Tuesday, May 12, 2009

E3 revived - spectacle is good

The beast is back this year, and everyone's wondering if it's a good thing.

When E3 was a made a small, pitiful industry get-together, as I understand it was originally intended to be, I commented to a number of people that the industry's bound to have a huge marketing extravaganza one way or another. The ESA could only decide whether or not that inevitable extravaganza would be theirs.

Of course, the bad news is that the presence of any big industry bazaar disrupts the development of many games by way of distraction; forcing developers to produce marketing materials, rather than ultimate gameplay. Marketing stunts like E3 are largely responsible for the industry's crunch time pandemic.

But let's talk about why this annual orgy of gaming news is good, too. Keighley raises the criticism that piling so much big news into such a small timeframe leads to good games being overshadowed by more sensational news. That's true, but it's also true that many games reach a much larger and more diverse audience because of E3's size and noise.

E3 is a circus, and many acts get attention only at a circus. Its concentration of so much interesting news, so many new videos and interviews, convinces many people to make that news a higher priority than they would normally consider it. It's like the Super Bowl. Countless people who haven't watched every regular season game, if they've watched any at all, tune in because of the epic nature of the event. Suddenly, they care about things they didn't care about before, welcoming all sorts of information that would normally fall under "Eh, I'll read about it some other time".

What I'm saying is that many game interviews and previews will be read, many trailers watched, because E3 makes games the temporary focus of consumers who normally pay attention to such things only occasionally, if at all.

And each year, non-gaming mainstream news outlets have payed more and more attention to this event, exactly because it is the gaming event of the year. Now we have a recession and those news outlets will want to tell stories about the industry that's charging forward despite. They'll want to capture their stressed-out audience with the stunning visuals, crazy technologies, and epic experiences this industry has to offer.

I disagree with Croal and the others. Publishers shouldn't hold themselves to a few choice announcements at E3. This is a rare time when you'll have the attention of occasional gamers and lapsed gamers. This is a time when regular gamers will devote more time to reading and watching gaming news. Market your smaller announcements by tying news of them to your larger announcements, and by making those smaller advertisements your most intriguing. Think of Super Bowl ads; how everyone looks forward to them because they're not typical ads.

The spectacular nature of E3 is definitely a burden, but it's also a blessing. The extravagance is a source of opportunity.

I received a priority code for E3 registration this year, but I'm assuming I'd still have to pay the $500 for a pass (not to mention plane tickets, hotel reservations, food, beer, etc). I can't afford to go this year. But I might plan ahead so I can go next year.


  1. "forcing developers to produce marketing materials"

    I've always disagreed with that. If your game is going to be launching within a year, you shouldn't have to mock up anything, you should be able to show your game. If your game is not going to be launching within a year, you shouldn't have to mock up anything, you should just stick to flat ads and talk. Companies that went out of their way to mock up fake game play to show at E3 were always the worst games.

  2. I agree, but that's a whole other issue. That's a general marketing philosophy that pervades the industry and shows no signs of relenting. As long as the major publishers stick to that bad strategy, the developers under their umbrellas are forced to adhere to that strategy.


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