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Talking Point: Are E3 Conferences a Dying Breed?

Posted by Gaz Plant

E3 is changing

9am PDT, Tuesday, E3 week. For Nintendo fans, this time and date is akin to New Year's Day, ringing in the next big batch of games Nintendo has to offer and beginning a week-long celebration of all things gaming. Nintendo’s E3 press conference has created some magical moments over the years, from the reveal of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess in 2004, to the infamous “my body is ready” line from Reggie in 2007. While they're not all winners, every conference brings with it a level of excitement, pointing us all towards the new horizons Nintendo is aiming for in the coming year.

But this year, something seemed different. Gone were the on-stage demos, and gone were the rapid-fire carousel of games that accompanied the years before it. In their place came a very formal run-down of what Wii U was, followed by awkward set-piece stage moments with third-parties. And the other major presentations from Sony and Microsoft didn't seem to fare any better, resulting in many journalists calling this one of the more average E3s in recent memory. So what has changed to reduce so radically the excitement coming out of E3 2012?

Let’s first look back at Nintendo’s most recent home console launch E3, the Wii event in 2006. The whole conference was arguably nothing short of brilliant, with stage demos of Twilight Princess and Wii Sports mixed in with announcements for Metroid Prime 3: Corruption and Super Mario Galaxy, creating a rapid-fire conference focusing on the games that made you not only want the console, but aided your understanding of the concept. It didn’t matter that many of the games shown were coming out post-launch because the primary audience of journalists and gamers understood this. E3 in 2006 was about the gamer, and what was coming in the next year.

Since then, and perhaps as a direct result of Nintendo’s strong showing in 2006, the gaming landscape has changed considerably, with a new influx of gamers more aware of the Wii brand than ever. The positioning of E3 as an event has also changed – this is no longer an event exclusive to experienced gamers, as the rise of new gamers has ultimately introduced the non-gaming media to E3; Nintendo’s potential reach with its conference only grows when more varied media outlets arrive, emphasized by the newfound television presence, something Nintendo was keen to capitalise on during its main conference.

This unprecedented level of coverage changes the scenario dramatically. No longer is Nintendo advertising to informed gamers about the entire year ahead, but rather a variety of consumers. The event now becomes all about reaching a target audience, and focusing in on what is coming sooner rather than later.

With Wii U particularly, it had to be about the launch games. If Nintendo wants to maintain the so-called 'casual' audience with Wii U, it must give them reasons why it's a necessary upgrade from Wii, something that a new Metroid game arriving in 2014 will not achieve. We’ve seen with the 3DS the outcry that followed the huge games list unveiling at E3 2010, which masked the eventual three month game drought post-launch. This was perhaps due to an audience that didn’t quite understand why that Mario game they were promised wasn’t available on the system when they bought it.

So with the face of E3 changing the question has to be, do the E3 conferences have any real place for the core gaming audience any more? Certainly E3 as an event maintains its lofty position as the height of the gaming year, but could there be a better way of delivering to the audience of enthusiasts, especially given that the conferences are now much more akin to advertising showcases?

In an unprecedented use of social media and technical ability, Nintendo may have created a solution to this ever increasing problem. While the conference itself was a very formal and direct affair, Nintendo decided to produce three further showcases throughout the week, using social media to keep gamers fully informed about what was transpiring in Los Angeles.

The curveball from Nintendo this year came in the form of Nintendo Direct, which wonderfully stole everyone’s thunder a day before the conference started.

While now an annual event, the developer’s roundtable this year had a much larger focus on providing demo time for all of Nintendo’s first-party Wii U offerings, something that in previous years would have been in the conference itself. An in-depth look at a game is not something a casual fan will necessarily be interested in, yet for an enthusiastic gamer it's a unique and valuable look into the inner workings of the industry; so creating a separate event seems like the natural solution to the problem.

This was followed up by a second video conference on Wednesday, this time focussing solely on the 3DS after Wii U dominated the main event. But that wasn’t the only change. With a far smaller scope for the presentation, the 3DS conference allowed for a more informal setting, showing games off fully and with a steady pace, rather than the bombardment of sizzle reels the main conference demands. The informality also allowed for a far more fluid presentation with third-parties, rather than the disjointed and forced back and forth’s between the executives the conference presented. Quite simply, the 3DS sub-conference was everything that E3 was back in 2006, albeit on a much smaller scale.

While all these are expected at E3, the curveball from Nintendo this year came in the form of Nintendo Direct, which wonderfully stole everyone’s thunder a day before the conference started. The pre-E3 Nintendo Direct gave Nintendo a unique chance to showcase some of the less stage-worthy features of Wii U, and with over 80,000 viewers online at its peak, it's clear that this approach to news delivery works, especially considering the buzz it caused on social networks such as Twitter later that night.

