Either Fix E3, Or Kill E3

You hear it every year. OH THIS IS THE WORST E3 EVER. I usually have a little laugh to myself whenever I hear it because it's usually said by people who can't remember the last five minutes, let alone the last five years.

But this year it's being said a little more often, and a little more loudly. And this year, I'm listening.

I don't agree, necessarily. There have been enough woeful E3s over the last five years to challenge for that title. And that trend, more than just this year's event, is the bigger problem.

Gamers have been conditioned to get all excited about E3 because, traditionally, it was the one time of year that we could count on being assaulted with new things. The biggest companies in the world would use the three (well, four) day event to wheel out their latest and biggest offerings and, if we were lucky, platform holders would use it as a place to unveil that most exciting thing of all: new hardware.

It was like a four-day Christmas. It was a magical time to be someone who cared enough about video games to watch a press conference.

I used the word "was" a lot up there, though. Because that's no longer what E3 is about. Ever since the show imploded, collapsing under the weight of its own expenditure and hubris back in 2006, it hasn't been the same. Publishers realised that, hey, why are we wasting millions of dollars revealing all of our games at once when most of them are going to be ignored?

Much safer, they bargained, to reveal their games throughout the year. At shows of their making, where they can control the message, and be sure that everything they're working on gets its time in the sun, not just the very biggest and brightest.

So E3 has, over the years since its return to the LA Convention Centre in 2008, become something of a mess. It's still staged, and hyped, as though it was the same old show it had always been. Christmas for gamers. Yet the reality has been something entirely different. We're now finding out Santa isn't real.

Very little of what we see is new. Actually, almost nothing we see is new. Sure, we get new trailers, or new feature announcements, but they're for games we already know about. There's genuine excitement in seeing something completely unknown. There isn't in finding a game that you've known about for a year now has a waterslide level.

Image: DrForester

What results, then, is a four-day parade of...well, what? Bullet-point marketing? An endless conveyor belt of minor announcements? That's not Christmas. Cutting through all that crap now feels almost like work. And I'm saying that with my "guy who loves video games" hat on, not my "guy who writes about video games" hat.

This, more than any other reason, is why so many long-time fans of these companies are growing increasingly dispirited at the show. We get relatively minor game news every week. E3, for all its money and hype and grandeur, should be about something more. Or it doesn't really need to be there at all.

Making matters worse is the identity crisis major companies are paralysed by when hosting the show. It seems as though the only reason they still bother with E3 is because it's a gamer's show, yet at the same time, they fill large portions of their press conferences with material that, let's say, isn't exactly worth all the bright lights.

If they want to put on a show for gamers, they should put on a show for gamers. If they want to show investors the latest TV channel their console plays, or casual application that looks great on Bloomberg, then they should do that somewhere else. Some other time. Because trying to half-ass both at once isn't helping any of us.

Take Microsoft's press conference. One of the worst I've ever seen. Some of the content was about TV channels and external applications, not exactly riveting stuff for people hankering for new games. Yet for the type of people who care about TV channels and external applications, half the show was about driving race cars and a giant man in armour shooting at aliens. Both groups left the show feeling underdone.

The saddest indictment of just how far E3 has fallen for me, though, came at the end of Ubisoft's press conference, and the unveiling of our almost unanimous GAME OF SHOW, Watch Dogs. It looks great! An interesting take on sandbox games. But it's still an open-world game, set in a city, in which you can take cover and shoot people.

For such a game to earn such rapturous applause shows how badly people are starved of new things at E3. Attendees seemed to be so shocked, so awed by this return to the old days - where not only was a new game shown off, but it was shown off with gameplay - that they freaked out a little. Got a taste for the good old days, and liked it.

Another lowpoint was Nintendo of America. The company held four press conferences over the week, one pre-recorded, three live, and all four could be prescribed as sleep medication. There was very little there for the company's most loyal and dedicated fans.

Then, after the final debacle, Jason heard from Nintendo of America boss Reggie Fils-Aime that Fire Emblem: Awakening would be coming to the US. Fans were overjoyed. Yet Nintendo had not found room for that in any one of their four conferences! Madness.

Sony did something similar with Sound Shapes, for the Vita. Here's a new platform, one short on sales and starved of attention during the company's E3 show, and one of its most unique and promising games is left outside in the dark? Madness.

This charade of half-assery needs to stop. It's like the world's most expensive, annual remake of Weekend at Bernies. Either publishers and platform holders ante up, save some of their game reveals for the first week of June and return a little of the excitement to E3, or just stop bothering. Save yourselves both time and money, retreat to your gamer's days and publisher's events and be done with it altogether. Call Nikkei and CNN and Bloomberg into the office when you want to show off a non-gaming application, and call us when there's a new Zelda or Grand Theft Auto under wraps.

