E3 Has Changed, And So Should We

E3 Has Changed, And So Should We

Alright, let’s recreate an alternate E3 history. Bear with me here, because there is a point to this. The first step is this: take all the video game news you’ve consumed over the past two months — the leaks, the unveilings at pre-E3 events, the magazine covers, the rumours, the discussions on forums — take all of it, and drag it straight to the trash can of your hippocampus. Then right-click-delete.

Okay, now let’s start over.

You sit down at Sony’s E3 press conference. You have the pre-E3 hype. What will the surprises be, what will define the event? What games will you be looking forward to over the coming year and beyond.

You hear horns. They sound familiar, but not quite. What is this? No… it can’t be! Wow! It’s a new God of War game! AMAZING! I had forgotten all about the God of War series. But you know, now that you mention it, we haven’t seen a major project from Sony Santa Monica for quite some time now.

It looks great.

Man, what’s next…

Jack Tretton starts waffling, he mentions numbers. He mentions the massive cast of characters that make up the PlayStation universe. He says, ‘Imagine all of those characters together, interacting with one another, all the arguments settled – who was stronger, who would win in a fight!’

The screen goes dark, and then…

PlayStation All-Stars! Oh my god! Sure, this is an almost direct Smash Bros rip, but holy crap it looks fun. This is smart branding. I can’t wait to try it.

Then they bring out David Cage, he shows Beyond, and it looks incredible. The Last of Us concludes the show – it’s already been officially announced but, still, a very strong contender for game of show. What an amazing experience it’s shaping up to be.

Wow. Sony has had a helluva E3.

Now, imagine the Nintendo press conference. Again — bear with me! I’ll make my point eventually!

Delete those pre-E3 rumours. Delete that pre-E3 conference conference. Imagine yourself sitting at your desk, waiting for the Livestream to begin. What will Nintendo show?

Miyamoto walks onto the stage. He introduces Pikmin.

Wow. I love Pikmin, but to be perfectly honest, this is hardly a surprise. We’ve known about the existence of this game since last E3, but still — this is a cool reveal, I like the way it used the new controller.

But this… MiiVerse? Wow. This is incredible. Nintendo has custom built its own way of communicating and sharing information on the internet. Finally! Nintendo is making a proper attempt at engaging with the internet. This does more than imitate, it actually pushes things forward. This may be a gamechanger.

Looks like Nintendo had a fairly decent E3.

Okay, thanks for the indulgence. Now, back to reality…

After Sony and Nintendo’s E3 conferences, I felt deflated. Nothing genuinely new was revealed. The content was made up of simple retreads, showings of games we were already aware of; features that had already been discussed to death.

Then I asked myself –- why did I expect to be surprised when it was clear that almost all of the publishers and first parties had unveiled everything worthy of note in the lead up to E3.

Sony had a pre-E3 event and unveiled the new God of War, PlayStation All-Stars and LittleBigPlanet Karting.

Nintendo had a pre-E3 showing which revealed its online plans for the Wii U.

Activision showed Black Ops early to a select group of press.

Halo 4 made a splash on the Game Informer cover.

Yep. Things are a little different now.

Five years ago — none of this would have happened. Five years ago, every single one of these games and features would have made their debut at E3, and we would have clapped and whooped at the surprise of it all.

Now E3 has changed and, when I think about it, I feel like an idiot for expecting anything less… or more.

The way publishers communicate with the press and, hence, consumers, has transformed over the past five years and this is the end result — E3 presentations where we’re already aware of what’s being shown; where surprises are few. That’s just the nature of things.

Five years ago pre-E3 events were for magazines with lead times, embargoed up the ying yang, designed purely to give print a fighting chance against immediacy of online reporting. Nowadays, as print becomes less relevant, these events have become more like pre-emptive strikes – attempts by publishers to steal one another’s thunder, an arms race for digital column inches. I don’t necessarily think that’s a problem per se, but this is the end result — an E3 sans any kind of surprise or impact. It would be foolish to expect anything more.

The days of publishers fighting tooth and nail for coverage over a short period of three days is all but dead. It made sense in 1995. Back then an event like E3 was the only viable way for publishers to communicate to the press. Nowadays, the options are endless and no-one wants to get lost in a Tsunami of hype. Everyone wants their moment in the sun. Publishers are perfectly happy playing it safe, spacing out announcements sensibly to make sure their prize product gets prime positioning in the months previous.

It’s been a slow burn, but the change is self-evident and this year’s E3 almost feels like the tipping point — the moment where we finally understand and realise that, as an event, it’s become something different. Something less relevant, less important.

