E3 time is almost upon us. And that means we’re all getting ready to board the hype-train to video games’ number one mass marketing platform.
E3 2017 promises to be different compared to last year’s predictably by-the-book yawn-fest, with gamers waiting to see Microsoft’s Project unveiling of their uber-powerful mid-regen console Project Scorpio, and whether anyone watches the Ubisoft conference now Aisha Tyler’s stepping down from hosting duties (but at least they have a new logo, so that’s something, right? Right?).
Having said that, there are some E3 traditions you can guarantee will feature, whether we want them to or not. It’s basically E3 bingo we’re playing here – the full house of E3 awfulness.
Awkward, scripted conversations
It’s entirely possible that video game studios exist in hermetically sealed bubbles devoid of human interaction, if those awkward conversations are anything to go by. Every ‘spontaneous’ joke feels forced, every stilted word scripted by a focus group of marketers and performed by people who don’t particularly like each other. And just when you thought it was bad enough that they inflict a dialogue between two strangers pretending to a) know each other and b) like each other, just wait ‘til they unveil their latest game by getting four unknowable no-talents to act out how game marketers think we talk when we’re in a party playing with friends.
A glitch in the system
Doesn’t matter if you’re a triple-A developer or the tiniest indie studio in the English province, with so much tech floating around the Galen Center, you’re always susceptible to the odd technical hitch. The best you can hope for is that a mic doesn’t come on first time. At worst, you’re looking at total gaming breakdown. You know, the kind that sees your game freeze, high-end PC judder to a halt, TVs explode, cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria. And it’s live. Which means that once gremlins creep inside the machine, your technical mix-up is going to be shared on every platform possible. Millions of times. Then every gaming article written will forever reference it. Sure, you’ve created the next Skyrim, but you’ll always be that studio…
That ‘just one more thing’ reveal
You can thank Steve Jobs for this tradition. Ever since the turtle-necked tech-head began delivering his final show-stopping reveal, just about anyone who takes the stage thinks they have to finish their show with the same killer finale. This Columbo moment is pure theatre, with ‘one last’ surprising/cynical unveiling that will destroy the competition and confirm the winner of E3. This supposed rug-pull, that literally everyone watching E3 knows is coming, is meant to propel our hype into the stratosphere. This year, our money’s on a Half-Life 3 reveal, Sony bringing backwards compatibility to the PS4, and Project Scorpio being given away free to anyone who owned an Xbox 360. You heard it here first.
The indie darling
Sure, E3 may be dominated by the triple-As, showcasing games designed to bleed money from us over the next six months (Exclusive DLC! Season pass special! Pre-order now!), but thankfully every year we see a couple of independent studios rise above the big-name developers thanks to, you know, originality and an emphasis on gameplay experience. Watch out for the ones with a notably quirky art style, like Cuphead or We Happy Few, that are guaranteed to steal our hearts and get us hyped in a way that even a genuine Mass Effect 4 would. So, expect to see an indie darling at this year’s E3 that has an eye-catching art direction, brave narrative, unique mechanics or is loved simply because it isn’t Call of Duty
The graphical upgrade
Look, we get it. Studios want to show their game in the very best light. And the very best light usually means running it on a powerful, high-end computer that would make Ocarina of Time look like Breath of the Wild. Then we’ll hear a fudge about how we’re seeing ‘real gameplay footage’ – which is true; it’s just not the gameplay we’ll actually be experiencing once the game releases. Six months down the road, expect to see articles that show side-by-side comparisons of those hyper-real graphics we saw at E3 versus the actual finished product. Of course, by that point, we’ve already bought the damn thing and seen the travesty for ourselves.
The sportsman-like rivalry
E3 is essentially like the World Cup for video games (unless you play FIFA, in which case the World Cup is the World Cup of video games). That means you have teams you support and teams you downright loathe – there is no in-between. Tribalism and division sells, man, and the games industry knows this, which is why they’ll take a metaphorical shotgun to their literal rivals, all with the intention of winning over and building a loyal fanbase and going viral – ‘cause E3 is all just marketing in the end. Sony’s 2013 conference was a masterclass in knocking their Xbox opponents (and arguably kicking them while they were down and pretty much out), but it won’t always be so obvious and on-the-nose, so, keep your eyes and ears peeled for those bitchy digs at rival companie
Every year we pin our sweet gamer hopes on seeing the resurrection of some dearly beloved franchise or more information on a long-promised game. And every year, we leave disappointed. No matter how many people joined your ‘Save Gex the Gecko’ Facebook page, the developers refuse to listen to ‘popular demand’. What a slap in the face for gamers that we’re still waiting for a new Toejam and Earl and a true, multi-platform GoldenEye remaster. Sadly, there will always be some games that, though rumoured to put in an appearance, are notable only for their continued absence on the gaming scene. You can keep Gex away from the show, though. Seriously.
The fan-service appearance
The opposite of the E3 no-show is the fan-service appearance. These are the games you’ve literally never heard of/thought of/knew were real, but are eagerly welcomed to the stage for the benefit of approximately three people (and maybe their pet hamster, Dave). And you’ll probably wonder why so many damn people have been working on a project that no-one’s going to play, when they could’ve been making an instalment for your favourite obscure franchise instead. Still, it’s nice that the games industry listens to their fans – or, at least, pretend they’re listening while they force fans to crowd-fund the development costs instead of stumping up all their own hard-earned dollar for games like Shenmue 3 themselves.
Pause for no applause
One of the best moments at E3 will be the pause that developers and marketing bods leave after an announcement. That’s your cue to wildly applaud that new game or resurrected IP or whatever it is. So, go on, applaud. Please. Even a reluctant will do. Because that silence is getting real awkward now, and those poor bastards on stage are shuffling around looking for a hole to open up and swallow them. …And that pause just goes on and on and on. The more hated the company, the longer the pause, the better it is. Usually, the pause for no applause (or ‘audience apathy’) is down to two factors. We’ve never heard of the game before, and we weren’t exactly blown away by that desperate, pre-built trailer you just thrust in our unsuspecting faces. Although, in a world where even bland games like Eagle Flight get maniacally cheered, there’s really no excuse.
Those awkward celebrity cameos
Celebrities sell, right? That’s why absolutely everyone always sits up and listens when a sportsman decides which chewing gum we should buy, a Disney popstar tells us who to vote for, or a failing comedian demands that we play his ‘favourite’ game. This must be true. How else can you explain why companies at E3 ship in a host of celebrities, ranging from minor to ‘who the hell is that?’, in order to bring a little prestige to their shows. Trouble is, plenty of these celebrities don’t seem to play games unless they’re being paid to do so, so they deliver uncomfortable speeches like a nervous child at a school play, so we all just feel a bit awkward and sorry for them. But hey, they’re just there for the pay cheque, bro, which positively will not be spent on anything remotely connected to video games. Promise.
The after-show hate
Not to go all Darth Vader on you, but hate is way stronger than hope. And it only gets stronger when you throw in masses amount of hype, disappointment and impotent online rage. Maybe it’s a game that was ridiculously over-hyped and under-delivered. Maybe it’s a studio taking the actual piss with a £60 season pass. Maybe we just don’t like the cut of Andrew House’s jib. Whatever it is, you can be sure that by the time each company’s conference is over, dark-side gamers will flock to websites and social media to condemn and vilify and abuse anyone and everyone associated with ‘raping their childhood’ with a Busby Bobcat reboot. Got a reasoned and rational comment to make about E3’s offerings? Step aside, you hippie. If it isn’t true, then why does anyone need to ‘win’ E3 anyway?
Enjoy the show!