Live streaming technology has changed the way gamers around the globe perceive the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Gone are the days of scouring magazines for second-hand interpretations of the biggest and best reveals from the preeminent trade event in the gaming calender. Now, the most talented developers, most prolific publishers, and most powerful hardware manufacturers in the world are given the opportunity to connect with their audience on a first-hand basis, beaming their heaviest of hitters directly into the living rooms of the people buying their products.
It's rather telling then, that over the last few days, that very audience has taken to social networking sites in force to express their apathy, their disappointment, and occasionally their outrage at an annual event that is steadily shifting from a freight-train of digital euphoria to a rather more pedestrian rechurning of last year's reveals. Are the sunny streets of Los Angeles about to bear witness to the death of E3? Or can something be done to turn public opinion around and get the fading exhibition back on its feet?
Perhaps we're expecting too much. After all, the magazine journalists of yesteryear had to pick and choose which stories made it to print, omitting the robotic exec's monotone monologue in favour of silky-smooth real-time renders, because lets be honest, only one of those is going to shift stock. What's to say that past E3s weren't just as dull as the ones we've endured over the last couple of years (albeit from the comfort of our loungers)?
For a start, anecdotal evidence suggests we'd be wrong to assume that this is the way it's always been. Forums groan under the weight of journalists recanting tales of legendary exhibitions gone by. Podcasts are drowned beneath the chatter of despairing pixel-lovers, who describe in great detail (and to the benefit of no one but themselves) why things just aren't the same anymore. Reputable gaming sites are attaching labels like “contemptuous” to the most recent batch of industry pressers, despite news that they still managed to attract over 40,000 attendees. These are not expected observations, but exceptional ones.
Boiling the expo down to its essence, E3 is an opportunity to connect not just with the consumers, but also those within the industry. Journalists, analysts, and even retailers flock to Los Angeles to be sold concepts, prototypes and gaming experiences long before anyone else is able to get their hands on tomorrow's eagerly awaited tech. I would argue that even in this respect, the conferences are failing to engage on any meaningful level. With no date or pricing announced for the Wii U at this year's Nintendo presser, how can retailers feel assured that a sufficient frenzy is building behind the hardware they're supposed to be selling to the public? Hardware in which they've invested a serious amount of stock. Does a Microsoft presser dominated by 'entertainment' announcements and the incessant flogging of Kinect really help gaming journalists deliver the content their audience demands? What are analysts able to derive from a Sony conference that consists largely of games we've already seen on another stage that very same day? E3 as it stands, is disobeying its mission statement.
But can it be rescued from the clutches of oblivion? Absolutely; its attending executives simply need to cast an eye back to the expo's original brief: To deliver new and exciting experiences that ensure a future for our most beloved medium. If that's still not clear enough, they need only pop online for a spell and raise an ear to the messages we're screaming at them in our thousands. Give us games.
After their abysmal E3 showing last year, in which the Wii U was only semi-revealed to an unsuspecting (and shortly thereafter rather confused) gaming populace, Nintendo promised that 2012 would be all about the games. In Pikmin 3, we witnessed a strong start from a company seemingly making good on that promise. What followed were a number of laboured talks on games we'd already seen (Arkham City), games that weren't games (Wii Fit U), and games that would've taken half as long to finish as their developer spent explaining them (Nintendoland). Lost in amongst the madness were a couple of standout titles given nought but a brief appearance on a game reel shoehorned between desperate clarifications of what the Wii U actually does. Nintendo, a company with what is ostensibly their next-generation console on display, achieved the impossible by boring their audience to tears.
Ubisoft, on the other hand, will be widely regarded as the "winners" of E3 2012, and there's a very simple reason for that: games. Not only did they end their presser with an entirely impressive demo of new IP Watch_Dogs, but they were quick to step in and save the conferences of each of the Big 3 from total disaster. How? By providing them with comprehensive demos for, you guessed it: games. Might E3 then benefit from another presser or two, with major publishers like Activision or 2K taking to the stage to announce their brand new intellectual properties? Whilst the breadth and depth of each company's gaming stable, as well as the sky-rocketing costs associated with active involvement in the exhibition might raise a few concerns, it would help balance out the hardware-to-software ratio, providing more surprises than just a glorified remote control over which to work ourselves into a nerdy sweat (Smartglass, anyone?).
Indie developers often find themselves criminally overlooked during the presentations of those that supposedly support them. Microsoft's Xbox Indie Marketplace is a unique selling point in and of itself. Unfortunately, it's also one that they've been determined to scrub from the face of the Xbox dashboard for years. But with the indie scene quickly gaining recognition as one of the last bastions of truly creative development, spurning the talented young coders and artists of the future would be an enormous mistake. Their presence alongside the expo's AAA developers would be a welcome step forward, not just for consumers, but for the event itself.
Next year will need to impress. With rumours of a new generation in home consoles looking more and more likely, and with Nintendo having fluffed their Wii U announcement a second time, both Microsoft and Sony are in a prime position to blow us away by letting a barrage of beautiful and involving games do the talking. Throw into the mix a few indie gems and a renewed focus on the hardcore, and our outlook on the exhibition might be more akin to the sunny climes of LA than that of the bleak and miserable British Spring.
The Electronic Entertainment Expo in its current incarnation is plagued by deficiencies, and with an already ludicrous budget doing nothing to improve the quality of the conferences, there's no quick fix in sight. But the gaming industry needs to find a cure soon, before the patient becomes terminal, and organisers pull the plug on E3 once and for all.