So with Nintendo Direct now becoming an ever-present staple of Nintendo’s content delivery throughout the year, does Nintendo need E3 anymore? Certainly Nintendo Direct is the perfect platform to deliver updates throughout the year, and with E3’s shift away from core gamer focused conferences to entertainment showcases it would be easy to just write E3 off as a lost cause. But the fact is that E3 still remains as the pinnacle of the gaming year, and as such Nintendo needs to perform when it matters. The nature of E3 has changed over the years, and with a wider audience than ever hanging on every word of the conferences, it's understandable why they have become entertainment driven rather than game driven.

Ultimately a balance needs to be struck. The big games have to make it to the big conferences as they need to create waves when everyone is watching. But perhaps the main event for core gamers will begin to shift away from the conferences and towards the smaller events held throughout the week, where the essence of E3 2006 is allowed to breath and games get a full shake-down in front of the public. And with Nintendo Direct, Nintendo has the perfect platform to continually remind us and surprise us with new titles throughout the year. It’s a balancing act, but one that Nintendo started to get right this year.

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User Comments (43)

Nintendoro

#4

Nintendoro said:

I am very disappointed with E3 lately. Ms, Sony, Nintendo are only given 1hour each to show what they need, but is 1 hour really enough to even warm up? Nintendo had so much to show, but we hardly got any idea what was going on... There were so many games on it coming and we got just tiny fragments of them. Each of them should have one day to show everything they want

NintyMan

#5

NintyMan said:

I've heard muttering before that E3 is starting to get less gamer-centric as early as E3 2011, but clearly the big convention has changed since the days of show girls and snazzy presentations. It might not just be Nintendo, but the other companies too. E3 has become more of a media event, and since E3 has always been a big time for gaming news, the news and social media would have to take notice. This is where Nintendo can appeal to the "casual" audience as well as the "hardcore" one. Balancing the two different groups is tricky, but Nintendo should be getting better at it.

I believe Nintendo Direct has taken some of E3's thunder. The pre-E3 video where there was a more in-depth look at Wii U and quirky, new internet memes made a bigger impression than the main conference. One thing that Nintendo Direct has going for it is that it can take place throughout the year. Rather than dump a lot of new games during the E3 conference, Nintendo can announce some titles in various Nintendo Directs, and that's not counting other conferences like TGS and GDC as well.

Even at that, E3 is still important. While not like the good ol' days (like a lot of other things) it can have the amazement factor now and then, like what happened at E3 2010. Unfortunately, not every year is going to be amazing, but you can only hope that next year will be better.

Stix_Remix

#7

Stix_Remix said:

I think considering how poorly the Wii U was received at last year's E3 (particularly from the gaming "press"), Nintendo really needed to lay down the ground work of "this is what the Wii U is." Sure, us gamers usually care more about the software than the hardware, but Nintendo needed to define its new console. What's the point in a "upgrade your console so you can play this super sweet game!" when you don't even know what the console is or if it's even a new console?

Plus, there's still Tokyo Game Show for Nintendo to pull out more details or sweet game reveals. Personally, I think Nintendo played it smart. They shot for the middle of the road with their E3 conference, choosing to emphasis what makes it unique from the Wii. That, paired with the Nintendo Direct (and the isolated additional press events), shows they are really working on their marketing.

Considering the current state of E3, I think it should go public much in the same way TGS does (with only the first two days being press only).

Powerglove

#9

Powerglove said:

Twilight Princess was revealed in 2004, not 2005 remember? That was the conference where Reggie made his infamous debut.

Capt_N

#11

Capt_N said:

@Red_Kinetic I believe they were deemed inappropriate. To some degree, I also seem to recall some cracking down taking place, in regards to booth babe attire, & age.

hydeks

#13

hydeks said:

This year seemed more focused on the things to happen before christmas season :P The entertainment value of e3 went down ALOT and became more about the information :P

komicturtle

#14

komicturtle said:

This year's E3 focused on needless violence in games. Hope next year there's a wide array of games. But judging from the audience that watches E3, TGS seems like the place for all the creative games.

SteveW

#15

SteveW said:

I prefered when it was all at the Consumer Electronics show in Chicago back in the early 90's (and open to the public). The had hundreds of playable games on the floor

LavaTwilight

#16

LavaTwilight said:

@L4DYK0M1C
I agree, I was mortified with EA and had to look away several times. Same went for Farcry 3 at Ubisoft.
This was the first E3 conference I actually sat down and watchedl, mostly due to Pikmin 3 which I knew HAD to be shown and the other part due to the Wii U. As far as I can see, besides the aforementioned violence, I thought it was really good this year!

FluttershyGuy

#17

FluttershyGuy said:

If this year was an indicator, E3 is dead, dead, deadsky! I used to look forward to it for new game reveals, and there were hardly any games for any system that we didn't already know about it. The best I remember (it wasn't exactly memorable), Nintendo Land was the only surprise. From a new games/surprise standpoint, Nintendo's 3DS conference was a waste of time.

As bad as it was with Nintendo, it was maybe worse with Sony and Microsoft. Every E3, the question is "who won E3." In the spirit of Euro 2012, between Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft, it was 0-0-0 (or nil nil nil LOL), with Nintendo winning on penalty kicks or something.

