Thursday, June 17, 2010

My Own Private E3

I've been having a lot of fun with E3 this year. I've watched all the major press conferences, tweeting along with my gaming twitter-friends with reckless abandon. I winced when Joel McHale tried to sell us on how "awesome" he thought Ghost Recon: Future Soldier looked. I was charmed when Miyamoto crashed onto the main stage at the Nintendo press conference, Master Sword in hand. I was baffled by Tak Fujii's nonsensical Ninety-Nine Nights 2 presentation at Konami's presser.

I learned that "presser" means "press conference."

And yet the twist, of course, is that I am nowhere near the LA convention center. I'm in my apartment in sunny San Francisco, catching up on end-of-the-year school stuff and screwing around on the internet during the first week of summer break.

I'm not sure how it stacks up to last year's conference, but E3 this year has certainly been the most web-integrated, accessible trade show I've ever experienced. Between the larger press conferences streaming in real-time at GameTrailers (who appears to be a direct sponsor of the event?), the constant hands-on updates from Kotaku and Gamasutra, and the insanely active #E3 tag on Twitter, it is possible to create an awfully convincing E3 simulacrum in one's own apartment or office.

Considering that E3 is essentially one humongous sales pitch, that kind of long reach is immensely beneficial to the publishers and electronics companies who host the event. Each new game reveal, live demo, and announcement spurs the salivating internet masses onward, igniting a storm of comments and tweets - "Did you try the 3DS yet? Will it give me a headache?" "How does Link control in the new Zelda?" "Can I play Kinect sitting down?"

And so this year more than ever, I'm seeing a concerted effort to address the internet audience, to include us in the proceedings. Many of the press conferences directly addressed the folks at home (Sony's presenter even jokingly referred to the no-doubt vast number of people ignoring their office work to tune in), and in keeping with their awareness of the larger crowd, Sony has even gone so far as to create an E3 "floor" within Playstation Home. I visited Sony's virtual showroom and came away fairly intrigued.

Don't get me wrong - as with so much of Home, it's a letdown in terms of content. In fact, there is nothing to do in the space except watch game trailers. There are seven of them strewn around the room, and by watching all seven, I was told I could unlock a "VIP" area that contained more exclusive videos. I could only ever find six videos, so as is so often the case in real life, I did not qualify for VIP access.

So yeah, the experience is missing a few things. There are no demos, no salespeople, and none of the virtual attendees can be seen grabbing free stuff or regularly re-shifting the weight of their branded swag-bags. There is nary a booth-babe in sight. But that said, some aspects actually did feel like a trade show.

In particular, Sony's Home space manages to conjure the sterile agoraphobia I feel when walking about an expo floor, navigating those blandly celebratory spaces while vaguely hoping that no one tries to sell me anything. Dodging among the herds of strangers, lining up at various screens, wishing I didn't look like just another automaton even though I know that I do. At GDC, I often felt lost among a shifting sea of neck-beards, blackberries and backbacks; the shift to Home's attractive but homogeneous avatars really isn't such a stretch.

So way to go, Sony! You've successfully re-created one of my least favorite aspects of convention-going while removing the hands-on experience that makes it worth bearing. But I'm sure this is only the beginning - if there were one industry I'd put my money on figuring out how to get virtual consumers to be able to truly attend trade-shows online, it would be the video game industry. And imperfect though this year's online experience has been, I certainly felt a lot more involved in E3 than I anticipated I would.

I've no idea how I feel about everything that was announced - it's obviously pretty tough to draw any conclusions about Kinect or Move until we know more about the games and whether they actually work. We'll be doing some sort of round-table here about how the next year is shaping up, since when taken with the appropriate spoonfuls of salt, that kind of prognostication is what makes E3 so much fun.

But in the meantime, it seems worth noting that I woke up on Monday, made coffee, and then almost by accident wound up attending the biggest gaming convention in the world.