The annual Electronic Entertainment Expo took place last week, and as usual, I’m late to the party for commenting on it. Still, I’d like to jot down a few disjointed thoughts about this year’s conference.
People have been saying that video games need to be more inclusive for a while now, so it was nice to see the industry make some small steps towards inclusion this year. Conferences this year featured more games with female protagonists or playable women than in years past. However, E3 is still weirdly backwards when it comes to race. Put simply, E3 is hella white, which is strange, considering how vital Japan is to the industry. The Microsoft and Electronic Arts pressers featured white presenters almost exclusively, and pretty much only Sony, Ubisoft, and Square Enix remembered that people of colour exist. As usual, the games showcased featured white protagonists almost exclusively.
It’s weird to see commentators extolling the diversity of E3’s offerings while the industry has basically only made progress with regards to gender. Certainly, more female characters are a good thing. But diversity occurs along many axes. The industry and the people who write about it would do well to remember that. I remain unconvinced that the industry is really committed to diversity to any significant degree; I get the sense that it’s merely responding to market forces. People are speaking up about the treatment of women in gaming, and the industry is reacting accordingly. After all, we have a gaming press that churns out thinkpiece after thinkpiece about Watch Dogs’ slightly questionable treatment of its female characters, but that largely remains silent about its horrific, blatant racism and classism. (This is not an endorsement of the game’s treatment of women, in case that wasn’t clear.)
Until people speak up about this, I don’t think it’ll change. So consider this me speaking up. Hopefully, the industry is listening.
Switching gears now, I’d like to talk about the quality of the pressers – or more accurately, the lack thereof. The conventional wisdom about E3 is that it’s an industry event for press and businesspeople. But this year, the expo’s organizers let in some specially-selected “fans” as well, and for the past few years, E3’s pressers have been broadcast live to fans watching at home. It’s not clear whom E3 is for anymore. So I think fans sitting at home have every right to complain about boring, tepid pressers, and publishers should realize that their pressers are essentially hour-long commercials for their products. That means they actually have to sell their stuff to me, and they have to do it in entertaining fashion. Pre-rendered CGI trailers don’t convince me to buy games. Show me the game in action. Show me gameplay footage. And for the love of all that’s holy, don’t waste my time with mobile and free-to-play bullshit. (I’m looking at you, EA.) The audience that is tuning in at odd hours to watch pressers isn’t looking for the latest cartoony skinner box to install to their phones; they’re the core gaming audience, and you should be marketing to them. (N.B. I’m not saying you shouldn’t make mobile or free-to-play games; I’m saying you shouldn’t waste precious time marketing them to people who are at best indifferent and at worst actively hostile to them.)
E3 was far from a disaster this year, but there’s much room for improvement. The industry could stand to be more diverse along axes other than gender, and it really needs to do a better job of targeting its marketing. If the industry takes these lessons to heart, maybe we’ll have a great expo in 2016.