The Smoke And Mirrors Of E3
If you spent any amount of time following what happened at E3 this year, you’ll no doubt be aware that a rather embarrassing photo from what appears to be the Xbox booth surfaced on the internet, not long after the show finished. The photo depicts a demo station with its doors open, and within we can clearly see that a gaming PC is being used to run the games being demonstrated. On a personal level, I wasn’t at all surprised. This kind of thing is always going on at E3, but usually we don’t get to see it. What I did find interesting, was the reaction to the photo, and how opinions differed depending on which side of the divide you were. Those within the industry broadly saw nothing wrong with the picture, and that’s what worries me.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should tell you that I’m not at all bothered about PC’s secretly squirreled away in demo station. I don’t think they should have Xbox One written above them, but beyond that? If the specs of the PC are comparable to the final hardware, then whatever. I do have a problem with some of the reaction coming from those within the industry though. Based on what I read in the aftermath of that photo going live, there seems to be a healthy amount people working within the games industry that don’t understand the reach videos games have now. They don’t seem to realise that the smoke and mirrors of old have no place in today’s interconnected HD world, and that gamers are more switched on than ever.
Those within the industry argue that E3 is a trade only show, and that all attendees are well aware of the smoke and mirrors that goes on. Within the confines of a closed conference hall, this is a valid argument. Once you’ve seen behind the curtain of E3, you know how things work. The trouble is E3 isn’t a closed shop any more. It’s streamed directly to our consoles in high-definition. Gaming websites cover every inch of it. Gameplay trailers, shown in an amphitheatre “for the trade only”, are on YouTube for global consumption within hours. The consumer has intimate access to E3, and most of them don’t know what standard industry practice is. If platform holders and game publishers want their E3 presentations to go beyond the trade show flow, directly out to consumers, they need to be much clearer about what they’re showing us. I have no problem with using PC’s – so long as they tell me that they’re doing so. The same goes for carefully scripted gameplay demo’s and pre-recorded demos. I want to know what I’m watching.
Speak to a game developer about that photo, and they’ll probably tell you they’re wondering what all the fuss is about. Their point of view is that they’re demonstrating the game, not the hardware, so why does it matter what platform it’s running on. Using high-powered PC’s inside the demo station is standard practice at E3, everyone who goes there knows it, and as a result this is a non-story. I have to be honest, I have some sympathy with this argument, but I think it falls down when you consider that photo in particular. It clearly says Xbox One above the monitors. There are controllers laying in front of those monitors. The whole stand is awash with the green and white colour scheme synonymous with the Xbox brand. People are going to assume they’re playing an Xbox One, regardless of any kind of standard practice. When the usual suspects are being interviewed in front of the pods, the gamers watching will, in all likelihood, believe that it’s Xbox One’s running those games.
When an industry insider defends the smoke and mirrors with something like “…well technically we never said it was running on a console” I roll my eyes. It’s a pathetic answer in my opinion, it’s what five-year olds do when their parents are telling them off. It’s the kind of answer given by people who know they’re morally in the wrong, but haven’t broken any actual rules. The point is, they’re not being wholly honest with their customers, and they know it. Previously, when E3 really was a trade show, they could get away with it. Now, with the whole world watching them, they can’t. Publishers and platform holders can’t continue with the same old sleight of hand if they expect to maintain consumer trust. Gamers want to sit down and watch these press events without having to worry about what they’re seeing. They want transparency, and personally I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
I’m sure that if you’re on the inside, E3 still feels like a trade show. To everyone else on the outside, it clearly isn’t. E3 is a global event that reaches out beyond the walls of the conference centre it’s in, and everyone within the industry needs to come to terms with that. The games industry has built a massive hype machine that allows gamers to scrutinise up-and-coming titles in greater detail than ever before. Pulling a fake-out is getting tougher and tougher, and in future, if they continue to use the smoke and mirrors, we’ll be seeing more company’s getting caught with their pants down. Every time one of these photos appears on the internet, it erodes the goodwill gamers have for developers. I for one just wished those industry insiders understood that.