The E3 Conundrumcomments powered by Disqus
Posted on Saturday, June 14 2014 @ 17:41:49 Eastern
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Man, E3 sucks lately doesn’t it?
Perhaps it is just my jaded outlook on the gaming industry as of late, but for the last few years, the Electronic Entertainment Expo has become a chore to sit through. Gone are the days of excitement for new reveals, a playable game demo or two, or something groundbreaking to reveal. E3 is no longer a commercialist enterprise, but a big budgeted spectacle that is beholden to the lowest denominator.
Perhaps it is just more growing pains. After all, E3 has evolved from in-depth tech demos to a more trailer-focused big bonanza, letting the games do the talking with the support of the paid celebrities or developers hawking some wares in your ear. If this is the case, however, then recent years E3 has become more and more inaccessible to the gaming community as a whole.
Which is ironic, because it is now more connected than ever. With numerous live streams, live blogs, and the use of twitter, facebook, instagram, and other social media schemes has made E3 one of the most hotly seen, recognizable conferences in the world. Now journalists and fans alike have total coverage of E3, something that was unfathomable when the trade show began in 1995.
Yet, with all of this connectivity and total access to trailers, screens and even commentary from the ground teams, E3 feels stale to the palette when consuming it. The bombardment is too overwhelming to soak it all in at times, making it extremely easy to tune out of E3 all together. It also doesn’t help that most of the companies are still up to their old tricks, something that needs to change for future conferences.
The conferences are perhaps the best example of the problems E3 face. For the 2014 show, many, myself included, have complained about the almost “safe” approach each conference provided for their audience. It was a lackluster affair to show off the upcoming lineups for Sony and Microsoft, while Electronic Arts and Ubisoft, the only two publishers big enough to really warrant a conference in their own right, fall into the same trap. It is easy to write it off as “safe” for these companies, but upon closer inspection, some troubling trends become noticeable.
The biggest sin of course, is the lack of gameplay shown for a majority of their showcases. For these companies, the trailers become the king in exciting the masses watching at home, showing off slick graphics and an abundance of action, comedy or drama to set the tone for their video presentation. What’s more, the trailers come in many flavors, from tear-jerking independent titles to bad-ass action romps. A vast majority of the games revealed in these conferences were trailer-specific, and showed almost no gameplay to accompany it.
For the few games that were playable in the conferences, the pattern was the same. With slick presentations and a tightly choreographed video, you see some gameplay footage, sometimes lasting ten or so minutes, showcasing a bit of what the game is about. Battlefield: Hardline, The Order: 1886, Assassins Creed Unity, Far Cry 4; all of these titles practically had the same demonstration presented to you. It was a mini movie over actual gameplay, a constructed demo designed to show off the game, and not be playable.
This style of presentation has been very popular since the massive media buzz titles like Watch Dogs, Far Cry 3, and The Last of Us have achieved in past E3’s. Much like a director orchestrating the action, major publishers are trying to provoke emotions through editing, controlling the response that is expected from the audience. It is a tool that has been used for years by companies, but typically, it was used through shorter teaser trailers that showed off gameplay, versus a ten minute experience that becomes bloated and unrestrained. Sometimes it works, and works well. This year, the standout was certainly No Man’s Sky. This trick, however, when deployed upon every game in the show, becomes incredibly derivative by the conferences conclusion.
So the trailers are CG and the gameplay is tightened up to a glorified demo. The last problem is the grandstanding done on the stage. In a move that still boggles my mind, we see more developers than gameplay footage in these four conferences, something that is counter-productive to the point of these conferences. To be fair, that was how it was done years ago, a string of developers, publishers, directors and presidents take center stage, outline the plans for the company, show off tech specs or sales figures and then give you tastes of the gameplay.
That was ten years ago, though. After the virulent reaction to the Xbox One last year, and the disinterest in sales figures in a 24 hour news cycle, such practices have become anachronistic to the current needs of the gaming populace. There is no need to introduce ten different developers on stage to peddle a game or two for a few minutes, watch a trailer, then walk off stage like its amateur hour at the Apollo.
