What shall we talk about from E3 2017? It’s almost a tradition to decide who had the best show, which game stood out most and what was the ‘surprise hit’. That, and of course all the quirky, weird and embarrassing moments (from Ridge Racers and My Body is Ready to Giant Enemy Crab).
Things Are Changing
But the E3 is changing and we all noticed that in the last few days. The press conferences used to be PR events with spectacular shows, special guests and other visual fireworks. But the event in the last few years became more about the target audience and less about press and PR. Social media, bloggers, streamers and other online influencers are becoming the dominant force that determine the success and popularity and the game companies are responding to that trend.
If you want to score big at E3 you want to show a lot of game trailers, make big, popular announcements and pay attention to solid promises, instead of show and bravado. Which seems like a good thing and very positive for regular game fans. Take Phil Spencer’s announcement about backwards compatibility for example. The whole plan scored Microsoft major points with the fan base. But a tech journalist or marketing expert would brush it off as empty populism.
Some journalists, reacting to the E3 2017, are arguing that the press shows are getting close to becoming obsolete and are almost nothing but streaming content on stage. Are physical locations and real life hosts being scrapped in the next few years? Are we all, fans, reporters and industry insiders alike, just going to watch the entire show from the couch?
Awkward Nerds or Passionate Artists?
Perhaps, but then we would be missing out on a great opportunity. Because in lieu of visual shows, celebrities and polished PR spectacle, something else is glimmering at the horizon. It is the genuine, human factor. The raw, uncut love and enthusiasm of people and their craft of game making. See, the overproduced, PR friendly E3 shows were an answer to the previously awkward exchanges by shy, socially inept developers fumbling their way through a gameplay demo.
But the refocus on hands-on experience and a global trend of gonzo style reporting, vlogging and grass roots journalism makes way for this type of presentation again. And at E3 we’re getting a taste of it too. It started two years ago with the adorkable performance of Martin Sahlin and his game Unravel. His clumsy but heartfelt presentation was so positively received because it felt relatable and genuine. This was a guy who was truly proud and happy of what he made and understandably nervous about showing it in front of so many people.
The E3 2017 had is own gems of the human factor. I’d like to highlight a few. Let’s start with Josef Fares and A Way Out. The Swedish-Lebanese-Assyrian game developer, known for Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Fares was not exactly shy and overwhelmed like Sahlin but in a similar way broke the PR-mold of his speech and sort of improvised haphazardly through the presentation. He had to search for words, laugh off his mistakes and with wild gestures and superlatives took us along with his enthusiasm for his project.
Ashraf and Michel and Gabrielle and Davide and Janina
It was different than Ashraf Ismail, the Ubisoft developer famous for Assassin’s Creed Black Flag and now Assassin’s Creed Origins. Ismail delivered his lines slick and fluent, but it was his noticeable delight that was such a joy to watch. We saw a man, so genuinely happy and proud about his work. He had been working on this for nearly four years and finally had the chance to show it to the world.
At the same press conference we were all touched by Michel Ancel and Gabrielle Shrager. The former is the brains behind Beyond Good and Evil 2, which after fifteen years of waiting, was finally revealed on Monday. The latter a writer, most recently for another great Ubisoft game: Valiant Hearts, and now working with Ancel on the long awaited title. Being greeted by the cheers and applause of the crowd for what was arguably the most memorable announcement of the E3, Ancel had to wipe away a tear and was lost for words for a few moments.
We could all feel for him, just as we could feel for Davide Soliani, who also struggled keeping his composure when Shigeru Miyamoto took the stage to talk about his legendary character Mario appearing in one game with Soliani’s Raving Rabbids. As much as we like to hate Ubisoft for being big and corporate and greedy, their presser showed a lot of sincere love and camaraderie. From Miyamoto and Yves Guillemot happily posing with their weird Mario+Rabbids guns to the Beyond Good and Evil 2 devs pulling Guillemot and the others on stage for the finale of the show.
And, to top it off: Janina Gavankar. The proof that, yes, again we had way too little women on stage during E3, and no, there’s no reason for that. Because Janina OWNED the room the moment she walked in.
Keep it Real
A lingering thought, as all the press shows are over and the actual E3 is under way: keep it simple, keep it real. Marketing, brand management and PR are just shiny covers over a core of real passion, love and dedication. Microsoft’s Phil Spencer put it perfectly: Games are an art form just like books and films that we should celebrate.