What is the point of E3?

I don’t rush into this subject lightly, as I happen to enjoy the annual festivities and debates that rage well into the small hours that accompany the Electronics Entertainment Expo. I like it, and like so many, have been hooked for years and years on the live feeds, the conferences, the demonstrations. As a gamer, E3 every year is like being locked inside a sweet shop. You’re trapped and unable to escape the video feeds and conversations of so much wonderful stuff.

And yet… yet I have serious concerns. The reason for this is, surprisingly, Nintendo.

Well, it’s not exactly Nintendo, or their fault for that matter. The problem I have is year on year, Nintendo seem to dominate the headlines of E3. Nintendo throw one big massive party. It’s a show. It’s hands-on. It’s an atmosphere, presented by the charismatic Reggie Fils-Aime. Satoru Iwata comes on sometimes to talk new stuff and business, and then Shigeru Miyamoto turns up somewhere else to pretty much debase himself and his dignity for our amusement. Throw in reveals and teasers for some of their most beloved franchises, building up to a big reveal, and you have the average Nintendo conference recipe.

It’s a formula that for many years now Nintendo has mastered, and each year the comments sections on multiple websites, blogs and the conversations in chatrooms are dominated by the opinions of the Nintendo show – love them or hate them, Nintendo get people talking. It’s a well-catered party, even if you don’t like the host you know you’re going to come away with something.

The problem is clear though when you start looking at other conferences – not just by Sony or Microsoft, but the software giants like UbiSoft and Activision. For them, E3 is serious business. It is business, not pleasure, and many come away from watching these conferences a little confused. Especially when they try to be funny, or work in a running joke.

And then you have multiple days of professionals testing games and hardware. But at the end of it all, the winner tends to always seem to be Nintendo.

Thing is, Nintendo haven’t always had it easy. Back when they unveiled the Wii, there was a press rebellion – a sort of mean-spirited aggression that Nintendo hadn’t quite banked on. The Wii was not a next-gen system, it was not based on new hardware, or High-Definition, was cheap and had a gimmicky controller. Indeed, the press were adamant that this machine was not to do well – some said it was a backwards step. One website I frequent very often even declared in big bold letters “NINTENDO CONCEDES DEFEAT!”. The Wii was panned, especially when it was clear other machines had prettier visuals.

Thing is, the media now eats that humble pie straight from the hands of Nintendo. Nintendo have pulled back, and not just in terms of the show either – the Wii, as we know, was a profit powerhouse. A success, commercially and critically – with a large chunk of the highest-rated games of this generation, a burgeoning bank balance that keeps swelling, faster sales than the PS2 and the realisation that they successfully took a market by the scrotum, and forced it to change somewhat. It was the runaway success of the Wii that drove Sony and Microsoft to motion controls – with varying degrees of success. It was the small, compact Wii that influenced the desire to shrink consoles down. The Wii showed many times how the Wii Remote was not just a passing gimmick, but for some genres could fundamentally change the whole dynamic of things – Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition made a great game even better with very minor control tweaks. Mario Galaxy showed how to use cursors smartly.

And the Wii hasn’t been shy about exploring things either. You look at a game like MadWorld, artistic and potent and a lot of fun. The Wii in recent years has become the home of the JRPG, where other consoles are not convinced the Wii has taken a traditional genre and given it a new home.

Nintendo absolutely know that they proved the worlds media wrong; again with the 3DS, where the sales struggled to start with and the media began writing their epitaph, now it is outselling the DS’ initial sales 2:1. It can’t be a coincidence each year Nintendo glory themselves in the facts and figures in front of the media; figures which urinate over their initial prejudices from a great height. Figures which prove them wrong. Figures which essentially dwarf even their HD rivals.

And yet, you know what? If Nintendo can do a show, why can’t others?

E3 is a CONSUMER Electronics show. For years, we’ve been able to interact online with it; get live feeds and watch the conferences in real-time. We’ve been able to feed opinions to the shows, request presenters ask questions. E3 is a big, interactive spectacle.

The conferences, other than Nintendo’s, are sadly quite dull in comparison.

And yet, it’s becoming apparent the reason that Sony and Microsoft have chosen not to indulge too much in this years E3 Next-Gen theme is because Nintendo are showing theirs off – which will be out the end of this year. Nintendo has, somehow, crushed the competition so often at E3 that they appear reluctant to reveal ANYTHING special at the Expo.

Which suddenly defeats the point. E3 is, and has been for years, a bit of a Nintendo sausage-fest. If the general feeling is Nintendo aren’t taking it too seriously, will Nintendo soon find themselves “uninvited” from E3?

Thing is, I happen to think Nintendo DO take it seriously. It’s a consumer electronics show, and Nintendo know there are millions of people online watching them. This is like an annual telethon, it’s an event, a spectacle and they go to town on it. It’s a celebration. It’s their moment. Their hour to ninety minutes in the sunshine.

But it brings with it something of a dilemma – if Nintendo are, for whatever bull$£!% reason, asked not to come to an E3 in the next few years, that defeats the purpose of the show. If others withdraw showing off their goods because they’re worried about the Nintendo show dominating, that also defeats the point of E3.

And yes, asking Nintendo to tone the show down and keep it professional is defeating the point of E3. It’s their conference, their show, why be dictated to? Especially when it draws in such a huge crowd!

Once again, it’s the sort of idiotic situation the industry often seems to find itself in. In a position where it seems whatever decision they make, there’s only going to be pain, despair and bitter recrimination. This has, of course, been going on for YEARS. And it is only now, when Nintendo are on the cusp of revealing the Wii-U, their extensive third party lineup, hands-on demos and general lineup of familiar fan favourites that suddenly the industry is a little scared to go to E3, and feels the need to allude to it and not come out and expressly say, “You know what? Nintendo is just going to dominate this year, we can’t be arsed to do this again!”

I happen to enjoy all the conferences, all the demos. I’m a gamer, and yes, I love the Nintendo party atmosphere but I also appreciate that others keep it more professional and restrained. It takes all sorts, after all, and whereas Nintendo is all about the games, it’s nice to be able to take in things at a slightly less manic pace. I don’t want Nintendo to change – heck no. But I am appreciative of the slightly more sensible presentations as a sort of counterbalance to that crazy insanity.

But if Nintendo really are so dominant at E3, then the show really does have an issue. Because it’s not E3. It’s a big, protracted Nintendo advertisement and nothing more. Sony and Microsoft have their moments, but for weeks after it is so often Nintendo that leaves people talking and guessing. It seems this has taken its toll, and some simply aren’t bothering to compete.

Nintendo have, after that brutal assault on the Wii, managed to exact a terrible revenge on the show where so many professional press people tried to bury them alive. They’ve done it by pretty much assimilating it, by becoming synonymous with it. E3 is the annual big Nintendo Conference. And each year, they have the worlds press – both journalistic and gaming – eating from their palms, consuming humble pie and loving every moment of it.

And now, Sony and Microsoft both appear to be sulking – rather than step up and have a similar approach, they’re just unwilling to reveal anything of any importance in the wake of the Nintendo conference.

I will watch E3, but I will watch mindful of this very fact; Nintendo are becoming the main attraction at this annual fair… and the other rides aren’t getting used.

Eventually, they’ll stop bringing the rides altogether. And then… then there really is no E3.

Doomed if they do. Doomed if they don’t. Congratulations industry and E3, just when I thought you really couldn’t screw things up any more, you jump this on us. Bravo. You really are all screw-ups, aren’t you?

Take a bow. You’ve earned it.

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