I don't know if it's that the Internet is good at uncovering all new games beforehand or there was just nothing new to offer. E3 was pathetic, and until I discover otherwise, I'm looking to the TGS every year for game reveals.

Neram

#20

Neram said:

Twilight Princess reveal was 2004, tentatively named 'Legend of Zelda' as usual. Same E3 as the DS announcement.

Emaan

#21

Emaan said:

E3 is still important because it creates hype for what's coming next in the gaming world. Nintendo Directs are great, but it doesn't have that magic that E3 has always had. Not every E3 can be amazing, but there's always the next year.

DarkKirby

#22

DarkKirby said:

Nintendo > Sony > Microsoft at E3. That said, they were all disappointing. Sticker Star using a consumable items attack system based around luck did not help. It was terrible in Partners in Time, and while I expect it to not be as difficult in Sticker Star, I do expect it to not be fun. That said, I will still purchase Sticker Star because I trust the story will still be humorous and epic.

Neram

#23

Neram said:

@L4DYK0M1C
I agree also, it seems like video games are more about how far they can push the envelope on extreme violence and swearing rather than offering new creative ideas. That's the feeling I got when watching Ubisoft and EA's presentations.

Dauntless

#24

Dauntless said:

Ever since they scaled down E3 it hasn't been good. It use to be exiting because of all the loud noises and bright lights. Now they try and make it a business meeting where every one wants to go home early.

Malkeor

#25

Malkeor said:

Not a dying breed.

We had one of the greatest E3s for Nintendo at least, in 2010...2011 was decent, and 2012 was rather meh...but that doesn't mean they are a dying breed.

Zaphod_Beeblebrox

#26

Zaphod_Beeblebrox said:

The only part of E3 which can't be done on the web is the hands-on demos. Everything else can be done better and cheaper on the web, IMHO.

It will be interesting to see if Microsoft and Sony keep their secrets until next E3. If they announce on the web instead, that will really say something about E3.

SMW

#27

SMW said:

I do see that the conferences themselves are becoming less significant. Nintendo did a great job at spreading their news throughout the week. E3 is more about the full week with less focus on the single-day presentations.

Chunky_Droid

#32

Chunky_Droid said:

I think companies would do well to make their announcements at their own press conferences, and let newer builds of games be tested by gaming journalists at E3.

Dinosaurs

#33

Dinosaurs said:

All the information that came from E3 was great. We if course always want more, and the presentation can always be improved but it was just what it should have been, no more and that's fine by me.

luminalace

#34

luminalace said:

I own all three consoles this gen and will own all 3 next gen consoles, however this years E3 was terrible. Sony, MS and Nintendo all underwhelmed me. However Nintendo had a new console to show off and in this regard were the most disappointing of the lot.

tweet75

#35

tweet75 said:

for the first time ever in 2012 I got more excited from the gaming news the week after E3 than I did about anything from the conferences

thanos316

#36

thanos316 said:

hmm maybe its just changing. maybe some companies won't rely on e3 so heavily as it once did in the past. well e3 this past year was disappointing for me for various reasons. companies want to rule the living room, while games just want that next big game. so i guess its a balancing act. im already making the move to pc gaming, its looking much cheaper going that route..

Cyrso

#37

Cyrso said:

Nah, it just that Nintendo handled it in every wrong way this year... It really sucked.
Ubisoft and Sony had great press conferences and also new game revalations. (Watch Dogs for Ubisoft, Beyond: Two Souls for Sony)

LeeGarbuttStaff

#38

LeeGarbutt said:

The problem with E3 Press Briefings, is they weren't originally intended for public consumption. They're for press and industry members only - It's only the advent of the Internet that has let non-industry folk see these events. Back in the pre-internet days, you wouldn't even see these briefings mentioned in magazines.

Because these events are now in the public eye, they've become spectacles and have lost sight of their purpose.

catcher82611

#39

catcher82611 said:

I thought this was a bad E3 all around this year. Like WhiteSpyderZero said, the companies have lost focus on what E3 is all about; the games! MAybe it's just the "hangover" from all of the new hardware announced in the last two years, but that's no excuse for the weak line up of games all around...

Rapadash6

#40

Rapadash6 said:

Here's the thing: Nintendo kept us waiting a whole year for any solid information on Wii U. They kept telling us to look foward to E3 2012, but when it finally arrived, we didn't get a years worth of reveals. What happened this year was a slap in the face to the truest Nintendo fans, and speaking personally, it has soured me greatly on the whole E3 thing. It didn't sour me on the system mind you, because I trust Nintendo has some great games lined up for 2013 and beyond, but Nintendo needed to convince everyone else besides it's loyal fans that this was the console to own, and they just didn't do that. As it stands right now, this years show created an even greater stigma for Nintendo's image in the eyes of most gaming enthusiasts, one that I'm not sure they'll be able to recover from. I wouldn't be surprised to see Wii U become the next Gamecube, in that the few that'll give it a chance will love it, but the rest will ignore it completely; all because of one press conference.

Henmii

#43

Henmii said:

E3 should always be about the revelation of new, big games! Nuff said!!!

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