This year; why I am not looking forward to E3. And why I think it could frankly be replaced with anything else.
Last year, I did an E3 rant which I continue to stand by.
There once was a time when I took time out of work to enjoy the holiday spirit amongst gamers that came with the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo. As someone who isn’t religious and isn’t particularly inclined towards the lonely emptiness that Christmas brings, E3 was arguably my replacement for such a thing. It was a time to be amongst gamers, amongst friends, amongst the industry we loved and wanted us to love it. It was a time to hear from people we respected, people who were bringing new ideas and from people who were just cutting their teeth for the first time in this chaotic and bombastic week-long extravaganza. We waited for every reveal, hung on every word, dissected every trailer down to the minutest detail like ripping off the wrapping paper on a present. For some of us, this WAS our ‘Holiday Season’. It meant the world.
So why is it then that I am finally, after so many years, dreading E3? Well, let’s dissect for a moment what I just said.
“Amongst gamers, amongst friends…”
There’s no getting away that since the arrival in the gaming world of a little thing called GamerGate, the lines between friend and foe have become something of a contentious topic, especially to those of us with a journalistic bent who believe the truth to any given issue lies somewhere between the two extremes at either end, with many calls that neutrality is complicity, that to ignore such things and not regularly involve ourselves with social media penile-fencing stupidity somehow means we’ve automatically sided with “the enemy”. Being a gamer in 2015 is frankly a horrible time; after decades of gradually crawling into a socially-accepted pastime and for a brief fleeting period being the epitome of ‘cool’, the brakes came off in dramatic style, giving rise to what amounts to a civil war in the gaming scene which culminated in an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit which was so brutal that it set us and the industry back to the dark ages where we were once told Mortal Kombat would turn us into homicidal killing machines.
It’s this lack of “community” that is the first problem. After years of identifying as a “Gamer”, I make no secret that lately, I’ve wondered what it means to be a Gamer, especially a middle-aged gamer who began way way back at the age of four on things like Atari, Sinclair, Commodore and Amstrad. I’ve pondered what it would mean if somehow I was told I wasn’t a “Gamer”; what would that mean, exactly? Is this a title that I willingly attached myself to in order to give myself a box to sit in, or is it that I felt like I was part of a revolutionary movement over the years which began with pixels and now is heading into voxels?
This confusion isn’t mine alone; once we rallied against political interference but now it’s infected the heart of our community, and we’re all fighting amongst ourselves to the continued glee of certain people who are profiting from the chaos they have created. This makes me sad. It’s been so obvious, so calculated, but people have fallen for it and now we are left to wonder how long will the fires burn and why is no-one else actually trying to help put them out?
“Amongst the industry we loved and wanted us to love it.”
The industry itself has been somewhat shielded from the political panic of GamerGate, but only because it’s got huge problems of its own to deal with.
The games industry is seeing record profits from less releases and less physical sales. It’s also contending with an audience that is ageing rapidly, alongside franchises and properties in dire need of at least some basic modernisation, if not a full-blown refit in a few cases. And at the heart of all of this is money; gamers are paying outlandish sums of money now not just for fewer new releases, but also large swathes of additional content and DLC that in some cases now exceed the actual cost of the base game you’re buying!
In a frenzied push for monetary gain, the industry has shed so much; it shed the B and A-Grade Gaming market which was always hit and miss, but which seeded many hits over the years. It shed in many quarters proper QA Testing; releasing games which frankly should never have seen a beta test in such a state, let alone the commercial market, in a desperate attempt to keep the money rolling in by what is to all intents and purposes the commercial variation of “Early Access”. It’s also shedding talent; with many recognisable names to gamers having turned to crowdfunding and independent studios to allow them to make the sequels or successors they’ve been wanting to make for years. The main husk of the industry is lacking some creativity only because it’s pushed its creative minds out, thinking them an extravagance and not an essential component of what makes a good game into a great game. Let’s also not forget that such creative minds also in some cases perform much better when someone else has a firm handle on the funding.
Do I feel the love from the industry? From a few sources, sure. But these companies have somewhat withdrawn from the circus of E3 for various reasons, and have their own little events and/or reveals. What is often left feels hollow; it puts on a show, but most of it we know is smoke and mirrors, and when we know we’re being lied to it’s hard to not feel at a baseline a little apathy.
“To hear from people we respected…”
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from social media, is that when subjected to a barrage of daily commentary from our heroes, they can get… well… irritating.
