Misconceptions about the Big Show
With E3 2010 now over and done with, in trying to figure out what comparison I could make that would help you to truly understand what it is honestly like, I decided that it probably is the closest experience I've had so far in my lifetime to how it would feel to birth a baby.
Stop looking at me like that, as I'm being serious here.
Let's look at how it typically plays out. First, there's the build up to the show, as you plan for the date, stash away money for it, and get more and more excited as the time when "it finally happens" draws near. That long-away day then comes (a.k.a. the day conception is achieved), and all you can think about is the extreme amounts of bliss and joy you'll now be in store for. However, the longer it goes on - time here is compacted from nine months to three days - the more you start asking why you ever wanted to put yourself in such a situation in the first place. As you finally reach the home stretch, you're tired, cranky, worn out, and not only ready to get the damn experience over with, but swearing to yourself that you'll never do it again.
I have attended E3 I believe five times now, and every time I do I realize I've been hoodwinked by the event. At the close of each show, I've belittled myself for going to such an epic waste of time and money, and yet every time it rolls around again I can think of nothing else but going to E3. I have to go! If I don't, I swear I'll die, or at least squirm around on the floor throwing a tantrum! This year is going to be totally more epic than last year's show!
For all of you out there who have never attended E3, I know how you feel: the idea of going to the show is like thinking about going to a world where everybody of your preferred sexual attraction is totally hot and every meal is your favorite dessert. Let me, however, find sadistic satisfaction in stomping all over those fantasies of yours by telling you the bitter truth on a few key points about E3.
Myth #1: You'll Get to Play Awesome New Games
Of course, the main reason people go to E3: to play the games! There's a lot of amazing stuff coming up in the future, and here is your chance to try it all out and know what you should most be paying attention to!
The reality is, E3 is probably one of the worst venues for getting any clue about how good (or bad) the games being shown off are. Game builds available on the show floor are often either very limited demos or demos that put you in some absolutely random part of the game that is absolutely terrible for expressing what the game is really about. Then there is actually having the chance to try them out: with the show floor filled to the brim with visitors, and with most games having at best two testing stations, getting quality time with a particular title can be tough.
This is especially true with the more popular fair; Metroid: Other M as one example. I wanted to finally give it a go, so I hopped into line, only to have it not move one inch after about 15 minutes. Wait time for the new Zelda was even worst at an hour or more, which is absolutely ridiculous if you have any real goals for what you're going to see or do at the show.
The popular question to ask when making small talk with others at E3 is "what is the best game you've seen at the show?" A friend of mine commented that he hates that question, because there's absolutely no way to realistically answer it from the bite-sized pieces of games we're fed. Whenever others asked that of me, I honestly couldn't answer, both because of that very problem and because I couldn't even remember everything I had seen. After a while, the countless LCD televisions, flashing lights, decorated booths, and company handlers explaining which button does what just kind of all melt together into one big blur.
For me, E3 has at best been a way to get a lot of quick hands-on time with as many games as I can cram into three days, mainly for the benefit of giving me an idea of what caught my eye enough to check out later. Of course, that said, I can't begin to tell you the amount of games that haven't pulled me in at the show only for me to fall in love with them later; Jet Set Radio was one great example, as is Dead Space for something more recent.
This point really hit home for me today when noticing the games that had been given awards by various media organizations. "Best game of E3" on one, or "most surprising downloadable game" on another. Best of E3? Are organizations like IGN or Gamespot even big enough to have tried out every game at the show to the extent that they could make such judgement calls? Or are said awards nothing but fluff decisions and marketing tools for the benefit of both said gaming coverage outlet and game publishers?
No, you don't have to answer; that was rhetorical.
Myth #2: You'll Get Awesome Free Stuff
For me, the fact that this idea still lives on to this day is a little surprising. While I can't remember where, I overheard it pretty recently during a conversation, as one friend said to another, "bring me back some cool stuff from the show!"
It is true that, at one time, E3 was an untamed utopia for gaming-related chachkies of all shapes and sizes. What I hate to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, is that those days are long over. You may still find the occasional t-shirt here and there, or a small little branded item that you can buy in bulk from any decent Asian import/export company, but beyond that the freebies are few and far between. Even the silkscreened vinyl bags that are such the rage at many E3 booths feel like a product of shows long past, as a requirement for something to carry all of the thick, elaborate press materials you'll be receiving is not as common now that most publishers aren't even producing much of those anymore.
The main swag now are business cards directing you to online digital press kits; yes, I know, but please, try to control your excitement.
Myth #3: You'll Learn All of This Hot Info
Easily one of the most mistaken beliefs about E3 is that simply by walking into the doors of the show, the combined knowledge of the video gaming world will instantly be transferred into your brain.
In fact, more often than not people who are actually at the show know jack crap about what's going on or what has been announced. It wasn't until I finally made it home tonight and checked on the internet that I even knew that Pac-Man Championship Edition for PSP Minis was re-confirmed and Pac-Man CE DX would be coming to Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network: and this is Pac-Man CE, like one of my favorite games ever!
The reason it's far easier for you at home to know what is going on versus us who were actually at E3 is that you've got the benefit of pulling from the combined knowledge of the hundreds of people trying to cover the show. If I'm at E3, and spend an hour learning about then reporting on New Game X, what took me 60 minutes to get a feel for may take you less than six. You can hit a message forum (such as the lovely ones we have here at TNL) and get a steady feed of information that is being brought to you by a lot of different people who are all going after specific pieces of that information. For you, the Konami press briefing is a simple click or two of your mouse away; for me, it was an event held somewhere I didn't have an invitation to at a time when I had other commitments to attend to.
Most people in the media are well aware of the reality of the situation: you can learn far more in your pajamas staying at home than you can going to the show.
So, after all of this, why go? Well, it is about seeing new stuff, learning breaking news, and yeah, maybe a decent freebie here or there; however, it's also (and possibly more) about the gaming community as a whole. Meeting those contacts you've only previously spoken to via telephone, or trying to get your business card into the hands of somebody you've yet to establish a relationship with. It's about schmoozing, and introductions, and putting faces to names, and the random chance of being in the right place at the right time for an interview or special encounter. It's about actually seeing the people who make the games we adore or rip to shreds, to help us understand that they're real people with real passion (hopefully) for what they're doing. It's about sitting down with a Japanese producer and asking him questions that, normally, would take weeks and the approval of three different parties to get answered.
Just like I did last year, I sit here, at the end of another E3, glad it's all over with and confused as to why I'd put myself through such torture. And yet, without even a second though, I know that come this time next year I'll be chomping at the bit in hopes of going again. E3 is a crazy, chaotic circus of an industry event, and yet I wouldn't have it any other way.
(Special note: My first E3-related posting where I didn't hit the character limit for posts. I'm proud of myself!)