Perhaps we’re right to feel a little disappointed, but we’re also most likely wrong to expect anything more. E3 has changed, and maybe it’s time we changed our expectations accordingly.


    • I wasn’t expecting much either, still disappointed.

      Kinda sucks there was no talk about a new Zelda title either…especially since the teaser last year.

      One year of waiting for news , then nothing.

  • I don’t think that would have changed the Vita’s fate. They only showed two games for that, which would have been something. But even without all the announcements I would’ve expected more news from Sony themselves about their 3 month old game console. 😐

  • I was wilfully ignorant of 90% of those games, and the only one I’ve come away caring about is Watch Dogs.

  • Do you think this is the reason why imho E3 is less important to the pubs now than Gamescom when the consumer actually gets his/her hands on the product?

  • That would certainly have saved Sony and Nintendo’s conferences, but what about Microsoft? They kept all of this SmartGlass stuff under wraps (or did they? I’d never heard of it before at least) and it still fell pretty flat.

    Not disagreeing with you at all here, I wish things were that way. I guess I’m just still bitter about Microsoft’s display this year…

  • 365 days in the year, you guys are reporting on gaming news. (Do you have Christmas off?) 5 of them, you can guarantee that unless your reveal is amazing (Watch Dogs, say), everything is going to be swept under the cover of “E3” news. As a publisher, why risk it? Why not reveal your stuff mid April, and guarantee that you’re front page news because there’s no other new games to talk about?

    Publishing changed between the start of E3 and now; we just weren’t really thinking about it.

  • You make a good point, but I have to disagree about Nintendo. The ‘forget everything you knew’ strategy makes Sony’s E3 really quite good, but even without knowing anything about Nintendo’s going in it was still a bore fest. Way too long spent explaining how a glorified Pac Man works (a problem they’ve made before!) and not enough time spent on games people care about.

    I get that they aren’t really catering to their ‘hardcore’ crowd at the conference and more so talking to investors, but it was still very disappointing.

    • On a more serious note, I went in not knowing anything really about Halo 4 singleplayer and was quite excited about it when they showed it off.
      EA waited until E3 to finally talk about NFS Most Wanted, but they had announced it a few days earlier. This may have been a good idea maybe, because people have had time to calm down since the announcement, and have probably handled the fact that it’s so different from the original better. Had they announced it and shown it off at the same time, there might probably have been a heap of rage, because of the initial excitement being dashed straight away because of its differences.

      Or am I the only one not impressed by the new Most Wanted?

      • I haven’t looked into that much, but I’ve heard some say it might be closer to Burnout game, I will be interested in this… Hot Pursuit rubbed me up the wrong way and I didn’t even bother with The Run.

        • Yeah, Hot Pursuit was…okay. It was more like the old NFS games, but it’s focus on multiplayer and beating your friends meant I got bored of it quickly, because I had no friends that played it. The Run was awesome though. The only problems I had with it was that the campaign was too short. The racing part was a bit different too, having to overtake all the opponents before the end of the ‘track’, and ones where you had to get to the next checkpoint in the track before you run out of time, no circuits, but that was still fun.
          Have you tried out the demo for The Run? On one of the tracks you’re racing down a mountain during an avalanche. So awesome.

  • I dunno Mark. My high hopes for Nintendo and MS at E3 was that neither company had announced anything interesting to me at all (MiiVerse look particularly pointless) in the last six months. I was hoping that maybe they were holding back for E3. Glass looked interesting, but in terms of games, they haven’t given me a reason to own their consoles for a while now. Only seems to get that the games are important, maybe because of their humbling PS3 start.

  • I see E3 as the Superbowl or Grand Final, it’s irrelevant really to most gamers, but its the spectacle of having the major players in the one place, the pageantry is the important part.It aims the the focus of the world upon the ‘game’ of games. We need it to validate the viability of new products to mainstream media. Sites like kotaku in the age of the digital media with minute to minute ‘news’ obsessively updating each detail of the business miles beyond the press releases has left nothing to the imagination it’s true but there is still a place for it.

  • Brilliant as usual Mark.

    I hope Kotaku US pick this up, because it nails the feeling I and many other people have felt about this E3.

  • There is still a place for E3, there were some wonderful surprises still… Watch Dogs would be at the very top of the list and the best example of why E3 is still relevant. The Last of Us gameplay footage also was a highlight (health bar, minimal ammo). Hell, I will even throw in Wonderbook as an example, it was a massive surprise.

