I had an opportunity a while back to apply for a job that required traveling to gaming conventions and writing about them. I was not even slightly tempted to apply. I hate conventions, and not just because I'm a misanthrope with social anxiety - they genuinely seem like a waste of time, money and resources. What do lavish multi-media displays, bikini-clad "booth babes" and slavering hordes of sweaty, over-stimulated nerds have to do with me sitting in the dark quietly clicking on things? Practically nothing, that's what.
E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, is going to dominate gaming news this week. These conventions take place in Vegas and L.A., cities that are built upon a foundation of "style over substance," and allow studios and publishers to set up booths to promote their current stable of games or gadgets, showcase games and gadgets in development and announce future plans for incredible new games and gadgets. Millions of dollars are spent on these events. They have to hire staff to man the booths, and models to walk around wearing the ridiculous costumes of game characters. They have to fabricate plastic and fiberglass statues and props with blinking lights and massive TV screens and whatnot to visually compete with the big dogs. They have to buy thousands and thousands of custom-printed lanyards.
One of the things that most annoys me about these conventions is the stuff they give to attendees. Not the swag, like action figures or lanyards or whatever with company and game logos plastered all over it - that stuff is fine. A colossal waste of money, but fine. The thing that particularly grinds my gears is the digital stuff they hand out. Codes for mini-pets or cosmetic items.
That means the studio is paying a team of designers to create these frivolous items to give away to people who go to the cons, instead of paying them to fix bugs or create general content for everyone that would actually improve the game in some way. The really annoying thing is, you almost never see these items in the game. The people going to the cons and getting the digital swag aren't playing the games they've gone to see. So the resources that go into making these convention items is double-wasted.
E3 is an industry expo, rather than an event geared towards the fans, where the developers and hardware guys show off to one another and make big announcements in the press about the "next generation" of whatever they are peddling. It's a big money event, where big corporations sell their stuff to other big corporations. It also occasionally gives fans the opportunity to get hands-on play-time with games that are over a year away from launch. The developers bundle up their buggy, untested code, wrap it in cranked-up visuals and run it on top-end gaming rigs, delivering a gaming experience that will be almost entirely unlike the product that will be released 12 months down the road.
The big draw, really, is the pissing matches. Microsoft unveils the Xbox One, so Sony strikes back with a press conference that seems mostly to be about what an overpriced piece of crap the new Xbox is going to be compared to the PS4. Nintendo will be the next to whip out their console to see whose is bigger. I'm sure this is all really awesome for the console kiddies, but the only thing I care about, as a PC guy, is the vicious soap opera. It's like Game of Thrones without the nudity, and with nothing important or interesting happening.
And, of course, it's these massive squeaking wheels who attract all the attention - the ultra-powerful corporations who no longer really need the press. The small studios that actually need the press to create awareness of their developing products can't afford E3, and wouldn't likely get a whole lot of coverage even if they could.
For me personally, the only reason to ever go to any con is to see normal, nerdy girls in homemade slave-girl Leia costumes and dudes dressed up like Doctor Who and Batman. E3 has lots of "booth babes" - models hired to stand around in character costumes and pose for pictures with chubby, grinning teenage fanboys - but cosplay by fans is not as prevalent at E3 as it is at events like ComiCon, or even PAX. You get a few crazies, sure, but nothing like the army of cosplayers that go to fan-oriented events. And it's going to be particularly lame this year, because even though EA is resurrecting the Battlefront franchise, SWTOR (which attracts roleplayers, and therefore cosplayers) won't have a booth.
We have a few of our guys from Ten Ton Hammer attending and otherwise covering E3 this year, and it's their job to sift through the mountains of irrelevant garbage that come spewing out of the E3 press machine to find the choice nuggets of interest, like This slab of white-hot disappointment. I do not envy them in their Herculean task. Stay tuned for the few bits that actually matter.