E3 2017 is opening its doors to the public unlike ever before. Now you need not be an industry affiliate to be granted entry to the popular expo. However, is this necessarily a good idea?
E3 2017 is nearly upon us. I’m an E3 veteran of sorts, having attended the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo as a media representative over the years. I would never deny the hype that would go into preparing for that annual trip. A month before. A week. A day. The butterflies I’d get walking into the Los Angeles Convention Center to register my badge could not be helped. I’d browse the expansive halls of the expo, a slight tease at what’s behind the doors of the main show floor. Full scale replicas of vehicles from the next Triple-A game. Posters that are nearly a football field in length that hang off the side of the main building. And promotional artwork everywhere. I’ve always interpreted it as a calm before the most wonderful storm of your life.
Although I was attending E3 in the capacity of a journalist and reviewer of games for a website, at my core I remember owing this all to the fact that I was and am a gamer first. The same could be said of the thousands and thousands who attend E3 alongside me. After all, who in their right mind would show up to E3’s doors and proclaim, “Oh man, another day to write about video games?” I would wake up every morning and think to myself, “Oh man, another day to write about video games!” Believe it or not, I have seen the former present at the annual trade show.
And that’s what E3 has been for as long as we can remember: a trade show. Among the most hardcore gamers can be found those in suits. The photo galleries on the E3 website will undoubtedly show you gamers in full on geek attire. But I’ve seen so many suits attend the show too. Is this a bad thing? Of course not.
After all, this is the time of year when the industry’s leading publishers and software developers bring to the forefront what they’ve been working on. A time when we can be wowed by new IPs. Remember the long awaited return of fan adored series. And remember that some annual franchises just need to take a break to refocus or just die already.
The corporate side of E3 rears its head when you head to the showfloor. The trappings of a good time is there. “You have a business card? Here’s mine. You want a review copy of our game? Sure. I know you’ll love it. Don’t forget your free E3 super exclusive Skylander figure inside one of our complimentary swag bags on your way out.” We’re wined and dined and turned on our heels to the media room to type up our impressions on what a wonderful experience we just had.
You certainly can’t blame them for trying. They’re at this show to push their product. They know that attendees are a direct plug to their goal: you, the consumer. It’s a curious case of feeling so close and yet so far…. from a certain point of view. Close, in that you’re among the first to try out the next installment in your favorite series. Far, in that following your demo you have collectible trinkets dangled in front of you; asking for good written word in exchange. “Okay… you can stop now. I did have a good time with your product.”
I, myself, essentially had one foot in business and one foot in nerdvana with each of my visits to the expo. In some cases I’d be full on gamer when it was my turn to take the controller. Then I’d step back into my journalist persona as I probed the developer, the publisher, the studio head, and the lead artist about why this and why that. E3 is a strange and wonderful place to be.
I once had an acquaintance who cosplayed at the event. I have to admit that I thought it was so out of place. Cosplay is something frowned upon at E3. You just don’t do it. It makes no sense in the scope of things. This is business first and fan service second, third, or even fourth. Curious, considering this is the same expo where I witnessed booth babes at their peak, to their very fast disappearance from the event only a few years later. After all, E3 isn’t PAX and that’s understandable. These are two very different animals. Dressing in costume for an event that is very quid pro quo is off putting, but does that mean that fanboyism should be downplayed in every regard?
One of the best ways I can summarize the faces of E3 is an experience I had at E3 2012. BioShock Infinite was less than a year before launch. 2K Games was pushing it hard. And who better to represent than its director, Ken Levine? Ken sort of became Waldo (that Waldo, yes) to the group I was writing with at the time. We bumped into him in the halls on a few occasions. A good friend, big Levine fan, kindly asked for a few words and quick picture, then our parties went on their way again. Later we found the photo was a blurry mess. My friend was crushed, but we had to keep moving to head to our behind closed doors look at Beyond: Two Souls. Quantic Dream director, David Cage, was leading the preview of the studio’s next beautiful looking game. My friend is also a big fan of Cage’s work, and I can’t deny that for a time I adopted an infamous line from Heavy Rain as use for a handle (Press X to Jason, anyone?).
After the Beyond presser we were once again handed pamphlets and given a “don’t forget your ice cold Coke and tasty snack outside.” Out comes Cage, clearly without further obligations to attend to; he’s chatting with some other fans of his work, and my friend can’t deny the opportunity to say hi and thank him for his role in gaming. I think, yeah, it’d be nice to share some thankful and appreciative words with the guy. After all, I can’t even deny how much I enjoyed that plot twist in his last game. My friend asks for a picture, he says “sure”, and I raise the camera. I snap one. I snap two. And a third just to make sure it’s not another Ken Levine blow out. That was in a span of four seconds. I’m looking through the lense and curiously see Cage’s countenance dip into the realm of unamused. Just as fast I hear him call out coyly, “one’s enough.” Lightning fast I realize, gee… he’s triggered in four seconds? Never mind that this is a guy whose games I had respect for. My friend, in euphoria, makes to exchange places with me. “You want a picture, too?” Cage still stands there with that look on his face. I say “nah”, and turn to leave.