That's assuming, of course, that the reason for these sub-par shows is that publishers actually know how to change tactics. If Nintendo honestly thought Fire Emblem was that unimportant, well, we've got bigger problems.


Comments

    Only bad thing about this E3 was a lot of the good games are for 2013. Besides PS all stars (which I don't really want) what does PS3 have for this year?

      Go back to E3 5-10 years ago. And they simply put the current version of E3 to shame.

      Games being for the next year is nothing new. Hell considering most of these titles used to be announced at E3 it was nearly expected that they would be out the following year.

        I know showing games for next year is nothing new but this year probably has the highest amount of next year games. We will probably see some of these games again at next years E3

    E3's not the problem here, you are.

    No, seriously (well, sort of). If you're reporting on games all year round, why would I bother trying to sell you my game in the 5 days of the year I know you're going to be listening to a hundred other people doing their pitch? If the game is any good and they do a press release in August, they can basically guarantee that their game will be the top story for the day, and people will keep it in their minds until the next big thing.

    The only way you can win E3 is to be Watch Dogs, basically, and leave people going "holy crap I want that now" - but maybe two or three games can pull that off, and you have to be certain, because if you're not as good as you think you're going to be forgotten.

      Conclusion from your post: Mutual problem identified. E3 format obsolete.

      Agreed with your points though.

    But surely, it’s gotta be as much about adjusting expectations as it is about adjusting presentations, surely. We get awesome game news all year round, something that never really happened to this degree in the past. It’s the trade-off.

    We got a couple of new game mentions at E3 (Watch Dogs for instance), and a lot of great new trailers, so it wasn’t all old news. We got to see some impressive new game-related tech in demo mode, which is quite exciting if you can get past the whole, “derp, this isn’t a game” mentality.

    The news cycle these days, thanks to the internet, makes it pretty much impossible for a game to remain secret until a few months before release. Whether it’s a resume for a concept artist or developer that spills the beans, or something else, everything makes it onto the internet, and things have a way of getting revealed. To control the reveal, developers have to announce their games earlier. Get over it.

    E3 might have changed in recent years. I’m sure it has. It’s not as overwhelming as it used to be, but I still think it’s satisfying and the content sufficiently varied. There are things that could've been done better - of course there are - but people were going to dump on E3 anyway...

    Overall, things are better than they’ve ever been. For gaming news, and for gaming in general.

      I totally agree with this. I read another great comment the other day, which pointed out that the Big Three are now making consoles that do more than just play games. Today's consoles are home entertainment systems with multiple functions and therefore take more time to explain during press conferences, which means less time for games. Perhaps there is less time for video games at E3 today, but, as you point out, it's not necessarily a bad thing.

      Yup yup.. "We get awesome game news all year round" indeed.. and I think this is the problem. E3 has turned into a "churn out more of the same" fest. Going back.. I dunno.. 5 years? 10 years? When there wasn't all of this online blogging.. sure there was the internet.. but it wasn't like it is now. Turn the clock back to that time and all you had really were monthly magazines.. you couldn't really learn everything there is to know about a game in a single afternoon by googling it. Things are different now... there really needs to be something really mind-blowing that hasn't been released before for it to even make a splash let alone a ripple at E3 now.

      E3 also used to be, at least perceived to be, an "exclusive" event for ONLY actual game developers and media.... if you weren't a VIP, a game dev or the media, you weren't allowed in.. now it's open to everyone with a small amount of cash (I think Computex was like $5 or something in Taiwan when I was there last year.. something very cheap) to walk in the front door of. So that exciting, exclusivity is gone now as well..

      How to fix it? I don't think it can be fixed.. the format is all wrong now..

    The problem with E3 can be summed up with one cliche.

    "What about the games?"

    The problem is people expect new hardware and new games. What E3 truly needs is new game engines being shown off, existing hardware being incorporated in new ways and emerging developers showing off there stuff.

    You wonder why Watch Dogs received the reception it did, the answer is simple, no one saw it coming. Sure it is a game that uses existing engines, but it uses them in such a novel way. Gurantee there are smaller developers who have stuff in the pipeline that they cannot a) afford to present to a huge audience or b) haven't been picked up by a massive publisher. Personally I would be more impressed with seeing this as an actual trade show rather than see MS, Sony and Nintendo constantly take to the stage

    seeing as how the real part of e3 is stores going seeing games and then deciding how much stock of certain games they want to buy to sell in there stores cancelling e3 would be a terrible idea.

