The Hype Machine
If you're remotely into video games, you will likely be aware of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, also known as E3. For over 25 years, E3 has been the industry's largest trade event, with publishers, developers and studios unveiling their next upcoming projects. The expo is hosted at the Los Angeles Convention Centre in the US. There have been many highs and lows over the years, from spectacularly hyped announcements, to embarrassingly awkward flops, goofs and fails.
Some major past highlights for me include the Super Smash Bros. Melee announcement in 2001, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess in 2004, Halo 3 in 2006, and finally, more recently, the announcement that Banjo and Kazooie were to appear in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in 2019. Of course, depending on your own tastes and preferences, you may have different highlights and announcements that stick out to you. Either way, it's undeniable that previous Electronic Entertainment Expos have brought some spectacular reveals to audiences across the globe. Understandly, with such a high-profile event on the horizon once again, the gaming community at large has once again worked themselves into a frenzy of anticipation over the upcoming potential gaming hardware and software unveilings. But - are they right to be? The next few sections below are all factors that have affected the expo's impact, for various reasons:
I think it's fairly safe to say that the impact and necessity of E3 has slowly but surely diminished over the past decade with the continued rise and evolution of the internet. To put it simply, the requirement for live stage shows has diminished. Many companies have elected to break away from the convention of using E3 as their primary platform for announcements, and instead have their own dedicated livestreams or events at various different points in the year. For the past few years, Sony has had no presence at E3, and since 2011, Nintendo have become increasingly reliant on their "Nintendo Direct" livestreams, forgoing any live stage show presence at E3. So, is there still even a need for E3, if studios are able to just host their own events at a fraction of the cost? Well, perhaps not. It has meant that it's not quite the bombastic occasion that it once was. But there's a part of me that enjoys the tradition of E3, with its all-encompassing nature. With so many studios, developers and IPs coming together at once, there's sure to be something for everyone, regardless of their tastes.
Smoke & Mirrors
Unfortunately, a practice that has become increasingly utilised during show floor demos over the past few years is fake demos. Demos of unfinished materials, designed to wow players with impressive graphics or features - but - are not true reflections of the state of the game in its current state. Watchdogs, No Man's Sky and Anthem were all guilty of this, showcasing a build of the game which was either far more graphically advanced than the product would be at launch, or lacking in features which were in the demo but absent in the final product. Of course, the elephant in the room here is the recent Cyberpunk 2077, which is by far the worst offender in this category as far as I can see. It has been in development for over 9 years, and although the E3 2018 footage showed a seemingly enormous, beautiful and intricate game world, it was sadly little more than a façade. Developers of the game have since come out and admitted that the "E3 build" of the game was being worked on separately from the actual product, and that it was only built to follow the specific actions that the player took in the demo, rather than act as the fully open-world game that it was marketed as. So, not only was the footage that people were seeing was not representative of the final product, but despite three delays, Cyberpunk 2077 released in an ugly, buggy, unfinished and unstable state. The general consensus seems to be that the game was far too ambitious in scope to realistically deliver in the time that the investors wanted, but due to the fact that the marketing hype had snowballed and caused such a frenzy of anticipation over the game, the company decided to capitalise on this and release the game, despite it very clearly not being anywhere close to what it initially promised. So, simply put - the footage that studios showcase at E3, and indeed other events or livestreams, is not necessarily representative of what the final product will be. It's a sad state of affairs that this seems to be increasingly normalised, but if you just bear this in mind every step of the way, you're less likely to find yourself upset when the end result doesn't quite match what was promised.
As previously mentioned, the internet has brought with it numerous changes to E3. One trend which has become increasingly frequent, especially in the build-up to events like E3, is leaks. Leaks are supposed bits and pieces of information pertaining to a new release, and this can range from artwork and video capture, to simple bullet pointed lists and tweets. The trouble with leaks is that they can range from semi-reliable leakers who have a reputation of accuracy in previous leaks, to nameless, baseless claims from anonymous so-called "leakers" which turn out not to have a shred of truth to them. I find that leaks can be quite damaging to be honest, even when they turn out to be true.
Even at their best, leaks that turn out to be true can take the wind out of the sails when it comes to official announcements. The 2020 Super Mario 35th Anniversary announcements, including the new Paper Mario, Super Mario 3D World and Super Mario 3D All-Stars announcements were all leaked long before Nintendo officially announced them. While these announcements were exciting on their own merit, the fact that people had knowledge of these ahead of time, with more time to sit and speculate, ultimately meant that there was disappointment from some fans.
And, at their worst, is when leaks turn out to be entirely false. They can get people hyped up and expecting something, even though the company themselves may not have anything remotely close to the leak to unveil. This ends up setting the bar very high for viewers as they tune into E3 shows, and it ends in disappointment, but due to the show being compared with a fantasy perception of what was actually going to be showcased.
There are a multitude of websites, YouTube Channels and apps dedicated to providing gaming content. This is all well and good, but in the age where unsubstantiated tweets are often all it takes to get the "leak" snowball rolling, it often isn't long before someone's half-assed "insider scoop" has become the talk of the town. It is frequently the case that once a leak is reported on, it is picked up by other outlets in the community and slowly but surely considered to be credible due to the sheer coverage it ends up receiving. Furthermore, there are many outlets, mainly YouTube channels focusing on Nintendo news, in which speculation can go far beyond what the initial "leak" information contains. I've seen countless clickbaity channels constantly cashing in lately on speculation over Breath of the Wild 2 and the alleged (and, at the time of writing, entirely unfounded) Nintendo Switch Pro details, and it's just tiresome. Unfortunately, this kind of content seems to attract quite a bit of attention, so it's easy to see why this kind of video keeps popping up. There's nothing wrong with speculating and discussing ideas on what you'd like to see coming up, but this kind of discussion is too often posed as if it is already confirmed. Ultimately, no matter how much you might want a new entry in your favourite franchise, or a HD remake of a childhood classic - no amount of false leaks or angry internet comments are going to make that happen. If it happens, that's great, and if it doesn't - that's fine too. Because they never promised anything in the first place.
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Boy, I really like taking the fun out of things, huh? I guess my contempt for overhyping things comes from my own previous disappointments, where I had let myself fall prey to the overexcitement, and ended up coming away feeling frustrated. And, since then, I've just vowed to go into events like E3 with no expectations at all, and that way I can't leave disappointed.
If you're watching any of the coverage of E3 this year, by all means, get excited. Sit back and enjoy the show - but please remember to hype responsibly.
Personally, I'm eagerly awaiting the absolutely-definitely-going-to-happen announcements of Pikmin 4, Half-Life 3, Portal 3, Mario Kart 9, Banjo-Kazooie Remastered and Skyrim 2: Electric Boogaloo.
Can't get enough of this topic? Well, I've got some good news for you. I've put together a short list of related articles, videos and other content from around the web that is related to what I've written about. Feel free to click away and take your brain on an adventure.