E3 is a stressful, crazy, and wonderful time of year. It’s electric; a sensational ride that sparks optimism from the first featured game trailer to the final reveal.
But, it’s also a conference that serves to cater to several different groups and demographics. Games media representatives are there to see new announcements, retailers show up to learn more about the products they’ll likely have on store shelves, and fans around the world tune in to see what games they can anticipate in the coming months and years.
Because of this, it’s rare to ever see an E3 conference go without the slightest hitch. Since its humble beginnings, E3 has seen a string of onstage occurrences that continue to be some of the most awkward today.
For some, this is completely genuine. Reggie Fils-Aime, Shuhei Yoshida, and others have a clear passion for gaming, and it conveys nicely onstage.
But there’s always at least one person who has very clearly rehearsed their speech and puts about as much enthusiasm into their performance as a washed-up performer in a soulless Vegas show. They’re hollow, they’re wooden, and no matter how many times they explain their excitement for the next announcement, we can’t help but feel the eager awkwardness of it all.
Worse than that are the companies and executives who try to “get down with the young people,” introducing cringe-worthy attempts at ‘street cred’ by playing up a gimmick or bringing someone out that the ‘kids’ might be cool with.
There have been a handful of times when this works really well, such as Aisha Tyler’s quirkiness taking center stage at the Ubisoft conferences or Nintendo getting the Robot Chicken treatment.
But then there’s the other side, the dark, damp corner filled with the Grand Theft Auto IV tattoos and Mr. Caffeines of the world. Acts like that badly miss the mark and drive the conference into disaster territory when kept unchecked.
Cult of Personality
It has long been an E3 tradition to trot celebrities out onstage to get the audience excited about new game features and announcements.
And hey, why wouldn’t you? When you can get a major Hollywood star to come out and talk about what a revolutionary new art form video games are, what else do you need to do to get people interested?
It’s a well-meaning sentiment, but it rarely does anything more than serve as an awkward moment. No amount of fake smiles and excited speech will convince people that Mr. Soccer Star is really, really pumped about FIFA’s all-new ball physics. And no matter how hyped up Usher tries to get the crowd, we’ll always be sitting there, staring blankly, checking our watches to see how much longer it could go on.
Games Freezing/Crashing Onstage
“And now, we’d like to show you this brand-new feature the team has been working on,” presenters excitedly say onstage.
The game starts up brilliantly, the character onscreen begins to move, and –
Suddenly, it’s frozen. Silent, unmoving, dead on the stage.
And then, what should be the most exciting part of a conference is suddenly the most awkward. A heavy silence hangs in the air as technicians scramble to get things up and running. Eventually, things may have to be cut short, the demo-ers escorted off-stage by sympathetic applause.
It’s awkward to sit in that audience, to watch as a demo flubs its display so badly as to completely ruin itself on one of the biggest stages in the world. As they exit the stage, one wonders how thoroughly coated in nervous cold sweat the demo-er’s hands must be.
I Like to Move It Move It
Onstage live demos of motion-controlled games never cease to be equal parts hilarious and awkward. In the wake of the Wii’s success, both Microsoft and Sony have tried to sell their own motion-based peripherals to varying degrees of success. And while Just Dance is a fantastic game for some, it’s not necessarily what the core gamer wants to watch throughout an hour – to – two – hour press conference.
It could be a workout game in which two adult men have a push-up contest onstage while a camera watches their every move. It could be Peter Molyneux speaking with a child entrenched in the uncanny valley and hoping we’re amazed. Or, it could be a group of Japanese musicians pantomiming an orchestra onstage. Whatever it is, it’s meant to be a thrilling proof of concept that will get people involved in the motion-controlled scene. What it turns out to be is the breeding ground for all sorts of memorable punchlines and amazing .gifs.
Four people stand on the stage, controller in hand, staring down at their respective displays. While tackling an area requiring tactics and strategy, they all revert to a strange, non-existent place in which players communicate by role-playing the characters from Top Gun.
“Squad, move out on the left flank!”
“I’m taking heavy fire!”
The only thing worse than this, of course, is the groan-worthy trash talk taking place between two players in a competitive multiplayer match.
“Ha, blocked you Scott!”
“Oh no you didn’t! I’m gonna’ get you Janna!”
“I don’t think so! Watch this.”
Back and forth this fake banter goes, carrying grimaces in its wake.
It makes sense why you’d want to have banter in your multiplayer game demo. Doing so helps people understand the focus of a game and how they’re meant to be played. But the reality is that even among friends, discussion in-game is far more likely to be expletive-ridden shouts than neatly choreographed conversations. It’s about as convincing as watching middle schoolers act out their reactions to peer pressure in an anti-drug skit.