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E3 2012: Lessons the big game companies have to learn from last year's screw-ups

E3 2011 was by no means a classic. Sure, we had a new Nintendo console to get excited about and two new handhelds at different stages of infancy, but put those highlights to one side and you're left with a disappointment that bites particularly hard because you know it can't be put right for another whole year.

However! That year is now up and hindsight is a wonderful thing, meaning there's no need for any of the big players to repeat their mistakes for 2012's Entergalactic Estrological Expedition. And in case they don't know where to start doing things right again, we've made this handy checklist just so everybody's clear:

Make the focus of your conference the focus of your conference

Microsoft did this almost too well, pummeling us into submission with Kinect's integration into everything from Madden to Cookie Monster. We're actually looking at Nintendo here. That Wii U 'reveal' was dreadful. A few of us 'got' what Nintendo was trying to do. It was showing off a new console by focusing on the new and innovative gameplay possibilities offered by a new controller that was being served by a new, HD-enabled Nintendo wondermachine. It was embracing the advances made by iPad and repackaging them in a way that only Nintendo can. But that was only some of us.

Above: Look at this new thing! It is not the new thing... WHAT?!

To the vast majority, the focus on the new controller was too much to comprehend. We should have been prepared for a curveball after the Wii reveal concentrated on the people playing the games rather than the games themselves, but no. This was a step too far. Even in our office, professional games journalists were saying 'so is it an add-on for Wii?'. No, it's a new machine. 'So where is it?' 'What does it look like?'. And, annoyingly, it was there, a small white box somewhere at the back, but Nintendo didn't want to show us their new console by showing us their new console. And that’s just too far-out a concept for us.

Give us specific things to get excited about, not vague potential

All of the big three were guilty of this one last year. Whether it was Reggie Fils-Aime saying 'you want to know specs? Well, it can do this...' before showing us a pretty render of a bird, or Ken Levine promising some form of BioShock would appear on PlayStation Vita. A year later, we still don't know the specs of the Wii U and Levine has said Vita BioShock is on hold until after BioShock Infinite is complete. And that itself has been delayed.

Above: Ken Levine teases some kind of Bioshock that's still being conceptualised, but that will appear on PS Vita. At some point. No 'what' or 'when'? Er... YAY!

And who could forget Sony's announcement that Resident Evil would be coming to PSP? That may not have been last year, but all we ever saw of that game was a logo. What we want... nay, demand, is for some concrete evidence of AAA-quality games actually in existence and actually coming to the machines we love within the next 12 months. Is that really too much to ask?

Choose your presenter wisely

If The Apprentice has taught us anything, it's that selecting the right person to deliver a presentation is of vital importance. But Last year's E3 was full of extremes. On the one hand, you had charisma vacuums with nice, so-inoffensive-it-hurts smiles like Don Mattrick, through to over-exaggerated 'characters' like Ubisoft's Mr Caffeine.

Hint: Do not say "poop on your toothpaste" or make 'going back in time' hand gestures (complete with sound) if you want people to focus on the game and not the presenter. And if you've got a world-famous author letting you use his licensed brand, make sure you can pronounce his damn name. Tom Calancy? Sheesh...

Likewise, children should be left in school. Nobody cares if they're great little actors. When you parade them on stage like pig-tailed meat puppets, we can see that they're not really playing the game. We can see that they're reciting carefully scripted and brand-approved words over idealised 'gameplay footage'. Sometimes they even simulate the lag. Other times, they're a bit late with their 'control' input and have to catch up with the game that's apparently now playing itself.

And they say awful things. Last year we had the meme-baiting 'fist bump'. And we still haven't forgotten Skittles. That thing stalks our every sleeping hour, nuzzling at stringy, sinewy scraps of our souls. Shudder.

Tell us about your new games while you're on the stage

Last year, Miyamoto let slip the fact he's working on a new Pikmin during a round table interview. Do we really need to point out that a megaton announcement like that should be part of the main event?

Above: No. No, you didn't

Sure, if you're Nintendo, you want to show the world and non-specialist media what your new machine is capable of doing. So we understand the need to get the key message across above all else… but let's be honest – who's really watching E3 except for specialist media? No-one. It's a geek fest for geeks. So give the geeks what they came for. They'll love you for it.

