E3 Press Conferences Are Just the Worst Thing Ever

Good god these rituals need to change, but E3 2015 is unlikely to be the year they do.

by Dan Maher
Jun 15 2015, 11:35am

Ubisoft's host for 2011, Aaron Priceman, soon enough became known as "Mr Caffeine", or worse (via YouTube)

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

There's an unwritten law that states that before the annual ritual of E3 is permitted to commence, we must first be subjected to a series of "press conferences"—this year taking place (mostly) on Monday, June 15 with Bethesda the day before, and Nintendo (Direct) and Square Enix a day later. These peculiar ceremonies carry with them the weight of a million gaming enthusiasts' unrealistic expectations and the power to affect the fortunes of billion-dollar corporations. They are, and have always been, appalling.

I've attended so many of them that I've actually applied to have scientists prolong my life by 48 hours to atone for the time forever lost to witnessing shark-eyed execs regurgitating by-committee blather that sounds about as natural as Made in Chelsea's "dialogue."

What we want: "This is a new game—look at it. Now look at this one! And this one! Now look under your seat. Free guns for all! Now here's Michael Jackson's ghost with two hours of new material!"

What we get: Awkward exchanges, arse-tightening humor, baffling lies, crushing insincerity, clueless celebrities and wanton money-spunking, all of it performed in front of a crowd of media professionals hooting like randy crones at a Maroon 5 concert.

Sometimes these bizarre displays are more memorable than the games they're promoting, but rarely for the right reasons.

It shouldn't be difficult. The last time I checked, video gaming was still a festival of color and noise and excitement and dakkadakkadakka-pweeeeeee-kaboom. Chuck them up on a screen bigger than your house, crank up the volume to unbearable, bar the doors. Done. And yet, somehow, what we inevitably end up with leaves the audience feeling like stakeholders at the world's most extravagant board meeting.

That's probably because it's exactly what the whole affair feels like for the suits grappling with the buzzword-stuffed sentences rolling on the autocue before them. The announcements that are engineered to surprise the masses are old news to them, any semblance of novelty replaced by the pressures of revealing the fruits of several hundred million dollars' worth of R&D, technology licensing, infrastructure building, third-party publisher bum-kissing, marketing, manufacturing, and distribution.

Their focus, then, is on making a big fuss about how that swimming pool's worth of cash has been spent. All that tedious, hyperbole-filled waffle ascribing near-apocryphal status to supercharged this and cloud-based that is a desperate bid to get us all enthused enough to help refill the pool.

Their world is one of profit margins, units shifted and end-of-year-bonus-dictating performance objectives first, and enjoying games a very distant twelfth.

(During an interview with the president of a major publisher, a former colleague of mine enquired about their current game of choice. "Oh, I don't actually play games.")

There was a time when this approach made sense; everyone present was a professional, theoretically already fully aware of the host's hierarchy, history and higher-ups. The media's role in all this was to a) whoop and cheer on cue (if American), and b) pan these clumps of verbal muck for gold to spare their readers the same tedium.

The world has a low tolerance for superfluous, jargon-saturated waffle and patronizing bilge

But anyone can watch these things now, eliminating the need for time-wasting cock-waving from unrelatable people who've personally contributed nothing of artistic value to what's being presented.

At least Nintendo gets it. Nintendo Direct, the irregular online news broadcast fronted by company president Satoru Iwata, represents a gaming company coming to terms with the added corporate transparency and personableness our social media-riddled world necessitates.

Admittedly they're still not great—Iwata's stilted, drawn-out delivery of phonetically teleprompted English (expertly spoofed here) is simultaneously endearing and tiresome—but they're amiable, focused, and devoid of unnecessary pomp. Last year, Nintendo opted to shun a live E3 conference altogether in favor of a glossier edition of Direct full of Robot Chicken skits and self-referential humor, and it was a revelation. It clearly worked, because they're doing it again this year.

Iwata-san waves goodbye at the end of a 2014 Nintendo Direct broadcast (via YouTube).

Ditching the live dog and pony show altogether isn't necessarily the answer for everyone—certainly not for Sony, Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, and Bethesda—but it's time they all at least recognized that the world is watching. And that world has a low tolerance for superfluous, jargon-saturated waffle and patronizing bilge.

So it's yes to snappy running times, scripts written by actual humans, preemptively acknowledging audience expectations, charismatic and knowledgeable hosts (my rates are incredibly reasonable), and game footage dominating over godawful on-stage banter. Which means bye-bye to convoluted descriptions of hardware architecture, "aspirational" tech demos and pre-rendered trailers that bear no relation to anything we'll actually get to play, and this sort of bollocks.

Lest we forget.

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Dan Maher
E3 2015
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