E3 Not For Me

If you’ve been reading my blog for a long time then you know that I am no fan of E3. But really that’s a half truth. I’m actually a huge fan of E3 as an idea. I just genuinely hate the modern E3 model. I grew up in the 90s. The first E3 was in 1995. America Online, which I would consider the start of the commonly used internet we have today, started in 1991. I remember a time before the internet. I remember a life before we had it and then after. I remember the shitty dial up connection and the scratchy noises. This is important to this discussion because there was a time when E3 existed, but it wasn’t the over hyped, social media/YouTube driven fanboy party it is today. For me E3 is outdated, but sadly it’s only outdated because of the way E3 is now handled. It’s much different from the way it was in what I consider the golden age of E3.

When I was a kid there were no gamers like me today who genuinely don’t care for E3. That was unheard of. The reason was because it truly was a necessary thing. It was a time when all gaming news was distributed to normal gamers who didn’t work in the industry, via either print media or word of mouth. There were no Reddit leaks. There were no YouTube trailers. Twitch streamers weren’t getting their asses kissed by publishers for a mention. There were no developers tweeting out tidbits about their games. IGN wasn’t a big thing yet that you just automatically went to. I don’t even know what actually happened at E3 back in those days. All I ever knew about E3 was what I read about in the magazines like Nintendo Power and Electronic Gaming Monthly. And I wasn’t a special case. That was everybody.

EGM

E3 was a moment during the year where you literally got gaming news for the year. And when I say news I mean “new”. You didn’t know about it before E3 unless you had some unheard of connections or worked in the industry. There was never a time where someone would say “I knew about that way before E3”. Because you couldn’t. It wasn’t really possible for normal people. Especially for minors. That’s the E3 I grew up with and that’s why I don’t like E3 today.

My three biggest issues with modern E3 are it’s a waste of time, it’s a waste of money, and the bulk of the content shown is no longer news. If anything it should be called “olds”.

Shredded_solid_waste
Waste!

E3 is a waste of time in a world where the internet is as big, powerful, and widely used as it is today. In a time where people couldn’t quickly pull up live streams, videos, and articles on their phones while riding the bus to work/school, it made perfect sense to put on a huge event once a year to distribute a year’s worth of gaming news. That was the most affordable and efficient way to get the word out to the largest number of people. But today that’s not at all the case. EA can tweet out a video of a trailer with gameplay footage, a release date, and the name of the development studio and there’s a good chance more people will see it or a reference to it than actually watched the EA presentation live. That’s just the nature of social media. And if they had that tweet sent out by the right account the reach could be way more effective than any official E3 account.

The official E3 Twitter account has 1.87M followers. The official EA Twitter account has 4.91M followers. The official Justin Bieber Twitter account has 96.4M followers. He has publicly stated that he’s a Call of Duty: Black Ops fan among other games. If the name of the game is hype, reach, and ultimately sales, wouldn’t it make a lot more sense just to get someone like Justin Bieber to help promote or even just tweet about a game than take the time to set up a huge, inefficient press conference that most people won’t even get to see live because of time zone differences and region locked content? I’m not personally saying I’ll be following Justin Bieber anytime soon, but clearly E3 isn’t the sensible way to try to promote games in 2017. There’s just no need for it when you have the internets.

bieber cod
I did not create this image but I wish I had of.

E3 is a huge waste of money. Most trade shows not open to the public are. I may not have been to E3 but I have been to and worked at a number of trade shows such as just recently Computex 2017 in Taipei. These events are sinks for companies. They waste time, money, labor, energy, and basically every other resource a company has for a very limited number of overall sales because of it. Really the same amount of attention for any company could be obtained by sending out some PR samples to the right members of the press and/or fake press like YouTubers for a fraction of the cost. These shows really only benefit the press because they get extra traffic and excuses to travel and party while other people are doing actual work hosting those tradeshows. The consumers and the companies get very little out of it in the grand scheme of things. They’re done more for tradition than anything else. They’re also admittedly fun at certain times. But that’s not enough of a reason to spend millions of dollars collectively to have them.

