I remember when E3 used to come around in May and, like any avid gamer at the time, I would stay glued to my news sites of choice as they switched to a graphically simpler layout to accommodate the extra traffic from readers clicking on stories and users feverishly updating those stories. Times have certainly changed, and so has the time of E3. Specifically it has moved to the end of June, which upset me when I was still in school because then I would not have something exciting to look forward to reading about during the boring final days of the school year. But I remained excited for the event, and in many regards I still am excited for the best known industry trade show.
The event has progressed from its humble beginnings in 1995 where it took place quietly before a passionate but work-focused group of people who wrote for tech magazines and games publications (most of which are now defunct) to the screaming and flashing expo we see today that gets broadcast live across the world and eclipses probably any other event or award show in scale and expense. Once internet live streaming became a feasible option, E3 began to shift its focus more and more toward flashy keynote speeches or “conferences” to relay the newest information and biggest reveals. Today there are major presentations by most big name publications houses, including SquareEnix, Bethesda, and Ubisoft among others as well as the manufacturer presentations by Sony and Microsoft. Nintendo is once again not giving a traditional show at E3 in Los Angeles but will be streaming a pre-recorded Nintendo Direct at the time they usually would have held a show.
So E3 has gotten a lot bigger, louder, more attended and more attention than it ever has in the past. The kind of information to come out of E3 has long be criticized for its usefulness or relevance to an expo intended as an exposition of new games and game tech. Instead, what we often get are conferences weighed down by long discussions of past performance and future goals by the major players in the industry. In much the same was the the US President’s State of the Union Address is a whole lot of words about nothing, the E3 conferences tend to be mostly bloat rather than interesting info. But eventually, once Sony is done talking about their boring TV apps, once Microsoft is done convincing you the Kinect is worth your time, and once Nintendo has dispensed with all the montages of games that are already released, eventually there come the nuggets of good information. But while these companies have our ears, waiting for that info, they are damn well going to use that platform to sell any and every side project on the slate from now until 2016. In light of this it might seem these conferences are mostly a waste of time, but in my estimation they are full of incidental indicators of how a company is thinking about its own performance and the performance of its competition. And for the purposes of writing about the industry, these observations are quite valuable.
Within the preening and gloating Microsoft committed itself to during its promotion of the Xbox One we saw a company that had taken the same road Sony did when it launched the PS3. With Sony’s reaction to that exact promotion we saw a company ready to react to the market rather than think it could set all of the terms, and unfortunately all of these things are couched inside of a lot of self congratulating discussions of “synergy”. Regardless, I get from those scripted and soulless proclamations of jubilation something of value even if it is not what the presenters were intending to deliver. This year I look forward to even more of the same as game news outlets begin conferring about their most anticipated games or most well received trailer or their favorite early demos. The consumer side of E3 is not entirely why I enjoy the show, although it is part of it, and so I only skim most of the pre- and post-E3 hype news. The really fun parts for me, the parts I think are valuable to understanding the industry well, are moments the industry chooses to show us. Having never attended E3 myself, and having no burning desire to do so, I can only ever write to the claims of others and to the presentations that E3 puts out, but that increasingly leaves less and less out of the picture.
If you have ever attended or wanted to attend E3, let me know your estimation of the show. With so much of it now live streamed across the internet, and even on TV, it surprises me little to hear some attendees claim one gets a better picture of E3 by staying at home rather than running around trying to cover the events in person. I’m willing to accept that not everyone enjoys listening to the corporate babble during the major conferences, but sometimes these things go wonderfully wonderfully wrong.