If there’s one thing that I hate, it’s being right.
Okay, I love it really, but I said years ago that the E3 Format was invariably doomed thanks to the rise of the modern Internet – a world of fast-paced information, where everything and anything goes, and where social media allows the dissemination of material at a rate that is virtually impossible to control. A fixed date E3, a giant immovable construct where companies spend a small fortune both setting up events and trying to prevent leaks, has for some time looked decidedly ropey. But as long as people were okay with not spoiling everything about E3 on a given year, it could hold on for a little longer.
E3 2018 is the year where the Internet finally brutalised the event in question.
To say there’s been a deluge of leaks is an understatement; everyone seems to have been afflicted, and no-one has been safe. Nintendo? Massive leaks. UbiSoft? Promotional goods wheeled out on Twitter early, spoiling the new Assassin’s Creed game. Bethesda? They can thank Gamestop for putting Rage 2 up for pre-order weeks in advance of its actual reveal (a curious tactic for a brick-and-mortar chain that kind of depends on keeping a good business relationship with games publishers). Sega? Same problem, only this time Walmart decided to leak Sonic Team Racing. Sony? Also a victim it would seem.
I mean, where’s a plumber when you need one?
On the surface, this has been great news for games news sites who traditionally find that things get thin on the ground in the run-up to E3 Conference Season. They’ve been able to go elbow-deep into a variety of reveals and teasers, and somewhat seem bemused by everything. It’s fun, even though you have to wonder if someone somewhere is about to lose their job because everything has been traced back to them. And for most of us gamers, it has at least been a novel few weeks where we’re all somewhat bewildered and delighted by some of the names being dropped. Well, except Assassin’s Creed. Yes yes, very clever with the Sparta logo, UbiSoft. Only took you twelve years to figure that one out. /golfclap
But for the companies involved – a lot of this is disastrous. After all, E3 hinges on the ability to keep surprises… well… a surprise.
Some call E3 “Christmas For Gamers”; there’s some truth to that, of course, but it also depends on us wanting to have stuff to open on the day in question (or three days, in this case). Right now, we’ve had all the gifts unwrapped and paraded around for all to see and that’s cool and all but… what’s left? Sure, some things will be a surprise – some cards are kept closer still, and some things are fairly last minute additions, but there’s a lot now that won’t be a shock to us. And when companies reveal it, we’ll go “We already knew about that…”, but of course we did. Because we couldn’t help ourselves, could we? You can’t read a movies plot synopsis and then complain that you “knew that ending was coming” – of course you did. But it doesn’t change the fact that conferences like this are written out and scheduled in a pretty linear fashion and it’s very difficult when you’ve done all the engineering work and dress rehearsals and set up the reels to be shown to just change everything at the drop of a hat because someone couldn’t keep their Golbat-sized maw shut for a couple more weeks.
Video editing takes time and effort, after all. This isn’t a lifevlog; most of it has already been recorded, and some of it was recorded weeks if not months ago. Changing everything means rewriting scripts, more rehearsals, more editing time and probably resubmission of planning documents and health and safety stuff about who comes on where and from which angle.
I don’t think people appreciate sometimes how much work goes into E3.
If companies lose their ability to keep things a surprise… then what’s the point of E3? Well, it will always remain a “trade show” of course; that was its original intention, it was Nintendo (yup, blame Nintendo!) who created somewhat the ‘modern’ E3 experience back in 2004, with a then fresh-faced gentleman new to the company called Reggie Fils-Aime, and we were not prepared for the memes that would generate. But for these big showcase events to work, secrecy has to be paramount; there’s got to be something there to surprise and delight and if we’re stripping these events of every major announcement weeks in advance… then what value do these events have for companies?
After all, it’s time-consuming. It’s expensive. It’s complicated. E3 has been for years considered a ‘necessary evil’, a big blow-out for the industry, but now we’re getting big announcements and reveals before the event because… well… companies are having to try and get back the upper hand. They know once the cat is out of the bag, it’s very hard to get it back in there and so many simply are no longer trying – they’re not even using the traditional “We don’t comment on rumour and speculation” line because it just emphasises that yes, it’s real.
When companies have all year to showcase games – and do their own events, as Nintendo has demonstrated with some very surprising Direct shows the last nine months or so – we do have to start asking, is E3 really that important anymore? It feels like a quaint artefact of a bygone era.
E3 has been making changes – yes, the conferences are by and large more tuned for international audiences, at reasonable times for once. Yes, the show floor is open to the public (if you can afford the tickets). And yes, I know, it’s bringing in more smaller companies to the fold. None of that changes the sad fact that once the water begins to flow, before we know it we’re knee-deep in information.
Which brings me to one final point; I appreciate the argument some have made that it’s more sensible to pace out reveals, so as to not be swamped on the day in question. Let’s assume that’s a defensible position for a moment; what value is there then in a massive wave of leaks where games are getting lost in the tsunami of reactions and over-reactions of people on sites, blogs and social media? You’re trading one unreasonable position for another completely unreasonable position. Games still get lost in this; smaller studios get overlooked in the stampede. Some of them might never even recover all that well, having spent so much time on a thing only to see their big surprise announcement spoilered weeks in advance.
E3 was built by the Internet; live-streaming has become so much more available (remember when GameSpy had pretty much exclusive rights on E3 footage?). And it seems, the Internet may be just as capable of destroying E3 in the same way.
I’ll be enjoying the show as ever. But I just wonder if it would have been slightly more magical had we not had so many things leaked before the thing happens…