Tackling E3 2016’s water problem

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Microsoft versus Sony, Battlefield versus Call of Duty and Forza versus Gran Turismo. These are some of the rivalries that can get people talking about console wars. “Game On or Game Over” is your place to get inside the minds of Nicholas and Andy as they seek to find the true meaning of gaming and tackle some of gaming’s most controversial subjects. Both are award winning authors – although the awards haven’t been mailed or created yet — but trust them. Would they lie to you?

Nicholas: With E3 well and truly over, the announcement and perhaps hype surrounding the conference may have died out, but last week when we discussed our thoughts of the event, there were some fairly massive questions that you asked at the end, that I felt just didn’t get enough justice in the three or four paragraphs that I responded to. So this week I wanted to delve into some of those topics a little further and get your thoughts on some of the perhaps unspoken questions that should have been asked by gamers about this major event.

To kick things off, I think there’s no question that E3 this year suffered somewhat of a water issue. I am of course referring to the leaks. It’s subjective whether you wish to argue that gamers knowing a chunk of what was to come prior to each of the conferences contributed to a shared feeling that E3 2016 felt a little underwhelming, but I think there’s little doubt that they certainly had an impact.

Whether it was a trailer for a game that was yet to be announced or the new Xbox One, the leaks were as varied as they were plentiful, so let’s start here. What were your thoughts on the fact that there was so much information known about the upcoming conference before they occurred, and do you think it had anything to do with why E3 might have seemed unimpressive to some?

Mass Effect Andromeda

Andy: I’ve done quite a bit of thinking on this year’s E3 after our discussion last week. Sadly, the more I think about it the more underwhelmed I become. Leaks certainly played a big part in it. Most of the leaks weren’t even “rumours” or “possibilities” of things that could happen. They were full out trailers, screenshots and more. To me E3 has always been about the “Holy shit!” surprise moments. Those things that you didn’t see coming, that generate true buzz.

If you really think back about the big games that were talked about at E3 this year how many of them weren’t known about beforehand? I’d say less than 10% maybe even less than 5%. Whenever I hear the term leak in regards to video games I can’t help but wonder how many of those leaks are actually intentional. I mean if you think about it, the video game industry is rife with non-disclosure agreements, and there are some hefty penalties for breaking one. Yet, I can’t recall the last time I heard of a developer/publisher going after someone for breaking a NDA. That implies that many of these “leaks” are intentional to create buzz.

The problem with buzz is you can’t keep it going for over a year, two years or more. Sooner or later it will die down and then what? That’s one of the biggest issues I have with the current way developers/publishers announce games. They announce them way too early to the point where I just don’t care anymore. Look at last year’s E3 when Microsoft announced Crackdown 3. At this year’s E3… nothing said about it. Or you have games that are announced and then talked about for several consecutive E3’s and take forever to come out. Hello Last Guardian. So maybe it’s not that E3 was blah or underwhelming this year. Maybe, it’s that the way developers/publishers do business now they have taught me not to care. Is that a better way to look at it?

Nicholas: Would I say that publishers have taught us not to care, that I’m not sure about. What I would say though, and what I’d stand behind, is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult not to care about upcoming games and announcements anymore. Of course when I say that I’m generalising, but as we’ve discussed in the past, I certainly find myself less excited about games nowadays as a whole than I used to be.

So you’ve mentioned the idea of the hype train being started too early and I certainly agree with you, and I think that’s a major contributor to what we’re talking about here. If I look at Mass Effect Andromeda as an example, I was really keen to learn about a sequel in the months following my finishing of Mass Effect 3. For me, that was when I was the most excited because I was still on a high after completing the game. When they finally announced it last year, a number of years after the release of ME3, was I keen? Sure, but perhaps because part of me knew it was coming but mostly because it’s been so long between games, I’m wasn’t jumping up for joy. Fast-forward a year, when EA discussed (and I use that term loosely) Andromeda at E3 2016, I still wasn’t any more excited than I was before. For me the hype is still long gone, and especially when the release date is over a year again, there’s no way I’m going to start getting giddy soon.

