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Opinion: E3 2015 continued trend toward rendering itself irrelevant

Before E3 2015, I predicted that companies would increasingly follow in Nintendo's footsteps by making their presentations ever more public-facing, with lessening concern for journalists as they can take their message directly to those at home. Now, I'm more convinced than ever. What I saw last week was a stark difference in perception between those in attendance and those watching at home--one that illustrates the transition to a more public oriented show.

The most obvious distinction was in how audiences perceived the the various announcements. The wide consensus from the home audience seems to be that this E3 was the biggest in years, packed to the gills with big, exciting reveals. To an extent, all of that is true. Fallout 4, the return of The Last Guardian, and the Final Fantasy VII remake are all making good on long-held gamer wishlists. Having so many wishlist items come true in one year is striking, no doubt about that.

Anecdotally, though, I spoke to several attendees and even exhibitors who said they felt the tone was a little more subdued this year, and I couldn't shake that feeling myself. What could account for the disparity? I don't think I happened to meet a lot of jaded people. More likely, it's the fact that the announcements were just that. 

Thomas Bidaux at Gamasutra performed a media analysis today that confirmed my suspicions. Of the ten games that generated the most buzz, only two--Star Wars Battlefront and Halo 5: Guardians--were actually playable on the show floor. (Others may have been playable for judging purposes, but that's neither here nor there.) In short, we saw a lot of exciting promises, but the so-called boots on the ground didn't get to experience hardly any of them.

For journalists accostumed to E3 being a veritible playground of upcoming games, it's only natural there was some feeling that this year's show was quieter. We certainly got hands-on with plenty of games, but the biggest were largely off-limits or too far away to even expect a playable demo. Those watching from home wouldn't notice any such disparity, because announcements are announcements. Viewers are limited to trailers and sizzle reels every year, so whether 100% or 20% of the biggest games were playable, it's all the same.

And since it's all the same, this year proved that publishers can get plenty of press without a playable build based purely on the strength of trailers and guided walkthroughs. Why invite the press to play (and potentially criticize) your game when you can get just as much attention by putting together a trailer? If viewers demand to see the game in action, no problem. Just offer video streams that allow your own internal developers to play the game while being interviewed by your own in-house blog team, often composed of former journalists.

We're in the midst of seeing E3 transition to a more public showcase. As the medium gains more mainstream attention and video streaming propagates so readily, it makes perfect sense to cater announcements more towards the hundreds of thousands watching at home instead of the fraction of that number who actually attends in-person. If this trend continues, the Los Angeles spectacle of E3 may become less and less important, until a physical space is no longer necessary.

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