If you've read my three editorials covering the showings of The Big Three at this year's event, it should already be apparent I wasn't overly fond of the new incarnation of the Electronics Entertainment Expo put on this year. It had some highlights, granted: the incredibly impressive demo of Fallout 3, for instance; interviews conducted with Square Enix over Crystal Chronicles and Front Mission; a fantastic party hosted by Bethesda where we enjoyed free food, drinks, serenading from would-be cowboys, and pyrotechnic mishaps involving drunken S'mores preparation; the greatly diminished crowds and noise that had made prior E3s a horror; and hey, there were a number of quality games to play and see, such as Super Mario Galaxy, Zak & Wiki, and Assassin's Creed.
But despite a few nice points, the overall show was too unimpressive for me to have liked the experience this year, especially when I think back and contrast it to the incredible show put on in 2006. While some of the problems with the event should be apparent even to those who rested at home, there's more that I think someone really had to be there to grasp. The deepest, most severe issues could be summed up in three words, though: mismanagement, irrelevance, and unambitious.
Mismanagement was a readily apparent problem as soon as the layout of the event was announced, but let me make this crystal clear: having the entire expo spread out over multiple hotels was a really terrible idea. Think it's not a big deal? Think again. Having to rush back and forth between at least four different hotels was a logistics nightmare that afforded little casual time to try to appreciate the games on display and get a better impression of them. Timing was a real problem; at one point, I missed an appointment with a company because I couldn't get there in time -- the shuttle that should have taken me drove by the hotel where I was stranded instead. Ah, the shuttles. We got very familiar with those during the week, as attendees were guaranteed to spend an inordinate amount of time in those... time that would have been better spent gaming, writing, or talking with developers and PR. One other beauty of the shuttles was the genius idea of not having shuttle pickup service start until the time the doors opened to the show floor at Barker Hanger. If you made the mistake of getting an appointment at the start of the day (early birds, worms, and all that rubbish), you would have needed to have spent cold cash on cabfare, because the shuttle just wouldn't get you there on time. In civilized event planning, it's usually customary to start the service prior to event opening.
But then, this would only have been a truly major issue if one was inclined to spend any amount of time at Barker Hanger. This monstrosity of a locale was purportedly designed to replace the bustling convention center halls that served as show floors at prior E3s, where companies designed large and stylish booths to display a huge number of playable games. Not so with Barker, the most ghetto gaming event site ever designed. The hanger (it was, quite literally, a run-down airplane hanger) was a disgrace. Each company was allotted a microscopic amount of space (the booths held by Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft were this year about as large as the booth used by tiny little Nippon Ichi America in 2006) leaving precious little room for gaming demos. Sure, there were no crowds and you could devote more time to each demo, but there wasn't really a whole lot there to demo (and each game had, at most, two kiosks). Perhaps the crudest insult to the whole thing, though, was the restrooms... or lack thereof. They were actually situated in a port-o-potty trailer set up in the parking lot. I spent one afternoon at Barker; I never went back.
The second problem with this year's E3 was that it just seemed so damned irrelevant. The recognition of this aspect started to dawn on all of us when Peter Moore opened E3 by talking about airing the entire press conference live to viewers at home. But it all was even worse when we got back later and realized all the games they talked about that we intended to demo had already been uploaded to Xbox Live. Most of the media we were being given to upload was also being dispersed far faster than we could provide it. Perhaps this sounds a bit elitist, to suggest that it's somehow a bad thing to give more direct access to this content to gamers... but the repurcusions could be more damaging. It undercuts the need for the media to even be in attendance, and that makes the entire basis of the show irrelevant. At that point, why even bother to have such shows in the future? And wouldn't this adversely impact coverage of titles that deserve the special sort of spotlight a media event can afford, or games where it isn't really feasible to release internet demos? Direct content access is a great, great thing, absolutely, but maybe E3 just isn't the best time to do it.
By far the biggest grievance I have with the new E3, however, is the distinct lack of ambition that marked the whole affair. It was laid back, unpressed, unconcerned with driving the industry forth -- and isn't that what E3's supposed to be all about? The key phrases of the event seemed to be "the next six months" or "our holiday lineup." Where were the ambitious companies of old that used it as a staging ground for unveiling bold new lineups of games, talking about mid-to-long range plans, showing off hugely impressive projects that just couldn't be adequately presented in any other venue?
It was a really depressing theme which Microsoft kicked off at the start of the show, announcing only two new games. Nintendo continued that the next morning with only a sparse two new games of their own. Square Enix had no press conference at all, which only served as a painful reminder of how in 2006 they announced Final Fantasy XIII, Dragon Quest Swords, Final Fantasy Versus XIII, Final Fantasy Agito XIII, Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers, Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates, and so on. There was nothing new from Capcom, little new from Konami aside from confirmation of Silent Hill 5, one new game announcement from Atlus... this was the biggest letdown of the show.
I don't know what E3 will be like next year, or even where it will be located. I just hope that somehow the ESA recognizes what made the show such a smashing success in prior years, why there was such an allure to it from gamers and such an emphasis on it from the media. And I hope they can recapture some of that. This E3 was terrible; one of the worst large-scale gaming events ever put on. If 2008 is as bad as 2007, there might as well not even be an E3 2009.