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The 10: Reasons to Love/Hate E3

Posted on May 31, 2012 AT 07:30pm

It’s that week of the year. The week before E3 and we’re all going nuts wondering what we’ll get to see from the industry’s biggest trade show. We’ll know for sure what Nintendo’s Wii U will look like, and already office pools are running, forecasting the winner of E3 2012. Every year, the Electronic Entertainment Expo changes a bit from the previous. It has changed cities, downsized, upsized… but some things never change, for better of worse.

Here are some E3 trends from recent memory that make us roll our eyes at every press conference:

5. Boring presenters

They tend to be high-level executives and it’s expected of them to give the media a report on the status of their company. They’re not even bad presenters (case in point Bill Gates) but their attitude is more suited to a boardroom, and their audience a group of majority shareholders. Don’t get me wrong, one can only admire what a man like Yves Guillemot of Ubisoft has done as a professional, but his entire segment during E3 2010 was about as entertaining as watching a 24hr live feed of lichen, aimed more at potential investors than a gaming audience. Last year Ubisoft went into a completely different direction with their much-derided Mr. Caffeine, and the results were even more disastrous. Can we clone Peter Moore and have him deliver every single address? He looks like he’s completely into it even when he’s screwing up every note at Rock Band!

4. Questionable partnerships

Do you hear that booing? It’s the sound of Sony announcing a partnership with AT&T for the PS Vita’s 3G connectity! Microsoft’s not lagging behind so much. Even though they never made an announcement of it, the Xbox dashboard is starting to have more ads on it than a NASCAR racer. Sadly, this is a trend that won’t stop any time soon: these partnerships make quite a bit of cash changes hands and in a limited way help offset the costs of consoles and their extra services. Sony has already made a further step in the wrong direction, publicly announcing the patenting of a process to actually pause a game so that ads can be shown to the player during this pause. With all the video-on-demand providers that Microsoft has added to Xbox over the last 12 months, expect several sales pitches that are nowhere related to gaming.

3. News “leaks” the week before

It used to be, and not long ago, that everything shown at E3 was a surprise. Yes, we could speculate when a new console would release, or what it would look like. It was easy to guess that a highly successful game would get a sequel, and that after a decent time in development it would be shown at E3. But the past three years especially have been characterized by a systematic “leak” of news on the weeks prior to E3, and while it’s exciting to know what we can expect from a press conference, it seriously takes away from the overall experience when the element of surprise has been obliterated by the companies themselves. As of today we know Dead Space 3 will be “announced”, as well as a new Gears of War game (prequel?). It’s especially troubling about the latter, given that it’s one of Microsoft’s most prized exclusives and the sort of surprise they like to keep under wraps. But getting their buzz up is all part of the game now, and our 24/7 connectivity is but another incentive for companies to continue leaking information.

2. Presenters that don’t play games

Just… no. Stop it. You have teams of hundreds of developers working on the game. These developers have dozens of QA’s that do nothing all day but play and replay the same section of the game you’re going to show off, over and over, for weeks so it’s nice free of glitches by the time it makes it to the stage. And in 99% of the cases it’s one of these developers handling the controls in the live demo while another goes through an explanation, but there’s always the exception. If the presenter’s job doesn’t involve holding a console’s controller at least five minutes a day, drop them. Hell, if they haven’t played that particular section of the game at least twice and their fellow presenter has to instruct them to “uuh, yeah uhh… to the right….no, the other right”, drop them. Do you think Harmonix would send amateurs to show of Dance Central 2? Exactly. Take a cue from them.

1. Children pretending to have fun

It’s not that common, thankfully, but the use of children to present a product during one of the Big Three’s press conferences is bound to rear its ugly head. It’s true that games like Once Upon A Monster are made specifically for them and Kuro Tsunoda going “have you ever wondered what the bottom of Cookie Monster’s foot looks like? BAM!” would be even worse. But let’s put it in perspective: the invite-only events held by the hardware manufacturers and software publishers are called “media summits” or “press events”. So let me ask you this: how many children ages 7-10 are you expecting to see there? Yeah, game journalists often behave like 7 year-old children, but that’s another matter entirely. Point is: with the fuss that will be written about Call of Duty, Halo, Gears of War, God of War, new consoles, and new connectivity, kids games just won’t make a single headline. If they can’t find what to fill those 5 minutes with, they can at least save face.

But not everything has to be bad news! E3 may have its nastier side, but never forget there are great reasons to follow the show closely and talk about it for weeks and months later:

5. Trailer and gameplay premieres

We know from leaks what most of the games showing at E3 will be, but in many cases, especially with the triple-A titles, we tend to have no clue what they really mean until we see them. Dead Space 3 is coming and it’s common wisdom it will have co-op, but how exactly co-op will play is a whole other story. New games are coming for Gears of War and God of War, both of them prequels, and while we’re pretty sure gameplay will remain largely the same, these are series that have upped the ante with every new entry and will only try to keep the record going. So what if the element of surprise is mostly gone? They can still manage to make our jaws hit the floor.

4. Still the industry’s top show

They still want to call them “press conferences” or “media briefings”, but those monikers just don’t reflect the truth of the events organized by the Big Three and the publishers like EA and Ubisoft. We can scoff at the amount of money and man-hours spent in the months ahead of planning these events, and we can roll our eyes at the celebrities brought in to endorse their products, and that’s exactly what these companies want: to make the events memorable, both in the good and the cringeworthy. One year Sony will be considered the “loser” of E3, which will make their “win” the following year all the sweeter, and this constant cycle of one-upmanship, product launches, attempts to impress us with bigger games and price cuts does end up, at the end of the day, giving the consumers more products for us to line up for on launch day.

3. Great partnerships

When Microsoft promised to make the Xbox 360 the one home entertainent hub for consumers to buy, they backed it up with facts. Sure, it took years to get to where we are now, with a solid dozen or more apps providing on-demand video services to go alongside (or downright eliminating) our cable subscriptions. But we’re slowly getting there, and we have little to complain about as the last three years have been among the best in gaming history. You can expect more digital music and video services to be added to all consoles in the next couple of years, and with it a higher presence of non-gaming related announcements during E3, making it even more worthy of its name as Electronic Entertainment Expo.

2. Unintentional amusement

Granted, this tells more about us as humans than it does about the gaming industry: we love rubbernecking at a nice train wreck. And throughout E3′s history there have been plenty of unintentionally bad moments: linguistic barriers making it impossible to understand a presenter (Konami, 2010); a player trying to emulate his on-screen Jedi when Kinect failed miserably (Microsoft, 2011); RIIIIIIIIDGE RACER (Sony, 2006). The list goes on and on. We cringe and die a little when it involves our console of choice, and we laugh our heads off when it befalls the competitor’s obviously inferior console, but at the end of the day it’s all in good fun. When games fail to be funny, at least we can always have a laugh at the expense of their creators.

1. Surprise me!

It doesn’t matter how much gets “leaked” to the media in the weeks before E3. It doesn’t matter if we think this will be one more E3 with no last-minute reveal to keep us hooked to a live feed: we’re always horribly, dreadfully wrong. It’s usually Sony and Microsoft the ones you can expect a final trailer when all is said and done and the lights of the auditorium dim one last time, be it a console jump of Final Fantasy, or Gabe Newell’s newly-found support of the Playstation 3. This year will be no different, with the exception that Nintendo’s Wii U console will have quite a bit to show in anticipation of its release, and we can only guess what franchises will find a new home when Nintendo opens the next generation of gaming. Next week we’ll know for sure.

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