Thirty seconds too many are spent trying to sort out which controller is connected to which port. Is this the third player controller? Nah, this one with the scuff mark over the green X emblem goes to player one. What's the GameCube controller doing entwined with an Xbox controller like some sort of star-crossed lover? Why is everything such a mess?
Of course, this is nothing compared to the digital overgrowth behind the television. Power cords, jumbles of yellow, white and red composite cables, and a CAT-5 snaking through hidden paths and passages to reach its destination. Everything is a total mess, and the ink has long since faded away from the masking tape used to identify which cable goes to what.
Wireless game controllers were supposed to fix this mess, but instead of sorting through plastic and copper I found myself searching for the damned nunchuck so my niece could player her stinking Tangled
game for the Wii.
This post isn't about tangled cables and lost controllers, though. It's about E3 and the people that are a part of it. The publisher, the developer, the media, the DeVry students, the enthusiasts at home, even the "normal" folks out there that just haven't caught on yet. Most of the year we're all in our own corners of the world, isolated from each other, focused on our own lives when E3 comes around and throws us all together. The end result is a jumble of disconnected wires on the floor, knotted and tangled together. No one can find the right controller, and the signals aren't getting to their intended recipient.
Have you ever been on a forum or blog and tried to ask everyone how they define Hipster? Turns out it's a pretty nebulous term for a group of people no one really likes. Now try and define "gamer". If you try to get any more specific than "someone who plays video games", you'll start to find varying definitions. The term is used as if we're all united in some fashion, but the truth is we're all very different.
I prefer single player games with a focus on story, for example. There are plenty of folks who care only about the gameplay. Then you have people that will only buy a game if it has really good multiplayer. Then you have a variety of gamers divided by brand loyalty.
We are not a single, unified voice. We are not all asking for the same things. There's a reason you'll have people debate which is the best Final Fantasy
. Or Hell, how about which is the best Halo
game? I've gotten into debates only to realize halfway through that I'm judging the games based on the campaign while the person I'm arguing with has based their view on multiplayer. I've gotten into similar arguments over whether Left 4 Dead 2
is better or worse than its predecessor based on campaign co-op or versus mode.
So imagine you're a developer, or even a publisher, and are trying to put together your E3 show. You have all these forums filled to the brim with chittering gaming enthusiasts, all trying to tell you what was good or horrible about the games you've released thus far. Meanwhile, over in this other bucket, are sales numbers, focus tests and Facebook and Twitter chirps from less enthusiastic players that deliver completely different opinions. Then you have the players that don't game often and don't voice their opinion beyond their small social circle.
All together, it becomes static. Noise. It means nothing because it is all contradictory. Which, y'know, makes sense. All people are different and have different tastes.
To any civilized person, this is common sense. Everyone knows that not all people share the same thoughts or feelings. Yet during many of the streaming E3 conferences and videos the chat rooms were filled with a variety of opinions with one thing in common. An insistence that everyone wanted the same thing.
It was clear during E3's streaming conference, where people would note how excited they were about Paper Mario
while others all-capsed "NOBODY CARES" and demanded something new. Some folks thought the new Castlevania
on 3DS looked interesting, others stupid. Yet it was rare to see someone state "I think" or "I feel". People spoke as if it were fact.
Gaming enthusiasts love to cluster around events such as E3 as a celebration of their hobby. However, these things always create conflict and differing opinions based on what is shown. There are many out there who felt Nintendo had a horrible showing. There are others where Pikmin 3
stole the entire show. Despite being brought together by a singular event, we are all disconnected from each other's thoughts, feelings and preferences.
Which means we need to stop making demands of the developers as if we are one unified voice.
Developers and Publishers
The only publishers that seem to have learned from the past at E3 are Konami and Sony. The former has stopped trying to hold press conferences altogether, instead saving money by simply streaming pre-recorded and favorably edited video showcasing what they've got in development. No more PR disasters
over here. Just a mysterious absence of whatever new Contra
game was teased in 2011.
Simultaneously, Sony has also learned what it means to be the butt of the Internet's jokes, and in an effort to avoid being a new meme generator chose to make this year "all about the gamer". This was an excellent publicity stunt as the past few years as many gaming enthusiasts have been voicing their dislike of motion controls, feeling more and more ignored at E3. Sony has been quite surprising the past few years, going from one of the dumbest companies to one of the smartest, demonstrating an incredible capability to lick their wounds and learn from past mistakes
Unfortunately, even they succumb to demonstrating nothing but violence. I know it is probably hyperbolic to declare this year's E3 as being more violent than ever, but it feels like Sony should have thrown out a game like Ni No Kuni
to break up the ultra-realistic footage of guys shooting each other. Instead we were treated to their Smash Bros.
style game and a Harry Potter
game that was simply not ready for public display yet.
The problem isn't necessarily in Sony, however. It's more a question of what these developers think gaming enthusiasts want.