One of the biggest problems right now in game development is inflated budgets. The cost to actually make a game is often a drop in the bucket compared to what publishers are now spending to promote them. E3 is a part of that. Extravagant stage shows with paid influencers and preposterous props all cost lots of money. Don’t think for a second that those costs don’t ultimately come out of your wallet as a consumer. The increasing use of and increased pricing of paid DLC and season passes is all done as a way to pay for this useless marketing that isn’t even necessary most of the time. Especially when we’re talking about games that don’t even really need any serious marketing.

Anthem
Anthem

When it comes to marketing there are only four types of games: new IPs, long standing guaranteed successful IPs, indies, and bad games. New IPs require a lot of marketing because there are so many games coming out all the time now that the only way for a new IP to make a profit is to stand out from the rest of the crowd. In that situation, ballooned marketing budgets may ultimately suck for everyone but they’re necessary.

Long standing guaranteed successful IPs don’t need any serious marketing. There are very few new customers when it comes to old IPs. 10+ year old franchises do not rely on new markets to turn a profit. They rely on repeat business and everyone knows that. The people who bought Madden, COD, and FIFA last year will buy Madden, COD, and FIFA this year. The people who bought God of War I, II, III, Ascension, Ghost of Sparta, and Chains of Olympus will buy Dad of War IV. That’s just the way things work. I am not at all excited about this new GOW and I was genuinely unhappy about the announcement when they made it last year. But you can be damn sure that I’ll end up buying it because I’ve been playing them since 2005. No one just tosses away a plot they’ve been actively following for 12 years. People just aren’t like that. I’d be willing to bet a larger percentage of married couples will get divorced this year than people who bought COD last year won’t buy it this year. That may be dark, but tell me it’s not true. These sorts of franchises have guaranteed profits. That’s why Ubisoft keeps making Assassin’s Creed games. Because we’re stupid and keep buying them. Because we’ve been buying them since 2007. We can’t help ourselves. And we always say we’re gonna quit every year. Yet when the next title roles around we’ll ultimately end up buying it. Maybe not on release day, but come Black Friday we all end up running back to bad habits. Thus is the nature of gamers. So there’s no reason for Sony Santa Monica Studios to pay to put up a giant God of War IV sign in the middle of LA. That’s a waste of money.

gow4 billboard

Indies need marketing. I’ve reviewed tons of indie games and I’ve spoken to countless indie developers. The number one problem most of them face is attention. Getting people to learn about their game is the hardest part of the process for most of them. It’s the reason they’re much more willing to give out review copies. It’s the reason they sell their games for cents on the dollar compared to AAA titles. They would charge $60 if they could. Just look at No Man’s Sky. They had that Sony marketing so they charged full price. And people paid it. Marketing is everything when nobody’s heard of you. That’s why it makes perfect sense for XBOX to get behind titles like Cuphead and push them heavily. Otherwise even if people would probably want to try it, they most likely wouldn’t ever hear about to make the decision to try it. Indies and new IPs are the only games that genuinely should be shown at E3 for sensible business reasons.

Finally we have bad games. The funny thing about bad games is that they can still make tons of money. I won’t cite any specific ones so as not to offend, but I’m sure we can all think of at least one game in the last five years that we’ve purchased that was objectively bad and a complete waste of our hard earned money. Some of them have already been mentioned in this post. These are an example of why companies throw so much into marketing. With the right packaging and hype, even a pile of crap can look like gold. But that’s the worst way to make and sell games. Publishers and developers should just work on making high quality games with less releases than throwing away millions into selling turds. The reality is that if marketing was done more realistically, the cost of releasing games overall would shrink considerably without profits, of deserving games, dipping by a noticeable amount.

The Witcher 3
Proof that quality trumps marketing.

My biggest peeve about E3 is rightfully the lack of actual news. As I said before, when I was a kid everything shown at E3 was news to me. There were no moments where they were talking about stuff I’d already known about. There weren’t lists of remakes, DLC, and games that had already been shown multiple years past. Everything at E3 really was gaming news. Today many people joke about the fact that E3 is mostly not news. And that’s sad. Only further proving that E3 has become a redundant and obsolete tradition.

