The Electronics Entertainment Expo is a cesspool of desperation and dark public-relations magic, of tightly-wound stress and unconventional torture. PR agents prowl their booths trying to make sure their games get favorable press (because at the end of the day, the review scores will determine their Christmas bonus money). It is a time of great despair and uncomfortable seating. When the blood moon rises over the Los Angeles Convention Center, there is much to hate about E3. Here is a short list of what floats to the top of the rainwater barrel that someone thought was a poop barrel:
Who’s idea was it to cram 20 people into an unconditioned room (after everyone had been walking around all day and are super-sweaty) and then narrate a PowerPoint presentation at them for 30 minutes? I’m not going to mention names here, but nothing sours a person to your oh-so-important game like a PowerPoint presentation. Either let the journalists play the damn game, or just show a slick video and get out. Give out some free cookies if you’re feeling insecure and want to boost your preview opinions a little. This year some of the big press conferences actually tried to kill its attendants through sheer force of stupidity or dumb. Yes, we can see you have motion controls too. No, we don’t want to see a bunch of preschoolers scream and flap their arms as they try to make Cookie Monster do something. Please, make the bad people stop. No more bad jokes from a third-rate comedian trying to self-deprecate some laughs out of an audience that would clearly rather be somewhere else. No more Star Wars theme music, for the love of all that is holy, no more Star Wars theme music! Every damn year, that same theme, over and over… THIS IS HOW GEORGE LUCAS WINS, YOU FOOLS!
After a 40 minute presentation of stuff that’s been on the web for years now, narrated by a jackass half-baked comedian with delusions of hilarity, nothing rips your soul a new one like being handed a goody-bag upon exiting the room only to discover that inside is a pen (half empty), a made-in-Taiwan keychain (already broken) and a piece of paper reminding you that everything you saw today is so gosh-darn awesome you should remember all these important details about the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic videogame (there is no such game, yet). Occasionally you get lucky and grab a T-shirt (a size too small) or get a little USB flashdrive (full of press materials), but most of the time E3 swag is just postcards full of advertising logos or some knick-knack that doesn’t look cool or serve any purpose than to act as free advertising. The only ray of light this year was the Cooking Mama: Kitchen Magic oven mitt. Yes, it’s come to that.
At a LAN party, gamers are manageable. There aren’t too many of them, and most stay in one place (near their precious PC). Online, gamers are easy to ignore or you can just ragequit whatever dumb crap they’re doing. At E3 however, gamers reach a critical mass and become something transcendental, going beyond a grouping of like-minded bodies. They become a living gelatinous substance that oozes into all available space. When separated from the hive-mind, usually to go to the bathroom, E3 attendants fall into three categories: First-timers, business Suits, and Journalists. Even if they are Suits or Journalists, if it is their first time to E3 they become First-timers.
You can spot a First-timer by their glazed-over eyes and the way they walk through the halls without actually looking where they’re going. They’ve become so sensory-overloaded, only their lizard hindbrain keeps them moving forward, usually in the direction of the nearest pair of breasts. Suits are recognizable by their pinstrip jackets and old-man shoes. They’re at E3 to check up on their diversified stock and make sure all the Products are going to have Stellar Sales this year. Suits usually congregate near PR drones and can be easily avoided, though their sneers at the average gamer cuts to the bone. Finally, there are the Journalists, the people with a job to do. They’re trying to make meetings, see all the people they need to see (missing an appointment at E3 is akin to social seppuku because PR drones get hurt feelings very easily). When free t-shirts are being thrown into the crowd, all three types suddenly become part of a Stampede. God help anyone caught in front of a Swag Stampede.
Vagueness & Lies
The most common things said at E3 by people you interview include but are not limited to: “We’re not able to talk about that at this time”, “No comment”, “We’d love to tell you if our game will have multiplayer but we’re not ready to talk about that feature”, “We’re sure gamers will enjoy what we have to offer once we’re ready to show more”, “We’re planning DLC but nothing solid is planned yet”, “What we can tell you is that we’re dedicated to bringing the best experience possible”, “We’re using the full capacity of the console in question”, “This is beta code and we’re sure we’ll get it running 60fps by the time it ships”…
You get the idea. E3 presents the best opportunity for journalists to talk to the actual game developers themselves, except half the time you have to wade through a layer of Public Relations so thick that when you ask a straight question to a developer they first look to their PR representative and await a nod that indicates yes they can talk about that or they shy away from your question as if it burns because they know they’ll get whipped if they so much as acknowledge the question. So either you get vague answers that aren’t really answers at all, even for the simplest of questions, or the person answer your questions just outright lies to you in the hopes that it’ll shut you up and you’ll go away.
Yes, games are vapid fun and entertainment. Yes, like most forms of media, there is the potential for true art and exploration, expression and genuine social commentary. But when you stand in the middle of one of the show floors, surrounded by Guy Shooting Foreign Terrorists 3, Hyper-Dimension Panty-shot Girlfighter 9, Humans VS Aliens Again Racial Overtones 4, Badass Comicbook Character Slice & Dice 2, Cute Animal Cuddle Simulator & Cookies (Kinect Edition), First-Person 30-something Caucasian Male Defends Earth Again (Redux)… well you see where I’m going with this. Trends are trends, it’s understandable, but when you have to dig around the indie developer booths for something, anything, that isn’t just a soulless sellout product focus-group designed to try and compete with whatever is the most popular focus-group tested Modern Shooty Thingy of the moment… you realize things have hit a new low. And that new low seems bottomless, because every year it gets lower.
If it was just me thinking it, I could pass myself off as being jaded, tired of the ennui. But when every other journalist in the queue to see Exciting Russia Attacks On New York 4 are complaining about “Oh God not another First Person Shooter”, it becomes clear that this goes well beyond genre fatigue. Even the people who these games are being designed for, their prime audience, are starting to get bored. And when people get bored, they stop giving you money. And you just spent 50 million dollars making the next Big Boring Thing. So when that Big Boring Thing fails to sell, it’s real people who lose their jobs. Games are fun, but the industry that produces them is callous and unkind. Worst of all: it doesn’t have to be. It just says it does.
Feeling down and partially suicidal?
Check out The Five Best Things About E3 2011