E3 – what it is, and what gamers want it to be

My old university pal, and newly-become level designer at Coilworks, had prepared. With a pal, he’d bought energy drinks, pop corn and potato chips to survive a long night of E3 pre-conference briefings. They were both very prepped up for it – their excitement was notable – as they awaited the first conference…

At the university game dev club, a few-year-old tradition of gathering for the briefings was about to take place. Like how Swedes gathered (and, to some degree, still gather) around the television at 3 PM every Christmas Eve for Disney cartoons, these 20-odd gamers gathered to follow their Cristmas…

They were expecting cool new games. Sequels to long-hibernated series of old and a lot of entertaining quotes to shake things up. They were excited about this like kids are excited about Christmas.

When I left said level designer today, after the media briefings were over, they were very dissapointed. Almost a bit crushed. The briefings hadn’t been like they expected at all. Rather than getting the presents they wished for, they got all of those things you know you should thank for but really didn’t want in the first place. Like games that weren’t for them. Or the obvious cynical follow-up to last-year’s hit (and every other year the past 10 years, at that).

They had checked their gamer forum, I had followed my tweet feeds, and we were all very much on the same track – this wasn’t what we looked forward to, or had expected.

Which leads me to ask – why is it that these conferences fail to entertain year after year? I’ve been watching the 3-5 E3 pre-conference briefings for three years straight, and the only magical thing was the reveal of “Natal” with “Milo” (which the company later renamed and cancelled, respectively).

Who are they really targeting? It can’t be the games media, because judging twitter (where I’ve started follow as many games journalists as I can), they weren’t too impressed. It can’t be the gamers, because we already know they want state-of-the-art production values and gameplay depth rather than minigames or exercise games. And it’s not likely the investor’s either, because they already attend the quarterly and yearly financial presentations. Could it be “mainsteam” media (if there’s such a word?), who they want to send a good face? Then why are the highlights (beginning and end) often super-violent stuff?

Big wigs, please – do make the presentations into amazing spectacles and cut the act (like “playing” the pre-recorded videos and read-off-a-prompt-because-I-never-learned-the-script). The ones watching your briefing streamed are your core consumers, and they want a Christmas with everything they wished for. Even if you can’t deliver, at least give the impression you do. The broad market will catch on later – you’ll market it until their ears bleed, anyway.

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