Vague Patch Notes: E3 is gone, but it’s only half a victory

lol, no

So E3 is dead, and we’ve already shared some of our thoughts on the matter earlier this week. But as someone who literally wrote a whole article about how much I loathe trade shows, I have even more I want to say on the matter. And that starts with an extension of the premise floated on this week’s podcast: E3 was already dead. E3 didn’t die on March 30th, 2023. In my mind, E3 died on June 22nd, 2022.

Now, let me make something clear here: I understand exactly why the ESA decided to hire Reedpop to make E3 into a thing this time around. Nor am I implying that Reedpop somehow sabotaged the convention. Rather, what I’m saying is that hiring Reedpop to manage the convention was an a priori conclusion of the transformation that E3 had been undergoing for several years, and it was a transformation that isn’t exactly great for anyone who cares about accurate information. And it all comes back to PAX, the Game Awards, and solely working upon a closed set.

As I have been dropping a few truth bombs about game journalism over the past few weeks, here’s something that you probably already know (because we’ve written about it many times) but is worth stating again explicitly: This field can turn into an adversarial minefield really quickly. Absolutely no developer wants someone to roll in asking uncomfortable or inconvenient questions, and doing so can be a great way to get press access turned off… but just softballing questions or ignoring obvious issues is a good way to ruin your reputation with everyone else.

This is not to say that every single developer is a petulant baby who will throw a fit at any negative coverage of things they did. But it does mean that you have to tread carefully and deal with the fact that you are always walking a fine line of coverage between being critical and poisoning the well for no real advantage.

Developers, for their part, are often much happier to just control the narrative altogether and control precisely what access anyone has to information. This is usually pretty easy to do, but the more people are just bouncing around and talking the more you have the opportunity for a developer to go off the record and accidentally say the quiet part loud.

And from the audience perspective, there’s a simmering resentment about how game journalists get to go to a massive video game party that no one else gets to see.

How do I start to say goodbye.

I honestly feel like the genesis of PAX, on some level, comes right back to that “why should those people get to go to the Big Awesome Video Game Party” without ever realizing that E3 and trade shows were never Big Awesome Video Game Parties. PAX, as a convention, has gotten more and more hostile to people who are there to work over the years that I attended, in no small part because why should you get in early? It got to the point where a couple years the only reason I was able to get to interviews on time was because developers I knew held the door open for me, so to speak, because they knew as well as I did that I was there to work, not gawk.

Hiring Reedpop to do E3 was, in many ways, asking for E3 to be more like PAX. And PAX is popular. If you like going to Big Awesome Video Game Party, if that’s what you’re there for, PAX is really good at that. But it is good at that partly by being bad for actually having interviews or resources or spaces for people who are there to ask questions. The “big party” vibe is at odds with the “I would like serious answers to important questions” vibe.

So it’s obvious why fans would want E3 – long the fabled Big Awesome Video Game Party You Don’t Get To See – to be more like PAX. But developers also like that because it gives them more space to control the narrative. It slowly erodes the feeling of E3 as a place where people are trying to report and share information and creates a scenario where it’s a big platform to show trailers.

You know, like The Game Awards.

I have less than zero time for The Game Awards as an actual venue for awards, even disregarding the fact that asking for a show to be “like the Academy Awards for video games” is not actually prestigious. But The Game Awards isn’t really about that. It’s about showing a whole bunch of trailers and basically being a minor press junket that lets everyone show stuff off for the coming year. With no time for questions, or for examination, or anything beyond the PowerPoint presentation and no Q&A. Hey, stop asking questions, we’re about to give an award for the best narrative design in a sad dad simulator! No time for your nonsense.

Keanu, why.

And again, I want to make something clear: This stuff is important. My point is not that we should not have Big Awesome Video Game Party, even if I don’t personally want to go to that. My point is rather that we shouldn’t be making Big Awesome Video Game Party also be Time To Ask Important Questions, and then steadily decide that Big Awesome Video Game Party is the more important vibe until suddenly the important questions aren’t there any more.

This is one of the reasons I don’t like trade shows. Because as the end of the day, they are bad formats for getting real information out to people, in no small part because covering dozens of games in the span of a couple days makes everything wash out to white noise. That is not great.

But it’s also important to note that just because System A is bad does not mean that System B is automatically good. We replace bad systems with worse systems all the time as a society. Twitter was not a great site before it was acquired by you-know-who, but that did not improve it in the slightest. Blizzard was ailing under the leadership of J. Allen Brack, but it has not gotten better.

And now we’re getting rid of the not-good system of trade shows as a system of disseminating information about video games… and replacing it with all trailers, all parties, and much less substantive information. It doesn’t just make my job less pleasant to do; it means less transparency from studios who don’t want to provide it, and that’s not a good thing in general because it makes it that much easier to avoid a critical eye being turned on anything the people in charge do not want to have regarded critically.

So no, I don’t mourn the death of E3. But I would be remiss at best to imply that the death of E3 is somehow value-neutral or something that no one should care about in the first place. It’s the loss of something bad to replace it with something worse, and it’s an uncomfortable step further along the road to making the game industry harder to read and harder to hold to task.

On the plus side, at least that’s one less reason to fly out to California.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.
Previous article‘Real-time battler’ Spellcraft enters alpha today – here’s how to get in
Next articleDungeons and Dragons Online tests parts of Updates 59 and 60, including a new mount type

No posts to display

oldest most liked
Inline Feedback
View all comments