Every year after E3 comes to an end, gamers worldwide tend to share their opinions about “who won E3?” – you’ll see this on the big sites and little ones alike, not to mention all over YouTube. But is it fair? Even I have been known to have a go, giving the big win to Sony last year, but this year had me reeling – not because nobody deserved it, but mainly because of one comment I saw on a response to a summary of Microsoft’s conference, which went something along the lines of “well, Microsoft didn’t convince me to buy an Xbox this year, so they didn’t win”. I thought this was a good point – what is the purpose of the E3 press conferences, and how much do they really matter?
In general, it’s my opinion that too many modern business presentations feel like bland marketing. In my line of work (my day job is in IT sales), presentations are usually crafted by the marketing arm and are presented slide-by-slide by the salesperson, so it often follows the same old tired format – who are we, why are we amazing, why is our product the best in the world, how does it work (always in too much detail), and how can you work with us?
Not enough presenters take the time to stand back and try to understand what they are trying to present – what do you want people to do after the presentation? What do you think the people WATCHING the presentation are interested in? What are they motivated by?
Presenting is easy – presenting successfully is hard.
Many of the presentations at E3 take a different approach. In fact, recently, they are often just game announcements, one after another. Nintendo realised this and saw that they could save the expense of the big, bad press conference and offer the same experience online, and after release, on demand.
This year, Sony also took a different approach, trying to shake things up and create a more unique experience for attendees – different presentations were held at different locations, with a support team showing off other trailers to online viewers while the attendees were being relocated. This approach was somewhat short-sighted. While interesting and new, it ignored the core question – “what are the people watching the presentation interested in?” – many attendees missed several of the trailers that were shown off while they moved between locations. Those watching at home got a boring, disjointed experience that felt finished long before it was intended to. Kudos to Sony for trying something new, but in the end, it was just a fine example of poor judgement. People don’t want to attend these events and be shuffled about like sheep. More importantly, those attending in person want to be the first person to see the new trailers – and not be forced to check them out on YouTube after the show has ended.
What is a press conference? In reality, it truly is a marketing event, a show that is designed to demonstrate the primary benefits of a particular product or service. It is by its very design created to provide the media with the information they need to pass on to their audience, all positive, all shiny, all new (ideally).
Can these modern E3 events really be called press conferences? Probably not, and for that reason, several companies have moved onto different names. Microsoft calls it their “E3 Briefing”, for Sony, it’s their “Media Showcase”. These terms are more appropriate, as they are far more general (and less boring by comparison), but they are really designed to draw interest from fans – would the average person want to watch Microsoft’s Press Conference, or Microsoft’s “E3 Briefing”? These events have grown much larger than the local presence, and are more of a global fan event as opposed to a press event.
After all is said and done, however, the purpose of these events should be to get people interested in what it is that the company is selling. In the case of Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony, it’s the platform. For companies like EA, Ubisoft, and Bethesda, it’s the company itself – they are all essentially selling trust. For both, the games are a means to an end. But for gamers, there are multiple answers here – where can I play the best games, and who MAKES the best games? Rich gamers or hopeless addicts (like myself) want a bit of everything, but for many, they need to decide which platform to buy into, and to a lesser degree, which of the big developers to support.
So in the context of all this, how well did things go this year? Let’s take a look!
On the one hand, Microsoft had a great show – they showed off great games one after another, an hour and a half packed full of some very impressive upcoming titles. Several of these were Xbox Exclusives, and these are really the most important for the platform – anyone watching would want to know exactly what games they can get on Xbox that they can’t get anywhere else. On top of this, Microsoft was preceding many other new trailers with the term “World Exclusive” – this was to indicate that this was the first time in the world that this trailer was being shown, but that the game would be available on multiple platforms. Realistically, this was a function of timing only – Microsoft can really only make this claim because their presentation was first. However, from a marketing perspective, it was brilliant, because it wasn’t wrong (it was the first time they were being shown worldwide) and anyone watching that was not clear on the terminology would easily have been fooled into believing that these were not only World Exclusives but possibly also Xbox Exclusives. Just clever marketing, if a little misleading.
In addition, there were two other things that Microsoft did well – they talked about their Games Pass, and the first party games that would be added on release day and date, and also in regards to a few new additions that would be released that day. This was a great idea because it brought the focus back to the platform, although I do think they could have given a very quick overview as to what Games Pass is (it is still a relatively new program after all). Secondly, they introduced all of their new first-party developers. This was important because Microsoft had been criticised in the past for not having many Xbox Exclusive titles, and announcing ten partners suggests this would change into the future. While it didn’t provide any reason that you should join the Xbox platform NOW, it did promise something positive for the future, so it was a good move.
Overall, it depends on where you stand. If you’re already an Xbox fan, then you’re on board and this press conference was easily their best in a long time. If not, and you are a video game fan, you may not have been convinced by the fact that the majority of these games will be available on all platforms, not just Xbox. If you’re new to gaming, though, I’d have to agree that this was a solid presentation – lots of impressive looking games, as well as some interesting platform details, followed up with some future promise.
