July 28th, 2008

If you know anything about me, you know that gaming is my passion. I love this medium. I love this artform. I love this industry. I feel fortunate to be alive during a time of such innovation in the melding of visual and interactive entertainment. But for the last few weeks, ever since the beginning and ending of E3 and its aftermath, I’ve been worried about the state of certain facets of our industry — namely, our gaming press.

I have been wanting to write a post addressing certain issues for quite some time, but I could never collect my thoughts well enough to put together a case to present. So during this year’s E3 I made a point of listening to responses from both the gaming community and the gaming press via forums, comments, blogs, and podcasts.

It is apparent to me that the press is not happy about where E3 stands as an event. I haven’t been able to discern whether or not if, overall, they are dissatisfied as games journalists or simply as gamers, but I am not sure that it matters. I don’t know that they have much reason to be upset either way.

Maybe it’s because I am not the type of person who enjoys being a part of a huge crowd and a big to do, but I never saw the point of the spectacle made at past E3 events during its “glory years”. I just wanted to know about games. That kind of spectacle is obviously in the past now that the show has become an invite-only event for press, but there is definitely an outcry lamenting the passing of the old show’s format. Many complaints are from the very people that were the most vocal in wishing for a smaller, more controlled show after 2006′s event. Now they don’t see the point in flying out to LA in the first place because there isn’t a party with booze, skydivers and tits around every corner. Things like that aren’t going to exist without public attendance, and with public attendance, the press isn’t going to be able to cover games, which is what they’re there for in the first place. Remember two hour long lines to get a shot at a Wii station? I was never there, but I remember watching people over a live stream online. It didn’t look fun. Most people had lost their voices by the end of the week. I almost felt guilty for consuming the news being delivered to me over the web.

Now the show floor is docile. The press can make their appointments and get to see and/or play most of the games that are there and they don’t even sound like they want to swallow a bottle of pills during their wrap-up shows at the end of the week. Unfortunately, those shows are riddled with complaints about how Microsoft can’t decide on their target demographic. Well, guess what? they’re running a business. They want to sell consoles to anybody that they can. I personally don’t feel ignored by Microsoft. They showed me Gears of War 2. They have Halo Wars coming as well as another alleged Bungie Halo project. They even shelled out for Final Fantasy 13. I’m still being catered to, so I’m perfectly alright with them making an experimental Banjo game as well as Lips.

I hear complaints that Sony is playing catch-up with shooters, movie downloads and community features, but a few months ago I heard the same people complaining that they WEREN’T playing catch-up. I can’t defend their other business practices because frankly, I’m a long way away from purchasing a PS3 for use as a gaming system, but give them a break when they deserve it.

I hear complaints that Nintendo is targeting the casual market exclusively. Really, who didn’t see that coming? Cover the games for what they are like you’re supposed to; Nintendo isn’t doing anything unexpected. Everything deserves equal coverage. Just like Nintendo’s entire market isn’t just casual players, your website and/or magazine’s entire market isn’t just the hardcore. Don’t alienate our parents. You’re trying to maintain and grow a reader-base just as much as the big three are trying to maintain and grow a player-base.

Maybe I’m being too much of an idealist when I think everybody should just be happy with what we get. That we should just take it in stride. Or maybe I’m just not as offended as everybody else seems to be because I enjoy the openness of the PC platform for much of my gaming time and only visit consoles for games in very specific genres. Either way, I have to say that, as a consumer and a person who has been gaming every day for the last 18+ years, I am walking away from viewing E3 coverage very excited for the future. It doesn’t matter to me that a bunch of executives made asses of themselves on stage while trying to make their games seem fun, innovative or exciting. I’m not reading or watching to be entertained by men in suits or to see a party going on that I can’t or don’t want to attend. I don’t care how empty the show floor was or if there was little to no general public awareness of the show outside of the building due to lack of “signage”. Why would they waste money making their presence known? It’s a press event; “signage” would just attract the very public that they are trying to keep out. Maybe that causes the event to be not so worth the mainstream press’ time, but if we have to use tits and skydivers to get their attention so that we can attain some kind of artificial feeling of legitimacy, we’re doing something wrong in the first place. There’s a deeper problem.

Or maybe it really is the fault of Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. Maybe they should cater only to the limited market that is the “hardcore” or “otaku” crowd. It has kept them afloat financially up to this point, but I’d personally rather see them maintain the balance that they’ve been struggling to hit by appealing to a casual audience as well. Let them perfect that. I want to see the market expand. That’s the ultimate way to obtain legitimacy, if that’s what we’re after.

But if we go that route, do we really even need E3? I say yes. It’s important to have a press-only event so that blanket coverage is possible. Rapid-fire coverage is a fun time for consumers. If all of the game companies’ “megatons” aren’t revealed there, that’s okay. Something always gets revealed that wasn’t supposed to. This year we had a KOTOR MMO and a new Pikmin game. No Kid Icarus? Most of the press were meeting rumors of the revival of that franchise with a resounding “meh” during the lead-up to E3. Afterwards, Nintendo is chastised for its absence. I’m willing to wager that if it had been shown the response would be “tell us something we don’t know”, just as the responses Microsoft received were due to their leaks. We have unrealistic expectations, people.

I don’t think I am wrong in saying that our own press has become a little bit jaded and that their priorities have deviated. I feel like the current attitudes are doing our industry a bit of a disservice, but I also don’t think the gaming community is helping matters much by jumping on the bandwagon. I want to ask everybody to reflect on what I’ve said here as well as our industry, our hobby, and our culture for a moment and ask yourself what you really think about where we are right now and where we’re heading.

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