You hear it every year. OH THIS IS THE WORST E3 EVER. I usually have a little laugh to myself whenever I hear it because it's usually said by people who can't remember the last five minutes, let alone the last five years.
But this year it's being said a little more often, and a little more loudly. And this year, I'm listening.
I don't agree, necessarily. There have been enough woeful E3s over the last five years to challenge for that title. And that trend, more than just this year's event, is the bigger problem.
Gamers have been conditioned to get all excited about E3 because, traditionally, it was the one time of year that we could count on being assaulted with new things. The biggest companies in the world would use the three (well, four) day event to wheel out their latest and biggest offerings and, if we were lucky, platform holders would use it as a place to unveil that most exciting thing of all: new hardware.
It was like a four-day Christmas. It was a magical time to be someone who cared enough about video games to watch a press conference.
I used the word "was" a lot up there, though. Because that's no longer what E3 is about. Ever since the show imploded, collapsing under the weight of its own expenditure and hubris back in 2006, it hasn't been the same. Publishers realised that, hey, why are we wasting millions of dollars revealing all of our games at once when most of them are going to be ignored?
Much safer, they bargained, to reveal their games throughout the year. At shows of their making, where they can control the message, and be sure that everything they're working on gets its time in the sun, not just the very biggest and brightest.
So E3 has, over the years since its return to the LA Convention Centre in 2008, become something of a mess. It's still staged, and hyped, as though it was the same old show it had always been. Christmas for gamers. Yet the reality has been something entirely different. We're now finding out Santa isn't real.
Very little of what we see is new. Actually, almost nothing we see is new. Sure, we get new trailers, or new feature announcements, but they're for games we already know about. There's genuine excitement in seeing something completely unknown. There isn't in finding a game that you've known about for a year now has a waterslide level.
What results, then, is a four-day parade of...well, what? Bullet-point marketing? An endless conveyor belt of minor announcements? That's not Christmas. Cutting through all that crap now feels almost like work. And I'm saying that with my "guy who loves video games" hat on, not my "guy who writes about video games" hat.
This, more than any other reason, is why so many long-time fans of these companies are growing increasingly dispirited at the show. We get relatively minor game news every week. E3, for all its money and hype and grandeur, should be about something more. Or it doesn't really need to be there at all.
Making matters worse is the identity crisis major companies are paralysed by when hosting the show. It seems as though the only reason they still bother with E3 is because it's a gamer's show, yet at the same time, they fill large portions of their press conferences with material that, let's say, isn't exactly worth all the bright lights.
If they want to put on a show for gamers, they should put on a show for gamers. If they want to show investors the latest TV channel their console plays, or casual application that looks great on Bloomberg, then they should do that somewhere else. Some other time. Because trying to half-ass both at once isn't helping any of us.
Take Microsoft's press conference. One of the worst I've ever seen. Some of the content was about TV channels and external applications, not exactly riveting stuff for people hankering for new games. Yet for the type of people who care about TV channels and external applications, half the show was about driving race cars and a giant man in armour shooting at aliens. Both groups left the show feeling underdone.
The saddest indictment of just how far E3 has fallen for me, though, came at the end of Ubisoft's press conference, and the unveiling of our almost unanimous GAME OF SHOW, Watch Dogs. It looks great! An interesting take on sandbox games. But it's still an open-world game, set in a city, in which you can take cover and shoot people.
For such a game to earn such rapturous applause shows how badly people are starved of new things at E3. Attendees seemed to be so shocked, so awed by this return to the old days - where not only was a new game shown off, but it was shown off with gameplay - that they freaked out a little. Got a taste for the good old days, and liked it.
Another lowpoint was Nintendo of America. The company held four press conferences over the week, one pre-recorded, three live, and all four could be prescribed as sleep medication. There was very little there for the company's most loyal and dedicated fans.
Then, after the final debacle, Jason heard from Nintendo of America boss Reggie Fils-Aime that Fire Emblem: Awakening would be coming to the US. Fans were overjoyed. Yet Nintendo had not found room for that in any one of their four conferences! Madness.
Sony did something similar with Sound Shapes, for the Vita. Here's a new platform, one short on sales and starved of attention during the company's E3 show, and one of its most unique and promising games is left outside in the dark? Madness.
This charade of half-assery needs to stop. It's like the world's most expensive, annual remake of Weekend at Bernies. Either publishers and platform holders ante up, save some of their game reveals for the first week of June and return a little of the excitement to E3, or just stop bothering. Save yourselves both time and money, retreat to your gamer's days and publisher's events and be done with it altogether. Call Nikkei and CNN and Bloomberg into the office when you want to show off a non-gaming application, and call us when there's a new Zelda or Grand Theft Auto under wraps.
That's assuming, of course, that the reason for these sub-par shows is that publishers actually know how to change tactics. If Nintendo honestly thought Fire Emblem was that unimportant, well, we've got bigger problems.