Besides, there’s other noteworthy news that just kind of slipped past without notice or celebration, namely in that it seems rather inane from the offset: namely, that EA would once again be abstaining from partaking in the festivities of E3 to host its own little party, three days of games, music, and entertainment as people enjoy everything EA has to offer.
Seems fairly straightforward. Nintendo has started doing that as well, far before EA got it in their heads, opting out of a traditional booth or presentation for E3 2013 in favor for a direct live stream, which has become their standard method of communicating with the crowds in a mass sense.
Now, for both of these companies to drop out of E3 actually makes a bit of sense: EA is such a behemoth with such a wide selection of games under their banner that they could easily make a convention devoted to their own work. Nintendo, comparatively, is the right size for an E3 presentation, but they’re so opposite the flow of the rest of the industry that they can’t really be compared to their counterparts at Sony or Microsoft, so doing their own thing at their own time is perfectly within their MO. Blizzard, of course, avoids press shows, not because they have a massive roster of games, just that they’re so far up their own butts they can only see their own crap.
Yep, never missing a chance to give Blizzard the ol’ tongue lash.
In either case, despite the fact that two big developers tend to skip the event, E3, like Tokyo Game Show and Gamescom, is showing no sign of waning in influence over the industry, with developers rushing to make demos, trailers, and prepare booths for these massive press events. But my question is… why?
Let’s go into some history.
Before E3, which is arguably the biggest and most famous gaming trade show, any game developers who wanted to advertise their product had to go to tangentially related trade shows, typically for electronics and computers, like the Consumer Electronics Show or the European Computer Trade Show. Here, they had their booths, but they weren’t being celebrated as a medium: they were being acknowledged as a periphery for the hardware being shelled at the actual conference. And apparently, they were treated almost with disdain, as According to Tom Kalinske, CEO of Sega America, puts it:
"The CES organizers used to put the video games industry way, way in the back. In 1991 they put us in a tent, and you had to walk past all the porn vendors to find us. That particular year it was pouring rain, and the rain leaked right over our new Genesis system. I was just furious with the way CES treated the video games industry, and I felt we were a more important industry than they were giving us credit for."
The pioneers Sega then founded the Interactive Digital Software Association, which is a trade association for video games, representing them court and sending lobbyists to the congress. You probably know who they are, although not by that name: nowadays they go by the Entertainment Software Association, or ESA, and they got quite a bit of flak for their controversial support of SOPA and PIPA back in 2012.
Ah, I miss when video game censorship was the biggest of our worries.
Anyway, the Interactive Digital Software Association co-founded E3 in 1995 with Infotainment World, a brand of the International Data Group, a marketing and media-based venture capital organization, and in the very first show, The Sega Saturn, the PlayStation, and specifications for the Nintendo 64 were first revealed, and the rest is history.
So why do I bring that up?
Well, if you remember one of my more recent rambles, regarding money’s influence in the world of video games, and how the medium has evolved around an industry, and not the other way around? E3 and other trade shows are proof of that, proof that games might be marketed as a “medium” by the people who make it, but it’s treated like an industry. Not to keep comparing gaming to other media, but it’s not often you hear about “book trade shows” or “movie trade shows." Sure, they exist, in a sense, but they have a different atmosphere and a different objective. A “movie trade show” would be like a film festival, which is about partaking in the medium with fellow fans. A “book trade show” would be like a book fare, which is mostly just a marketplace.
But Game Trade Shows are different. Even among other traditional trade shows, like Auto Trade Shows or Fitness Trade Shows. It’s not about selling what’s on the market and helping lesser-known innovators connect with a relevant market… it’s just a platform for advertising the games that are coming in the future.
Now, I make that sound like it’s a bad thing. It’s not. But I’m left to wonder, if that’s ultimately the objective of E3, Gamescom, and the Tokyo Game Show, why do we even still do it? Aren’t there better, cheaper ways to do everything these trade shows accomplish?
Here’s the great thing about EA’s planned press event, and what Nintendo has taken to doing: they’re open to the public. Traditionally these trade shows have been closed to the public and thus made available only for journalists and other members of the industry to go in. And while everything presented to the press can and will be seen by the general audience quickly enough, the experience of actually playing the games, holding the controllers… subjective opinions formed around the interactive medium, those are out of people’s hands. No amount of good journalism can objectively and satisfactorily convey the feeling of playing a demo to their readers.
While I’m as excited for E3 as many gamers are, I also acknowledge that it’s both a missed opportunity and the show is horribly outdated. We have the internet for those kinds of things, if you just want to talk to people and show off gameplay, it’s easier, cheaper, and more efficient to just host live streams. And sure, the press might raise a fuss, but there are other networking opportunities and plenty of people will miss the livestream, so there’ll still be plenty to report. Heck, you could even get those demos into the hands of the public, if you bothered to. Capcom and Square Enix have been doing a wonderful job with releasing demos as of late, which is a marketing tactic I’m surprised has died in this digital age: it’s never been easier to let people sample your game, why be so stringy with it? But I digress.
It’s important to reiterate that I’m not saying we should get rid of E3 or anything, I just think they should be refocused, maybe rebranded. And, for inspiration, I begrudgingly turn to Blizzard, because while they are overhyped and self-congratulatory to a startling degree, they do a few things right. Namely, they know how to build and engage with a culture. To a lesser extent, see how Riot games turns the arenas around major eSport events into small festivals. That’s the kind of shows we should be having: celebrations of our culture, celebration of our industry, and a celebration of play as a whole.
We could still have our crazy booths and trailers, sure, but broaden up the itinerary, and open up those doors to the public. Show off cosplay, do some video-game themed concerts, have an open bar with appropriately nerdy drink choices, all that. And you might be thinking, “But Joe, isn’t that just a gaming convention?” to which, I’d say “Yes. Yes it is.”
So I guess Comic-Con would be a better inspiration, since they also do unique trailers and reveals for that event, even though I’d wager only about a third of the people there actually read comics. It’s more of a general nerd celebration, and that’s good. We should turn E3 into that.
“But why?” You might ask, “E3 is fine the way it is, why bother fixing what’s not broken?”
Well, depending on your perspective, you’d be right. E3 isn’t broken, it’s not failing, it doesn’t need to be rebranded. That said, as long as E3 and its ilk act like this, gaming will continue to be a medium for the industry, not by the industry. As long as E3 is around, acting as a bastion for the marketing-heavy practices of the triple-A gaming world, we’re not going to see games evolve much as an art: they’re just going to continue to become a service, with all the good and bad that goes with it. Personally, I think the bad outweighs the good, which is why I’m so keen on this idea.
But if you disagree, I’m not about to tell you you’re wrong. E3 is still fun, like I said, I still plan on covering it extensively when it finally rolls around. But it’s not too much, I don’t think, to wish for something a bit better. Don’t you?