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E3 2013: Must the Show Go On?

/ Jun 4th, 2013 No Comments

E3 2013

E3 2013

E3 2013 will grant a grand spectacle to the games world this year. All the big players appear at a conference to spend a few days announcing their most significant plans for the forthcoming year. The trade fair typically sets the tone and standard for the industry over the next year or so. To sum things up, E3 has been the New Year’s and Christmas rolled into one of the video games world or a long time now. With Nintendo taking a back seat from driving their usual E3 campaign and Sony and Microsoft entering the ring off the back of their own future defining console announcements, what does the dwindling relevance of E3 now mean for the industry?

Direct Demonstration

[adsense250itp]Nintendo Direct is probably the most significant development in terms of changing the trajectory of announcements and the main reason why Nintendo are going half speed into E3 2013. What Nintendo want to do is deliver their news on their own terms with their own spin. Releasing news on the publishers terms ensures that typically PR fed media travelling through game sites is not the first instance of an announcement. A publisher can just tell you themselves, why not?

Opinion, analysis and diverse user commentary is what independent games sites and media does best, but that creates an impartial discourse both positive and negative. A balance. Naturally, opinionated games sites reporting everything through the reactionary comment box grinder, throws a spanner into the works for a Nintendo biased announcement. With E3 2013 being a live streamed, blogged and tweeted contest between the hot 3 companies at the convention, it is easy to see why Nintendo would not want to be buried under the weight of expectation.

In the case of Nintendo, distancing themselves from E3 2013 is not just to aid them in better dictating their media delivery. Just by looking at the Wii and Wii U it is clear that Nintendo’s pursuit of graphically inferior systems has left them losing face against the far more capable Microsoft and Sony systems. Since 2011, Nintendo Direct has been delivering the corporate message for the Mario makers. 2013 has seen a significantly more amped up version of the service broadcasting worldwide every month. Not only has the company updated release dates for belated Wii U launch games all in one place, but also dropped shock announcements left and right.

It is those bombshells that are usually reserved for E3. News such as the Fire Emblem x Shin Megami Tensei crossover and the 3 game deal with SEGA to deliver exclusive Sonic games to Nintendo systems have made Nintendo Direct just as important to Nintendo as a press junket at a trade show. Capcom and Sega have also used the platform to showcase their own games in Japan only Nintendo Directs this year.

This run of developer broadcasting is not a new development, at least not for Nintendo.

Direct Digital Discourse: A Link to the Past.

How important is E3 when publishers can 'do it for themselves'?

How important is E3 when publishers can ‘do it for themselves’?

In 1995, Nintendo released the Satellaview in Japan. The Satellaview worked as an add-on peripheral for the SNES that picked up broadcasts from satellite radio channel St.GIGA. The channel would broadcast the ‘Super Famicom Hour’ at an allocated time. Players could receive special games to play using the service, receive national game rankings and even narrated and voice acted episodic games, which demanded everyone participating at home began their game at the allotted time. Satellaview also broadcast magazine style shows, an ambitious forerunner to the now familiar Nintendo Direct format. The service was not free and the add on was expensive as well as requiring an additional monthly membership fee.

Despite Satellaview’s mark on the landscape being swept away with the N64/PS1/Saturn generation and the emergence of the internet in the coming years, it was an incredibly ambitious venture that foreshadowed most practices used today. Everything from online gaming, developer news steams, episodic games and account systems were seen in this downloadable content enabled prototype. The concept of digital distribution was dissolved just as it was being defined.

What the Nintendo Direct streams, PS4 and Xbox One announcements did was put on a corporate show in the homes of the gaming consumer. The advertisement part of E3 maybe, but almost none of the trade element.

The Purpose of Trade Shows

We may have seen surprises already but E3 consistently encourages trade and new ventures within the games industry.

We may have seen surprises already but E3 consistently encourages trade and new ventures within the games industry.

By now, gaming consumers are used to getting gaming updates through e-mails, blogs, tweets, tumblr posts and more. For many this is a daily occurrence. Information is an abundant commodity. With newspapers and magazines providing an outlet for those motivated enough to seek out that news source rather than have it room serviced through the Internet. Gamers may be forgiven for wondering why in this digital age they should expected to hear specific news surrounding the games industry at a trade event.

The fact is because E3 is not solely focused on gamers. In fact, most people outside games press and development circles will not get to witness the same level of floor-show experience at the event. The purpose of a trade show is to generate trade. Yes, it sounds simple enough but conferences like E3 need to attract all manor of investors, distributors and buyers to the picture. It also gives major players from each ‘team’ the chance to chin wag and create new roads in the industry.

With more and more studios going under and even big name developers tightening purse strings, that purpose is more crucial than ever. The games industry needs to advertise to the larger tech and entertainment industries outside of its own often insular world.

After all, Spielberg produced Halo TV shows and channels like Netflix and ESPN appearing on consoles does not happen by magic. Games need a platform to generate that trade to strengthen the industry. To put things into perspective Sony and Microsoft were once distant strangers to the world of gaming – now look at the landscape. Also, showing off to people looking to throw their hat in to the ring, investment wise, means educating them on what a great idea that would be. Not everyone looking to influence  the industry financially is going to be an expert in it -sad yes, but inevitably true. E3’s ‘cards on the table’ dynamic gives a sense of that direction.

Further from that, wider tech media that does not (believe it or not) always keep a finger pressed on the pulse of games gets a broader idea of how the additional technologies connected to our consoles may be involved. A perfect example seen recently in how Xbox One looks to bring in TV, Phones, Skype and the Internet.

The Future of E3

The fact is that E3 is still important. Games need their day in the sun and E3 throws the doors of the industry to everyone. Come June 11 the world will be watching to see how things may unfold for the year(/s) to come. E3 also sets a standard, like a health check for the industry, everyone can see how well things are going and notice any improvements and failings since previous expo years.

Putting the top gaming companies in direct competition with each other is crucial. Competition creates advances. Every year, sites and fans alike will muse over ‘who had the best E3’ or ‘who won’? That fanboy rhetoric may seen juvenile on the surface to some, but it is a healthy kick up the backside of the games makers and a reminder that the consumer should be the most important person to them. Shared commentary spread amongst gaming’s elite is useful in telling them what was a hit or a miss.

Simply dazzling gamers with an array of new sparkly things in a calendar dated video-cast leaves viewers dumfounded and inclined to out pour the more positive remarks. Competition and comparison is muted. It is a ‘birthday present’ effect that could easily install complacency at Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft. Alternatively, it could be argued that staggered announcements are better all round. Xbox’s controversial grip on DRM restrictions on pre-owned games could leave Sony with a chance to drop that unpopular tactic from the still mysterious PS4. A chess move that would not have been possible had they both unveiled systems at E3 2013. Whether they do or not is another story.

The string of independent announcements by gaming’s powerhouses may have taken away some of that competitive spirit and glamour from the event. That said, E3 is still needed as an industry pacemaker, despite the partial abandonment.

Olly Jones
Olly Jones is a contributor to the editorial team at Gaming Illustrated. As an artist, Olly has created artwork to publicize games for Capcom, Ubisoft, Arc System Works and Grasshopper Manufacture.
Olly Jones

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