E3: A Kid’s Game Conference Without the Kids

Idly skimming Twitter in the days after E3 2014, I start to see the inevitable feature stories that almost feel ironic.

“Who won E3 2014? Was it Nintendo? What about Sony?”

“Was this the best E3 ever?”

“All the greatest E3 things you missed!”

It’s hard to suppress a laugh, but I do. My recollection of much of E3 2014 is of lines; waiting quietly in lines under strobes and thumping trailers playing on loops so that I can watch tired people demo their games and read from scripts about those games. It was not the “best E3 ever.”

Of course, as I idly skim Twitter I also see a number of stories like this one. Those first-person accounts of the open sewer hype machine hellscape that is gaming’s biggest convention. In the center of Los Angeles (the city I live in, the City of Angels […sorry.] [full disclosure: I do kinda love this town]) comes a convention that’s surrounded in its own advertising, that’s constantly clapping itself on the back in congratulations with crazily expensive open-bar satellite parties and parking lots filled with game stations under dubstep and free energy drinks and massive billboards adorning the city for whichever games inevitably will have the biggest budget and the least amount to say come holiday.

Yeah, that’s E3.

At some point in the last few years, it became cool to rag on E3. I can’t help but do it as well, honestly. The Monday before the event, “Day Zero,” the one with all the major press conferences from Microsoft, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft and Sony (in that order), is also a Twitter explosion of snarky greatness if you follow games journalism feeds like I do.

Everybody’s got the jokes. There’s plenty to say about four nearly identical dudebro-looking assassins (surely we can think of some kind of Unity pun); there’s plenty to say about Microsoft almost never uttering the word “Kinect” during its conference, as if it might summon some supernatural motion-controlled fiend to steal all their money; there’s plenty to say about the fact that EA chose to show documentaries about its games without actually showing off anything interesting about those games. There was a whole hilarious half-hour during Sony’s conference when the company started talking about Playstation 4 TV features that became a mix between half the viewers simultaneously falling asleep and the others preparing to stage a riot.

I wanted to go into this E3 a little less cynical, although it must be said that the convention is a soul-numbing fire hose of marketing schlock. At some point, we all became metaphorical high school kids, too cool to watch the movie with the rest of the class and instead sitting in the back ragging on the bad acting. Frankly, it gets a bit tiresome to be a part of that.

Not that E3 makes it easy to turn off the cynicism for, like, even a moment. The very first thing I did at this year’s convention was stand in a 45-minute line at the EA booth, which is easily the worst place in the convention. EA makes appointments for its booth that don’t mean anything; journalists pick up “VIP” badges and then are left to wander the multi-game space of their own accord to figure out interviews. The badge is good for getting into the occasional “VIP line,” and the VIP moniker is also useless. EA is the cattle line at the slaughterhouse and it reminds you perfectly of why you hate this convention. It is not helped by the 30-minute Dragon Age: Inquisition presentation at the end of the line that sounds more like a pitch to investors than journalists, and which makes Dragon Age sound exactly like every other RPG coming out in the next 12 to 18 months. It’ll probably sell real well, though.

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5 Comments on E3: A Kid’s Game Conference Without the Kids

lol

On June 25, 2014 at 11:50 pm

“E3 might grow up with us, one day. I wonder how long we’ll keep waiting on it.”

When game development is powered by hopes and dreams.

T. Jetfuel

On June 26, 2014 at 3:59 am

Maybe the thing with E3 is that it has broken the surly bounds of spatial containment and now exists primarily as a direct broadcast to the “fans” (whose “passion” it can’t pay enough homage to). The attendees are there not in the capacity of professionals whose expertise is required to mediate the event to the public, but rather as extras to dress up the set as a happenin’ place, a diminishment in role that they appear to compensate for by anxiously seeking perceived openings for weighty cultural commentary. This interplay between the breathless marketing hype aimed for the “passionate” fanboyz and the journalist’s self-conscious striving for mature viewpoints is a structural feature of events like this, and not likely change any time soon.

R.J.

On June 29, 2014 at 7:38 pm

There was a time when I wanted to be able to attend E3, but that was quite some time ago. With video game coverage being as ubiquitous as it is, there is practically nothing that qualifies as being a new and exciting at the convention. Companies put their E3 trailers online a week in advance just to try to get ahead of everyone else. Tons of money gets spent trying to dazzle journalists when that money would be better spent on the games, or at least advertising to potential customers.

quicktooth

On June 30, 2014 at 12:22 am

Smart article. Smart ideas. This is why I like Gamefront. It’s been a long time since I cared about E3, but I read a large number of Gamefront articles just because they seem to be written by real people, not soulless marketing pamphlet machines. It’s wonderful that there are still games makers showing interesting things at E3, past all the sleaze and flashing lights (and loud noises). It’s good to hear someone else noticed that the image and experience of E3 has become about distracting you from the actual convention itself and from the games, not about announcements that people actually care about and can even relate to. Really interesting to hear that journalists aren’t fooled and are just bored and tired out by the literal and figurative noise. I wish I could come with you and meet those indie developers. I wish I could hear about the random-generated stories from their inventors. I wish I could talk to people about things in games we both like. If Gamefront only did stories about those bits, I would hang on every word. Don’t feel you need the latest trailers for empty games that we could essentially keep using year to year, as almost nothing changes. Don’t ever show the sleaze- it’s offensive and demeaning to everyone involved. But please keep giving smart commentary with meaningful insights that convey the interesting new experiences you have there (assuming there keep being such things at E3). That indie convention sounds very promising. I hope Gamefront gives extensive coverage :D

Ron Whitaker

On June 30, 2014 at 5:30 am

@R.J. – You might be surprised to learn that E3 isn’t actually intended to dazzle journalists. What it’s really about is retail. That’s who E3 is targeted at – the retail people who are planning their purchases of games for the coming year. Best Buy, GameStop, Amazon, etc. all have reps there, and they’re the people that the game companies are looking to dazzle. Dazzling journalists is more of an added bonus if they can pull it off.