Spend any amount of time following the gaming industry and it's easy to get jaded, especially when the Electronic Entertainment Expo (or E3 as it's commonly known) rolls around. Marketing trailers are specifically designed for maximum hype over substance, many of them opting to show highly-polished footage that is in no way indicative of the final product. After watching a few, they all start to blend together, a hyper-violent medley of dudes stabbing/shooting/punching other dudes. New buzzwords are unironically dropped at press conferences, and you can practically hear the crowd roll its collective eyeballs.The dubstep… so much dubstep. And while many gameplay demos are legitimate, sometimes you can't help but feel like you're watching an expertly choreographed pantomime.
And yet, every year around June, I find myself just as excited to see the deluge of E3 pressers and trailers as I've ever been, soaking in all of the videos and tidbits of news I can muster. E3 season is a time when I feel like a kid with his nose pressed firmly on the window of the world's greatest toy store, looking at all the technological wonders I'll someday be able to get my hands on. It's the time when I tell my significant other that, no, I won't be able to eat dinner at the table this evening - there's a press conference starting in 10 minutes, and I can't miss a moment of it. After watching it from both the outside and in for so many years, I'm still enraptured by E3's hypnotic allure.
First, you've got the press conferences. All the biggest publishers in video gamedom rent out huge theaters and deliver 60-90-minute-long speeches telling us why they've got the best games in the business. It doesn't seem like it, but crafting a tight, entertaining conference is an artform. These info dumps have to be entertaining so you don't fall asleep when Microsoft rambles on for 15 minutes about Xbox apps you'll never use, and a narrative has to pull you along from the explosive opener, to the indie sizzle reel, to the "...and one more thing" at the very end. There've been more than a few duds in E3 conference history - just Google Mr. Caffeine or Wii Music for a taste (or better yet, don't). And who can forget Konami's 'extreeeeme' descent into the surreal? But for every deliciously cringe-worthy moment ("RIIIIIIIDGE RACERRRRR"), there are a dozen "Oh, snap!" moments that will have you gunning for your phone so you can share your excitement with your friends. For anyone with a passing interest in the future of their favorite pastime, the conferences are like a pure, concentrated dose of information and hype. This year, there are eight different conferences, and even if it weren't my job I'd be glued to my computer screen to watch all of them.
And this is before E3 technically even starts. The show officially begins on Tuesday (after a deluge of morning conferences, naturally), and the show floor plays host to even more game publishers, developers, accessory makers - heck, even indie games are starting to carve out a bigger space in the typically big-budget convention. Walking into E3 is like entering a Faraday cage filled with dubstep, carnival barkers, and giant statues; once you dive into the convention hall, good luck getting any messages in or out on your cell phone until you come up for air hours later. Game demos are littered throughout the show, each one helmed by an eager representative who slowly becomes more and more visibly tired as the week wears on. It's pure spectacle and sensory overload, but there's nothing else in the world quite like the noise of the E3 show floor.
It's astonishing to me that E3 continues to exist in the age of the internet, in the age where press cycles are tightly managed from a game's inception to release. Every year seems to be the year where armchair prognosticators predict the 'Death of E3', and thanks to Twitch and YouTube, these publishers have a chance to trickle their information out whenever they want. And yet, they continue to use E3 as a platform to announce their hottest games, turning the once three-day event into a week-long extravaganza. There's a sense of competition between these companies, as publishers use their conferences to one-up each other (much like Sony's magnificent smack-down of Microsoft at E3 2013). But there's also a sense of camaraderie; that, while EA and Ubisoft might be in direct competition with each other, at the end of the day, we're all just here to check out some spectacular-looking video games.
This year's E3 hasn't even started yet and it's already shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory. Metal Gear Solid 5, Fallout 4, Hellblade, and more will be at the show in some form, even more are rumored to arrive, and still more are likely to pop in out of nowhere and surprise us all. We all have games we're looking forward to seeing and games that we would love to see even though we know we probably won't (Beyond Good & Evil 2, anyone?). As publishers use the days leading up to E3 to announce games, as the leaks spring faster than ever before, even after watching these conferences for years, I'm still impressed by how much E3 continues to surprise me with the unexpected.
E3's certainly not perfect, though it's evolved a lot since its beginnings as an offshoot of the Consumer Electronics Show. Developers have to take precious time out of their schedules and money from their budgets to create a demo made exclusively for a single event that might be played by a handful of people - and if that demo flops, the whole project could be in jeopardy. Attending the show itself is also incredibly exhausting for basically everyone involved, and by the end of the week, even the most die-hard fanatic will likely want to avoid talking about games for a day or two and, I dunno, maybe read a book or something. It's also probably best to keep expectations in check, as that amazing demo you just saw might be made entirely out of smoke and mirrors.
But even with all its problems, I still look forward to E3 every year, so I can see where the future of my favorite medium is heading. It might not be hip to say you love E3, but there's something magical about it - that, for one single week out of the year, video gaming is the only thing in the world that matters. And even after 20 years of shows, I can't wait to see what E3 continues to bring.