The E3 after a console hardware launch is always an awkward one for investors.
The excitement that surrounds new game systems often has a sweeping effect on share prices of companies in the video game space—but it's hard to get as worked up about game announcements the following year.
Truth be told, the years that follow a console introduction are actually much more important for the industry, though, since it's games that ultimately move the machines. And analysts liked what they saw at this year's annual video game trade show.
"We came away from E3 with a view that the industry's pipeline of games is strong and should build momentum for the next-gen platform beginning in September and continuing through 2015 and beyond," said Eric Handler of MKM Partners.
The optimism comes from a few places. First, the reliable franchises, like Activision's "Call of Duty" and Ubisoft's "Assassin's Creed," look stronger than ever. Additionally, several smaller independent games caught the eye of showgoers, and could boost system sales of Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4. (More importantly, those independent studios could be the next big developers—and acquisition targets for publicly traded publishers.)
While this fall/holiday season will see a number of key releases, the industry is still likely another 12 months away from reaching its sweet spot from an installed-base perspective. That's true of the games, too.
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Holiday 2014 has a solid lineup of titles— including "Destiny," "Forza Horizon 2" and "Super Smash Bros."—but 2015 is shaping up to be even more active. Among the games due out next year are "Halo 5: Guardians," "Uncharted 4: A Thief's End," "Rise of the Tomb Raider," "Tom Clancy's The Division" and "Rainbow Six: Siege." That will make for a very competitive holiday season, but it could also be a financial windfall for publishers.
One of the things investors will be looking at in the days that follow E3—and as the hype machines cool down—is who "won" certain aspects of the show. It's certainly a debatable point—and one that may not be settled for as long as a couple of years. But here's our take on which companies seemed to have good shows—and which have a little more work to do.
Nintendo—Nintendo had a lot to prove this year at E3. And show attendees certainly seemed to like the games it had on display. The big question, though, was: Is it enough to turn things around for Wii U? Unfortunately, it may be too little too late. Many of the most popular games shown this week won't be out until 2015—or later. This holiday the company is relying on "Mario Kart 8" (which is already out) and "Super Smash Bros." to support the system. And while both are great, it's unclear if they're enough to convince people to buy hardware as well as the game.
Microsoft—After a year of policy reversals, Microsoft kicked off the show with a well-spoken mea culpa, letting gamers know that it was listening and would continue to do so. That was followed by a solid lineup for the months to come and a peek at even greater games for 2015. Above all, though, the focus was solely on games—and not the entertainment features it trumpeted last year. For that alone, Microsoft can call E3 2014 a success.
Sony—Showing an extensive arsenal of gaming choices, Sony once again had an incredibly strong E3. While its first-party games will largely sit out this holiday season, it has strong third-party support and will roll out PlayStation Now, its classic game streaming service. Pricing could be an issue on PS Now, as Sony hasn't given much insight on certain key questions (such as whether owners of PS3 games that can't be played on the PS4 will have to buy or rent another copy on PS Now), but the potential is strong. Meanwhile, Project Morpheus, the company's VR headset, continued to impress the long line of people who waited hours for a five-minute demo.
Activision—With both "Destiny" and "Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare" winning raves at the show, Activision is positioned for a fantastic back half of the year. Beyond that, the company will roll out another in its successful "Skylanders" franchise. The company had a high bar to reach at this year's show—and it cleared it easily.
Electronic Arts—EA unveiled a new marketing approach at this year's E3, opting to announce and give players a look at games that are in the earliest stages of development. It's an openness that's unheard of in the industry and could build early buzz for new franchises. It didn't offset the fact that 2014 will be a relatively light year for the company, though. "Battlefield Hardline," a cops-and-robbers version of its action franchise, will lead the charge. "Dragon Age: Inquisition" will keep action/RPG fans happy. And "The Sims 4" will cater to mass audiences, but the uncertain dates of more anticipated titles (for serious gamers, at least) like "Mirror's Edge" and "Star Wars: Battlefront" was an overhang.
Take-Two Interactive Software—This might have been Take-Two's best E3 in its history. The confirmation of "Grand Theft Auto V" arriving on next-gen platforms was widely cheered. And "Evolve"—a four-vs-one online action game—was one of the biggest hits of the show.
Ubisoft—This company has been on a roll for the past three E3s and had another strong showing this year. The new "Assassin's Creed" was a show favorite of many attendees. "Far Cry 4" seems solid. And the unveiling of a new "Rainbow Six" game with a multiplayer focus won accolades.
—By Chris Morris, special to CNBC