Unfortunately, for all the great games they make, EA just doesn’t have any kind of strategy when it comes to their press conference. Again, this year was simply a bunch of upcoming game trailers, followed by an in-depth look at a title the industry is excited about, Anthem. While this lengthy overview of Anthem was impressive and provided some interesting new footage, it also managed to present no solid new information. This was, of course, followed up by several days worth of Twitter Q&A, but upfront it was like fast food – initially impressive, but it left me feeling unsatisfied.
EA’s biggest problem, in my opinion, is that they don’t know how to tell a story. Everything they show feels unrelated, and when Andrew Wilson comes out on stage, he doesn’t manage to foster any goodwill. While he’s a fellow Aussie and a good presenter, he comes across as very corporate, which does little to encourage a desire to support EA as a developer. Of course, this is just my opinion, and there are many EA fans out there, but I’m hoping they can turn public opinion around because they really do make good games and are a long-standing player in the industry.
Almost by direct comparison, Bethesda manages to tell a story, even while simply presenting one game after another. Their executives seem approachable, and they like to take a jab at themselves, often highlighting errors they’ve made in the past or acknowledging memes within the industry (such as the fact that The Elder Scrolls games are always full of bugs).
The presentation itself was bookended by brief announcements that set the scene – this press conference was here to show you why you should love everything that Bethesda does and that Bethesda themselves puts everything they’ve got into everything they make. They then let the games speak for themselves – although it was interesting to note that they kicked off with a live performance by Andrew WK. No disrespect to him (he put his heart into that performance), but the crowd just wasn’t having it – it was a little sad really.
In this year’s presentation, Bethesda also responded to player requests – previous years only covered games that were already released or that were coming soon, but the people wanted to know what else was coming further down the line. Thus, Todd Howard announced that his team is working on Starfield, a new single-player RPG set in space and that development has also begun on The Elder Scrolls 6 – of course, neither of these games is expected any time soon, but this was a welcome acknowledgement that fans were after.
Personally, I wasn’t blown away by any of the games on show – I liked Doom, so I’m interested in both Doom Eternal and Rage 2, but I’m not super excited by either. And I’ve never been able to really get into the Fallout series, so I’m only vaguely interested in Fallout 76. What has piqued my interest, though, is the upcoming mobile games, particularly The Elder Scrolls: Blades. Still, this presentation managed to convince me that Bethesda is a developer to support and to keep an eye out for their games, so I’d suggest this was a successful conference.
These guys make it their mission to not be like everyone else, and they do so by attempting to lampoon other conferences by making jokes about what the other guys do and having a scripted performance on stage that includes simulated death scenes and other craziness. In between this, game trailers are shown.
For the second year in a row, though, it falls on deaf ears. Few players tend to tune in, and those that do can’t make heads or tails of what they are watching – in fact, during one of the game trailers, I wasn’t sure if it was an ACTUAL game, or a parody itself (turns out it was a trailer for an upcoming Switch title).
There’s nothing wrong with spoofing the big presentations – it would be virtually impossible to compete anyway. However, there still needs to be an end goal in terms of what you want your customers to actually get out of the presentation – if all you want is to announce some new games, then just release a trailer and a press release. It seems to me that Devolver is trying for the shock factor or water cooler moment (some sort of viral response), but it’s really not working, in my opinion. I can’t even remember the name of a single game that was shown.
I didn’t watch this presentation (it was on in the wee hours of the morning here in AUS) but having read about it, I’m glad I didn’t. All that was shown were trailers for games that had already been announced (Tomb Raider, Captain Spirit, Dragon Quest XI, Nier: Automata Become as Gods Edition, Kingdom Hearts 3), as well as some new DLC for Monster Hunter World, and two new announcements, both of which were very light on detail – The Quiet Man, and Babylon’s Fall. While I’m very keen for the latter (it is a Platinum Games gig after all), the whole show was done and dusted in 30 minutes.
Don’t get me wrong – 30 minutes isn’t a bad thing! Sony and Microsoft tend to go on too long, so I’m happy to see at least one company keeping things in line! However, much like EA (and perhaps worse), it almost felt as if Square Enix just wanted to get it all over and done with – show off the trailers, go out for a beer! There’s nothing wrong with this, but it was ultimately underwhelming and could have just been done via YouTube or as a pre-recorded show.
Ubisoft had a solid show – they always tend to, because they have a good portfolio of titles, but they also manage to do a good job of giving each game enough time to shine (i.e., not just show a single trailer and move on). However, in reality, they tend to sit somewhere between EA and Bethesda – while what they are showing seems to have some substance to it, there’s no single thread that seems to tie everything together. Still, it tends to result in an overall positive affect towards the organisation as a whole – again, I wasn’t terribly impressed by much of what was on show (excluding maybe The Division 2), but I still found Ubisoft to be worthwhile overall.