You never have to personally agree with any ideology or political viewpoint to actually enjoy a product designed to entertain you, and anyone who claims otherwise is lying through their teeth from a mouth connected to a head so firmly wedged up their backsides that if they sneeze they could trigger a bowel movement, and that would still be a preferable sound and experience than listening to their commentary.
Truth is, you don’t have to respect these people. And the best advice I can give anyone in the modern era is to keep your heroes at arms length at all times; after witnessing Tim Schafer’s almost unspeakable faux-pas at GDC earlier this year and witnessing my idol Shigeru Miyamoto at the Nintendo Treehouse Stream at E3 2014 with demos which looked like something a first-year student would be tinkering with, I finally realised the truth behind the phrase of “Never meet your idols”. Because they are human beings who are fallible, who may not always fire on all cylinders and might actually also have personalities (and/or egos) that are volatile and temperamental.
On the other hand, E3 needs to learn to ditch stage speakers who have no actual training in public speaking. I know English is not everyone’s first language and I am not suggesting it all needs to be in English. Just that some people are gifted in charm and charisma and can capture an audience. Others need a crash course. Make sure those who need the course get it before running onto an E3 stage in front of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of eager viewers.
“We waited for every reveal, hung on every word…”
Perhaps my continued gripe from last year is the idea everything in the gaming world slows down in the six to eight weeks preceding the event.
I am of the view that we now live in a crazy 24/7 world, where news can be transmitted in seconds and often via video recorded on a mobile phone. Businesses rise and fall on the nanoseconds of difference in intercontinental transmission. Forget the city that never sleeps, the WORLD doesn’t sleep any longer, we are all constantly connected and hooked up to the Internet via mobile data, wifi, bluetooth or fibre-optics. It seems incredible that the games industry SLOWS DOWN before E3 – it starts to slowly grind to a halt, as they begin the sometimes admittedly arduous task of organising an E3 Presentation that has surprises for people, and the borderline obsessive need to maintain those secrets remaining, well, secret until their E3 debut.
As the rest of the world whizzes on by, and indies freely throw about news of new projects (former Rare workers doing a successor to Banjo-Kazooie called Yooka-Laylee, oh and the spiritual successor to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night), the games industry seems to be in a state of hibernation, if not actual petrification. Someone needs to toss a freaking Soft on this thing and lubricate the joints with whatever they have on hand.
E3’s problem is that as an event, it might be creating more problems than it solves. Fifteen years ago, when many of us still had print magazine subscriptions for our gaming news, E3 was an interesting thing and the introduction of live streams more or less destroyed print magazines dominance on this news. However, social media alongside Twitch and YouTube have created a low-cost, always-there alternative for the brave and bold. Telling people about your product has never been easier. Does it really need to be buried under a flood of phoney bullshots, CGI-heavy ‘trailers’ and scripted demos so clearly shady and unrepresentative of any finished product that you have to wonder if anyone learned ANYTHING from the whole Colonial Marines thing a couple years back?
The Internet created E3, and for me, the sad irony is the rapid evolution of the Internet might actually spell the death-knell for events like E3.
For some of us, this WAS our ‘Holiday Season’. It meant the world…
… and now it kinda doesn’t.
This isn’t to say there won’t be some interesting stuff at E3, or that E3 as a thing is doomed to irrelevance – the best way to tackle that slow slip into obsolescence is to stop and actually consider for a moment why your thing might actually not be working in the way you intended it to. E3 is still going to be a thing. I probably won’t stay up to four in the morning hanging on every trailer, but then, as I said – I’m a lot older now than I was when all this started, and I’m certainly not in the same physical condition as then either. Heck, I have a blue badge and a mobility scooter now. And a doctor who knows about E3 and will no doubt call me at nine in the morning and scold me if I’ve stayed up all night! You know you’re stuffed when that’s actually a thing that could happen…
Nintendo had the right of it last year; a short presentation of bullet-point reveals laced with a little light-hearted humour. Then a live-stream, where content is cycled so everyone gets to see what is on show. Despite all the utterances of how amazing Nintendo’s abstract dominance of E3 2014 coverage was, MORE publishers and developers are doing a live conference! Not only that, the PC Gaming scene is also getting one!
It’s like, did no-one even notice that we all gave mad props to Nintendo last year? That to me feels like the future. E3 can survive as a show, as an Expo; it absolutely can. But it doesn’t need to be filled with these big conferences where we have to stop what we’re doing for two days to tune in and get the full scope of what is happening in the coming year.
This is 2015. Perhaps it’s time the games industry as a whole accepted that it also might need to evolve a little. It’s primary audience is… well, starting to get on a bit. So come on games industry. It’s time to change up E3.
I mean, most people don’t have all day…