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.