Box Score: Taking the message to the core

The relative newness of the presentations shows, too. Each studio tends to have a slightly different approach. EA’s American Football team – covering NCAA and Madden – gathers a few key people together at a desk, with a moderator going through several power point slides then some live demonstration. The tone is conversational and informal. The NHL team took a slightly different approach, with NHL franchise GM Dean Richards standing at a podium addressing a crowd of invited guests almost like a press conference, followed by a couple of key developers doing live demonstrations of last year and this year’s products. NBA 2K, on the other hand, has gone for straight-up interviews in its promotion of NBA 2K13 with the ubiquitous “Ronnie2K” talking one-on-one with important team members.

As a person who does live demonstrations all the time, I’m keenly aware of all the problems that can occur. A dropped wireless connection, unplugged controller, or accidental menu selection can cause havoc.

“It can be nerve-wracking,” laughs Sean. “But, games as a whole on this generation of consoles have this connotation of being tough to get into. So when we were demonstrating in the presentation, we started talking about skating and our gameplay this year, and accessibility was a huge huge factor for us. Most of my demos I did in that presentation were just all the left stick and the creativity was the left stick and the left trigger.”

Some of the webcasts do what would have been considered heresy not that long ago – a direct compare-and-contrast of the upcoming game with one that’s still on store shelves today (not to mention played every day across the world). For example, in showing their newest skating and momentum features in NHL 13, the team did extensive before-and-after demonstrations between NHL 12 and NHL 13. The stark differences in behavior of skaters and goaltenders made it clear that the game would be fundamentally different and better this fall. So why, then, would I still play NHL 12?

“It’s a really tough balance between the two,” Sean admits. “If you’re still playing NHL 12, a lot of the things that we talked about will resonate with you when we talk about NHL 13. We’re proud of the game we put out every single year. We put our heart and soul into it. But with every game out there – there hasn’t been a perfect game made yet – there’s opportunity to improve on those.“

While all of the developers I talk to remain very open about their games – and eager to come on Box Score podcasts to talk about them – it will be interesting as we move forward how this new way of communication evolves. No matter how open and honest the developers themselves are, many will point to these webcasts as products of the publishers and, therefore, extensions of the marketing department; in other words, with no ‘journalistic’ integrity. Independent sources remain most trusted by discerning consumers, of course, but none can have 10,000 word previews and few (other than GamesRadar’s Box Score podcast, of course) will sit down with developers and creators to dive into the details of their games.

So it’s fair to say that we’ll never see the end of the traditional sports game preview, but it’s become obvious that the game makers view themselves as best-qualified to give their consumers the information they want, meeting them directly on their own schedule with full control of the message. Whether that’s brilliant or evil is up to you to decide.

NOTE: Here are some links to a few of the webcasts referenced here:

NHL 13 Community Day webcast
NCAA Football 13 Heisman Challenge webcast
Madden NFL 13 Presentation and Gameplay webcast