Show us games because they're great, not because they work with Kinect/Move

How many times did we hear 'yet another great example of how gaming is better with Kinect / PlayStation Move'? If your entire presentation is set up to justify a (literally, by definition) peripheral aspect of your console, your audience is going to notice. Ubisoft's Ghost Recon demo could have been so great, yet instead of concentrating on the gameplay itself, instead we got to see a man take apart a gun by waving his arms around in the air, then firing it (badly) at virtual cardboard cut-outs by doing a primary-school grade impression of a dalek. 

Above: EXTERMINATE!

Last year's emphasis on Kinect was surreal, appearing everywhere you looked in Microsoft's press conference, like it was the most important part of the console. In fact, it was taking over the console thanks to Kinect speech integration that works with the new hub. And speaking of which...

Keep the emphasis on games - don't focus on stats and dashboards

Yes, we know consoles are turning into media hubs. That's all very nice. But how long did we have to spend acknowledging the fact we we were going to have Netflix, YouTube, iPlayer, Facebook, Twitter and everything else integrated into our dashboards? It's very easy to sum up all of these things in a single slide.

Above: See? One slide can sum up the boring stuff quite nicely

You could even do it creatively, like that time Sony went through its boring financial statistics by presenting them as a level in LittleBigPlanet. It made LittleBigPlanet look excellent and endeared the game to us even more. Conversely, all the dashboard talk last year had us looking around for some handy and hopefully pain-free method of ending the suffering.

DON'T 'leave them wanting more'

That's the old showbiz saying that's supposed to keep people coming back for your next performance, but the polar opposite is true at E3. You've got to leave your E3 audience reeling from your shock final announcement as the lights go up and the music comes on, totally sated by the megatons you've just dropped on their worlds. Sony's press conference last year ended with... the announcement of the Vita's price point which was (at the time) competitive with 3DS. Then some DJ started playing and nobody quite knew whether the presentation had finished or not.

Above: Jack Tretton exits the stage and doesn't return, breaking a million gamers' hearts

As people started shuffling out, some of us were still watching the stage, hoping something good was going to happen. It wasn't even up with the Twisted Metal reveal of the year before, and that's saying something. This year, even though we've been promised no showings of Xbox 720 or PS4, either company could steal the show by giving even one tiny glimpse of the next generation. Even just an announcement that it's happening would be enough to leave us on tenterhooks for the next year. That or some 'target footage'...

Whatever it is, try to end on a high. And whatever you do, don't leak your big reveal a day beforehand.

E3 2012 will run from June 5-7 so there's not long to wait now. In the mean-time, why not check out our constantly updated and exhaustive list of E3 rumours?

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16 comments

  • Cloudiology - May 12, 2012 3:30 a.m.

    Thank you Justin! you presented a feature article like you guys used too! *high five*
  • Lurkero - May 11, 2012 12:28 p.m.

    The 2nd and 4th items are contradictory. You can't have it both ways. Miyamoto shouldn't talk about the next Pikmin game if there is nothing to show. If I am not mistaken, we have seen nothing of a new Pikmin game since last e3. Miyamoto had plenty of time before needing to mention it then.
  • slimjim441 - May 11, 2012 12:10 p.m.

    Lastly, don't not show anything about Half-Life.
  • shawksta - May 11, 2012 12:06 p.m.

    So it seems the even numbered E3's are being the overrall better ones, heres hoping 2012 is as great as 2010 or even better! Nintendo's last year was half and half, the 3DS presentation was good with fully revealing 3D land and out of freakin nowhere Luigi's Mansion 2, then you got the Wii U section that was basically a huge Question mark. Sony and Nintendo are no doubt gonna be good this year, Sony with All stars, sly 4 and whatevers coming(hopefully they finally show that game whose name I forgot thats been ignored for so long) and Nintendo with fully showing the final Wii U, Pikmin,Retros new game and God knows what else. Microsoft.......I dont know, Halo 4, Fable the Journey that molonyx wants to shove down our throats,talking about Internet Explorer with Kinect and I dont know what else, so far Microsoft is the least Im really expecting anything from but its E3 where anything can happen.
  • Meleedragon27 - May 11, 2012 1:55 p.m.

    I wouldn't be too sure about even-numbered E3's being "better," per se... I strongly remember E3 2008 as one of the weakest E3 conventions with disappointing press conferences all around (especially Nintendo... I haven't been able to look at them in the same way since).
  • shawksta - May 11, 2012 10:16 p.m.

    True, though honestly i dont remember much from past E3's except from 2009 to now, i guess 2010 just got lucky compared to 2009 and 2010.
  • Viron - May 11, 2012 10:11 a.m.

