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Ellie Gibson on E3


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.

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Oh hi, I’m Phil Spencer. I enjoy wearing my coat indoors. I don’t need a suit to earn respect. Hold me.

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.