AMD's PC Gaming Show Still Doesn’t Quite Work


LOS ANGELES – One of the great aspects of gaming is that the sequel, unlike movies and books, is often better than the original. Such is the case with the PC Gaming Show at E3. Presented by AMD and PC Gamer, the Show shifts the focus away from enormous, big-budget console titles and onto smaller PC projects in a much quieter, more restrained form. The goal is admirable, and the program was both shorter and tighter than last year. But it still feels out of place in the grander scheme of E3.

On the plus side, the format of the show is still a breath of fresh air. Rather than endless videos bookended by hyping pitchmen, the PC Gaming Show channels more of a talk show atmosphere. Sean “Day9” Plott, a popular eSports commentator, returned to host the program, and interviewed real developers one-on-one for about five minutes apiece. He asked them sensible, no-nonsense questions, and not every one was a softball. Under other circumstances, some of the PC Gaming Show’s highlights would have been huge news.

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To its credit, lots of fascinating people showed off some fantastic technology. Veteran developer Cliff Bleszinski took the stage to demo Lawbreakers: his new character-based competitive shooter. Plott asked an extremely incisive question about how such a game can compete in a world that already has Overwatch and Battleborn. Bleszinski responded that just as two fighting games, like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, can often appeal to different crowds, so too can Lawbreakers stand out.

Lisa Su of AMD also had a thing or two to say about the company’s new graphics cards, which fall under the Polaris initiative she detailed at GDC earlier this year. The Radeon RX 480 card promises full support for VR experiences at only $200; still a lot of money, but not nearly as expensive as graphics cards get. She also brought out a coworker armed with an Alienware VR backpack: a wearable computer that users can don in order to avoid tethering themselves to a big, stationary machine. These will both help with the democratization of VR tech, which is still something of a toy for the very wealthy or very dedicated.

At every turn, there was a cool new announcement for a niche audience. Tripwire’s Killing Floor series is getting a brand-new, VR-only installment called Incursion. Obsidian showed off a trailer for Tyranny: an old-school RPG that asks what would happen if a video game villain actually succeeded. Microsoft even showed up to detail how its upcoming strategy game, Halo Wars 2, would differ on a mouse-and-keyboard PC from a controller-based Xbox One.

That niche audience, however, also sums up the trouble with the show. I’ll be the first to admit that E3 can often overhype underwhelming products, but it’s still a show dedicated to the biggest and (theoretically) best new tech in town. The PC Gaming Show, in-depth and (at least this year) quiet, seems out-of-place here. 

It does seem targeted for nonprofessional fans who want an alternative to the console-heavy flimflam of the rest of the show. But the event was much less crowded than last year, which makes me wonder what its future holds.

The PC Gaming Show demonstrated some great content, no question. Whether anyone was absolutely dying to know about it is harder to judge.