    Has it really been that long since the first Halo 4 screenshots? Time sure does fly.
  • Rainbow-Carnage - May 11, 2012 9:49 a.m.

    Let's, go back in time shall we. DOODLY DOODLY DOODLY
  • chad-munn - May 11, 2012 8:57 a.m.

    Last Year's E3 was pretty bad. I thought MS did the best, and even that I'd only give a B-. The presentation got me to buy Kinect though. I liked the Mass Effect/ Ghost Recon/ Forza usage and that got me to the store so... they did that well. What they did TERRIBLE was TOO much Kinect stuff. The kids were annoying (as usual) and the Halo 4 leak before hand was just laughably bad planning. The guy that posted the photos on the MS site should be fired or at least kicked in the nuts. The Nintendo was bad and bad and bad again. The focus being all about the WiiU that DOES seem like a Wii Add On and all we saw was controller ideas? And all that for a system that wasn't even due out? What about the current year game releases? What about stats? What about ALL the stuff that typically goes with talking about a new system? There was some cool stuff there, but it was buried in questions and speculations. Sony's was terrible. The only thing that saved Sony from being a joke was The Last Of Us. That was awesome and there's nothing bad to say about it. Other than that... Move is a terrible product. It's gimmick for Gimmick. The bragging about it and almost NO promotional materials on it made it seem like it wasn't coming out that year. And EVERY freaking Year Sony comes out and wags their $*#( around about numbers. They do this EVERY year. And EVERY year it's stupid. E3 is NOT the time to tell us how much money and/or systems you've sold. We don't care. Investor's care. We're gamers. We all KNOW that Sony is in last place. We all KNOW that they're struggling with this gen... don't come out and drag the show down by giving us pretend numbers that make us think you're doing great. We don't care- show us more games. And drop the Move. It sucked and we'd rather just keep using our Dual Shocks until you do something cool. Ubisoft... omg. That was really bad. Mr. Hyper was embarrassing to all of us. And EA could have done MUCH better as well. I'm hoping for a more polished, more focused and Much more game related E3 this year. And hopefully less leaks. So much of E3 was ruined by "accidental" leaks and truly accidental leaks. It was like wrapping your own Christmas presents last year.
  • taokaka - May 11, 2012 8:06 a.m.

    I'm hoping more vita games are announced because we haven't seen many vita related announcements recently, plus I really want to know when little kings story will release for vita. Although, I think I know how to fix the big three's shows for this year, firstly nintendo has the easiest job of showing people a reason to be excited for the wii u, don't just show games I can play on my ps3 or 360 and show some of their own games which will come out for it and not just tech demos. Also more 3ds games please, *cough* TWEWY 2 *cough* Phoenix wright vs Ace Attorney *cough* pokemon. Sony has it relatively easy as well, they need to give new information and release dates for The last guardian, Final fantasy versus XIII, Agent and a sequel to heavenly sword (I'll never stop hoping for one). Also more vita games, perhaps infamous, ratchet and clank and something patapon or loco roco like. Microsoft have it hard, they haven't done well at the last two E3's. What they need is to announce an exclusive not called halo or forza and not immediately following timed and preceding DLC.
  • ncurry2 - May 11, 2012 7:55 a.m.

    That slide with Miyamota and Iwata with the DS printing money makes laugh so hard every time.
  • Fox_Mulder - May 12, 2012 11:32 p.m.

    Dude Miyamoto's face! PRICELESS
  • archnite - May 11, 2012 7:44 a.m.

    I understand that E3 also acts as a presentation to investors and stores but couldn't they show all that stuff off in a stuffy board room after like Nintendo does with it's actual reveals and instead use the whole time showing everything they got!
  • A9entOfChaos - May 11, 2012 7:32 a.m.

    The Ubisoft guy shooting that gun for Ghost Recon looked so terribly awful. If that is the future of gaming, count me the **** out!
  • KidKatana - May 11, 2012 7:31 a.m.

    Spot on Towelly, great article. In a couple more aimed at Nintendo, I would add "no 'hilarious' antics from Miyamoto" and "no getting everyone's hopes up with an awesome Zelda demo that doesn't end up getting turned into a real game". They have a precedent on this shit.
  • shawksta - May 11, 2012 12:10 p.m.

    It wouldnt be a Nintendo conference without shenanigans especially with Reggie and/or Miyamoto They need to have a tec demo and you know, Wind Waker looks better than its tec demo so yeah......

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