OPINION: The danger of taking E3 out of context

Some surprises are always kept secret, and some expected announcements seem to disappear into nothingness.

But, with a certain degree of accuracy, we can always predict what we’re going to get from the platform holders at E3.

Is that depressing? No, not really. There are thousands of us around the world paid to watch, report on and predict about the world of gaming. Yes, we get it wrong sometimes but – SHOCK HORROR – some of us do know what we’re talking about.

I’ll tell you what is depressing, though. That just as you could write most of the E3 script a fortnight before the show, you can also predict exactly how the internet and parts of the media will react.

And it’s growing tiresome.

Look, it’s time for a reality check. Ten years ago consoles were about gaming. Just gaming. Then the Xbox 360 and PS3 went online, got online networks and it all changed. Then Nintendo had the gall to find a whole new mass audience and the games industry was altered forever.

But like it or lump it, that’s how it is. So if you’re still sitting down at an E3 presentation and expecting a feast of core-gaming worship, you’re setting yourself up for a fall.

Folk can turn up their nose at the merest mention of media content, mainstream franchises and celebrities all they like – but this IS the modern video games business. Or more accurately, it’s PART of the modern video games business.

Fortunately for us, for every soul-destroying Usher performance there’s an amazing Watch Dogs video. Gaming caters for everybody, including core gamers.

So don’t throw your joypads out of the trolley every time a publisher or platform holder unveils a motion game or licence that you’re not interested in. Just wait patiently for Ubisoft’s press briefing and you’ll be rewarded with excellent, core content.

But the most infuriating aspect of E3 so far is people’s total inability to judge it in context. Don’t forget, this is the E3 that was never meant to happen.

MCV has been getting a bit of stick overnight as it became clear that Sony and Microsoft are not presenting new hardware this year. Something we famously predicted WOULD happen.

If only you understood my longing to tell you who are source was on that. It really would, for want of a more professional and dignified term, shut you up”. But we can’t reveal it and that’s life.

What I will tell you, with 100 per cent sincerity, is that six months ago both platform holders DID plan to reveal their new consoles this year. Then when it became apparent that one had changed its mind, making the commercial decision that its strong-selling hardware could continue delivering for another 12 months, the other followed suit, welcoming the extra R&D time.

The situation that left us in, however, was that both were left with the task of trying to rustle up a compelling E3 sales pitch for their existing hardware while keeping all the truly innovative and new stuff behind closed doors.

Don’t forget, this is the E3 that was

never meant to happen.”

Publishers, too, are having to hold back a tonne of secret projects until the moment that the next-gen is officially unveiled. It’s a tough task for everyone.

And it really doesn’t help the already struggling industry when the media seems to desperate to slam it at the first opportunity.

The headline-grabbing, sensationalism-hungry press and media have a sack full of clichd criticisms to fall back on. No new ideas, no new IP, meaningless celebrities, stupid motion games, sequels to sequels of sequels… you know the drill. But you have to try and understand why this year, of all years, was always going to fall flat of expectations.

I’ll admit that MCV is intrinsically different to most of the games press in that we have an open agenda of promoting the games industry that we serve (which is hard to believe sometimes, considering the accusations that publishers have thrown at me behind closed doors – particularly in the last six months).

Our competitors, of course, serve only consumers instead, so would naturally have different priorities.

But you, the readers, do have a choice. Yes, it’s easy to LOLOL at Usher (my god, that was awful), Wonderbook (which, I might add, looks incredible and will be absolutely adored by my daughter) and Harry Potter Kinect (already my daughter’s top choice Christmas present), but just remember that this isn’t 1998. The games industry has changed. Competition is everywhere and platform holders that don’t reach out to the mass market will die.

Core gamers are still served brilliantly. For all my defence of the industry I’m a core gamer. I don’t play Wii. I barely use Kinect or Move. Facebook gaming can do one. But I have been left abandoned and ignored by the games industry in recent years? Hell no!

Recently I’ve been playing Dragon’s Dogma, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, Max Payne 3 and Akai Katana. In the last 12 months I’ve been treated to Mass Effect 3, Skyrim, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Battlefield 3, FIFA 12, Batman: Arkham City, Portal 2, Uncharted 3, LA Noire and Rayman Origins amongst many, many more. It’s been wonderful.

For me, the current generation has been the best ever for core gamers. Yes, it even beats the wonder days of the PS2. And trust me, I LOVE the PS2.

And the best thing is that as well as being great for me, it’s been great for others too. My mum owns a Wii! She likes Wii Sports. Mrs Ben has a DS on which she plays Brain Training. I can finally play video games with my daughter thanks to Kinect and the LEGO series. These things are good things.

The reality is that the next 12 months will be tough for the industry. I’d ask big questions about the very viability of the console sector. Gaming is so prevalent and so accessible now. We can game everywhere – on our phones, on Facebook, in banner ads, through a browser.

In my eight odd years as a games journo and over nine years in the games business, I’ve never known the industry as nervous as it is now. Platform holders are uncertain, publishers are reigning in spend, nerves are fraught. It’s hard to see a future for Vita, who knows if Wii U’s clever bag of tricks will catch on and no-one can be sure if gamers will be willing to spend 300 on new consoles in Q4 2013.

This is a war we’re fighting. And out best chance of winning is if we fight it together.

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