E3 2012 – All Sparklers, No Fireworks

E3 is an event like no other – a place to showcase the latest, the greatest, to demo and explore the very nature and concepts of video games and gaming in general. So why did it feel that this year the games had taken a back seat to buzzwords and hyperbole? Let’s talk about it, shall we?

 

So all the big media conferences have been and gone this year at E3. And let us cut to the chase here – hasn’t it been a boring year?

This isn’t to say there haven’t been momentary highlights at this years event – because there have. Zombi-U looks like a great title for the Wii-U. Watch_Dogs was a pivotal mindblowing unveiling by UbiSoft, and even Sony managed to get God of War in their presentation. But generally speaking, the games were not the highlights of the show.

Instead, we were treated to much more talk than usual – more marketing speak, buzzwords and trends. Asymmetic Gaming was mentioned an awful lot – essentially that two screens can work independently of each other. Okay, how is that new or exciting? We saw more on cloud gaming, syncing up all your technical devices, more on social networking. More on what people want to do with software, firmware, hardware, new ideas and concepts being talked about but nothing solid, nothing concrete.

Pikmin 3

Pikmin 3 is a gorgeous game, but it isn't in itself a killer game for the Wii-U

Sony and Microsoft perhaps themselves had an excuse – this is not the year for them to unveil their new hardware, and yet we all know this generation is drawing to an inevitable close. It left them with an obvious void in which to fill with the kind of talk that sounds great in the boardroom, but for the hundreds in the audience and hundreds of thousands watching live through the various feeds, it just sounded dull and uninteresting. E3 is now a global event – people take HOLIDAYS for this event – and it seems that it hasn’t quite twigged for some of them yet that E3 is more of a consumer show than a press calender event. They still think this information will be filtered, processed and edited before we get to consume it – and it doesn’t. Even Sony knew this wasn’t true but fell foul of the exact same problems.

But no-where was it more evident this year that E3 had somehow lost its consumer sparkle than the Nintendo conference.

For months, this had been hyped by Nintendo themselves as the big Wii-U show. We’d get all the answers we wanted and much more besides, they claimed. Even in the days running up, it was all about the Wii-U, they told us. There would be no room for anything else. It was all about the games. So… what happened?

Let me start by saying the Nintendo conference was in no way bad, but it lacked the passion and energy that Nintendo are so famous for at E3. It was straight-laced and measured, almost casually so. With no threat from Sony or Microsoft this year, Nintendo rested on its laurels a bit – and in the process, disappointed millions watching their show. Yes, millions. A conservative estimate was that 3 million people tuned in to watch Nintendo spectacularly be boring.

The problem was again, buzzwords. Asymmetric Gaming, Social Interactive Mediums, Disruptive Marketing. Nintendo themselves showed off three first-party games; Pikmin, which we were all happy to see. New Super Mario Bros. U, a 2D side-scrolling platformer. Undoubtedly going to be good, but not exactly a weighted keystone in its own right. And Nintendo Land, a virtual Nintendo theme park with games and rides, which can be seen as either the evolution of the Mario Party genre or Nintendo having a jolly good old self-congratulatory jerking off session in public.

Much of it was kept minimal, games were minimal, a lot of it was talk. And talk, as they say, is cheap. Nintendo really didn’t capture the imagination, there were no big cheers or boos – it was nice, nothing to fault except that it felt safe. Restrained. A bit… well, dull, actually.

Watch_Dogs

The game of E3 for me, Watch_Dogs is the best new IP in years!

Indeed, it was all the talk this week that kept me from enjoying the conferences. I watch E3 – like so many of you do – to plan my year out. I like to know when a good or interesting game is coming, or see what people are doing in the next year worth investigating. So imagine my surprise when so many of these games were kept behind closed doors, or given minimal screen time, or the videos reused over and over again with no actual variation or graphical changes to note.

E3 is these says, as I said, a Consumer Electronics and Games show. It is the consumers – the people watching online and via their TVs – that these events should be aimed at. The paying customer. And yet, with the press in the audience, we’re still being talked to as if we ALL know what they’re talking about. Okay, I do, but the point is this is a global event that millions of people watch. This is a holiday to a lot of us, something we wait for year on year. To me, it’s like Christmas. I don’t want to deconstruct marketing speak, buzzwords or technical terms. I want to see games, hardware and fun stuff going on.

And that was the real killer. There wasn’t much of anything going on – no-one seemed to care, no-one seemed to want to stand out. In a week where we expect fireworks and parties, all we got was soda water and sparklers. There was something missing from E3 this year.

The party feel. It was too business like. And so many of those who walked away from the feeds can be forgiven for feeling a little disappointed – because clearly, this year, E3 wasn’t aimed at them.

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