Monday, July 23, 2007

How the death of E3 helps us gamers

If gaming news was beer, then E3 would be alcohol poisoning.

At least, that's the way it used to be. The anticipation was unbearable, and the hangover lasted forever. It was like getting so drunk that you're still a little tipsy when you wake up the following morning. And every year, E3 got even bigger and flashier.

So it's understandable that this year's expo, despite being pretty forthcoming in how little it would resemble its former self, left everyone feeling confused and cheated... like someone had filled the party cooler with non-alcohoic "beer" and forgot to mention the switch.

What we lost
For now, gamers don't get another orgy of gaming news. Even when E3's big changes were first announced, devs and gamers alike were speculating that another convention might take its place. But if that happens, it will take at least a few years for the replacement to gain enough gamer attention to convince publishers that it's a marketing gold mine that should be catered to in the same way.

That was the industry's big loss: marketing. E3's increasingly massive scope, both in terms of presenters and attendees, was a point of complaint with many, but it was also the heart of its marketing success. The major non-gaming news networks (NBC, CBS, FOX, CNN, ABC, not to mention newspapers) were only doing stories on E3 because it was such a spectacle. They didn't care about gaming. They just recognized that a mass of thousands of people, crammed like sardines into a blaze of bright lights and thumping music, yelling with excitement over games... that's an image that keeps people from changing the channel or turning the page.

Since the game industry recently surpassed both the film industry and the music industry in sales, mainstream media's giving it more attention than it used to. But it will be years before they pay another gaming convention that much attention. So much for all the publishers' talk about "expanding the audience".

What we gained
More games. Seriously.

Don't you hate those dry periods when there are no new, badass games coming out? (2006, I'm thinking of you) Well, a significant factor in keeping new games out of our hands was E3.

When I was at the Austin Game Conference last year (the only industry conference anywhere near me and within my budget), all the developers I spoke to were overjoyed that E3 was effectively dead. E3 was a nightmare for developers, because they'd have to quit working on the game for months just so they could build the best possible alpha or beta demo or trailer. E3 was marketing gold, so developers and publishers were willing to put their games on hiatus rather than miss a piece of the media coverage pie.

I really mean it when I say they'd stop working on the actual game for "months". That's the exact word that came out of the mouth of many of the developers I spoke to at the AGC or read an interview of online.

MMOs of a size comparable to WoW or EQ2 have traditionally taken over 3 years to develop. That means they would show off their game at more than one E3, each time having to produce a new marketing presentation. And games of every genre felt compelled to show something at E3.

So take E3 out of the mix and that means less pressured marketing timetables, hence more streamlined (shorter) production cycles. Games take less time to build, so we, the gamers, see more of them.

As much as I missed that mountainous clump of fresh gaming info this year, I'm hoping that it will be a long time before anything replaces E3.

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