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Pondering the Purpose of E3

“can I see the
gameplay, please?”

I’m about to leave my hotel for my daily drive into the LA Convention Center. I’ve been watching the prodigious flow of information on Twitter (and, by proxy, elsewhere on the internet) the past 36 hours now — the press conferences, announcements, etc. — and I’ve noticed the yearly trend occurring once again. Juxtaposed alongside the slobbering exclamations of “that looks so cool” are the more cynical comments along the lines of “gee thanks for showing us a cinematic trailer… can I see the gameplay, please?” These comments are well-deserved. After all, we are selling games, right?

For movies, doing a trailer is a touchy thing… you want people to understand the premise of the movie but you can’t venture into the territory of spoilers. The longer you make the trailer video, the closer you get to recreating the entire movie. One could claim that for some bad movies (esp. certain action flicks or romantic comedies), all the highlights are in the trailer and the rest is simply filler.

For games, however, people don’t want to know simply the premise. They want to know how that premise is going to be interacted with. Some things have become so standard that the description of the genre is all we need. For example, is it going to be 1st person, 3rd person, shooter, RPG, turn-based, real-time, etc. Those are terms we all know and can somewhat infer other aspects from. Still, we would like to see something other than the equivalent of a movie preview. What am I going to be doing? What does it look like?

“I really don’t like playing game demos.”

So… off we go to the expo floor where we can actually do the “hands-on” play, right? But here’s where I really start to diverge from the masses that descend upon the LACC every year. I really don’t like playing game demos. I get very little out of them. There… I said it. So sue me.

Perhaps some of it is due to the fact that the types of games I like involve components that are not tractable to experience in a short time. I like to have an exploration of game mechanics. Button mashing doesn’t do it. I like more cerebrally engaging tactics and strategy. You can’t do that in 15 minutes on the expo floor. I like character development. At E3, I can learn less about a character than I learned about the person in my hotel elevator on the way down to breakfast just now. And, given my line of work, I like detailed, realistic, character AI. At least this much I can gather from watching over people’s shoulders — which is usually how I elect to experience the E3 show floor.

“You can’t do that in 15 minutes on the expo floor.”

This is obviously something that is simply endemic to the delivery medium. Much like the movie trailers, the only way to “get” some games would be to play them entirely. The more that people play the game demo, the less of the actual game remains. At some point you have to put down the controller and go on faith. But how long is long enough? And given the number and variety of titles on the show floor, how long to dedicate to each one? I suppose that’s why many people who come to E3 have only a select few things they want to see and play. Unfortunately, to me, that seems to be missing out on some of the point of E3.

Unfortunately, it seems that a parallel between movie trailers and game demos such as those found at E3 are that they both cater better to the shallower fare. The shallower a movie is, the better “feel” you can get for the whole thing in a trailer. For more depth on whether or not it is good, you have to read reviews, synopses, etc. The same for a game. If all you are after is stunts and explosions (in either medium) then a trailer/demo will let you know what you’re in for.

“It becomes a big psychological game for me.”

In my strategy, I try to look at a little of everything. I want to take the pulse of the industry… not just the giant titles from the mammoth houses but the small off-brand products as well. What are the little games that people are making? And why? What are the niches that are out there? Can I mentally predict who is going to fail? Do some of the titles strike me as being completely and utterly useless? And is that a function of the title or that I simply don’t like it? If it is me that is out of sync, can I step outside myself and determine what kind of player this title would be for? It becomes a big psychological game for me.

My kids have asked me over the years, “dad, wouldn’t it be cool to have your game at E3?” To explain, they mean my current labor of love, Airline Traffic Manager. Their blind pride for their father aside, this is simply not going to happen. Even if I made the best airline management simulation on the planet (which I aim to do), it is simply not something that is even possible for people to “get” in the hors d’œuvre-sized morsels that E3 is meant to serve.

Or maybe it will be on the floor some day… and someone will walk by and ake, “I wonder what kind of market and airline management sim would appeal to?”

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One Response to “Pondering the Purpose of E3”

  1. Michael says:

    Having made some “That looks like a neat movie, but I wonder what the game is like” comments over the last few days, I noticed that the games I was really saying it about were those that I hadn’t seen any gameplay from at all (The Old Republic being a prime example). On the other hand, there were non-gameplay trailers for Assassin’s Creed and Saint’s Row that got me excited, and I realized that they were from proven series that I’d enjoyed in the past. The traditional “more-but-better” formula for game sequels works in their advantage.

    I wonder if you have to earn your CGI at this point. It used to be enough on its own, but now I don’t think it’s enough.

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