest wares, hoping to drum up pre-orders, dominate headline, and ride a wave of gamer goodwill into the lucrative holiday season.

Here’s what you need to know about the most important video game show of the year.

When does it start, exactly?

E3 2017 descends upon the Los Angeles Convention Center from June 13 through June 15, though it unofficially begins a few days earlier with a smattering of gaudy press conferences from major players. This year Electronic Arts kicks things off with an event on Saturday, June 10, followed by Microsoft, Bethesda, Ubisoft and Sony on Sunday and Monday. Here’s the official press conference schedule.

How big is it?

The size and scope of E3 has fluctuated over the years. After flirting with fire code violations in 2005 by letting over 70,000 attendees roam its halls, the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) yanked on the reins, moving the shebang to a series of hotels in Santa Monica and trimming the guest list to a tidy 5,000. Eventually they moved back downtown and the show enjoyed a sort of rebirth. Last year’s E3 had more than 50,000 showgoers, and 2017 will likely exceed that.

Some 200 game makers will tout games big and small in booths at the cavernous convention center, but the show is much bigger than that. Twitch and T-Mobile will host an esports arena next door at L.A. Live. Game Awards producer Geoff Keighley will host developer chats, panels and demos at the fan-friendly E3 Coliseum, including appearances by the likes of Jack Black, Ivan Reitman and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Add in dozens of mixers, a handful of huge parties and an untold number of hotel suite showings and it basically takes over L.A.’s thriving downtown district for three full days.

Can I go?

Not if you didn’t buy a ticket. E3 2017 model is the first show to be open to the public. The ESA sold 15,000 and, as you can imagine, they’re all sold out.

But E3 has increasingly become less dependant on conventional on-the-ground reporting to get the word out. The major pre-show press conferences will all be streamed live at various sites (IGN, for instance) and Sony sold movie theater tickets for those interested in watching their gala on a big screen.

Sites like Youtube, Twitch and even Twitter will be streaming all sorts of coverage live from the show floor, including interviews with developers and live gameplay demonstrations. You might not be there in person, but it’s easy to stay informed.

So what big news should we expect?

That’s a super hard question, voice in my head, but here’s a handful of relatively safe predictions:

Microsoft’s Project Scorpio

E3 is often a launchpad for big new hardware announcements, and this year the stage belongs to Microsoft. Expect to get a pretty thorough demo of Project Scorpio, an upgraded version of the company’s One console and counter to Sony’s beefy PS4 Pro.

Though Microsoft launched the slim (and excellent) Xbox One S console last year, Scorpio is a different beast, packing even more power at what will likely be a significantly higher price. Microsoft calls the 4K-capable machine “the most powerful console ever built,” and indeed, recently revealed tech specs indicate a faster CPU and a GPU that’s nearly 5 times burlier than the tech found in a standard Xbox One.

We should get a final name, price and possibly release date for the system at E3, and Microsoft is expected to show off a few games specifically designed to take advantage of the console’s extra horsepower including a new “Forza” game maybe a new “Halo” collection.

Sony’s surprises

For the past few years, Sony has developed a terrific E3 rhythm by talking directly to gamers with huge announcements. They haven’t always paid off (where’s that “Final Fantasy VII” remake, or that weird VR game “Dreams”, or, um, “Shenmue 3”?), but a tight mix of both imminent and far-off software like “Uncharted,” “Horizon,” “God of War”, “Spider-Man” and “Days Gone” have endeared them to their fanbase.

And we’ll see more of that this year. Expect a lengthier showing of the rebooted “God of War,” which wowed showgoers with its intense, dad bod approach to the bloodthirsty Kratos. We should also see “The Last of Us 2,” the sequel to one of the highest-rated games of all time, and perhaps an appearance by “Bloodborne II” as well.

Pricing changes in their PS4 hardware ecosystem could also be in the cards, and if you believe the rumor mill, that might include some sort of new PlayStation handheld to replace the company’s ailing Vita line. The company has excelled at surprising us at recent E3s, and that trend should continue this year.

Nintendo’s future

After stealing last year’s E3 with a booth dedicated to a single game —  “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” — Nintendo went on an absolute tear. They dominated smartphones with “Pokemon Go,” introduced the holiday’s hottest toy in the NES Classic Edition, and gave Nintendo new hope after the disappointing Wii U with the immediately successful Switch not to mention 2017’s best game in “Breath of the Wild.” Not bad a for a company most folks had written off just a few years back.

But gamer goodwill doesn’t last forever. The Kyoto giant has to prove to early adopters that the Switch has a long, healthy life ahead of it while convincing investors that they can reach beyond their die-hards to maintain the system’s impressive sales momentum.

To do that, the company will show off a wealth of Switch games, headlined by the system-selling “Super Mario Odyssey.” Beyond that, brace for the usual suspects: a new “Pokemon,” a “Mario” spinoff or two, some big Japanese role-playing games, loads of Wii U ports and, if we’re lucky, the long-awaited return of the “Metroid” franchise. And while the company has been treading lightly into the competitive waters of esports, an updated, HD version of “Super Smash Bros. Melee” for the Switch would be huge.

VR’s big push

There is a good chance you’re a VR skeptic. You have every right to be. After years of breathless stories about the new wave of VR, systems like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive arrived with exorbitant price tags, excessive cabling and a scarcity of truly compelling software. Those hurdles will eventually vanish as the hardware gets friendlier and the costs drop, but the VR revolution isn’t exactly happening overnight.

VR game makers have moved forward largely undaunted, however, and we expect to see the fruits of their labor on full display at E3 2017. Sony will likely push its PSVR pretty hard at the show, perhaps with a lengthy demo of EA’s anticipated “Star Wars: Battlefront II” and other full-featured games running on the headset.

Bethesda also has a history with VR; rumor has it their VR version of its blockbuster RPG “Fallout 4” will make an appearance. Though neither Oculus nor HTC have formal E3 booths, games from VR developers on both platforms will be all over the place.

The VR dark horse at this point is Microsoft, who gave us a glimpse into their plans with the mixed-reality Hololens headset in 2015. They were mum on the subject last year, however, and the company isn’t planning a big Xbox-related VR reveal at E3. But Microsoft is more than just the Xbox — expect some big Windows-related VR/AR news.

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Ben Silverman is on Twitter at ben_silverman.

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