Capcom has gone on record
stating that the new Resident Evil
is trying to tackle the Call of Duty
numbers, and EA has said similarly about Dead Space 3
I realize that Call of Duty
is a really big selling game, and I also know companies are in the business of making money. However, it seems ridiculous to look at a franchise that, in truth, became so big because it did something different
(both in single player campaign and in multiplayer) and then say "we need to imitate that in order to be successful". Call of Duty
is the new Madden
, the new big franchise that people buy ever year and no other games
. This means a lot of them don't care what is coming out because they just want to play Call of Duty
. Similarly, there's a whole lot of people that could care less about Torchlight
because the last game they bought before Diablo 3
was Diablo 2
I don't demand innovation from game companies. If you try to force innovation then at best you'll come up with a gimmick. That doesn't mean I want game companies to make carbon copies of each other, though. Games sell for a handful of reasons, one of them being part of a successful franchise. Yet that will only work if you manage to sell the first game of a franchise, which requires marketing and a fresh enough idea as to fill a vacuum consumers weren't aware was even there. I didn't realize I wanted a more action-oriented Zelda
style of game until Darksiders
came out, for example, and now I eagerly anticipate the sequel.
E3 feels like the industry's really, really big message spelling out "We don't really know what we're doing". They are trying to play darts with a blind-fold on, tossing random games into the ether and hoping to hit a bullseye. Unfortunately this is a really, really
expensive gamble and too many studios are losing their shirts, the farm, and their jobs.
Yet there's a reason for this.
Masses and The Media
I don't necessarily mean The Media as game journalists or gaming blogs, but the greater media as a whole. Mainstream television, magazines, and everything else attached to the world beyond gaming enthusiasts. It would be great if we could all go to the water cooler at work and discuss video games like cubicle gophers discuss television shows like Lost
or, if you're unlucky as I am, Real Housewives
. Instead the best common response you can get is "I don't really play video games".
At least you're not always looked upon as childish? Success, I guess?
ABOVE: More mature than video games
The real issue is public perception of what video games are. I'm not necessarily sure who to blame here, either. I think we're slowly reaching a point where the folks like Jack Thompson are more joke than threat and adults all over get that games aren't murder simulators. Sure, there are still going to be those sorts around, just as there are still people who believe comic books are filth.
Yet the idea seems to be that's all people want.
Take this TV spot for Bioshock 2
, for instance. What does it convey about the game's story? The themes? Nothing much. I remember seeing this commercial on television, smiling as I watched it, but then realized all my family was seeing was violence, more violence, and creepy environments that suggested violence. Is this really what people think of first when it comes to Bioshock
As stated, I don't know what came first, the marketing or the perception that violence is the only thing about a game that sells. Yet looking at this year's E3 it seems that's the general impression. I've listened to podcasts and read articles
where games like The Last of Us
and Far Cry 3
demonstrated very different experiences behind closed doors. It seemed strange that developers would favor violent demonstrations during the press conferences than what they'd show to the media, with the only one making any sense being Watch Dogs
. It seemed that Ubisoft constructed that demo in order to showcase a variety of types of gameplay, from various forms of hacking to the more run-and-gun tactics. Yes, people groaned when they saw yet another guy taking cover behind more objects, but I'd rather a demo try and tell me everything about how a game could be played.
Yet the focus was instead on pointing a shotgun to a man's face and pulling the trigger, followed by the raucous applause of GameStop managers, Best Buy representatives and DeVry students.
What I find the most strange is how the "audience at home" has been so disappointed by E3 2012, yet there are many members of the gaming press that found it to be an exciting year. On one hand I'd say E3 is no longer for the enthusiast gamer and to instead look towards events like PAX, but by testimony of those who were actually there it is still a fun show. There's still a lot to look forward to and a lot on the table.
Perhaps, then, it is best to avoid the press events? Yet those are supposed to detail a company's goals and vision of the future, and if that is the case then Microsoft's is the most depressing of all. They've always wanted an all-in-one media device that ties consumers to their company and their company alone, but it feels like a stab in the back that they'd use a gaming device to push that product into so many hands. It is almost as if we've been manipulated, and now that Microsoft has a user base to build off of they think we'll all be happy as long as they toss the occasional Halo
, Gears of War
and Dance Central
Simply put, I don't know who the gaming industry is trying to speak to anymore. It's not me or other enthusiasts, clearly. It's not to the Call of Duty
gamer, because he doesn't care about most games outside of that franchise. It's not to the rest of the world, because if they haven't started playing games based on violence now then they're not about to.
I've never before felt so disconnected from my favorite hobby. It is a terrible time where I need to desperately hope a game like Dragon's Dogma
sells well over one million units in order to warrant a sequel. It's even worse that, five years ago, Dead Rising was considered a success after shipping 500,000 units
. Not selling, shipping
, and that was over a two-week period of time. These days, 500,000 units is a failure.
The way I see it, E3 is no longer worth the hype and excitement. I want it to be, as it previously felt like a holiday based around games. I took off from work for it last year and got to work from home this year to keep up with all the streams. Yet I came away with too much disappointment and not enough to love. Not like PAX East, where I came home feeling happy, excited and unable to wait for next year.
I'M SO GLAD TO HAVE BEEN A PART OF THIS
Maybe the difference is being there. Maybe the difference is the atmosphere of the show itself. After all, PAX is for me. It is for other enthusiasts. It is for members of the industry.
And it is where I most feel connected to my favorite hobby.