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Microsoft and PC Gamer‘s E3 Message: It’s About the Games, Stupid

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This Year’s E3 Featured Some of the Best Pressers Ever, and Its a Sign of Things to Come

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The entire world of gaming has converged on Los Angeles, again, for the annual celebration of everything the space has in store for the future. As always, the biggest players — Microsoft, Sony, Bethesda, etc. — have held press conferences of their own in the days leading up to the main show. These events have increasingly become some of the most anticipated dates in gaming, and the addition of streaming over the past few years has dramatically increased the size of each company’s audience. If you care about games, you’re either watching these showcases live, or you’re watching the revealed trailers on YouTube.

Which is why it’s always been so disappointing that these celebrations of gaming tend to be so… well, lame.

Don’t misunderstand me; E3 is my favorite gaming event of the year. I have many memories of events past, getting my mind blown by big reveals I didn’t see coming (Shenmue 3, anyone?) or long awaited but unannounced sequels. When it comes to the games themselves, E3 is almost always a captivating, exciting experience. It’s the press conferences themselves, the presentations, that, at least in the past, have tended to be so tone deaf and strange.

Unexpected, and unrelated, celebrity guests who clearly don’t want to be there. Musical performances nobody asked for. Long, self-congratulatory talks about games we don’t get to see. Too much talk, not enough content. This has long been the norm when it comes to E3. The reveals are always awesome, but their couched in embarrassing nonsense slapped together by marketing teams who don’t seem to understand their audience.

Video game consumers are savvy. They know their preferences and they don’t trust advertising. When a game is successful, it’s not because it had flashy promotion, it’s because it’s good. It’s because the game itself has something to offer that you can see with your own eyes. Every year, companies put together presentations that seem like they’re designed to be spectacles, to be like the Oscars or the Super Bowl Halftime Show with a few games sprinkled in. They alienate their own audience by making things far more complicated than they need to be.

It’s about the games. Just show off games.

This year, a lot of companies seem to have gotten the message.

The fourth ever PC Game Show, a showcase held by PC Gamer, still had its issues, from its out of place overly enthusiastic co-host to its heavy handed product placement from Drake’s Cakes, but still managed to pack dozens of reveals, both updates to released games and new products yet to come, into their show while featuring very little fluff. Sony, too, did a good job keeping their presentation focused and streamlined, though they had less to show off than I would have liked.

Microsoft, meanwhile, probably put on the best E3 presentation I’ve ever seen.

I hate the idea of “winning and losing” E3, but it’s hard to deny Microsoft’s had some missteps in the past. The initial announcement of the Xbox One was a nightmare of botched messaging and flat-out poor product decisions. This year, though, they clearly had a mission: highlight as many games and designers as possible, and do almost nothing else. That dedication led to an event that wasn’t just dense with content, but one that felt earnest. There wasn’t a lot of talking up games that couldn’t be revealed, the jargon and empty promises that gamers tend to see through and be turned off by these days. It was just people who love the games they’re making showing off. The announcement of various studio acquisitions and the promise to give them tons of latitude to create the experiences they want was just icing on the cake.

There are tons of lessons in this for anyone trying to reach gamers, any developer with a new project to promote or peripheral manufacturer. We tend to look at things from our position in the space, of working with streamers and content creators to develop powerful communities. The appeal here, as a gamer, watching better E3 presentations, is the same as that which drives them to their favorite streamers and gaming personalities: earnestness. There’s an authenticity to Xbox’s presentation, just like the authenticity that viewers respect and love in content creators. These are people who have earned their audience’s trust by demonstrating that their opinions are honest and real.

When you’re working with a content creator as a brand or studio, you’re not trying to exploit that trust. Doing so would do the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. You can’t coerce a content creator who wouldn’t otherwise like your product to promote it with cash or other promises; the audience will see through it. The way to really establish a strong community around your product is by finding the right content creators, the ones who fit naturally, who want to play your game or use your product. To try and create that spark where none exists ignores the very appeal of the creators with whom you are trying to work.

Entering E3 proper, I find myself more excited about the future of the space than I think I’ve ever been. There are more great games on the horizon than I can ever remember, and the world of gaming itself seems to be maturing, embracing a level of authenticity from top to bottom. Again, I think the idea of “winners and losers” at E3 is and always was silly. When we’re getting more great games and less marketing fluff from all of the big players, everybody’s a winner.

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