I did not watch the conferences this year, nor did I last year. But I always check the highlights later. Just looking at the Kotaku round-up is pretty depressing for me. Without taking the time to do any research about what has already been shown before this E3, let me just list off the games I didn’t already know about or absolutely expect that were shown during this year’s farce of an expo. I’ll only do home consoles and PC because I don’t really track handhelds so it’s mostly news to me at any time. I’ll only be considering titles shown during the presentations that actually got more than just sizzle reel time because there are lots of indies that most of us won’t remember or know about even after they finally get released that will be on the floor at E3. No, I won’t be including remasters or rereleases because why would I? I will not even dignify DLC announcements by as being a legitimate part of E3 reveals.

nintendo news fixed
The sad part being that the only thing in this image we didn’t already know about was BotW Amiibo. Great job GameSpot.
  1. Sony
    1. Monster Hunter World (Actually surprised, impressed, and excited about this one)
    2. Shadows of the Colossus Remake (Great game that I already own 2 copies of and have beaten countless times. Remakes rarely impress me and they rarely count as news)
    3. Bravo Team (Put that in the VR bin where it belongs)
    4. Star Child (Put that in the VR bin where it belongs)
    5. The Inpatient (Put that in the VR bin where it belongs)
    6. Moss (Put that in the VR bin where it belongs)
  2. Microsoft
    1. Metro Exodus (Didn’t expect it but wasn’t surprised)
    2. Deep Rock Galactic
    3. Dragon Ball FighterZ (Didn’t expect it but wasn’t surprised)
    4. The Darwin Project
    5. The Last Night
    6. The Artful Escape
    7. Code Vein
    8. Tacoma
    9. Ori and the Will Of The Wisps (Actually surprised and interested in this one)
  3. Ubisoft
    1. The Crew 2 (Didn’t expect it but wasn’t surprised)
    2. Transference (Put that in the VR bin where it belongs)
    3. Skull & Bones
    4. Starlink: Battle of Atlus
  4. EA
    1. Anthem
    2. A Way Out
    3. Need For Speed Payback (Wasn’t thinking about it but also wasn’t surprised)
  5. Bethesda
    1. The Evil Within 2 (Didn’t expect it but wasn’t surprised)
    2. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (Wasn’t thinking about it but also wasn’t surprised)
  6. Nintendo
    1. Kirby Switch (Yay!)
    2. Another Pokemon Game but for Switch (You can’t truly be surprised when you’ve been demanding something for literally a decade)
    3. Metroid Prime 4
    4. Yoshi Switch (Yay!)

Sorry I didn’t include Devolver Digital’s list, but I can’t seem to find a single semi-reputable source that actually lists off what they showed this year. Instead every gaming journalism firm is just talking about how crazy their presentation was. The honest truth is that I’m still personally trying to find out exactly what they showed without having to actually sit through their presentation or read through a dramatic piece about the art of making E3 presentations. I just want to know about the games, because that’s what E3 is actually supposed to be about.

who won e3
Going by the numbers it was Microsoft. For actual purchases I’ll make before E3 2018 it was probably Nintendo.

Of the about 60 notable titles that were shown at E3, give or take what does and doesn’t technically count (Didn’t count Horizon this year as an example), I was only unaware of or not fully expecting announcements for 28 of them. That’s less than 50% of the total games presented. Of those 28, only 15 are new IPs and could actually justify the marketing need for being presented during E3 stage shows. Of those 15 new IPs only 10 aren’t VR trash and should actually be taken seriously. That literally means that this entire farce of an event was done to show me, and I am not nearly as up on my gaming news as many other people, a measly 10 games. That’s not news and it’s certainly not worth throwing an entire trade show over. That could have easily been announced at many of the various other events throughout the year that Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft already host on their own. This entire expo is laughable when you look at the numbers realistically. The gamers don’t win. This is all just a pointless hype train which isn’t even that effective by Twitter standards.

nintendo spotlight b
The only presentation I took the time to go back and watch in full.

