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Alone In The Dark: Zark’s E3 Rant

June 4, 2009

soapboxThe week of E3 is an exciting time to learn about what’s coming up in the world of gaming.  Yet as I watch E3 unfold this week, through coverage on G4TV and on gaming sites like Kotaku and Joystiq, I tend to feel “alone in the dark” with regards to my gaming preferences.  Maybe I missed the memo, but when did the word videogame come to only mean first-person shooter?  But I thought about it more and more as the week has gone on, and I’ve come to realize that I maybe I’m really not as alone as I thought I was.

I missed watching Microsoft’s press conference live, because I thought it was in the evening (I caught up the next day).  I saw some of EA’s press conference and all of Ubisoft’s on Monday.  The first of the “big 3” that I really sat down to watch, then, was Nintendo’s press conference Tuesday morning on G4TV.  A few things immediately jumped out at me.  First, G4TV’s “B” team was covering Nintendo.  Three guys I’ve never seen before.  Morgan Webb?  Adam Sessler?  Kevin Pereira?  Nowhere to be seen.  Second, as I’m waiting for it to start, I’m reading tweets from attendees in line saying “I love you E3 but I hate that you are so early.”  Wow… 9am.  Must be a tough job.  Third, right before the start of the event, the 3 talking heads on G4TV spew out their list of games they “demand” to see over the next hour and a half, or else Nintendo’s event will be worthless.  New Zelda.  New Mario.  New Metroid.  New Kid Icarus.  Um, last time I looked, Nintendo was doing pretty well without your list of demands.  One talking head, Billy Berghammer, who was described as the “Director of Gaming Editorial,” meaning he’s in charge of the G4TV website among other things, actually pulled out the tired old phrase “I mean, when was the last time you turned on your Wii?”  (My answer, btw was “last night.”  His was MadWorld which was released almost 3 months ago.)  Rather surprising, given that he started in the gaming industry by running some Nintendo fan sites (yeah, I looked him up).  Or maybe not so surprising, given the game journalists club he belongs to now.

So the Nintendo press conference starts, and I thought it started pretty well with the announcement of New Super Mario Bros. Wii.  Polite claps from the audience.  Was anyone there?  The whole press conference went that way, with the announcement of Metroid: Other M being the only thing that aroused more than mild clapping.  G4TV’s take afterwards was pretty positive.  Not gushing, but positive overall.  I looked over the last hour of so of tweets and see things like “seems like everyone here is just passing time until Sony” and “ok nothing really cool happened there.”  Did I watch the wrong press conference?  Because I’m pretty sure I just saw New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Wii Sports Resort, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Metroid: Other M, The Conduit, Dead Space: Extraction, Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, Mario vs Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis, Golden Sun DS, Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story… yep, nothing to see here.

G4TV then switches to the “A” team over at the Sony press conference.  Adam Sessler and Kevin Pereira.  Lots of talk of the leaked PSP Go!, God of War III, and so on.  Their conference starts to cheering applause.  And more cheering applause all the way through.  Was this crowd at Nintendo’s conference, or did they just camp the Sony line?  Overall I’d say it was good, much better than last year (stay tuned for a separate E3 wrapup post with my specific thoughts on the press conferences and show news).  What really stands out to me was something that happened during the PSP portion of the conference, when Jack Trenton was discussing upcoming bundles.  They showed a Hannah Montana bundle with game and lilac-colored PSP.  There was a sort of sneering cheer from the “professional journalists” at that.  Jack Trenton rolled with it pretty well, and it happened again later in the show to a lesser extent.

So “professional game journalists” think it’s okay at a press conference to wildly cheer every Uncharted 2 game and sneer at a Hannah Montana one?  I’d never play a Hannah Montana game, but it does qualify as a game, right??  At Ubisoft’s press conference, they asked the crowd to guess what their number one brand was.  There were about 5 shout-outs from the crowd, none of them right.  The answer: Imagine.  As in Imagine: Babysitters or Imagine: Interior Designer.  Their Petz line is also in their Top 5.  These properties drive their bottom line, and I’m sure allow them for freedom to develop games like Assassin’s Creed 2 or Splinter Cell: Conviction to their fullest extent.

Are game journalists so vapid that they don’t understand that?  As I said before, Ubisoft spelled it out in their press conference.  A quick look at the Top 10 games of the year, in terms of sales, show Nintendo in the top 5 spots, #1-4 on the Wii and #5 on the DS.  I’d say, of the top 30 titles, about 11 are what I’d consider hardcore gamer titles, like Street Fighter IV, Call of Duty: World At War, Resident Evil 5, Halo Wars, and so on.  But for every one of those in the top 30, there are essentially 2 non-hardcore titles, like Pokemon Platinum, Mario Kart DS, Brain Age, Nintendogs, LEGO Indiana Jones, Kung Fu Panda.  Even Animal Crossing: City Folk, which Brian Berghammer dismissed prior to the Nintendo press conference as a rehash, has sold over 3 million units worldwide.  (Animal Crossing: Wild World is over 10 million!)  Non-hardcore titles drive this industry, and companies know it.

Look at EA.  They had no Wii titles at the launch of the Wii, but by February 2009 they were saying that Nintendo was “getting half our emphasis in terms of title counts.”  EA Sports Active sold over 600,000 copies in its first 2 weeks of release.  Ubisoft released Red Steel on the Wii, which was poorly reviewed (63 on Metacritic) but which sold about half a million copies in the U.S., 1.14 million worldwide.  They also released No More Heroes on the Wii to pretty good reviews (83 on Metacritic) but only sold 400,000 copies worldwide.  Both are getting sequels because of the power of the platform.

Before I go further, let me state that I wouldn’t rate Nintendo’s press conference the best.  I might not even rate it second best.  Part of it is Nintendo’s fault, because Nintendo treats E3 like a press event and not like a gamerfest.  I’m not sure how many attendees are the Kotaku’s of the world, and how many are from traditionally non-gaming media outlets.  Nintendo is clearly talking to the non-gaming media in their E3 press conferences.  Their slogan this year, Everyone’s Game, is a pretty stark example.  Maybe E3 is the wrong place to present their message the way they do.  But you can’t argue their retail success over the last few years, regardless of their showing at E3.  And their success is built on a non-hardcore foundation.

It aggravates me to watch and/or read “professional game journalists” act like they’re in some exclusive club where first-person shooters are allowed but nothing else.  But I’m starting to think the club is us, and we’re just waiting for the game journalists to join the fun.  Take a cue from Nintendo’s blue ocean strategy.  How much bigger would G4TV be if everyone who plays an Imagine game goes to their site to learn more about it and upcoming titles?  How many gaming magazines might have stayed in business if their previews articles included games like Style Savvy in addition to Halo: Reach?  When game journalists start applauding Sony for capitalizing on the lucrative tween market by releasing a Hannah Montana PSP bundle, they might have finally gotten it.  Until then, game journalists need to wake up before their own industry passes them by.

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One comment

  1. wow. I don’t know where to begin. Too many good points to agree with. Finally some rational E3 coverage!



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