Sooooo… yeah. I’m about to do this. Bracing for impact in 3… 2… 1…
I didn’t feel the excitement for E3 this year.
You can call it a “Generational Hangover” all you want, but it isn’t that I don’t want new games for my consoles. A console without good games is a pointless object: I’ve stated this many times and it’s a truth that never ceases to stay resolute in the ever-increasing march of technology. Of course I want to see new games. I want lots of new games. But I’m just not so sure anymore E3 is the correct way of doing things, an annual event which bottlenecks countless new reveals into one mesh, where sometimes otherwise interesting and insightful pieces can be lost in the hype-trains of bigger, more established franchises. We walk away rarely with thoughts on breakout hits, but information on the things we already know about and love. That’s not a bad thing; but even for indies, the share of time they often get is pitiful when pitted against the behemoths of ‘Triple-A Titles’.
What is my beef with E3? I’ll split it into three main components.
1. CGI Trailers and Pre-Recorded Footage.
There’s a huge argument going around right now about the amount of pre-rendered and pre-recorded footage being shown during E3 conferences. It’s of course a truth that technical mishaps happen – and it’s always a good laugh when you realise at a consumer electronics show, that the electronics aren’t behaving themselves. No-where was this more evident than last years E3 media briefings; with both Sony and Microsoft suffering some pretty major technical issues. We laugh now, but for those using the briefing to reach out and publicise their product, any indication of technical ineptitude is a horrifying prospect.
So this year, most conferences chose to play it safe, with pre-recorded, pre-rendered or CGI teasers for projects in lieu of actual gameplay footage. In a sense, this does lessen the chance for things to go wrong. But on the other hand, it also means that consumers and viewers don’t always get to know what a project is really like, how it will play in the real world and how they will interact with it in a dynamic, intuitive way. It looks nice, and yes, it lets us know that the likes of Bloodborne and Dead Island 2 are in the pipeline. But above that? Nothing much of note is imparted. Once again, people are being teased with a name, a carrot on a stick, and asked to follow it blindly until such a time they realise the foolish endeavour they have undertaken.
Most of us know bugs happen; and with the veneer of 1080/60 quickly wearing thin, it’s more evident that such issues are present in our gaming lives. We see footage doctored, or pre-approved, because it shows an ideal situation or a best-case-scenario. People stand on stage pretending to play these games but you can see in many instances that they’re not really doing much. It’s a shame that it’s a lie many like to buy into, but I understand why people like to believe in it. Surely these vast corporations wouldn’t be trying to fake footage onto an unsuspecting public? I mean, haven’t we learned anything from a certain game by Sega and Gearbox? Or from Sony’s early PS3 debacle? It would be horrific to think companies would STILL try to deceive us on this front. Most of the time, it’s irrelevant anyway; the footage rarely changes and is done purely on an aesthetic level, to showcase the best parts or mechanics of a game to the best of their ability. But that we still need to lie about it is damning all the same. We’re all grown-ups here, right? We know this shit is still happening.
People come to E3 briefings to see games footage; they want to be excited, intrigued and enticed. Some trailers and CGI can be excused at times in context; just don’t expect us to feel sated when it’s all you feed us. We’re hungry for new things, new experiences, new game footage. Teasers are a chocolate biscuit between meals. Keeps sugar levels up, but you can’t exactly live on choccy bickies alone.
2. Non-Gaming Stuff – a.k.a. TV, TV, TV, TV, TV…
It’s important to start this section off saying that E3 is a consumer ELECTRONICS showcase. Non-gaming content is, of course, part and parcel of E3. It’s not a dedicated games show. And we shouldn’t pretend that it is.
However, Sony stepped into the same trap Microsoft stumbled into last year; with a good quarter of their show dedicated to movies and ‘TV Series’ on PSN. In theory, yes, it does add value to the service and yes, mentioning it at E3 gets the word out to a lot of people. However, TV and Movies are rarely the best bedfellows for E3; we’ve sat back and watched over the years as such things drone on and we’re expected to maintain interest in content which, whilst nice, is predominantly aimed at an audience unlikely to be tuning in at 2am for a press conference.
These services would be best served by separate showcases allowing more detail and information to come to the fore; Sony’s teaser for the animated adaptation of ‘Powers’ was genuinely quite nice to see, but it stood out like a sore thumb by being quite extensive, and quite out of place. No-one is suggesting that we shouldn’t have such things on our consoles as an added extra, rather we’re suggesting that most of it would probably be better delivered in a different way, separated from the main body of the press conference, so we can simply get back to why most of us were watching the media briefing in the first place – that is, to see footage of games we’ve been waiting a long time for.
