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PC games are the stealth power source behind E3 – CNET


CNET/Dan Ackerman

A few moments on Project Scarlett stole the show at Microsoft’s Xbox E3 press event, despite being was barely more than a shot of the logo and some hyperbolic promises that it’ll be the most powerful Xbox ever. (I would hope so…)

In truth, PC hardware at E3 today is already as powerful as the next Xbox or PlayStation consoles will be. While console games have dominated the show floor at E3 for many years, dig a little deeper and you’ll find a big presence from companies like Intel and Nvidia, as well as high-end PC brands like Alienware.

One E3 open secret is that, no matter which console they’re for, many of the game demos played at E3 are actually running on high-end gaming PCs, even if those PCs are hidden under tables or behind curtains.

“A lot of companies will be using PCs. They may not show the PCs, but a lot of people in industry know that PCs are the majority of the hardware that’s running the games,” says Kevin Wasielewski, CEO of Origin PC, a gaming and performance PC manufacturer. “It looks the best, has all of these features, is going to run the smoothest.”


Intel’s Honeycomb Glacier dual-screen gaming laptop prototype. 

CNET/Dan Ackerman

Intel’s Lee Machen, general manager of gaming and VR/AR sales, touts the sheer volume of PC gamers as one of the reasons it remains an important E3 category. “Don’t be fooled by the volume of press at E3 on consoles,” he says. “There’s still many, many more people playing games on PC than on the consoles combined, and it drives so much of what you see here.”

But to find that sharp focus on PC hardware and software, you’ll have to walk a few blocks to the biggest PC-specific event of the week, the PC Gaming Show. This annual event is held at a theater a short walk from the Los Angeles Convention Center. This year’s show filled the 1,700-person capacity Mayan Theater and left a crowd waiting outside.

Inside, the usual suspects, from Halo to Doom, were nowhere to be found. Instead, the crowd cheered for PC-centric games (some of which are also coming to consoles) including Zombie Army 4, Baldur’s Gate 3 and the long-awaited Shenmue 3. No, the game sequel problem isn’t any better on PCs.


CNET/Dan Ackerman

Cloudy skies

The idea of cloud gaming, in which game content streams live from a remote server, is both embraced and feared by game companies. Opening the door to new consumers who don’t own PC or console gaming hardware is a huge potential opportunity. But who’s going to shell out for a $500 console or $1,500 gaming PC when similar experiences can stream from Google’s Stadia or Nvidia’s GeForce Now to almost any screen?

Most industry voices I’ve talked to are playing it cool, for now. “When we see something like cloud-based gaming, which has been teased for many many years but is becoming more of a reality, we don’t see that as a threat,” says Origin PC’s Wasielewski. “We think it’s going to help our business, since we’re on the high end of the spectrum. Anybody who has gaming as a passion and wants the best experience, they’re going to look for the best hardware. Something like Stadia, it’s not the best version of gaming.”

Intel’s Machen thinks cloud-based gaming and local performance hardware will join forces in the future. “It’s undeniable that workloads of all kinds are moving into the cloud,” he says. “The cloud is going to enable much bigger experiences, new ways of doing things in games that we haven’t thought about. But I think that’s going to be complementary to performance.” In other words, the most premium experiences will combine server-side streaming and powerful desktop or laptop hardware for better decoding, faster throughput and even keeping some parts of the game local.

“We are just at the beginning things like Stadia,” says Machen. “While there’s a lot of excitement and interest in it right now, I really don’t see it changing the the PC market, at least the enthusiast gaming PC market, for at least a couple of years.” 

Upcoming E3 press conferences

Saturday, June 8

Sunday, June 9

  • Microsoft / Xbox — The gaming giant’s biggest news was Project Scarlett, its next-generation Xbox, coming in 2020. The new device is up to 4x more powerful, the company said, and like the next-gen PlayStation it’ll include a fast non-mechanical SSD hard drive, and it’ll be powered by custom innards built with the help of chipmaker AMD.  The company also announced that Halo Infinite will launch alongside Project Scarlett next year. Meantime, Microsoft is starting public tests of its Project xCloud streaming service in October, promising people the ability to play high end games on their mobile devices while away from home. While fans wait, Microsoft announced an update to its Xbox Elite Controller Series 2 as well as a slew of new games. And action star Keanu Reeves, fresh off the success of John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum, was on stage to announce his involvement with Cyberpunk 2077, which is coming next year.
  • Bethesda — Bethesda kicked off its event with humility over the mixed response to Fallout 76, but quickly went back on the offensive. Fallout 76 got a new Battle Royale mode, Wolfenstein Youngblood received a new trailer and a co-op mode. We got a new game called Deathloop from the clever folks behind Dishonored and Bethesda introduced us to Orion, a piece of tech from ID Software designed to make game streaming better on services like Google Stadia. The lion’s share of attention, however, went to Doom Eternal, which looked fantastic in both single player and multiplayer.

Monday, June 10

  • PC Gaming Show — This annual PC Gaming Show is held at a theater a short walk from the Los Angeles Convention Center, but still draws a large crowd, filling the 1,700-person capacity Mayan Theater in downtown Los Angeles. Inside, the usual suspects, from Halo to Doom, were nowhere to be found. Instead, the crowd cheered for PC-centric games including Zombie Army 4, Baldur’s Gate 3 and Terraria: Journey’s End. (No, the game sequel problem isn’t any better on PCs.) The highlight was a brief on-stage appearance by legendary game designer Yu Suzuki, responsible for classic such as Hang-On and Virtua Fighter. His long-awaited Shenmue 3 is expected in November, 18 years after Shenmue 2. 
  • Ubisoft — The French gaming giant announced its next big dystopian hacking adventure game, Watch Dogs: Legion, launching March 2020. The new game is set in near-future post-Brexit London, where the economy is failing and government is breaking down. The company also announced a new television show, called Mythic Quest, that will launch on Apple TV Plus. And it celebrated the 10th anniversary of its Just Dance party games. 
  • Square Enix — 6 p.m. PT (9 p.m. ET)

Tuesday, June 11

  • Nintendo (livestream only) — 9 a.m. PT (noon ET)

We’ll be there

CNET will be on the ground, covering covering E3 2019 alongside our sister site, Gamespot. We’ll update this page throughout the show as more games are announced.

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