Ah, E3: that time of year when video game companies sucker gamers in by promising to show them new video game content, but then assault them with a barrage of multimedia flimflam instead. As I watched the live streams of the press conferences from the comfort of my room, a thought went through my head: ‘Video game companies have absolutely no idea how to sell things to people.’
I don’t own any consoles, so you might be wondering why I’d want to watch a bunch of E3 conferences. There are two reasons. 1) Multi-platform titles are often announced at these conferences, so E3 can be a good time to learn about new, upcoming PC games. 2) I’m interested in the gaming industry in general, and I love looking at new tech. I know I’m not the target audience for most of the presentations, so I don’t go in expecting much. Even then, this year’s conferences managed to be underwhelming, and at times, excruciating to watch. Below, I’ve jotted down some quick thoughts about each of the five conferences I viewed.
Microsoft started out strong with some cool-looking Halo 4 footage that made me wish they hadn’t stopped porting the Halo series to PC. Then, things got…bad. Not “bad” in a “this is awkward, cheesy, and silly” kind of way, which is what you’d expect when businesspeople try to turn themselves into entertainers for an hour. No, I mean “bad” in a “why the fuck would anyone ever want this shit” kind of way. Microsoft showed off generic military shooter Splinter Cell: Blacklist with gameplay footage that made about as much sense as brushing your teeth with an eraser. Then came an interminable march of useless garbage for XBox Live and the Kinect: sports, movies, sports, TV shows, and more sports, as well as a stupid Kinect game that looked a lot like a 3D Crush the Castle. The company touted a new feature called Smart Glass, which aims to sync the XBox with one’s mobile devices in surprisingly pointless ways. They also presented a new service called XBox Music, but stupidly, they didn’t even bother to explain what the fuck it was. The conference closed with footage of the upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops II. For all the talk that this would revitalize the CoD franchise, the teaser footage just made the game seem even more over-the-top than previous entries in the series, almost to the point of self-parody: some guy named Menendez is apparently trying to assassinate all the G20 leaders in one go, and is doing so by bombing the shit out of Los Angeles. Holy fuck, could this game be any more ridiculous? Overall, Microsoft’s presser was a steaming pile of shit shoved in a shit sandwich, served with a side of shit salad, topped with shit croutons and shit dressing.
*snore* I can see why trotting out a bunch of developers and getting them to talk about how great their games are would be smart from a business perspective, but viewed as pure spectacle, this conference was utterly unengaging and unmemorable. I seriously can’t recall a single thing that happened during this conference. All in all, solid but boring. Kind of like an episode of Law and Order.
Ubisoft realized an important thing in advance of this year’s E3: businesspeople are boring. So, instead of bringing out a bunch of old white guys in suits with French accents, the company enlisted nerd queen Aisha Tyler and YouTube “star” Toby “Tobuscus” Turner to host the event. And damn, what a difference it made, compared to the other conferences. As awkward and cringeworthy as their banter was at times, they managed to get the crowd excited about a whole bunch of games. There was some great footage of Assassin’s Creed III and Rayman Legends, as well as an onstage demonstration of Shootmania. But the clincher came at the end of the conference, when Ubisoft showed off a new, upcoming title, Watch Dogs, an open-world action game in the vein of the Grand Theft Auto series, but with a cyberpunk, near-future aesthetic similar to Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It was a huge risk to show off a new IP to close out a press conference, and even more so to show off one with a thought-provoking premise that doesn’t revolve around shooting Arabs or Hispanics or Russians or whatever ethnic group the military shooter machine decides it’s going after next. But it paid off handsomely for Ubisoft, with many people already calling it the best title of the show.
Unlike Microsoft, Sony seemed to understand that people use their video game consoles to, you know, play video games. However, just like Microsoft, they had no fucking clue how to make their conference even remotely interesting. There was quite a lot of game footage shown, but most of it was presented with no context, and there was nothing exciting in between to spice it up. More distressingly, however, Sony wasted twenty minutes in the middle of its presentation demonstrating a new contraption called the Wonder Book, a nifty way of turning a book into an interactive storytelling experience for children using the PS Move. The problem was that the demonstration was marred by glitches, making the entire thing an excruciating farce. The Wonder Book fiasco was so awful that it’s not a stretch to think that it spells the death of the PS Move. The conference did manage to redeem itself slightly by closing it out with some impressive footage from the upcoming survival game, The Last of Us, but that wasn’t enough to make it a success.
With Microsoft turning in a legendarily shitty press conference, and Sony’s just being underwhelming, E3 was Nintendo’s to “lose.” And somehow, they managed to lose. All they had to do was show off a bunch of new game footage and trailers for Wii U games. That’s it. That’s all. And they couldn’t even do that. They came out swinging with some Pikmin 3 footage, but after that, it was all downhill with Nintendo of America head Reggie Fils-Aime covering many of the same talking points that Nintendo president Satoru Iwata had already covered in the video he released on Sunday. Most third-party titles were relegated to a sizzle reel that showed almost no actual Wii U gameplay. Barely any new game footage was shown, and Nintendo spent the last ten minutes of the conference detailing the minutiae of a single mini-game in something called Nintendoland, without ever explaining what the fuck Nintendoland was. There was no new Metroid, no new Zelda, and no new 3D Mario. The entire tone of the conference was condescending, as if gamers needed to be taught how to play video games. What an abhorrent, shitty mess.
Conference winner: Ubisoft. Their conference strayed a bit too far into Spike-TV/man-cave territory at times, with all the cursing, violence, and voodoo boobies. (Yes voodoo boobies are a thing now.) But I can’t deny that they know how to put on a show while still getting across the features of their games. They also managed to wow everyone with a brand-new IP, Watch Dogs. Overall, I’d say that’s a success.
Conference loser: Microsoft, by a hair. (Nintendo was in a pretty close second.) At one point, Trey Parker and Matt Stone came onstage to talk about their upcoming South Park game, and they made a couple of mocking remarks about Microsoft’s new Smart Glass initiative. Those remarks drew more applause than anything else in the entire conference. That should give you an idea of how bad this presser was.
Overall, the E3 conferences this year were a huge fucking disappointment. There were a couple of bright spots, such as Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs, but aside from those, there was really nothing to get excited about. Hopefully, we’ll get some interesting news from the show floor.