E3 2015 After Thoughts: The Business of E3

Scrumpmonkey takes a bit of a look at the business end E3, and why this big, dumb, loud, expensive show is good for its own reasons.

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Gaming is a busi­ness. There’s a lot of mon­ey in­volved in putting on E3 and a lot of mon­ey at stake in get­ting the mes­sages a com­pa­ny wants to put out to con­sumers. It’s where you go to cut through the signal-noise and have as big of a chunk of the game buy­ing pub­lic hear about your project as pos­si­ble. Many peo­ple will only ex­pe­ri­ence E3 through main­stream press head­lines; so if you think the con­fer­ences can be paired down to three or four head­line grab­bing an­nounce­ments, you’d be right. That’s E3’s en­tire modus operan­di; let off enough ex­pen­sive fire­works in one place to grab the at­ten­tion of gamers and drown out your com­pe­ti­tion. That’s why we have three days of fever­ish an­nounce­ments and slick coverage.

e3-bus-side-0This year it was Sony who let off the fire­works that peo­ple talked about most: the Final Fantasy 7 remake an­nounce­ment could only re­al­ly have been one-upped in terms of gam­ing news by the con­fir­ma­tion of the long await­ed Half Life 3. It’s the kind of thing E3 was made for. So was the re-emergence of The Last Guardian and the Shenmue 3 Kickstarter re­veal. There is a rea­son com­pa­nies try to play to the crowed as much as pos­si­ble at these events and there is a rea­son we see the biggest re­veals kept se­cret and giv­en out all at once at these huge press events. E3 is where promis­es are made, hype is gen­er­at­ed and hopes are raised. Where the pact be­tween gamer and mega-corp is re­newed and they  promise to tick­le our joy cen­tres in ex­change for our hard-earned cash and all of it is done for that fleet­ing mo­ment of uni­ver­sal coverage.

That’s also why we see jour­nal­ists brought so close­ly into the fold; to help max­imise the im­pact of cov­er­age. This is done in the open and is re­al­ly the only way these press events can func­tion. This isn’t some be­hind closed doors event in Hawaii, this is the gam­ing press par­tak­ing in their age old con­tract with the games in­dus­try: to come gape at their shiny baubles. It’s a trade-off that I think jour­nal­ists need to re-balance. I don’t think some­one like Adam “Track-7-on-Eric-Clapton’s‑Greatest-Hits” Sessler can cov­er Bethesda prod­ucts af­ter he was paid to host their con­fer­ence. It’s the job of the AAA publisher’s PR teams to woo and bribe the gam­ing press and it’s the job of the gam­ing press to stare at them cyn­i­cal­ly and pick apart their games. Swag needs to be re­fused or giv­en away — or at the very least re­viewed if it is an ear­ly prod­uct. As long as you can of­fer some crit­i­cal analy­sis and don’t come home with thou­sands of dol­lars in ex­clu­sive gifts ready for Ebay stuffed in your suit­case, then I see no real prob­lems with the way E3 runs in re­gards to the press. The onus in on the press to re­sist the cor­po­rate hos­pi­tal­i­ty, it’s the same in any in­dus­try trade show from phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals to socks. E3 only cor­rupts the press if the press lets it. You’re a jour­nal­ist; they aren’t us­ing Jedi mind tricks on you. The best games writ­ers will cut through the bull­shit and bring the gamers a real pic­ture of what they can ex­pect in the com­ing year.