 

I commend Nintendo for doing Nintendo Directs for E3 now. It’s smart, more cost effective, and is another example of Nintendo actively choosing not to play by the status quo of the gaming industry. And I think it’s hilarious that E3 doesn’t even complain about it. They very well could have told Nintendo to screw off when they said they weren’t doing a real stage show the first time a few years back. They could have stood their ground and held another presentation during the same time frame. Instead they play the video on the big screen for Nintendo and probably don’t even charge them to do it.

I like the idea of E3. I believe that it’s important for there to be a special time of year where gamers can come together and celebrate gaming by looking forward to the next year of great adventures to be had. But modern E3 is not that. This tradeshow is a big waste of time and money. It gives very little actual news and has gotten bogged down with titles that were announced years prior, DLC announcements, and remakes. Or games that won’t even be out before the next E3. As long as this trend continues, I will continue to not waste my time watching E3.

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Prey for Bethesda

Recently Kotaku put out an article complaining about Bethesda’s policy on review copies. You can read the whole thing here, but allow me to summarize the main talking points for you. Essentially Kotaku is unhappy with Bethesda because their general policy on review copies is that they don’t distribute them in advance of release date. And when they do release them in advance, as with the recently released Prey, it’s with such a negligible amount of time before launch that they might as well not have released them in advance at all. The author goes on to say that this is a bad decision on the part of Bethesda for a number of reasons. Some of the more important reasons are that A) Such a policy forces reviewers to rush out reviews too quickly to get a proper feel for them, often leading to lower scores due to an inability to adequately experience the game. B) The low scores hurt developers because supposedly some publishers, while it was never actually stated that Bethesda was one of these publishers, give bonuses based on Metacritic scores that hit a minimum of 85 or higher. The article states that Prey was resting at 80 at the time of publishing. C) Metacritic is a bad system that causes problems and somehow this is not only Bethesda’s fault but the responsibility to go against their own policies/beliefs is a must in the wake of the current system. That basically sums it up.

Bethesda-Logo

I really didn’t like this article. As a long time game reviewer, I don’t actually disagree with the author’s general opinion that it is quite inconvenient that Bethesda doesn’t give out their review copies in advance. But the bulk of his points, general philosophy, and reasons for judging Bethesda negatively are mostly preposterous and overlooking the bigger issues at hand which stem from a flawed reviewing industry, not a flawed development/publishing industry. That’s not to say that the development/publishing industry isn’t flawed, because it for damn sure is, but in the case of this article, for once the publisher can’t rightfully be blamed. For the purposes of discussion I’ll keep the conversation focused on Prey as the article did.

The first point that needs to be addressed is that Prey had a pre-release demo. It wasn’t on PC so that’s a fair point of contention but at least a demo was released a week in advance of the game, giving a large percentage of potential buyers the ability to try the game in advance and giving basically 100% of potential buyers a chance to at least see the game in action in advance of the launch date via services like Twitch and YouTube. I myself posted a lengthy playthrough of the demo a week prior to the game’s launch. Whenever a demo is released, reviews cease to seriously matter. Maybe not to developers but to consumers they’re nearly irrelevant unless you don’t personally have access to the demo. Demos have become a rare thing. Most AAA titles don’t get them anymore sadly, and for a really unethical reason too. But when a game, like Prey, gets a demo the reviews are at best just to read for kicks. Why do I need anyone to tell me whether or not to buy a game when I can play the game myself and make an informed buying decision?

Prey Demo

Remember that the only true purpose of reviews is to help uninformed or on the fence consumers that have not played the game in question make a buying decision. They aren’t for people who have already played a game to read and either troll if they disagree with it or jerk off to it if they agree with it. People who have already purchased or played the game aren’t the target audience and honestly have no business commenting on a review unless it’s genuinely to answer a question from someone who actually is considering buying the game or to debate a legitimate point of contention with the review because they feel it misrepresents the game and/or misleads readers into making a bad buying decision. Otherwise reviews aren’t for people who have already played a game. That means that in the case of Prey very few PS4 and XB1 owners had/have any real need to look at reviews of the game. If you’re interested, you play the demo, which is long enough to get a fair understanding of it, and make your own informed purchasing decision. I played the demo, was unimpressed, and did not buy the game. I’ve yet to read a single review all the way through for Prey, because I have no legitimate reason to, since I already tried the game.

