Let's talk about the news of the day (or... several days ago): Nintendo. They aren't having an E3 press conference.
When I first saw the headline my reaction was surprise, even shock. "What are they thinking?" I thought to myself. But after letting it sink in a while, I realized that this was not a very big deal. In fact, the more I thought about, the more it seemed me like this was just a another area where Nintendo is ahead of their time.
Nintendo was first among the major companies to realize that the escalating costs of development, driven mainly by the need for ever more spectacular graphics, spelled disaster for the industry. They refused to go along with that, and in that they were so far ahead of their time that indeed their time still has not come. In fact it may never come, as it increasingly appears to me that the rest of the industry will drive themselves bankrupt before realizing the wisdom behind Nintendo's approach.
In the same way with this announcement Nintendo is saying something that I think many of us have felt in our hearts but been reluctant to admit: E3 just isn't what it used to be.
In fact E3 may not matter at all anymore.
Will an image like this soon evoke only history?
It wasn't always like this. I remember in the 90's waiting for E3 with intense anticipation. It was the most important event of the year for games. Sure Tokyo Game Show was neat and Nintendo (already boycotting TGS) had it's own thing, Space World. Those were the other two big events, where games were announced and where, for a brief moment, we could glimpse the future. But they were not nearly as spectacular as E3. E3 was a legend. The magazines would come out with their E3 issues and they would sometimes be literally doubled in page count. Dozens and dozens of games were announced or made playable for the first time. So many games magazines couldn't even really report on them all. They would hit the big ones and then just tile the rest across the page with one screen shot each and a minimum of information, as if to say "Oh yeah, and these 24 titles too." I was a kid at the time and my friends and I would pore over those magazines, analyzing every little detail. Every new screenshot was a source of endless speculation. This was it. These were the games we would spend the next year looking forward to and playing. A few of them wouldn't make it out this year, and they would be back at next years E3 (Ocarina of Time made several appearances), but for the most part each E3 was an avalanche of new information.
A classic example of the E3 issue. I had this exact magazine as a kid.
To add to the allure, E3 was wild. It was an enormous party with celebrities and "booth babes" (very controversial today; the subject of multi-page pictorials at the time) and even through the filter of the generally kid-friendly magazines, it was clear E3 was a place of debauchery and excess. The whole industry was letting its collective hair down and partying together for just one week before the got back to the definitely unglamorous work of programming.
People throwing fire around and booth babes - classic examples of E3 excess.
At least that's how it looked from outside, because of course I've never been. Ordinary people can't just go to E3. You had to be in the industry or a journalist, or the guest of one of those people. And that just added even more to the legend of it. As an ordinary game fan you got a mediated depiction of what it had all been about, but beyond that what happenned at E3 stayed at E3.
And every year it got bigger, until eventually it was too much. The industry hated having to make these incredibly expensive booths. The journalists didn't like fighting with the throngs of people only tangentially related to games. Some people partied a bit too much and lost a bit of their professionalism, and that was a problem too. Nobody was being served. Well, except gamers who still loved those massive special issues.
But finally E3 was curtailed. Scaled back. Downsized. That was 2006. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief (except, again, gamers like me. We freaked out). In the intervening years it seems to have been creeping back towards that party atmosphere from yesteryear, but it remains nowhere near as chaotic and raucous as it once was.
I mean, they actually had Tony Hawk in a half pipe. As awesome as that is, you can see how that could get expensive, noisy, and, well, just plain be in the way, really.
A half pipe. Seriously.
But there are more important and substantial changes than the diminished spectacle. Like the diminished news. More and more, as gamers, we already know everything that's going to be there. Long gone are the days when E3 was a deluge of new information. At last year's E3, only Watch Dogs really surprised me. There were a few other new announcements, but not much. Mostly it was stuff we were already quite familiar with. And while a new video and some new details are appreciated, one does wonder if a giant expo is really necessary if that's all they've got to say.
Because after all the way we get information is changing too. I can get new gaming information every single day. That information can include videos and trailers - the same things they show at E3. I don't even have to be in the house, I can stream it to my phone. Plus there are a lot of other events now too. For gamers PAX is arguably way more important than E3, because, you know, we're actually allowed in.
Why did I have a knee jerk reaction that this was a bad decision? I think I'm just so used to E3. Plus I still have fond memories of how it used to be. But really, when was the last time an E3 conference really wowed you? For me it's been years. Maybe 2005? But then, how often do you come away thinking "I wish they'd just told us more about the games..." Every time right? But that's exactly what Nintendo has promised us - information just for gamers (in the form of Nintendo Directs, apparently) and then separate events with the numbers and figures that interest the retail partners, who are, after all, the ostensible targets of E3. I mean, honestly - haven't these Nintendo Directs been way better than the last few E3 conferences?
It's still a risk. There is a major psychological weight to E3, and Nintendo needs to build hype. It will be interesting to see if Nintendo Directs can do that as well as Sony and Microsoft's conferences (and this year they're going to be big ones). But at the end of the day the information will come, and all the journalists will report on it just the same, and how many people really watched the conferences anyway? I have a feeling that before long, everyone will be doing this. They'll all emulate the Nintendo Direct format, opting to distribute exciting information directly to fans online. It's just a smart way to do things.
So for now Nintendo seems like the odd man out, yet again. But I guarantee the only people bothered by this are fans, and really it only bothers us becuase we enjoy the spectacle. But I have a feeling in a few years Nintendo won't be alone and we'll be wondering why we ever cared.
But what do you think? Is it time we all move on from the legend of E3?