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Truth of E3: The Event Plays You

By Rob James | 19 June 2010 | Conventions, E3 Expo, Editorial | , , , , , | 0 Comments   

If you’ll permit me for a moment to tap into film lore from the early 2000’s, I’d like to make a correlation between what E3 seems to be and what E3 really is.  Pretend that I am the wise and methodically soft-spoken Morpheus looking into your unprepared essence from behind a set of reflective floating ray ban sunglasses.  If you were to ask me “What is E3?” I would have to reply, “No one can be told what E3 is.  You have to experience it for yourself.”

Before I lose a segment of you wonderful readers to a fit of uncontrollable laughter, allow me to explain.  When it comes to E3, the allure of it stems from the rare opportunity to get hands-on time with some of the most anticipated games of the current and upcoming year.  It also doesn’t hurt that it is the most exclusive gaming event on the planet, catering specifically to the industry, the media, and anyone who’s well known enough to get one of those nifty “All Access” passes.  But what many don’t understand is just how complex and, at times, frustrating an event like E3 is, not only to navigate, but also to decipher. 

Last year, when I came back from E3, I don’t think I really understood just how much I had seen…as well as how much I didn’t see.  In truth, E3 is such a whirlwind tour that, even a year out from E3 2009, I’m still deciphering a lot of the stuff that I saw there.  So, as I sit here on my long awaited flight to E3 2010, I’ve decided to take a minute to be really honest with myself about what E3 is and isn’t.  Because while I consider myself extremely lucky to have another opportunity to go to E3, I have to look past all of the glitter and glam of the event in order focus what I really got out of the whole thing. 

Magical Mystery Tour:

Walking into E3 is, as one would guess, like walking into a candy store.  It’s overwhelming, it’s mesmerizing, and it seems to go on in all directions.  The show floor is the kind of joint where you come for the big, giant, in your face titles that every body expects to impress, and you walk away discovering some off in a corner game that no one anticipated and everyone is talking about.  Sure, there are always one or two games that fail to impress.  But testing a game out yourself beats hearing about it from home any day of the week..

Closed doors within closed doors:

I find it hard to fathom sometimes that, in an event that is already closed to the public, there are things even the people inside the convention hall are not privy to.  While I’m aware that publishers want to be careful about not letting too many cats out of the bag at one time, I think that if you don’t want your game scrutinized by the press, or you don’t think it’s read for that honor, then don’t bring it to the show.

Ain’t no rest for the wicked:

Don’t be fooled by the fact that E3 takes place over three days.  Even though that sounds like a lot of time, it really isn’t.  Especially when we have only three guys trying to cover at least fifty games.  No matter how hard we try, it’s frustrating to have to walk away feeling like I missed something…somewhere: that I haven’t grasped all I wanted to from everything that I played.  Even when I’m scramble to get to every game on my list, Thursday afternoon seems all too early.  Which brings me to…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times:

There’s an unavoidable truth to E3: it’s the epitome of organized chaos.  At any given time, throngs of people dart from one booth to another, constantly picking up and putting down one controller after another, ping ponging from plasma screen to plasma screen, scribbling down, video taping, recording, and processing every bit of data they can extract from everything E3 has to offer.  It’s a ballet where everyone knows the choreography even though there’s no one teaching the steps.  For everyone, the ultimate goal is same: play everything you possibly can. 

At the worst of times, it’s an organizational nightmare.  If you take all of the criteria I mentioned in the paragraph above and layer on a patina of exhaustion, lack of sleep, too much alcohol, an inability to use what’s left of ones voice, and a myriad of other complications, you begin to see that E3 is as mentally and physically damaging as it is rewarding.  And if you think it’s tough on us, you have to take a moment to think about the people who work at the booths.  They spend the better part of a 10 hour period repeating the same information over…and over…and over to every single media person that comes over to try out a particular game. 

Overall: E3 always has great potential

If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed about E3 that’s magnified by being there in person, it’s the notion that the industry always has the potential to do great things.  E3 always presents something that we’re not expecting and it showcases the industry in a way that makes people excited to be fans of the pastime.  And while it hasn’t always gone of without a hitch, E3, as a mythical place that rises out of the heart of LA once every year for us to travel to like an electronic mecca, certainly does its job of making a bold statement and announcing that video games are here to stay.  Is it for everyone?  Probably not.  Unlike PAX or TGS, it’s not catering to the consumer.  It’s catering to the caterers, the people who will, in turn, cater to the consumer: the media.  And having experienced it first hand, I’d say it’s the best experience for only the most rabid and rambunctious of gamers.  Just being there requires a kind of dedication that most people would rather spend on something currently out than put into something that won’t be released for months…if not years.

Should E3 open its doors?

In closing, I have to address the quintessential question of the E3: should the public be allowed in.  My one word answer: no.  But that’s being far too obtuse.  I say no because I don’t think the general consumer is served at an event like E3.  E3 has a language that is very different from, say, PAX for example.  At PAX the language of video games is almost instinctual, as if it’s been spoken from birth by every gamer that walks into the convention hall.  People show up there to advance gaming culture and allow the player base a forum to express itself in front of the hyper-attentive ears of the publishers and developers in attendance.  At E3 it’s exactly the opposite.  The publishers and developers have a very specific message.  And even as we media types attempt to prod and poke for little nuggets of unmentioned information, the truth is simple: publishers and developers are always in control of what happens at E3.  We’re kind of there for the ride.  Essentially PAX is to bumper cars what E3 is to roller coasters.  Roller coasters are always a good time, but they’re predictable because they’ve been designed to be so.  E3 is the same way.  And I feel if real consumers, your average-joe gamer, went to E3 looking to find the gaming mecca, they end up with something that felt more like a video game infomercial.  E3 is one hell of a party, but never forget that it’s a party that serves the industry to promote growth for the industry.  Being there on the floor and seeing that delicate dance go down between media and developer makes the obvious intent oh so clear: you’re going to want our game because “x”.  That’s what E3 is all about.  All you need do is watch any of the press conferences to see how apparent that is.  If someone is talking sales figures, you’re probably at E3.

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