    That's probably the reason Valve didn't participate at E3 this year. It knows it'll just be an empty shell publicity rather than actual new games or hardware on show. Companies are simply too risk averse these days. They won't risk millions on a new IP when they are more certain to get returns on done and dusted ones like COD or MOH.... which is a shame because innovation is at a standstill due to the need to please shareholders..

    I really think everyone is missing the biggest point here...
    Plunket actually wrote an article that is more than 1 paragraph and it is inciting genuine discussion!
    WTF!
    I have to agree with him though. E3 seems like it has lost its relevance. It would be good to see each of the major players holding something close to their chest and doing a big reveal at E3.

    Maybe the problem is that we've all grown up a little? Nothing excites us anymore? Remember, 10 years ago, a lot of us where in our early - mid teens (assuming the average gamer is closer to 30). Since then, we've all played so many games and maybe (god help us!) we have all matured a little.

    Also, games where changing a lot back then too. Between the years 1992 and 2002, games changed a lot more than 2002-2012. Deep down, we just don't care as much.

      Certainly agree with your point there Tom, maturity plus experience has taken the anticipation and excitement down a few notches. I would add that because of the risk averse nature of the games industry (as with mainstream film) we have built up an expectation of what almost every "AAA" title will be almost as we see the title. A sequel, or a new IP that is pretty much a reworking of the same old thing.

      We have some things that come along and we have genuine moments of, "Oh wait, that's really cool" but those titles aren't exactly coming out of left field at E3 and the 'leaks' mean E3 is often the last place you'd expect to see new information on any game we look forward too.

    I'm a pretty standard gamer these days and to be perfectly honest E3 doesn't mean a whole lot to me. Maybe some cool trailers or announcement but I'm really not fussed one way or another if E3 is around. The big gaming company's seem to have figured this out and are putting their ideas elsewhere now.
    You also have to look an the general consumer for games these days. Games are mainstream now and I'm sure if you asked the standard person if they knew what E3 is half of them wouldn't. Its just not relevant nowadays.

    we are winding down a console generation... get over it. plus the media over hypes and then carries on like a spoilt child afterwards.

    it is a trade show that the media has turned into a circus.

    FIX THE MEDIA OR KILL THE MEDIA

    What a well written Plunkett article. Hit the nail on the head, too.

    I don't really want to see an end to E3, as it is really a lot of fun, and it's nice for the gaming community to have one main annual event to celebrate the industry, but yes, it needs to change. I think it needs to in some ways go back a step to the way it was, with big game announcements and unveilings, but also it could help to take a step forward to being a bit more professional, something closer to GDC, while still retaining a bit of glamour that makes E3 so much fun.

    The main point the author is trying to make is for E3 to get some focus back into their event. Due to how online media and news works in this day and age, it is indeed difficult to have a handful of announcements and we should lower our expectations for such things. However, when half your bloody conference is filled with numbers, and non game footage and overly long explanations, then we have a problem and that's what plagued E3 this year.

    Hell, lets take Nintendo for example.. Mr. Eguchi needlessly explained every little god damn detail over what boiled down to PacMan. That segment was overly long winded, the asymmetrical nature of the game was repeated several times. Torch running out of batteries repeated again and again. You can revive fallen allies, but that costs batteries and exposes you to ghost ambush! Basically, a lot of the things he explained could be blatantly deduced by anyone who plays games. Part of the joy of playing games is to explore and discover these things for yourself.

    The paper mario segment and new smb segments from the 3DS night were perfect. The presenter was concise with what needed to be conveyed to the audience. He gave a quick overview, introduced new game play mechanics and whetted our appetites on the possibilities for the game. While I respect Mr. Eguchi's efforts into making Nintendo Land, and his position at Nintendo, someone needs to bloody teach him better game presentation techniques.

    Most uninspired game of the show goes to call of duty black ops 2, good work guys, with out you the 13yr old gamer would be forced to masturbate instead, as for the "average aged" gamer of 33 we can look foward to the same mario game weve been playin for the last 20 years but on a big ugly fuck of a controler on a shitty named console. Wii u woohoo : /

      Seriously? That smacks of another issue to me. Entitled gamers who decide to be bored witless by any product before it is released. Boring gamers compel the industry to make boring games. And consoles, that have to do more than just be a console in order to cater to your ever decreasing attention span.

    The worst was easily 2008, when Nintendo's surprise 'hardcore' game was Animal Crossing Wii.

    Excellent article. For the first time ever I would like to shout Plunkett a beer and hear his viewpoint on other stuff. More like this please!

    Great article, spot on.

    I think the big 3 should take a leaf from the big A when it comes to press conferences. Don't show me stuff unless it's brand new, I can buy it next week, and you can tell me how much it costs. If you aren't doing that, don't have a press conference, have a shareholders update.

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