That said, they also try to do something different, and it often backfires. In this show, they tried two things – first, they started off with a colourful dance troupe as a way to introduce Just Dance 2019. However, it went on too long and didn’t result in any actual gameplay being shown off, so it somehow felt ‘empty’. The second was the use of a live band to accompany the trailer for the new Donkey Kong DLC for Mario + Rabbids. While this shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a negative, I don’t think it had the impact they were expecting. With all these new ideas falling flat, perhaps some of the companies need to remember the old adage, “Keep it simple”.
Speaking of which, I’ve already touched on Sony’s issues in a previous paragraph, so there’s really not much more that needs to be said. Unfortunately, Sony is always on the back foot when it comes to these presentations, as Microsoft manages to lock in the first show. As a result, many of the trailers that would apply to both platforms are shown off in the Xbox presentation, so Sony needs to find some other area to shine…
To be honest, the actual CONTENT that Sony showed was extremely impressive. Even just the four primary first-party titles (The Last of Us, Part 2, Ghost of Tsushima, Death Stranding, and Spider-Man) were almost enough to totally offset everything that was shown in the Xbox presentation, but the show was so disjointed that everything fell apart. If Sony had simply kept to their same old format, and showed off the same trailers? They would have had a massive success.
Of course, they also perhaps could have shown off some other highly anticipated titles – Red Dead Redemption 2 and Days Gone. Yes, these are coming soon, but people would have been very excited to see something new at E3. Perhaps more importantly, though, everything should have been on the one stage – the big four presentations, the little trailers in between – everything. And more than that, there should have been some platform info as well – you need to give potential new players a reason to want to buy in. In fact, I’m not even 100% sure that this information wasn’t presented! Everything was so disjointed and the interruptions so constant that it all left no impact. Disappointing.
A few years ago, when Nintendo decided to stop doing on-stage presentations and replace them with a pre-recorded “Nintendo Direct”, many of us thought they were crazy. Perhaps we were just disappointed that the live experience would be ending – who knows? However, the subsequent years have shown that not only did this have little-to-no impact on E3 overall, it’s also in many ways a better way to present your content.
For one thing, you have total control. Nothing is live so you can present the best version of a speech, and if anyone makes a mistake, they can just do another take. There is no reliance on electrical, cabling, lighting, or sound engineers, and everyone watching the show gets the exact same experience in terms of what’s on screen and sound levels.
The other thing that you can do is some pretty impressive rapid-fire videos, and Nintendo had a couple in this presentation – I’d probably suggest that even though many of the games shown were either already known or (in many cases) already released, they managed to show off the most impressive amount of games. Finishing with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was a great idea, as it meant they could dedicate a great deal of time to showing off all the things that hardcore fans would want to know. I’m not a hardcore fan, so I did find it a little boring at times, but I can see that Nintendo answered a lot of questions.
The most disappointing for me? There were no big surprises. I was really hoping to hear that there was a new Animal Crossing in development, but this was not the case. Perhaps Nintendo is holding this up their sleeve for Gamescom or Tokyo Game Show later in the year, but for me, this Direct felt a bit lacking. On the flip side, it was packed full of exciting new games (Fortnite, whether you like it or not, is a huge boon for the Switch), and if I was in the market for a new console, Nintendo would be high on the list as a result.
There were three clear frontrunners this year – Microsoft, Bethesda, and Nintendo all came out with guns blazing, and all three put on a show that not only impressed but also followed a good structure. Sony’s attempt at trying something different had too much of a negative impact on what could have been an amazing show. Ubisoft was a little too bland in their approach.
And the rest? The less said, the better.
If I had to choose a winner myself, I’d be hard-pressed to give a definitive answer – Microsoft put on a solid show, but they relied too much on the term “World Premiere” to show off games that aren’t tied just to their system. In a way, it was all an act, pretending to be something that they aren’t… yet. Next year’s show may be very different. In the end, I’d have to go with Nintendo – while overall there was nothing flashy, or new, or shiny, what they did was provide reasons to buy a Switch, one after another after another, in quick succession. Immediately after the show, I purchased Hollow Knight and Paladins on Switch, and I downloaded Fortnite. That should be proof in itself.
But at this point I’m compelled to return to one of the questions I asked at the very start – how much does all this really matter? It’s probably more important to the developers of the games that are being announced than for the platform creators that the games are being released on. As viewers – as GAMERS – we get more excited about the games themselves than the platforms (excluding years when new platforms are announced, of course), and new players or those outside of the industry are less likely to even be watching in the first place.
So in the end, does anyone even win E3? Perhaps we all do – we get to see the next big thing, after all. Plus, it’s all marketing in the end, regardless of whether it’s a good show or not – Sony’s show may have been a bit of a shitstorm, but 3 months from now, all we’ll remember is how awesome the trailers were.