E3 2015 After Thoughts: The Business of E3
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.
This 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 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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