Last week you questioned whether E3 was still relevant or important, and I wanted to tie that in with what you’ve just said about Crackdown 3. Last year Microsoft used the conference as an opportunity to announce the next instalment in the franchise, but this year nothing was said. In the same way that Nintendo does business, there’s nothing stopping Microsoft from having their own press release where they divulge more information, rather than having to wait until an E3 or GDC-type event. For you, do you think major conferences like these need to be the avenue for publishers to share information, or do you think they’ll start to fizzle out? Do you ever think they’ll die out completely?

Forza Horizon 3

Andy: Do I think conferences like these need to die out? No they serve a purpose for sure. Yet, at the same time I think they need to go back to how they were. There needs to be a magic and mystery to them. If I was a publisher or a developer, all my E3 stuff would be behind an impenetrable wall. Nothing is leaked out beforehand. In order to generate that positive buzz the announcement needs to be impactful, meaningful and unexpected. Yes, every publisher is going to have games that people know are coming, but there also needs to be some surprises.

Also, stop announcing things the month before E3. Within a week of each other both Battlefield and Call of Duty showed off their reveal trailers for their upcoming games. That was in May, are you really telling me that those trailers were so important that they couldn’t wait two more weeks? Especially on titles that are for the most part yearly releases and flagship-type games. That should be the anchor of your E3 reveal, not announced two or three weeks beforehand. Sure you’ll get a little bit of hype, but I’d argue you lose more than you gain when you talk about it again at E3 and people say “Oh yeah, already seen that.”

There was one other thing about this year’s E3 that bugged me. It’s something companies have been doing for a while, but this year just seemed on a whole other level and became nauseating. It seemed every game that was talked about they reminded us to pre-order it now. Then they would go on and talk about which console would be getting the DLC first, that there will be a season pass… oh and don’t forget you can pre-order those too. We’ve been dealing with pre orders and season passes for years now, but this year at E3 it just seemed to take on a life of its own. I mean let gamers savour the announcements of the games before you start browbeating them with the idea that just buying the game isn’t enough anymore. Maybe that’s just me though, did you notice that trend at all? I just wish we could go back to having a conference that’s just about games and not coming across like a pushy infomercial. I can’t be alone in that line of thinking can I?

Nicholas: I didn’t get that idea from the conferences if I’m honest, however I did see that there was a pre-order trailer released for Mafia 3 so I can certainly see where you’re coming from. It makes me beg the question though – why? What is the reason for publishers deciding to push these pre-orders onto the fans? If I look back to when I was younger, I would pre-order a game not because I wanted an extra car or gun pack, but because games seemed to be legitimately limited. Unlike today, you couldn’t just walk up to a store on release day (or even release date) and expect them to have stock of the latest titles – there are a few times when I remember having to visit 3+ stores before I found a copy. Further to that, collector’s editions also seemed unique as well.

It makes me wonder, is the reason for this whole big pre-order push to counteract the fact that games today are manufactured in such large numbers that they require gun packs and skin packs as an incentive to get gamers in quicker? Pre-ordering has always been a thing, but the reason for it has now changed?

You mentioned above the example with Battlefield and COD and how both were announced in the weeks leading up to E3. Do you think this might be to get a leg-up on each other and avoid being overshadowed by a potentially more extravagant conference at E3 itself? Once again I ask the question, with things becoming more digital and information being released instantly and anytime, do you think events like E3 are perhaps just not as relevant anymore?

mafia-3-launch

Andy: Ah, you’ve led me right into my next talking point here. For the average gamer E3 is no longer nearly as relevant as it used to be. In the age of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Twitch et. al. You can get information to your customer base in less than 60 seconds. There is no need for these huge extravagant shows, long lines and cash sinks anymore. As a gamer I would never go to a convention like they are now. Spend money for lodging, travel and food to get into the show for what… the opportunity to stand in line for hours and play 15 minutes of a game that won’t be out for a year, two years, or more? Or, to sit in on a panel (after standing in line of course) and be in cramped spaces and then leave and do it all over again.

What I’m going to say next will probably piss off some gamers, but that’s OK it’s just my opinion. I really think conventions like E3 (not to be confused with cons) should 100% not include the general public. A show like E3 is was originally designed to enable developers/publishers to show their stuff to the press and establish connections in the industry. That’s not what E3 seems like anymore. Now it’s a carnival atmosphere full of glitz and glamor, they seem to spend more time preparing their booths and presentations to have the most impact on the gamers instead of focusing on what they are actually there for.

