In the beginning was the word, and the word was: “EXCLUSIVE.”
And Lo, the word did boom out across the Microsoft E3 conference at regular intervals, as though the voice of God was speaking; as though the Lord has nothing better to do than tell everyone that Black Desert will be available only on Xbox. For a limited time.
And the people cried unto the Lord, “But Lord! What is the difference between an exclusive, a timed exclusive, a console launch exclusive, and an exclusive world premiere console launch exclusive?”
And so the Lord sent down his representative on earth, and Lo, the son of God turned out to be a man called Phil Spencer wearing a pleather bomber jacket. And he did unveil to the world the Xbox One X, which yes is a stupid name, but let’s not forget Nintendo once named a console after a British colloquialism for piss.
And the rest of the conference consisted of some videos, and Phil Spencer talking about the videos, and introducing many other men in smart casual attire to the stage, so they could also talk about the videos. And so it was that yet another E3 conference had come to pass.
And so it has been for hundreds of years – but things weren’t always this way. Back in the early nineties, otherwise known as the time of the Great War, E3 took place in a giant field outside LA. Two giant marquees were erected: one resplendent in Nintendo red, one blazing with Sega blue, divided by an enormous trench topped with barbed wire. Attendees were forced to pick a side and stay there. Anyone attempting to cross enemy lines was punished by being locked in the tiger cage with a Philips CD-i.
Then there was that weird period in the late 2000s, when the platform holders decided to try selling games to women and children, and design controllers they could operate despite the limitations of their tiny brains. So for a while, E3 conferences consisted mainly of female executives being forced to dance while their sinister overlords watched, space ponchos, and Peter Moore being crap at Rock Band.
But my favourite conference moment, and my fifth best E3 memory of all time*, has to be when Sony bosses Jack Tretton and Kaz Hirai attempted to have a totally naturalistic interaction within PlayStation Home. Sadly I can only find amateur footage of the event – presumably Sony has had all the official evidence destroyed, like Stalin putting photos of Trotsky in the shredder.
Basically, they have a bizarre chat about turkey burgers, then Hirai announces he’s off, and Tretton declares, “I’ll chill here on the deck.” The whole thing exhibits a level of humanity and emotional depth that makes Theresa May look like Trisha.
Back in those days Sony conferences were legendary, mainly for their length. They would often go on for several days, until journalists had started drinking water out of the toilets and building makeshift shelters out of UMDs. One event famously lasted so long that the handheld they announced at the start of it was obsolete by the end.
How things have changed. This year, Sony’s E3 conference lasted one hour. It was hosted by just one man, Shawn Layden, who basically got up there and said: “I’m just a guy, standing in front of some other guys, asking them to love his games.” (Although he did throw in a cheeky “push the envelope”, just for old times’ sake.)
Meanwhile, as has been their preference for the past few years, Nintendo didn’t bother with a conference at all – they just put together a jolly video. It begins with Reggie Fils-Aime spouting some absolute guff as though he thinks he’s reading Rudyard Kipling’s If, and ends with a trailer that suggests the new Mario will be completely f***ing bonkers. You could argue it should be. But I will just say this: there’s, “Hey, let’s be a little looser with the IP and try something fun and new and different,” and then there’s the Star Wars Holiday Special.
(Don’t even get me started on Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. Who buys the Rabbids games, anyway? They have sold in their millions, yet no one will admit to it. They are the Black-Eyed Peas of gaming. And don’t blame the kids – even my six-year old is freaked out by their bug-eyed insouciance. Mario teaming up with the Rabbids is like Beyonce announcing a collab with Daphne and Celeste.)
So what does the future hold? I predict this trend for stripped back, low key conferences will continue. By E3 2020, the Sony event will last for two minutes, and will simply be a mime artist holding up a series of cards displaying things like:
Nintendo will just do a tweet. Microsoft will be 45 minutes of Phil Spencer screaming the word “EXCLUSIVE!” while Major Nelson circles him on an ATV, firing a gun and shouting, “U-S-A! U-S-A!”
And I will miss the E3 conferences of old. I already do. I’m pining for the stupid nonsense they used to pad those things out with – the endless graphs, the awkward banter, the utterly pointless updates about the advertising deal between Sony’s rechargable battery operation and the people who run the Hard Rock Cafe in Malaysia.
The fact is, I did watch every conference again this year, and not just because I have to write about them for money. Even now, there’s something about E3 that gets me excited about games, that makes me want to pick up a controller and explore this rich variety of magnificent worlds, to be told new stories, to forge new paths. Basically, I quite fancy Sushi Striker and Assassin’s Creed: Carry On Up the Nile. So here’s to E3, and here’s to those daft press conferences – long may they continue.
* Here are my top four favourite E3 memories of all time:
1. When Rupert had too much sherry on the plane and upgraded the rental car to an Escalade. I’d never sat in a car with heated seats before and I thought I’d wet myself. We passed a group of journalists from a rival publication vainly trying to hail a taxi, and Oli cruised slowly past them, while I rolled up the window.
2. That time I walked into the VIP section of the Microsoft conference, and no one stopped me because I was a woman wearing a suit, so they all just assumed I was the entertainment buyer for Asda, and I watched the whole thing sat next to Shane Kim.
3. That time a certain high profile developer told me something he really shouldn’t have, and offered me anything I wanted in exchange for keeping shtum, and I got to go back to the bar and inform the lads I now had Peter Molyneux’s balls in a jar.
4. A tabloid journalist friend of mine was flown out by a platform holder specifically to cover their conference. He got too pissed and missed it. He attempted to cover his tracks by watching the video online, and writing a report based on that. Unfortunately, he watched the video from the previous year.
Ellie Gibson is currently appearing as the games expert in Dara O Briain’s Go 8 Bit, Monday nights at 10pm on Dave. She also hosts the spin-off, Go 8 Bit DLC, which follows at 11pm.