I noticed something in the gaming community recently. So far, almost halfway through 2020, we’ve had three news-like events as of this writing. Those events were the Xbox Series X’s first showcase featuring third-party titles, Geoff Keighley's presentations, and the first night of IGN Expo. At least in the circles I hang around, the hype leading up to these events was approaching E3-level… until they actually aired. I saw a lot of complaints, ranging from how boring the audiences thought the show was, to complaints about production values and more. Frankly, I don’t think the showcases were that bad. But I do think there’s a general feeling of something missing. And it all goes back to the pandemic situation.
As much as we like to complain about E3 for various reasons, there’s nothing else quite like it. It’s almost like Gamestop, which sees plenty of criticism from the community but ultimately serves a purpose few other stores do. E3 is an experience; it’s the Phils and Reggies of the gaming world standing on massive stages, giving their prepared speeches before the onslaught of gaming news. It’s video reels of crowded show floors, elaborate booths and decorations, dimly-lit hallways aglow with the lights of company logos and monitor screens. These are experiences, even when watching from home.
Now, while we’re watching from home, we’re just watching people at home from home. We’re all in this together, after all. Even Microsoft, one of the wealthiest companies in the world, could only do so much on a presentational level. We saw streams of webcam feeds cut with the usual E3-style trailers, over and over. There are no stages, no production studios, no lights. Just fuzzy videos of developer or corporate faces, sitting in their home offices, giving us the usual breakdowns of their content. There’s an intimacy to it, but all the pizazz is gone. I guarantee that, if these streams were exactly the same but with more marketing juice and production behind them, far fewer people in the chats would have been bored.
It won’t all be the same, though. Sony’s PlayStation 5 reveal is about to run, and Sony has done a much better job adjusting to the situation. People are working from home, but State of Play events are still running. Sony even had its repurposed GDC talk produced with a fake stage, which sort of helped emulate the corporate presentation experience. As silly as that sounds, it helped the gaming community feel some normalcy, which was probably refreshing despite how GDC talks aren’t crowd-friendly. For whatever is planned for the PS5, it’ll likely have a lot more hype than the more people-driven IGN Expo stream.
I’m just making an observation really, as from my perspective some of the muddled reactions to the game reveals so far this summer have surprised me. Sure there was controversy over things like the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla “gameplay” reveal, and we haven’t quite hit the “megaton” announcements yet. And Nintendo is conspicuously struggling to adapt to the working from home situation (as is most of Japan). But personally I’m touched by how stubborn the folks in my media circle and the gaming industry’s corporate circles are being. Despite everything, we’re still seeing announcements crawling from the rubble of cancelled events. It’s impossible for the same level of flair. At-home video production, away from offices, filming locations, and studio equipment, can only look and feel so good. It’s simply the reality of the situation we’re in, and I hope the steady stream of content makes up for it once things really get rolling.