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Opinion: E3's Future Being Led by Nintendo

E3 press conferences are expensive, demos are limited to thousands, and interviews can go terribly wrong. Nintendo's recent moves signal a sea change in how to handle E3 that other companies are bound to follow.

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While I've covered E3 in various capacities for years, I only attended for the first time two years ago. I arrived in time to attend the Sony press conference with the late Andrew Yoon. Though it certainly would have been within his editorial power to assign me to news writing duty, he found me a seat and then stepped outside to cover the news himself, knowing it was my first time seeing such an event first-hand. It was selfless and kind, and I still appreciate it to this day.

That press conference is the only one I've attended, and that's by choice. Last year, though I had been invited to attend various conferences, I abstained. I largely plan to do that again this year. Seeing the press conferences in-person simply isn't a practical avenue for coverage, so many journalists choose to watch remotely. I'll be flying thousands of miles on Sunday so that on Monday, I can sit in my hotel with Twitch open on my iPad, helping to write and delegate news as it breaks. It's simply more efficient.

This is just one manner in which E3's history and legacy is hitting the cold reality of modern media and information propagation. Within a few years, I expect companies to rethink their approach in a variety of ways. And in ways both positive and negative, Nintendo has surprisingly positioned itself ahead of the curve.

After all, what's the point in reserving a large stage space if a growing number of the media aren't there to cover it? Companies can fill the seats with fans--and judging by the hooting and hollering, they already do--but media invites are becoming as impractical for publishers as it is for journalists. Eventually, the mere spectacle doesn't seem worth the investment.

That isn't to say that companies will or should call off their presentations altogether. But given that many of the people vital to the process are watching streams, an all-streaming solution makes more sense. Nintendo's move to digital presentations may have been a cost-cutting measure, but it's also a look into the inevitable future. Microsoft, Sony, EA, Ubisoft, and now Bethesda and a PC coalition may all enjoy filling a theater with screaming fans, but that's only reaching a few thousand people in-person. The streaming aspect of their conferences, with a much lower upfront cost, is reaching more people by orders of magnitude.

Then we have the E3 show floor, a dizzying mass of lights and sounds where companies put out their best and brightest. Preparing an E3 demo is difficult, time-consuming work. As we move deeper into the age of digital distribution, however, we'll find less and less reason why these demos need to be kept in the relative secrecy of the Los Angeles Convention Center. No publisher wants journalists reporting that they played a buggy build, so playtesting E3 demos is as much a part of the process as testing the final product.

As a result, distributing special timed demos to the home audience is bound to become more common practice. Nintendo began distributing demos at Best Buy locations last year, again showing a remarkable amount of prescience for a company that's so often regarded as lagging behind.

Not all of these changes are what's best for gamers, however. We've also seen a trend in the last few years of game companies cutting out journalists altogether with its own internal blogs and interviews becoming an increasing part of the coverage cycle. This exercise cuts out a powerful consumer advocacy tool, but is preferred by publishers since it allows them to control their messaging.

Nintendo has shown early practice of this too. Its Treehouse interviews at E3 are formulated to include a tightly-regimented roll-out of reveals throughout the show, while assuring that nothing inadvertently slips or is misunderstood. Nintendo still provides some interview access to the media, but keeps most of its developer pool safely ensconsed in its own playground. Other publishers are starting to exercise the same practice this year, and it's a trend we'll continue to see grow.

Direct streaming, widely distributed demos, and internal interviews are all ways to keep messaging secure and consistent. Some of these methods, like public demos, are consumer-friendly, while others, like internal interviews, are less so. The shared commonality is that all of them deemphasize the role of journalists in the E3 spectacle. That may not be Nintendo's goal, but it's certainly setting precedents to that effect. That means the changing face of E3 will also necessitate a shift in games journalism. As these changes take hold, we'll need to adapt too.

Editor-In-Chief
From The Chatty
  • reply
    June 12, 2015 11:30 AM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, Opinion: E3's Future Being Led by Nintendo

    • reply
      June 12, 2015 11:43 AM

      I agree with this, I can see e3 becoming entirely digital.

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      June 12, 2015 11:44 AM

      Interesting thought process. They've definitely been the most different in the last couple years.

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      June 12, 2015 12:27 PM

      Yeee 3!

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      June 12, 2015 1:04 PM

      I can't imagine having to cover all that in person. It sounds exhausting.

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      June 12, 2015 4:43 PM

      As a game player, I love the treehouse stuff. Why should I settle for a second hand account of what was shown, or shaky hand video, when I can watch a direct stream, along with the inputs of the developers. I don't need an interpreter to tell me what they said, and I don't have to worry about the effect what was shown being clouded, dismissed, or ignored. In such a case, the reporter doesn't hold the power of knowledge, or nor should they.

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