Pie is better than E3

By Alex Hamilton on in Video Games. Permalink.



Image by Andrew Malone. https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewmalone/ Used under Creative Commons License. Text overlay added by Blogadin Enterprises, LLC.

E3 is like a coma-inducing overdose of sugar. You can give me hypothyroidism. You can tell me that Paul Goldschmidt committed an error that allowed a game- winning run. You can sink my battleship, my destroyer, my submarine…hell, you can sink my Millennium Falcon and super star destroyer…just don’t make me cover the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo!

ANYTHING but that!

To be fair, I would definitely prefer going to the E3 conference to hypothyroidism – I don’t want to make too light of what can be a serious medical condition, but I jest only to emphasize the depth of my disdain for the annual gaming expo. I’ve been dreading writing this for days now, but the convention is so huge that failure to discuss the event in some capacity amounts to negligence on my part, and I am nothing if not responsible to my audience.

Why the negative attitude towards the expo? Hunger. Lots and lots of hunger.

Hunger For Something Appetizing

The first hunger is rather selfish. I’m just not a console gamer any more. That’s not to speak ill of the consoles  (well…maybe the pee, err…Wii U), nor their games or players. It’s just that most of the console games I enjoy are long past. I prefer the styles of the NES and SNES Zelda games to today’s more modern takes, and they don’t make many games like Cyberball or NFL Hitz. I’m not really a big FPS or sports sim gamer, either. I’ve soured on the Final Fantasy franchise lately, and most other modern RPG’s just don’t appeal to me much any more. When you boil it down to what video games I like the most and what I have time for, the PC fits the bill.

What’s that, you say? E3 isn’t just about console games, you say? Well, that’s somewhat true. There were numerous PC games represented by their devs, such as my beloved Star Citizen. That being said, those games aren’t what typically get the hype, and often times are better represented at the assorted PAX conventions, their own specialty conventions such as BlizzCon, or their specific world championships. Microsoft’s head of gaming, Phil Spencer, echoed my sentiments when he went on record to say, “E3 is a retail show. It’s a retail show, it’s a console show, so it didn’t really feel like the right place for us to talk about Windows…” If you look around the E3 floor, the big players are Sony, Microsoft/Xbox, and Nintendo. That’s how it was yesterday, that’s how it is today, and that’s how it will be tomorrow.

I like pie better than cake, and I prefer PC games to console games. Eating cherry pie all the time gets old, though…

Hunger For Something New

When E3 comes around, I can just about guarantee the majority of these franchises will have a new iteration either teased, debuted, or released:

  • Call of Duty
  • Halo
  • Super Mario Brothers
  • Pokemon

Check, check, check, and check.

Besides the newest additions to these tired franchises, there were also new titles from Assassin’s Creed, Arkham, Aliens, Civilization, Dragon Age, Far Cry, Rainbow Six, and Super Smash Brothers, just to name a few.

That amounts to about ten cherry pies in a week, and it illustrates one of the primary problems not just with E3, but with the video gaming industry as a whole – it’s become to big for its own good.

Most highly developed games have budgets that rival or exceed major motion pictures, which is to say tens of millions of dollars, and development times spanning from 12-36 months. If any of the funds are financed, then you’re adding juice on top of the base figure – say 5%-15% per year. When that kind of capital is on the line investors expect big return, and the best way to maximize your odds of success in the video game world is to create the game under a well-established franchise. This isn’t always bad – some of the best games ever made have come under these aforementioned franchises, but this limits the establishment and growth of new franchises and developers under the major labels and generally relegates that to smaller, independent groups. E3 is far to expensive for most indie devs to have a significant presence at, whereas PAX, while still expensive, is a more logical choice for an upstart or low-budget company to display their wares. Alternatively, Kickstarter has proven itself to be a viable marketing and capital-raising tool for games like Shroud of the Avatar and Duelyst, among others.

There were, of course, some new arrivals at the expo this year, the most ambitious of which was probably No Man’s Sky. Other new, unique arrivals of note include Below, Entwined, and Never Alone. While it doesn’t appeal much to me, I expect No Man’s Sky to get heap-tons of play, where Below might be the sleeper hit of the year.

I like pie an awful lot, but it doesn’t satisfy me for long. I could use something heartier…

Hunger For Substance and Sustenance

This is a hunger more on the part of the publishers and/or their shareholders. E3 is an expo – a grand gala of gaming glory, and to the end of calling attention to the represented products and brands, it does just that. The problem is that it’s high on laser beams, disco balls, fog machines, and lasers with almost nothing to show for it. Prior to the blogosphere blowing up and dedicated gaming networks like G4 coming about, E3 was one of the primary sources for new information about games and was essentially the tip of the game marketing spear. As video gaming increased in budget and popularity, and as new media coverage of the topic increased, E3 became less and less of a primary source of gaming information for the masses.

One could make an argument now that major franchises like Grand Theft Auto and Pokemon don’t even need to make appearances at E3 – their brand is so recognized and desired already that they’ll sell without E3 marketing, and marketing at E3 is expensive. VERY expensive, to the tune of seven to eight figures for most major players. Eventually the big boys realized that they were spending more and more money and getting less and less return for their dollar. While some simply considered it a high cost of doing business, many saw it had actually become an escalating arms race that benefited no one besides the convention-goers, and the expo nearly died because of it. In short, the outlay generated little to no return on their investment, and thus did nothing for the long-term growth of the exhibitors.

Somehow the convention survived the economic downturn, and E3 is still quite the spectacle. It’s just no longer *the* place for big reveals. Companies are now reaching out directly to their target audience through the internet and other marketing vectors versus relying on more traditional media middlemen to carry that information to the public.

All of that leads to an E3 which is four parts pomp, two parts circumstance, one part substance, and zero sustenance. It’s the cotton candy of conventions.

Personally, I prefer pie.

Alex Hamilton

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