Later that day, who do we bump into again but Ken Levine? My friend explains the blurred photo. What does Levine do but say “get your camera out”. He even sticks around afterwards to make sure it came out crystal clear. Wow. In the years that followed I happened to cross paths with a hero of mine: Shigeru Miyamoto. There’s no crowd present when his entourage comes ahead of him. “Sorry, Mr. Miyamoto is very busy and can’t be stopped. Please make way…” – but I feel a gentle hand on my shoulder positioning me for a photo. It’s Miyamoto himself, stripping away the business facade. I instinctively put away the journalist in me and at lightspeed I remember playing Super Mario Bros. in my grandparent’s home. Unwrapping my Super Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas. Playing Super Mario World for the first time. Having my mind blown when Super Mario 64 let me explore unprecedented three-dimensional space. The laughs and closeness with friends and family enjoying each incarnation of Super Smash Bros. over the years. Waiting 18 hours in line in the cold to get my Wii on launch day. Our picture was taken, and Miyamoto goes on his way. “Thank you – arigatou! Goodbye – sayonara!” We wave bye and a dream comes true.
Take a look at this if you will. This is what reads on the ‘about E3’ page.
“E3 is the world’s premier event for computer, video and mobile games and related products. At E3, the video game industry’s top talent pack the Los Angeles Convention Center, connecting tens of thousands of the best, brightest, and most innovative in the interactive entertainment industry. For three exciting days, leading-edge companies, groundbreaking new technologies and never-before-seen products will be showcased. E3 connects you with both new and existing partners, industry executives, and the biggest fans of video games providing unprecedented exposure to emerging markets. E3 is where it all starts.”
It sounds quite intrapersonal and not so interpersonal – to connect with, to foster a relationship with, to talk with, and not “talk at”. Again, not a bad thing to the eyes and ears of the beholder, especially in the case of E3. But to me, I began to thirst for that common ground. A place where we can retreat into the core of our being.
And yet, E3 is about to change. Still present are the gaming journalists doing God’s work. Now, however, the fans, the consumers, the gamers themselves will be amongst the attendees. These are potentially new waters for the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) to explore. But are they, really? Yes, industry professionals flock to Los Angeles year after year. I can’t speak for all of them, but I’m sure they have a gaming upbringing like myself. There’s a reason they’re an industry professional for gaming in the first place. It’s an unconditional love for games.
I’ll be grateful for the chance to play anything I can get my hands on. For me, there’s no need for swag or pomp and frill. I just want to play your games and share my words about them. In June 2014 I played Assassin’s Creed Unity at Ubisoft’s booth and marveled at the good time I had. “I can’t wait to pick this up at launch!” In November 2014 I asked myself, “Why did I pick this up at launch?”
Therein lies the beating heart of the games industry. It’s you reading this article. You who pick up that game off the shelf and give it a look over. You who hover angrily over your keyboard when your favorite Nintendo game doesn’t make it in someone else’s Top 10 YouTube video. You who says “I have nothing to play” while eyeing your backlogged gaming shelf. You who can’t wait to leave work to play the game sitting in your mailbox only to “ehhhh” when you walk through the front door.
Should E3 2017 really be open to the public going into the future? I say yes. I’m happy this is happening. There will always be a time for professionalism, a time to ask questions, to score favor with a big name. Let’s now allow there to be a direct connection to the people that make it all possible: the gamer. Because for better or worse, this industry depends on all types of gamers. Casual, hardcore, and those in between. From corporate fat cats who want your money year after year, spoon feeding you a tired franchise or business model knowing you’ll eat your own words of contempt because you, like they, did the exact same thing a year prior – to the hardworking and tireless programmer eager to bring you innovation and an honest to goodness gaming experience unlike any other.
There’s something for everyone. I hope this is an opportunity for the gamer to make a difference at the expo. An impact at least. It’s very chaotic to think about, considering just how huge and diverse the world of gaming truly is. What more can one do in this time than just wait and see?
I leave you with a prime example of how one gamer can impact an industry as a whole. In the words of the late Satoru Iwata:
“On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.”
Enjoy your E3 my fellow gamers. Happy gaming to you as well.