Back when I was still in college, I had a penchant for stapling up the OP page of Game Informer magazine. They don’t have it anymore, but in its hay day it was a monthly glimpse into parts of the industry I daydreamed over; rendering 3-D environments, the tortures of being a game tester, the horrifying freedom of writing an entire encyclopedia of a fictional country for Bethesda. Back then, that single page was worth more to me than whatever feature ran that month.
Among them all there was always one that stood out in particular, from the EIC himself Andy McNamara. Titled “Why E3 Needed to Change”, he was talking about the noticeable blip in convention history when the showrunners finally acknowledged that the video game industry’s biggest stage lost sight of what it was all about. Occluded by deafening sounds, fantastic cleavage, impressive cosplay, unmeasurable swag, and a sense of entitlement that it never truly earned, McNamara called the event “a parade of pomp and circumstance“. Our own managing editor, a veteran of the E3 experience himself, didn’t mince word, either.
It stuck with me. It struck a nerve, but in the way that meant to ignite change. At the time he was right, though. And like some modern soothsayer, his OP-ed predicted a giant shake-down of gaming’s greatest theatrical performance: fire the booth babes, turn away the fan boys, and put the games back in the limelight.
Well there was a venue change for a year, but it was enough to get what a lot of people wanted. In the past few years, E3 has been exclusive to only studios, publishers, and the poor saps willing to brave L.A. to cover it all. In complete fairness, it’s an honor I have never been experience myself, yet hundreds of people I have spoken to still call it “a necessary evil.”
I may argue from a corner of ignorance in this, but I cannot say I do not see a pattern emerge from those that must brave the convention floor annually. Fat was trimmed where it was needed, the crowds were reduced to what the showrunners describe as “essential personnel”, and the overall experience has been streamlined to provide bloggers with the easiest means of getting the word out (but let’s be honest, does E3 really need bloggers to do that?).
Before our digital revolution, there was a visceral need for E3. Before broadbands and live streams, E3 was the global standard for showing off your next big thing. Sure TV spots and Magazine ads would follow, but nothing – nothing – beats the allure of an elevated stage and a curtain between you and the unknown. And that was what E3 did best… back then.
When Nintendo chose to forgo their physical presence at E3 a few years back I thought it was a final nail in the coffin for their already dubious Wii U. Choosing to stream a Nintendo Direct stream, however, was a personal epiphany for me. Putting aside their creative genius in trusting Robot Chicken to help them out, Nintendo proved the reliance on physical presence at E3 was no more important than DLC on a Vita title. Instead of boring the crowd with Reggie’s presence, the big N let their game footage speak for itself, and it held up just a strong as either Sony or Microsoft did that year.
Personal Note: Reginald Fils-Aime is a brilliant Nintendo employee and incredibly intelligent about the video game industry when allowed to speak freely. His biggest flaw, unfortunately, is that he is a terrible public speaker and has absolutely zero talent when reciting a script. Having seen this awkwardness in person at Nintendo’s HQ in Redmond, Washington, I can only hope Miyamoto switches places with him while he is still a part of the big N.
It was a moment that unveiled the necessary future for all of E3. As I began to look at these annual parades with a more critical eye, it dawned on me how impractical it was for such events to really ever take place at all. If one were to ask the average E3 attendee why they were there, seldom would one hear the answer “I just want Reggie/Phil/Mike to announce *insert game here *”. It was all about the experience of seeing the footage for the first time, then trying desperately to translate that enchantment into a 2-page spread for next month’s issue.
Media has moved faster than the players who have spent decades trying to translate it, master it, package and it sell it; and E3 is a prime example of an industry that has exceeded the means people use to express it. In fact, I would argue that E3 costs most developers and publishers more money than simply streaming it on their own.
Does Sony really need E3 to do a product demonstration of Morpheus to convince their fans to buy it? Does Microsoft really need a stage to convince people how Windows 10 is all about gaming? Does Bethesda truly need E3 to convince us to buy Fallout 4?
None of these strategies need a stage, or thousands of bloggers, or a sprawling convention space with overpriced sandwiches and Powerade. Developers and Publishers don’t need to set aside hundreds of thousands of resources for hotel rooms, plane tickets, booth space and hardware. If the ultimate message of E3 is still about the games we want to play, then the convention itself is long overdue for the beautiful death it deserves.