To address the author’s point about having to rush out reviews when given a short or no lead time to launch with a review copy. This is not the publisher’s fault. There is no law that says your review has to go out first. This is a personal issue with your business/industry that is made inconvenient by Bethesda’s policy. But so what? Bethesda, or really any publisher/developer, doesn’t actually owe review firms anything. Review firms owe Bethesda for providing them games to review, whether free or not, so they can continue to have a business. Really the race to be first published shows inherent flaws in the review industry more than anything else. A traffic based compensation system does nothing good for anyone because it leads to click bait writing, rushed content, and a general lack of quality in today’s journalistic system where marketing and social media do more than quality content ever will. Not to mention, such complaints show a lack of brand loyalty from your reader base. Or at the very least a fear of such a thing. If you run a quality firm then you should be able to retain your readership. If you can retain your readership then it doesn’t really matter if your review comes out first or not. But if you don’t run a quality firm then it would make sense to be unhappy about Bethesda’s decision about review copies because you’re always vying for the click bait audience to stay afloat. Yet that still isn’t Bethesda’s problem because it’s not their responsibility to keep review firms happy. In fact they would probably prefer if they all ceased to exist and just worked directly with private content creators.

Ricky Bobby

The author’s second point about review scores and how they affect Metacritic numbers which can translate to bonuses is based on a lot of speculation. In the article it’s stated that his information on the subject is all anecdotal and he provides no specific sources for these claims. It’s also kind of weird to assume Bethesda knows nothing about how Metacritic works and how their review copy policy affects their scores. If anything this is an intentional measure to keep developers loyal to Bethesda by artificially controlling the numbers. Is that a bit scummy? Sure. Is it in any way an actual problem for the people at Kotaku, IGN, or any other review firm? Probably not really. I mean it’s not like those firms artificially control access to content or opportunities in the gaming journalism industry right?

I will say though that if it is in fact true that the minimum score for developers to get a bonus is 85 on Metacritic then that’s another example of a totally unbalanced and unrealistic expectation of success. An 80 is a good score. For some it’s a great score. Personally I hate the number system for reviews. As a reviewer who genuinely tries my best to be fair and honest with every single review, whether AAA or indie, I find picking the number to be the most difficult, most stressful, least useful part of writing a review and judging a game/movie. First off, it gives people an excuse not to actually read the review. Many people just look at the number and don’t take the time to try to understand where that number comes from or if it’s even legitimate. We’ve all read at least one review where the number said one thing but the review said something completely different. It’s also extremely difficult to be completely fair about choosing that number. I have a system, as I’m sure most experienced reviewers do, and I believe in my system. I’ve crafted it over the course of writing more than 100 game reviews. Yet even today I still struggle with making sure I’ve actually picked the right number for a game. Other than supporting Metacritic, there’s little gained from the number in terms of actually helping the consumer. It also hurts developers more often than helps them in a world where standards are so high that an 80 is supposedly considered a weak score.

Metacritic Bad

While I may agree with the general idea behind the Kotaku article, my point still stands. The article is not motivated by a genuine desire to help consumers or developers. It’s selfishly motivated to help review sites continue to take advantage of a system that is unfair to begin with often at the expense of developers and consumers alike. I may not completely agree with Bethesda’s choice to not distribute review copies in advance, but I 100% support their conscience decision not to support these review sites that have become so arrogant that they believe they can dictate the way publishers do business. That is the right of the consumers who actually pay for their games. Not those who get their software for free regardless of the situation. Before you ask, yes I am aware that Kotaku is blacklisted by Bethesda. But the article is not written with a focus on Kotaku. It’s written for review sites in general and as such should be discussed in that way.

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