The Essential E3

You're reading Reaction Time, a weekly column that claims to examine recent events, games and trends in the industry, but is really just looking for an excuse to use the word "zeitgeist." It debuts on Fridays in Engadget's digital magazine, Distro.

It's easy to separate fresh freelancers from deeply ingrained industry curmudgeons on the E3 show floor. The former group barges into the Los Angeles Convention Center with a spring in their step, a sparkle in their eye and the reverent willingness to strip down and be consumed in wonderment, as the show caresses and dazzles them with gaming's finest wares. Cynicism and numbness haven't had an opportunity to creep in yet.

Meanwhile, the other guys are having a cigarette and talking trash on the other end of the spectrum. They're more likely to describe the Electronic Entertainment Expo as a disorienting nebula of noise that flattens the senses and squeezes the humanity out of you from bottom to top, like it's the last bit of toothpaste in the tube. To them, E3 is an exhausting act of catching bullets in a burning ammunition depot, with breaking news and rapid-fire developments flying in from all directions.

What makes E3 so fascinating to some – and so irritating to others – is that it doesn't have a filter. It's not particularly aimed at just press, consumers or retailers anymore, so it just spills over everyone and blasts out light and sound in 360 degrees. Joystiq sends a massive team of writers to cover the event every year because there's so much of it, and so much of it is in need of filtration and packaging. From the perspective of readers and podcast listeners, the press should function as both translator and bulletproof vest.

Once you cut through the ridiculous opulence – a product of the friction between big publishers and competing games-as-products – you find all the bits that make for exciting reading. Most of the interest is directed at the big news conferences, in which manufacturers drop their metaphorical bombs and appeal to our love for a good surprise, but those don't give much insight into the development of big-business games. What we're looking for are the small glimpses into the future, that you can only get when all of the industry's players are in the same space for a few hectic days, talking, shaking hands and sweating and emitting the odor of convention-center humanity.

In some ways, the show is about survival just as much as it is news gathering and interviewing. The sea of people, which incorporates industry executives, marketers, retailers, foreign press, guys who have an uncle at Gamestop, and developers, is a pulsating, infectious beast all by itself. And for the press, which has a slightly antagonistic relationship to many of the show's players, it can be hard to shake the feeling that subtle assassination is in the works.

There's little chance of writing anything negative, for instance, if your internal organs have been pulverized by the sound waves coming from 16 subwoofers and tweeters cranked up to jet engine volumes. The fact that E3 doesn't elicit a noise complaint from another galaxy is either proof that there's no intelligent life out there, or that aliens are more polite and patient than we give them credit for. For some reason, publishers and marketers believe that nobody can be impressed unless they're blown away in a cinema (another habit gaming has picked up from Hollywood). Give us a calm chat with a developer or studio boss, please!

It's easy to fall into the camp of E3 cynics (and even harder to find your way out) after a stroll through the convention center, which is usually dark save for the lights of a million screens and flashy logos. The forced excitement, made palpable through glitz and excess, can bulldoze the real excitement of what should be a remarkable venue. Everyone is in one place, planting a flag that represents the growth and continued evolution of the medium as a business. It just happens to be a flag covered in sequins and flashing LED lights.

Tolerating the tacky side, and treating E3 as a necessary evil, is what we end up doing every year. It's why journalists and readers share an equal amount of delighted exclamation and dispirited eye rolls. The small, untold stories should emerge if we show up and find them, and give them the same space we do to the big, easy announcements. If we're doing our job right, you'll come to think of E3 just as we do – as that best, worst, exhausting, exciting, stupid and awesome show. See you all next week.


Ludwig Kietzmann is the Editor-in-Chief of Joystiq.com. He's been writing about video games for over 10 years, and has been working on this self-referential blurb for about twice as long. He thinks it turned out pretty well. Follow him on Twitter @LudwigK.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.