The Electronic Entertainment Expo is a hedonistic display of excess. Companies filter their beguiling messaging through self-aggrandizing charades, and we're all too happy to go along for the ride. We've grown enamored with this bombastic propaganda, we crave it; so when a company squashes our expectations, we raise our hackles. Nintendo, whose press conferences were the highlight of so many prior E3s, is now going in a new direction. No longer will Reggie Fils-Aime exchange cringe-worthy banter with one of his pliant subordinates, nor will Shigeru Miyamoto exude playful exuberance. The book has been closed on Nintendo's dog-and-pony festivities, and it's one small but important step toward reimagining this tired exposition.
When Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo outline their plans, everyone listens, because these three companies hold considerable sway over the future of the industry. And it's at their once-a-year press conferences where they reveal the bulk of their secrets. New hardware, accessories, games, business models, partnerships, and more are announced to the sequestered masses. But what is it that draws us to these events? Is it the discussion of sales data always delivered through a rose-tinted lens? Or maybe it's the impromptu dance numbers and workout routines? How about stilted teleprompter reading? Press conferences are an awkward tableau whose sole redeeming quality--game announcements--is shrouded behind a veil of painful marketing speak that only serves to puff up the presenter.
Nintendo should be commended for breaking this cycle. Instead of herding media members to a far-away locale, pouring copious amounts of time and money into an elaborate production, they can instead record a much more subdued presentation that cuts straight to the heart of why we so eagerly follow this event. A simple video showing upcoming Wii U games would be more than enough to excite those who bleed every color of the Pikmin rainbow, and we won't have to sit through the endless monologues that so often plague full-blown press conferences. Nintendo has shown they can deliver speedy announcements with the semi-regular Nintendo Direct series, so there's no reason to think they're taking a backseat at E3 just because they're eschewing the press conference format.
Press conferences are an awkward tableau whose sole redeeming quality is shrouded behind a veil of painful marketing speak.
The timing of this change is the lone issue that could cause Nintendo grief. Wii U sales are slumping, and not only has Nintendo failed to release the self-published games that were due within the launch window, but it has done a lousy job of courting third-party developers. So the most pessimistic could see Nintendo's retreat as a sign of weakness. It has so little to show, or is so intimidated by its competitors' entries into the next generation, that it's fleeing from the spotlight. When leaders make a decision, after all, it's because they're smart and forward thinking. But Nintendo, who has been playing catch-up since the Wii train derailed years ago, isn't allowed to buck tradition without meeting resistance. It's an unfair accusation, and one that Nintendo will be branded with until it delivers on the promises it has yet to fulfill.
Although Nintendo's stance is a bold one, there is still much more work that has to be done. E3 has grown fat and lazy with all the attention that has been heaped on it. Games, the reason we're so invested in this industry to begin with, should be the most important aspect of this annual event. But the inherent fun of checking out an expansive slate of upcoming experiences has been overshadowed by companies that continually try to dazzle our senses through other methods. Loud music blares through the convention center, scantily clad women patrol booths, and oversized television screens play prerendered trailers on a never-ending loop. Although such problems don't seem like a concern to the average person, they are. The suffocating stimuli hinders one's ability to think, so publishers are hurting their own chance for thoughtful coverage by using a megaphone to blast their message.
The video game industry is built on trends, so often a company currently playing second fiddle is happy to follow the leader. Now that Nintendo has decided to pass on the press conference shenanigans, maybe its competitors will think seriously about the advantages to leaving the pomp and circumstance behind. Sony's reveal of Uncharted 4 would be just as exciting without the gasps from its captive audience, and Microsoft would be able to show off the next iteration of the Kinect in an environment better suited to camera-controlled gaming. The press conferences are already streamed across the globe, so people are already able to share the experience together, and the benefit of a live audience is offset by the massive problems such productions create. Streams lag or stop entirely when demands are so high, and coordinating such an event takes more planning and money than its worth. These companies would be better off doing small-scale productions where the games, not the spectacle, bask in the spotlight, and it would make the entire experience more palatable for those who have had their fill of talking heads.
E3 has grown fat and lazy with all the attention that has been heaped on it.
Press conferences are just one area in need of renovation. Just imagine if one developer scaled back the desperate opulence of its booth. No more intimidating constructions or distracting lights vying for your attention, and no more beautiful models hired as dehumanizing eye candy. Instead, there would be consoles and games lined up in a neat and orderly fashion, and people from development teams would be on hand to answer any questions. If one publisher were to take this route, just one, and still had crowds on hand, maybe the rest would realize how silly their expensive and exploitative efforts were. The only reason that a company would need unnecessary fluff to attract attention is if its games weren't good enough to be worthy on their own, so publishers would be shamed into having a more straightforward approach lest we realize their lack of confidence.
The industry is going through a transition. There's no telling how this next console cycle will be met, or what new business models will be used to squeeze every penny from eager customers. But it's clear that companies have been taking themselves way too seriously and they need to take a step back. The Electronic Entertainment Expo is a time for the world to see how the industry functions, so it's important that we put our best foot forward. Nintendo has made a wise decision to forgo its customary press conference for something more grounded than what we'd expect, and we can only hope that other companies take strides in the coming years to ensure that games take center stage.