So the big show starts today. Nintendo’s going to announce a new home console and a bunch of games will get announced and have more shown of them. Yet for some reason, this year’s E3 seems to be getting a real negative spin in the enthusiast press, even before the show officially opens. While hyping their own coverage up as one would expect, many sites are now posting articles questioning the show’s relevance. Some of the bigger publishers have their own events before the show and throughout the year which are cannibalising some of the hype. In addition, lower console sales (which are in line with the end of a cycle that’s gone on longer than anyone planned) are making everyone suddenly question if there’s value in a big flashy glitzfest for AAA gaming. Many mobile developers are also coming out of the woodwork to say that the show no longer means anything and it’s just a bygone relic of an industry that’s dying, the void from which they are filling in.
My first reaction to this is one of confusion more than anything. The enthusiast gaming press lives for this time of year, it’s when they get all the juicy details of upcoming releases they need to feed their users for the rest of the year and I would wager it’s by far their busiest traffic period. Why they are actively questioning the existence of a show that’s the bread and butter of what they do baffles me. I remember a few years back when E3 tried an experiment of becoming a much more slimmed down, streamlined affair. The theory was that the show had become too noisy, too gaudy and too sensational and it was costing publishers a fortune so by slimming it down, it would let the games speak for themselves and make it easier to cover and talk about. The results were a disaster with everyone saying that E3 had lost its soul and was in danger of losing the cultural impact it represented. The old formula was restored for the following year and now the same people are saying that the spectacle they once demanded return is no longer important again. In the span of a single year, the show’s perception for many has gone from being the go-to gaming event to being representative of a segment that might as well roll over and die while iOS dreck takes over.
I think the opinion of mobile developers is about as pertinent to a discussion of E3 as a Greenpeace member’s on the Detroit International Auto Show. With a couple of exceptions this year, the mobile industry doesn’t participate in E3, not because they aren’t welcome but because they choose not to. So why is their view on it at all important? If their industry and the disruption they love to tout that it’s having on the “traditional” games industry is so significant (because remember that one thing can’t succeed without something else failing an equal or greater amount), where is the annual trade show dedicated to mobile games? Given the lacklustre promotion and support from the mobile platform holders, I would think such an event would be extremely beneficial for them. There’s certainly enough money going around that segment to make such a thing possible. So where is it? If E3’s no longer relevant, what does it say about their perceived dominance over gaming today that they don’t have their own spectacle? To give them and their largely well, irrelevant point of view such a loud voice in the enthusiast press strikes me as a cynical attempt by outlets to drive clicks through controversy. The enthusiast press loves to do this and that’s bad enough unto itself but to do it over something so important to what they do is just stupid.
The thing that the enthusiast press and many hardcore fans have continually failed to understand is that even though we’re the biggest consumers per head of the goods hocked at E3 every year, the show isn’t meant for any of us. While E3 and the publishers who attend it certainly welcome any enthusiast attention they get, their targets are the mainstream media. CNN, USA Today, Good Morning America et al., the places that ignore gaming as a whole for the remaining 51 weeks a year, unless it’s to trumpet some clueless researcher talking about how they make kids violent. While we hardcore gamers like to think we’re the reason this industry makes so much money, we aren’t what driving 15 million+ sales of Call of Duty on an annual basis. Those are the people who have one console and maybe buy 1 to 3 games for it a year. That audience is who the industry has their sights focused on with E3 and the way you get the attention of the mainstream media they pay attention to is with flashy, loud, bombastic spectacles, everything the show does better than few others anywhere. This is why even as AAA publishers and platform holders like Sony and Nintendo struggle, they continue to spend millions on booths and press conferences.
In spite of all the doom and gloom prophecies I’ve read this past week, every major gaming site has E3 logos plasters all over their front pages, they’re all live streaming the press conferences and every podcast I listened to discussed at length their travel and coverage plans and what they were hoping to see. For a show that’s apparently lost its relevancy, everyone sure seems to be talking about it a lot. Last I checked, that was still the point of the thing. People pay attention to E3 in enormous numbers and until they stop doing so, I think there’s no question of its relevance. Perhaps if the enthusiast press wants to see AAA gaming grow and thrive, they should continue to embrace that which fosters growth rather than say “It’s all over but please keep reading and watching us talk about it!” and giving attention-seeking mobile developers exactly what they want.
Me personally? I’ll be streaming all the press conferences on my second monitor at work and I have my Visa primed and ready to pre-order the WiiU as soon as its available. Bring on the insanity, I can’t wait!