To put it bluntly the general public should not be allowed at E3. Stream it, sure. But the days of selling as many floor tickets as they can to get people to stand in line to increase their bottom line needs to come to an end. If not I think the entire conference will become less and less relevant.  There is a time and place for fan interaction like they are looking for, but there needs to be a balance and right now there’s not in my opinion. I never thought I would say this in regards to the video game industry but I think E3 has become too big for its intentions and as a result has lost track of its original goals and vision. What do you think though? We seem to be coming at this from different viewpoints as it is. So I’m curious if our paths cross on this thought, or if I am just creeping further and further away from you.

Nicholas: That’s a pretty radical view to have, and while I can certainly see your point (and dare I say, if I ever went to E3 I’d love for it to be the case), I feel it spits in the face of the very people who made the conference what it is today. I totally understand how you want to give journalists as much time and coverage as possible to share the news about your latest and upcoming titles, but at the same time, I feel like events like E3 should also be an avenue for gamers to come together and experience such an extravagant event as well. Do I think it’s getting perhaps a bit out of hand? Sure. Does that mean we need to put a complete ban on the general public attending? Not so much.

I agree with you that in the social media age that we’re currently in, events like E3 are becoming less and less relevant/required, so for me it’ll be really interesting to see what E3 2017 will be like. No doubt the major players like Microsoft, EA and Sony will up the ante as far as over-the-top presentations may be concerned, but I wonder whether gamers will have the same thoughts as they did this year that the content was fairly average and uninspiring. It’ll be interesting to see if 2016 was a mere slump or a sign of things to come.

As we wrap up this week’s article, I’d like you to put on your red Trump cap and think what else you would change, given the opportunity, to make E3 great again. You’ve already mentioned having more secrecy around what is going to be announced and restricting the access to just journalists, but is there anything else you’d prefer to see change? Perhaps building a great wall along the border of Mexico?

Battlefield 1- Airship On Fire

Andy: The reason I feel comfortable in my idea of media only at E3 is because of all the other cons that go on throughout the year. There are a myriad of other options out there for gamers to get their hands on new games and tech. If you think about it there is really no show or conference just for the industry. When you add appeasing to gamers into the mix then the focus naturally shifts to their needs, otherwise they have a bad experience and hell hath no fury like a pissed-off gamer. I just think they need to carve out some time for themselves to make those connections and get the coverage they are looking for in a way that’s not rushed and where they can take their time.

I know my idea is pretty radical and out-there, but I really think that’s what needs to happen. If they streamline the focus and intent of the show and do it well a lot of good, positive news can come out of it. I don’t care what the <insert random YouTuber “content creator”> thinks of newest Call of Duty. Chances are they are there because the game they are covering is paying them to be there, so it’s hardly unbiased coverage anyway. I get why gamers want to be a part of that, and I really can see the appeal for a gamer being there. But, at the same point it just creates more work for those who are at the conference to try and cater to all the groups. I think that would solve a lot of issues itself.

Then we move to the content side of things. There’s no doubt that it will vary from year to year based on what gamers are in the pipeline. So they really need to control how that information gets out. It’s not about getting it out there early to one-up your competition. If I was Battlefield or Call of Duty and I had faith in my game I would let the other show their trailer before E3 and put out a tweet that says something like, “what we have in store will be worth the wait.” then plug their E3 stream. Maybe do a 2-5 second super-teaser as well. That whole “leave them wanting more” adage.

I don’t think E3 is in danger of being non-relevant, but I think it will become less impactful if they don’t change the course and way things are. Sure, it doesn’t have to be as dramatic as “no non-industry people” but I think they need to rethink what their purpose is. If their purpose is to bring gamers together with industry people that’s fine. If that’s the case they need to tailor things to fit that mould. I don’t think any walls need to be built, or torn down, no insults need to be hurled and no-one needs to be a bully to get their way. Everyone just needs to work together towards one vision and make E3 the best it can be to keep everyone up to date on the happenings in the industry. Maybe it’s something as simple as one less day gamers are allowed at the show or something. There are far smarter people out there than me to solve the issue. I can only hope that they are actually working on the solution right now so that next year’s E3 is better than this year’s.

Tune in next time for the next instalment of Game On or Game Over. If you have any ideas for our next article, feel free to contact Andy or Nicholas on Twitter.