Oh, E3: the Gaming Convention that started the media circus which surrounds the gaming industry. How is it staying relevant in a changing social environment? By extending the conference of course: not the actual event... just through leaks, a constant, growing stream of data all pushed into several weeks before the weekend, all vying for attention. The highlight of every E3 is usually the press events held by the big three; Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft. These major events have become the place where gamers look forward to lengthy new trailers, surprise reveals and the occasional celebrity appearance. But this year, the big move seems to be for lots of game companies to tell us about their plans BEFORE E3. Is this new "Pre-3" pattern the new standard, or a fluke?
To get started, this is just a partial list of games that have either been announced (with more details than just a name) or had significant new information about them released in the last few weeks :
- The Order 1866
- Lego Batman 3
- Arkham Knight
- Halo 5
- Call of Duty; Advanced Warfare
- Ratchet and Clank HD vita
- Quantum Break
- Super Smash Bros Wii U*
- Mortal Kombat
- Sonic Boom
- Mortal Kombat X
*In addition to their normal daily updates for the Wii U and 3DS versions of Super Smash Bros, Nintendo also released a promotional video, which included information about a significant new peripheral, a GameCube controller adapter for the Wii U... probably one of the things I'm most excited about.
Before we get into the implications of the list, let's talk about the list itself. Obviously, not every title on here is a major AAA effort, but most of them are. I picked a handful of games I figured would have broad appeal and some without. Some of these titles (like Lego Batman and Ratchet and Clank) hadn't been publicly announced until very recently. Some, like Halo 5 or The Order, had been announced previously, but we were given new details, screenshots, videos or some other important information. In the case of Arkham Knight, all of the footage Rocksteady had previously made available only to journalists was now released to the public, but no new info (other than a new release date) was released. I bring all this up just to point out that not only is everyone putting out something, they all seem to have different motives behind what they're releasing.
So the obvious question is, why now? With E3 just a scant few weeks from when these titles had all this new information released, why not wait for when you know everyone's attention is drawn? There are a few theories, some which make way more sense than others. Let's look at Halo 5: why the early reveal? One school of thought says they simply have too much other content to show, and this is what got the axe, but I don't buy it. Obviously, even though Microsoft can't have a press conference over a certain length, conventional wisdom tells us they'd do whatever they needed to make sure their most bankable franchise is visible at E3.
I think what we're seeing is a combination of two factors: the increased importance in social media/viral marketing, and an over saturation of E3 press conferences. How many of us get our news more from Twitter than from traditional news sources? I couldn’t even count how many people were walking around on their smartphones during PAX East. More than that, how many press conferences are scheduled for E3 this year?
Gamers both love these...and love to make fun of them.
There are 5 official ones (Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, Sony and Nintendo), plus in previous years there have been several smaller events, like when Nintendo first showed off Super Smash Bros Brawl. And that isn’t even counting companies like Konami, Activision and even Disney, all of whom have held their own events in recent years. Personally, I think it’s a bit of oversaturation, especially with how the gaming market has change in just the last few years. This is without even giving any attention to the indie community that has just grown year over year throughout the last generation.
This hype machine is a feature of an era gone by, from before social media and instantaneous news was ever-present in our culture. Yes, its trying to adapt, but its tiring, trying to stretch out the wave of intense "must buy, must buy!" attitude for several weeks before the event itself. Major companies are still hesitant to split their efforts in a dramatic way to other events like PAX East... while on the other hand, newer additions to the gaming scene revel in them. The indie mega booth is now spreading out to Gamescom 2014 , a move that was celebrated. Should we be happy that this development is occurring, or frustrated by it?
The bottom line is, I don’t think this "Pre-3" is a trend that’s going to go away. I think if anything, we’re more likely to see smaller events scattered throughout the year, a slow push away from the old methodology, rather than a re-centralizing around the actual E3 event. I wouldn’t be surprised within the next year or two if we see a major title announced on Twitter or Facebook, but that all depends on how much the major companies want to go with the current trends. Will E3 itself ever actually die? Well it did once before, but I’m not convinced that E3 will go away anytime soon: the singular, spectacular event may be becoming outdated, but habits in a culture die hard.