E3 2012: Lessons the big game companies have to learn from last years 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 (opens in new tab), 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.


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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab)?

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