Even then, if we’re to accept that such services aren’t going away, we must also be mindful that such services are not the bread and butter of a games console. Sony’s new peripheral, PlayStation TV, is as clear a statement as any that it seeks to compete with the likes of Apple and BSkyB in turning televisions into full-fledged Smart TV’s, with extra content. But it’s meaningless for those with Smart TV’s already, and I’m going out on a limb here and will assume most hardened gamers have upgraded their TV’s in recent years and already have Smart TV enabled. The message kind of gets muddled. It’s presented as a big deal, when in reality it probably isn’t.
Mind you, this leads me into the next one. And it’s the big doozy…
3. Long Conferences are Boring and Old-Fashioned.
This is my overwhelming complaint about E3 conferences now. They’re so long. So dull. So devoid of personality. It feels like the media briefing idea is dying. Like we’re waiting for someone to come along with a shotgun, drag the idea out behind a shed and put the thing out of its misery.
Consumers are demanding more; and with Twitch, UStream, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and a variety of other services, getting information and/or footage to the masses isn’t very hard to do anymore. Some have clung onto these ninety minute/two hour “extravaganzas”, all the while forgetting that fleshing out that time is an incredibly difficult task, and bottlenecking new information into a condensed and packed schedule in such a way rarely does any individual item any favours. One or two may stand out, but the majority will blend seamlessly and be forgotten by the end of the stream.
Consumers are also seemingly getting tired of CEO’s and COO’s who have the personality of a sponge finger. It’s even harder to sustain a long, drawn-out media presentation when the majority of comments and remarks are mocking those on stage, trying to do their job. Nintendo is fortunate enough to have crazy people like Reggie Fils-Aime, Bill Trinnen and Shigeru Miyamoto in their stables, but they are unique in that perspective and even Reggie, in sustained and prolonged doses, can get a little cloying. They are meant to comment, narrate, inform and introduce, but with tools out there making those bridges painfully easy for the masses to perform those tasks, it’s not unfair to remark on how such things are presented to the world. Everything is so rehearsed to the point that any actual excitement is devoid from the tone of those speaking.
It also neglects to realise that the punchiest messages out there are short, snappy and deliver a keynote speech in a fraction of the time of a conference. Or the increasing following Nintendo is creating for it’s Direct Presentations. We don’t need to condense tons of information into a short window once a year; we have 364 other days in a year for this too. The news schedule for the last couple weeks has been noticeably slow, and it always is, as we’re told to “Wait for E3!”, or “We can’t talk about it now…” It’s unfathomable that for such a fast-paced world as the Internet is, that we can be so artificially slowed down by companies containing and gating their reveals for long-winded presentations that invariably often favour certain items over others, and often getting lost in the muddle that follows. It’s almost hilarious, and in the modern era, it’s also a pretty poor business strategy at that.
We no longer live in an era of magazine subscriptions and slow streams: we live in a phenomenal new age of fast-paced information. Where the exchange and imparting of information is measured now in nanoseconds, not days and weeks. As Internet speeds rise and social media is such a dominant and powerful force for everyone, we no longer have to settle on one stream, when we can choose from dozens. I remember having to download conferences after they had happened; streaming simply wasn’t up to task in those dark days, and we waited hour after hour for those downloads to happen. Heck, remember download clients which allowed us to resume failed downloads so we could save time? That’s certainly a dated concept now!
My point is this; whilst E3 is a powerful tool for businesses, and for media outlets to get hands-on with new stuff, the presentations are a remnant of a bygone age. Consumers are growing weary of these annual shows, and we’re growing weary of a sea of faces that feel so much like suits. We don’t need to go the other extreme and be stupid – like, say, dragging Usher on stage (yes, I am reliably informed I did not hallucinate that a couple of years ago!) – but then, if you need to pad out your show, you must already know as an executive that you’re doing yourself a disservice.
I think we can still be excited for E3; I think we can always expect new hardware reveals, surprises and the like. I’m not suggesting for a moment E3 should die. But it’s time the concept evolved. Clearly they already know they have a captive audience, who want information and want it last week, but we live in unprecedented times. We live in an age where downloading a huge game takes less than twenty minutes. We can stream games, without having to install them. We can upload footage onto the Internet, without having to learn any real editing skills in the process. We have more direct lines with these companies than ever before, in more places than ever before.
I think what is needed more than anything is for companies to adapt. E3 is a wondrous thing. But we shouldn’t need to deal with information overload anymore. We shouldn’t have to question if the footage we’re seeing is real or not. We shouldn’t have to ask if what we’re being shown is relevant or not. We have changed and how we navigate and consume content has changed. For industry leaders, that they don’t seem to quite be keeping up with their own technological advancements is a little embarrassing. That so many media outlets are outright mocking these conferences is embarrassing.
Presentations need to be on-point, short and simple. There’s plenty of scope to steal headlines any time this week, or any other week of the year. Focus on what is important at that given time; the kitchen sink approach simply isn’t interesting enough any more.
And hopefully we won’t have to sit up for hours anymore. We can have all of this done in one day and move on. And I’d assume it’d be cheaper as well.