    But, the problem with E3 though is we only want to focus on what interests us personally, Wonderbook is the surprise we want, it came out of fucking nowhere, with the huge name (JK Rowling) behind the first version of this “application”, it has all the markers of the Megaton we want… but the format it is presented in, is unappealing and seems boring (it really does), so it’s dismissed. I guarantee that if any of the big 3 had a conference that was filled with 100% new surprises and they were all like Wonderbook and NintendoLand, then the conference would still be a ‘failure’.

    Demographics of people who play consoles have changed, so do what they show us, similarly, consoles aren’t just standard consoles now, they are media centres, so MS have to show you can watch the NBA, MLB and other sports on their console now. The previous gen had the beginning of online gaming and dial up connections, there was nothing else the console could do but play games, so all the announcements had to be games.

    One final difference now is there are hardly any 3rd party exclusives, so it will be rare to find anymore Final Fantasy 13 & Resident Evil 5 Betraytons we’ve had in the past, so it’s left to the platform holders to wow us with their games.

    As gamers, we want to see the games and I think we will start seeing more Ubisoft or EA “wins” going forward as they will focus their efforts on showing games, whereas the platform holders had to focus on so many other aspects.

  • I agree that the way the industry communicates has changed, but I think there’s still a place for the big press event / announcements. Most of the games which formed the bulk of the big three’s press events were known about beforehand, but I still think they could have had a little more “oomph” – with the exception of The Last Of Us.
    That’s where I think E3 should come into play a little more, expanding on games which have been teased, or alluded to, even outright announced, in a way which thousands (millions?) can react to at the same time. I really, really wish I was at Ubisoft’s event – as they seemed to have the most compelling new footage of what I’ve seen so far from the show. Their big games were known, but the footage was new, and therefore the event was totally exciting.
    Basically, I’m OK with pre-E3 reveals and announcements – sometimes it gives you something to look forward to being expanded on at E3. But they should still strive to make an impact during their press events – rather than choose a window beforehand so they have the limelight to themselves..

  • So what you’re saying is… This is all online journalists’ fault! Dammit Mark!

    But seriously, this article captured how I felt pretty accurately. All I wanted going in was to be surprised with something unexpected (and that I was interested in, of course), and while there were some good games shown, it left me wanting something more.

  • Are the Big 3 conferences getting shorter? I recall Sony one last year was about 2hrs long. It was in-dept informative on new software & hardware.

    Gaming has changed. Its not just about gaming anymore & social interaction has played a big part. Companies are taking less risk & they will not announcement big unless its solid & can be delivered.
    *cough*The Last Guardian*cough*

  • I think it’s just because we’ve hit the end of the cycle.
    They have to sustain the market…

    Look at EA’s conference… so much we know about was missing, and the games are all being developed by their B team developers.

  • The fact that E3 isn’t being used like it used to be as a place to make awesome announcements and reveals is exactly why in the last few years it’s been relatively boring. I enjoy all the new trailers and gameplay footage, but there’s practically no surprises.

    I think Watch Dogs and NFS Most Wanted are the only two games I didn’t know about until the last week.

  • Does anyone remember that year when HL2 AND Doom 3 was shown? Christ, now it’s all social networking and a metric f*ckton of useless features.

  • As someone who hasn’t paid attention to any games news all year, including the lead up to E3, I’m calling bullshit. The Sony and Nintendo conferences were underwhelming as hell.

  • As a few others have mentioned, this certainly applies for Sony. Not so much Nintendo. Nintendo had a lot to prove with their new system and they just didn’t deliver the details people were hoping for. Actually putting their Nintendo Direct stuff into the conference would have actually dragged it into a technical bore fest (take for example their overextended showing of the bloody haunted house game). Explaining every little damn detail that people can just pick up on through playing and looking themselves is not needed, hell pretty sure Reggie overlapped on the Wiiverse segment ugh.

    While I agree the way the industry communicates to the public and press has changed, still doesn’t change the fact that a E3 press conference from the Big 3 should mainly focus on game footage with minor explanation to wow audiences and launch details to provide information. Sony had they not announced all their things prior to E3 would have went out nicely. Nintendo still ends with just Pikmin and ZombiU to talk about with the other titles being year old games by the time the console releases…

  • To me though I think a part of it is the fact that it for the past what 5 years. It’s been closed to public.

    Having all the pre-E3 stuff with non-disclosure agreements beforehand made sense because you wanted to give those who came out the big buzz on what they are going to get. When it’s just the same people coming to these events as those who you already have non disclosure agreements with it seems a little less useful.

    Personally I think E3 is way less relevant than something like PAX it might not have as many huge announcements but it has a way higher level of accessibility in my mind

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