e3-bus-side-1E3 is like Christmas mixed with the Superbowl; com­plain­ing about it be­ing “over­ly cor­po­rate” or “too com­mer­cial­ized” is re­dun­dant. It’s a cor­po­rate trade show put on by the world’s biggest video game pub­lish­ers, who just so hap­pen to be in the world’s largest en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness, re­cent­ly con­firmed to be big­ger than mu­sic and movies. E3 is a show­case of the most a com­pa­ny can spend on bells and whis­tles. When that isn’t at­tempt­ing to bias cov­er­age by just throw­ing a par­ty, the the re­sults can be mes­mer­iz­ing to down­right hi­lar­i­ous. The best thing about a large com­pa­ny bungling an E3 con­fer­ence with a mo­ment of in­fi­nite cringe that will live on in Internet his­to­ry is that they spend mil­lions of dol­lars do­ing it. All that mar­ket­ing bud­get and gamers still laugh at them. That’s part of the beau­ty of E3: the com­mit­ted gamer isn’t buy­ing most of the window-dressing and is gen­er­al­ly pret­ty good at weed­ing out the non­sense and guff. Microsoft can low­er a car from the celling or JAY-SUN-DA-ROO-LOW can ap­pear at the Ubisoft con­fer­ence and peo­ple mere­ly roll their eyes and ask where the game­play is.

Approaching E3 with the right frame of mind is al­ways ad­vis­able, ex­pect­ing an earnest cel­e­bra­tion of “the art form” is al­ways go­ing to leave you cold. Approach E3 for what it is and not what you want it to be. This isn’t most gamers first rodeo, they know the mar­ket­ing speak and the lofty promis­es are not gospel truth. You are be­ing mar­ket­ed at, that’s the truth of it, and if you are too bit­ter and cyn­i­cal to be able to put that to one side to ex­pe­ri­ence the good parts of E3 then maybe the event isn’t for you. There are plen­ty of oth­er dif­fer­ent events in the gam­ing cal­en­dar. E3 is the top end, the top tier of the AAA, the pin­na­cle of the slick mar­ket­ing ma­chine. That’s the point.


The large pub­lish­ers and con­sole man­u­fac­tur­ers want to con­trol what PR mes­sage gets out about their prod­ucts, the con­fer­ences them­selves have most of the rough edges smoothed off, when you’re deal­ing with these amounts of mon­ey no one wants to take any risks. This is what gives E3 is mir­ror shine but also its dis­tinct lack of charm and soul; it’s a care­ful­ly arranged toy dis­play in a su­per­store or a beer ad­vert at Super Bowl half-time. E3 is dif­fer­ent than some­thing like PAX, which is a more com­mu­ni­ty based and pub­lic ori­en­tat­ed expo. We al­ready have a huge amount of con­ven­tions that are meant for the pub­lic. Quite right­ly E3 is its own thing — a slight­ly more ex­clu­sive beast. It’s cer­tain­ly dif­fer­ent than the self fel­lat­ing po­lit­i­cal cir­cus we’ve seen at events like GDC late­ly; E3 2015 was a de­c­la­ra­tion that busi­ness would surge on de­spite the an­gry cries from the press peanut-gallery about “mak­ing art” and “for­ward­ing so­cial jus­tice.” I can’t state it enough: I know some of you don’t like it, but we live in an al­most pure­ly cap­i­tal­ist world and the only way the games you love get made is with large sums of mon­ey chang­ing hands. The Final Fantasy 7 re­make is due to mar­ket pres­sure and au­di­ence de­mand. Large com­pa­nies only in­vest mil­lions in the tech­ni­cal mar­vels we love to play if they think they are at least go­ing to get their in­vest­ment back. There is too much mon­ey on the table.

For all its lav­ish ec­cen­tric­i­ties, I like E3. Judging by the re­cep­tion, hype and view­er­ship the event gets, so do a mas­sive chunk of the gam­ing com­mu­ni­ty.  As long as you are aware that it is one gi­ant ad­vert and take most of it with a pinch of salt you can have fun -– and I had a lot of fun with E3 this year. We mar­vel at it, cringe at it and go ba­nanas at it in equal mea­sure. It’s a big, dumb, loud light-show, and I wouldn’t have it any oth­er way.

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John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in en­gi­neer­ing. He writes long-form ed­i­to­r­i­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games me­dia and in­ter­net cul­ture. He also does the oc­ca­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly col­umn about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our in­ter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven me­dia and sus­pi­cious of un­ac­cou­table au­thor­i­ty but al­ways hope­ful for change.