E3 can be a frustrating time for game fans. Sure, we get very excited about seeing the previews of this year’s upcoming titles and feeding off the media hype cloud for a few days. The previews can be disappointing or exceed our expectations but what is most frustrating about E3 is the exclusivity of it. Not only do you have to be invited but it takes place in Los Angeles, so the chances of a European fan actually attending a preview or press conference are slim to none.
There is little that can be done about the expo's location, but there are ways to engage with E3 whilst in the UK. Keith Stuart (games editor for the Guardian) and Georg Backer (of BAFTA games) have launched EToo (@etoolondon), and taken over the Loading Bar (@drinkrelaxplay) in Soho. They will be running workshops and events all week so that those of us in London can get a little of the E3 flavour. On top of that, they will be watching the E3 coverage and live streaming their reactions every evening, in a show called EToo After Dark. You can follow on Twitter and YouTube and if you are free in the day time I highly recommend you get yourself down to the Loading Bar to get involved. If you are not, then tune in online each evening to feel like you are part of the E3 experience. So what did EToo have to say about E3 itself?
Doubtless the biggest event so far has been Xbox One Microsoft’s Press Conference. It featured previews of a new Halo game, as well as Battlefield 4, Titianfall and others. Despite stunning in-game graphics and trailers packed with that Hollywood blockbuster reach-out-and-grab-you effect, these Triple A titles failed to generate much enthusiasm from the EToo team. There was criticism that some of the big titles would be available on other platforms and thus did not set the Xbox One apart as an original or special system. Its hefty price tag also drew attention; Xbox Ones will ship at $499 in the States and £429 in the UK.
Beyond that, the prevalent feeling was that the new generation of consoles were not innovating enough, undermined by an over-reliance on shooters and sequels. Nothing startling or original. The mood was overwhelming one of blockbuster fatigue - yes, the preview of Titianfall made it look like an octane-fuelled thrill-ride but game fans have controlled giant robots in battle before. Been there, done that. Other than better graphics and sound effects, what would Battlefield 4 accomplish that the first three instalments of the franchise did not?
gamestickThe energy levels picked up later on when the team behind Game Stick, the British Kickstarter sensation, came on the show to talk about their portable console launching next month. Game Stick is an Android-based console that is the size of a mobile phone and connects via a dongle to the HDMI socket in your TV. It's cheap, portable and an open platform, everything the new offerings from Sony and Microsoft are not. The launch of Game Stick is generating real buzz not only because it could open up the living room gaming market to smaller players, but also because it could widen the appeal of gaming.
This could be the device that draws in phone and console gamers alike. From their Etoo After Dark interviews, I also get the sense that the Game Stick team were young gamers, passionate about the art form and wanting to take it to new places. A stark contrast with the mock enthusiasm of Microsoft executives. One EToo panellist pointed out that, when the Battlefield 4 preview video malfunctioned, the startled executive was left on stage with nothing to say. Where is the desire for a studio to engage directly with its audience? Where is the passion for gaming, for this game in particular? Enthusiasm should ooze out of a speaker to convince us, the fans, that this game is worth our time and money.
EToo highlighted the ongoing conflict in the games industry; powerful graphics, huge maps and rich online experiences have taken Triple A studios to heights never before imagined, but now the industry is languishing under expanded budgets and a shortage of good ideas. Like Hollywood execs, game studio execs fall back on tried and tested formulas and franchises and something new is seriously needed to shake up the establishment.
I have found EToo an interesting way to engage with E3, much better than my usual second-hand following of events via Twitter and blog round ups. This felt like I was involved with something accessible. The games industry could learn a lot from EToo - success is not about huge budgets and spectacle, but in finding new ways to conenct with audiences who have become jaded with the way things are.
We’re seeing a change in the way E3 is being covered, how long before we see a change in what is being presented at E3?