Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft at E3 2017: How did the booths compare?

There are many things that have changed at the Electronics Entertainment Expo since its inauguration in 1995, but a few have stayed the same. It continues to be held in late spring/early summer at the Los Angeles Convention Center. It continues to dominate electronic gaming news coverage when it begins each year. Finally–and most importantly for the purposes of this story–the expo continues to pit the big three console companies (Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft) against each other in an unofficial competition as to who can "win" the expo each year.

We took a look at booth location, layout, games and hardware on display, and fan sentiment at the show to see how the console titans stacked up against one another at E3 2017. 

Nintendo

Nintendo planted itself in a corner of the West Hall, where the company has put a firm stake in the ground since the inaugural edition of E3. The company’s floor plan this year was as devious as it was ingenuous. Nintendo walled off its space in a cul-de-sac style, with the wide and open booth entrance swallowing up every man, woman, and cosplayer who dared tread within 20 feet of it thanks to the massive lines of people waiting to get a few minutes of personal play time with Super Mario Odyssey, Splatoon 2, Arms, and more.

Escape from within was nearly impossible, with two sides of the Nintendo area surrounded by massive walls and the opposite end hosting the Nintendo Treehouse Live event. The area’s aesthetic mimicked Disneyland’s Toowntown area thanks to a cityscape like the one found in the company’s new game, Mario Odyssey. 

That game, which was shown off in an extended presentation the morning E3 opened its doors, was the undisputed crowd-pleaser at Nintendo’s booth. It helped that everyone who played the game also received a stamp they could exchange for a free hat designed like the one in Odyssey

“I think Nintendo does the best job of realizing that this place should be kind of an amusement park at a certain level and they actually provide you with things to see and touch and play with,” said Jesse Seilhan, an E3 veteran with Rukus Magazine.

“They’re not draconian about it either,” he added “Charles Martinet was standing in front of the tugboat-thing and taking pictures with fans…they embrace the idea of ‘let’s really use this space for a lot of cool stuff.’” Charles Martinet, of course, has been the voice of Mario in games since 1995. 

Sony

Next to Nintendo lay Sony’s floorspace, and a massive mash of pedestrian traffic perfectly replicated the sluggish flow of vehicules on the nearby 110 freeway that leads into the Los Angeles Convention Center. There was little room to breathe, much less maneuver, during the first hours of opening day.

“I thought to myself, ‘Why are they together?’” said Howard Harmon with a laugh, recalling his first reaction in seeing the Sony and Nintendo booths next to each other.

Harmon was one of the 15,000 fans that bought tickets to attend the event. He flew in from New York to attend this year’s expo, which he hopes is his first of many in the years to come. He spent most of his time at Sony’s booth over the three days as they had more titles he wanted to see and play.

“I’ve been to New York Comi Con so it’s not too different,” he said. “This is a lot bigger venue though and there are a lot of people here.”

No single title dominated Sony’s area this year, as multiple blockbuster titles sucked gamers’ interest throughout each day. The area had something for everyone, thanks to titles such as Spider-Man, Uncharted: Lost Legacy, Detroit: Being Human, Star Wars Battlefront II, Destiny 2, FIFA 18, and Gran Turismo Sport making appearances in some form in Sony’s area.

Unfortunately, getting hands-on time with the big playable titles felt like queuing up in line to purchase concert tickets via Ticketmaster. Fans had to download a phone app to reserve a spot in line for each title until spaces filled up. It was tedious, but also convenient in an odd way, being that folks knew with a press of a button whether or not they had a realistic chance of getting any time hands-on.

“Last year, we could’ve walked up to any of those stage demos and played them at any time,” said Joshua Anderson, another Rukus Magazine E3 veteran. “Now those things fill up immediately! My catchphrase for them is, ‘We get the disappointment out of the way.’”

Microsoft

Microsoft’s setup was at South Hall at the other end of the convention center, where the company found itself surrounded by publishers with massive booths, including Ubisoft, Bethesda, and Activision. The company’s booth was a giant black rectangle with a single large opening in one corner, with the idea being that attendees were literally walking inside a giant Xbox One.

The center of Microsoft’s attention seemed to be Forza Motorsport 7. I say “seemed to be” because no title truly stood apart from the rest other than Forza thanks to its location at the entrance. The company set up various booths with different games in its space, but gave Forza a special section in front that included space to play in a seat equipped with a steering wheel and large panoramic screens.

A giant floor stage in the center of the booth made it difficult to get around once inside the space. The company used the stage to film numerous interviews, Q&As, panels, announcements, and more. That space could have held more gaming booths instead.

“Microsoft is obsessed with their own brand in a weird sort of way,” said Seilhan. “Their booth IS them!”

While there was never any official poll or tally of which of the big three won the show, the general consensus was that Nintendo stuck to its philosophy of providing fun for everyone, things at Sony played out like at an exclusive nightclub where only those with the right connections could get in, and Microsoft was mostly a confusing, corporate mess with hidden gems awaiting those who dared to fight the crowds and really explore. 

While it's still up in the air whether next year's show will be open to the public once again, it's certain that experts at each of the big three companies are currently taking a hard look at what worked and what didn't from this year's show. Time will tell whether they make any big changes for 2018.