You notice I am focusing on the conferences, and not the rest of the trade show. The reason for this is simple, the first impressions the companies give is always their showcase. The E3 conferences have become a show in of itself; it is the marquee time on the websites and most shows now have a “preview” portion beforehand, poorly imitating a red carpet experience before the Oscars. Yet, the ironic aspect of this smoke and mirrors trick is the fact that the meat of the gameplay, the demos on the show floor, are where we get most of our information now.
Those moments, the live demos, the developer interviews, the private press conferences, show more of the games than the major conference can hope to achieve. One example comes to mind immediately, BioWare’s Dragon Age: Inquisition. The title, winning numerous awards this year at E3, had an over forty minute gameplay demo, showcasing everything from customization, dialogue, combat, and even some story bits to tantalize the viewers, all with the commentary of executive producer Mark Darrah explaining what you see. Yet for the major conferences at Microsoft and EA, the best gameplay footage shown was a minute long video of the player and his party fighting a dragon, which doesn’t come close to summing up what the gaming public wants to actually see and hear about
So what is the solution? Well, the answer can really be seen by the final player at E3 this year, and the only company that put on an enjoyable experience for the audience, and that is Nintendo.
It is no secret that Nintendo is in a slump at this point. Wii U sales are down, their stocks keep taking a hit, and many, fans and pundits, are calling for the companies death for “failing” to meet their expectations. Yet, Nintendo is getting so much positive buzz over their E3 presentation this year, those previous cries have turned into a triumphant chant of admiration for the company. So what really changed here?
For starters, Nintendo eschewed the traditional press conference again this year, instead creating a 44 minute video presentation that was designed to be live streamed. It was tight and controlled, yes, but it also showed something many of the other conferences lacked; actual gameplay. This certainly benefited Nintendo greatly, especially for newer IPs such as Splatoon and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. The extensive demoing was also accompanied by footage of the developers discussing their wares, avoiding tons of buzz words and simply talking about the game and the inspiration behind it. The only other conference to do so was the EA conference, and it was terrible due to the lack of actual footage to go with their upcoming projects.
Nintendo also did one of the smartest moves a company can do this year; it gave the viewing public unprecedented access to their games. The Nintendo Treehouse, the live stream event that spanned for nearly two days total, showed off more gameplay, live, organic demo’s, and even more reveals to the general public for the first time in real time. In an age where social media is the king of gaming journalism, Nintendo tapped into that resource and kept their entire presentation fresh in the minds of the gaming public, casually revealing new characters or games, even by the expo’s end. If the lines at E3 indicate anything, Nintendo had total control of the show floor this year.
Quite a feat for a company that’s been decreed as slowly dying, huh?
Nintendo is certainly onto something here, and given the success of both their digital event and the Treehouse, it is likely they will continue to do this yearly for E3. Companies like EA and Ubisoft would be wise to take a page out of Nintendo’s playbook, and follow suit. With a 24 hour live stream, a more off the cuff, organic presentation of their games and demos, and gutting the fat out of their conferences, Both third party publishers would become more bearable to deal with at E3 in an instant. Hell, even Microsoft and Sony should take notice at this point, especially if they continue their dick waving contest against each other.
In the end, Nintendo practically carried E3 this year, that much is clear by most commentators and bloggers in the gaming sphere, but what can we learn from this experience? Times have changed once again, and the other companies need to start finding new ways to make a meaningful impact for a more jaded gamer audience. If all press conferences become digital events, I doubt anyone would mind it. If there was more gameplay, and less CG trailers, I am sure the passion these developers have would shine through more to the public. Lastly, continuous updates and live, unscripted demo of the games is key, as it shows how fun they really are.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of GameRevolution, but we believe it's worthy of being featured on our site. This article, posted earlier in June 14, has been lightly edited for grammar and image inclusion. You can find more Vox Pop articles here. ~Ed. Nick Tan
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