After day one of E3 2010 there had already been lots of interesting announcements. The major keynotes and press conferences are now over, and it’s been interesting, but also often frustrating, to see directly from the publishers and developers what games–and therefore what audiences–are important.
(Note: Since I am writing about five two-hour-long press conferences, I will not be able to provide transcripts for them, however I will also link to liveblog summaries of them and transcribe relevant portions if possible. I apologize for the inconvenience.)
Microsoft’s keynote (liveblog, video stream) was yesterday, kicking off what I worried would be a trend among many of the major publishers: narrow focuses on “bro games”–gritty multiplayer shooters like Gears of War–and casual motion games such as minigame sports collections and exercising games. Most of the keynote was spent talking up and demonstrating Kinect (revealed as the official name for Project Natal, Microsoft’s controller-less motion control system). Navigating the dashboard using gestures, a game called Kinectimals (a sort of Nintendogs but with many different kinds of animals), the Kinect version of Wii Sports, and dancing, exercising, and yoga games were all shown. The press conference started off with Call of Duty: Black Ops, Gears of War, MGS: Rising (the Metal Gear side story starring a sword-wielding Raiden), Crytek’s new game that seems to be about a Roman gladiator, an all-too-brief Fable 3 trailer, and Halo.
All of this said to me that Microsoft is not at all interested in my business as a female hardcore gamer. Not that women gamers can’t be interested in these games, but all the hardcore games were clearly aimed at the male teens and twenty-somethings who enjoy flinging slurs at people in online mulitplayer matches. There was nothing that attempted any sort of broad appeal; even the Fable 3 trailer focused on male characters, completely obscuring the fact that you can play as a woman. There was nothing with a story. It was very frustrating to watch.
This trend continued with EA’s press conference (liveblog, video stream) later in the day. EA started off with Dead Space 2 and Medal of Honor before introducing their new “Gun Club,” some sort of rewards program for EA’s first-person shooters. Other games squarely aimed at men aged 18 to 35: Battlefield Bad Company 2: Vietnam, Crysis 2, and a bunch of sports games. To top it off, the keynote also featured Epic’s new upcoming game, called Bulletstorm. Yes, it is called BULLETSTORM, and it is exactly what you would expect from the title: a game where you shoot everything and rack up points. There’s a screenshot going around with the words “BAD TOUCH” on it; I’m really hoping that is just out of context, but if not we can add rape jokes to the list of reasons Bulletstorm sounds like one of the worst, most embarrassingly immature games ever made.
The EA keynote ended with a trailer for Star Wars: The Old Republic, about the only good thing about the whole affair. Other than a bunch of shooters, EA Active 2 and The Sims 3 for consoles were mentioned. Again we see a strict binary between “hardcore” and “casual”, with both categories being narrowly defined and entire swaths of the gaming population going entirely ignored.
Ubisoft was next (liveblog, video stream), and the hardcore/casual divide was less present, though that was one of the only positive aspects of the press conference. Nothing could have been as boring as James Cameron rambling about the worldbuilding his invented world for Avatar for half an hour, but this was almost as bad. I will tell you up front that there was absolutely no mention of Beyond Good and Evil 2. There were a few interesting things, such as Child of Eden, a Kinect game from the creator of Rez, and an artistic new 2D Rayman game by the amazing Michel Ancel (and only three other people, apparently). The rest of the games either fell into the hardcore/casual dichotomy laid out by the previous two keynotes, or were simply to bizarre to categorize. One such game was called Innergy, a breathing simulator that uses Ubisoft’s version of Nintendo’s Vitality Sensor, and some sort of laser tag game described as “a video game you play away from the screen.” Filed under “Bad News for Anti-Oppression Gamers,” we learned that Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood will make full use of the Women in Refrigerators trope (again), a new game referred to as Project Dust will seem to focus on a group of vague tribal stereotypes, and Ubisoft will be launching “Mania Planet,” which encompasses Trackmania and two other “mania” games. Have we gotten bingo yet?
Above: The Child of Eden trailer. It is a Rez-like game for Kinect.
But Tuesday was a brand new day. The Nintendo keynote (liveblog, video stream, summary) was quite exciting, focusing on announcements of new games, franchise reboots, and introducing the 3DS, all of which were intended to have broad appeal. There was truly something for everybody. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword with 1:1 sword controls, a few casual games–Mario Sports Mix, Wii Party, Just Dance 2–followed by the announcement of a new Golden Sun for the DS. A trailer for Goldeneye for the Wii. Warren Spector came out to talk about Epic Mickey. A freaking adorable and clever new Kirby game called Kirby’s Epic Yarn. Dates for Dragon Quest IX (July 11) and Metroid Other M (August 31), then the announcement of a new Donkey Kong Country being developed by Retro Studios. It was basically one awesome thing after another.
The rest of the keynote was spent introducing and talking up the 3DS which, frankly, looks kind of great. It’s a DS with a wider top screen that can also display in 3D without any special glasses, which is key. The 3D effect can be controlled using a hardware switch so you can decrease the depth or turn the 3D off completely. They also revealed Project Sora’s game, which is a Kid Icarus reboot, and the graphics look fantastic. There are a bunch of other games being developed as well.
Nintendo has always been about broad appeal, and this keynote really showed it. There was really something for everyone, with no stark divides between audiences. Unfortunately, it ended on a bit of a weird note, with Nintendo sending out a bunch of 3DSes physically tethered to models for the audience to try. I suppose they wanted to be certain none of the 3DSes would be stolen, but they probably could have done so in a less bizarrely objectifying way.
Last up was Sony (liveblog, video stream). Oh, Sony, you made it clearest who you want to purchase your products. After some babble about 3D (which requires an expensive new TV in addition to wearing those stupid glasses, an absurdly high barrier to entry) and demos of Move games (more motion control!), Kevin Butler came out to give a little pep talk. This was the most perplexing part of any press conference thus far. He spoke about a love of gaming, and what gaming is, but it was clear whoever wrote the speech only thought there were straight men in the room: there were sexist jokes (“[Gaming is] girls who know the way to a man’s heart is through a melee attack.”), and comments about how, “your mom can make ‘your mom’ jokes” while playing motion games. The whole speech seemed to be in service of getting (straight, male) hardcore gamers to accept and not be so defensive about casual games and motion gaming–“We are ALL gamers!” he shouted–but to do so with such exclusionary language was deeply baffling. It was a stark contrast to Nintendo’s keynote, which demonstrated inclusivity rather than simply talking about it.
With a tone of macho posturing successfully set, Alex Evans from Media Molecule seemed rather out of place talking about the simply awesome-looking LittleBigPlanet 2. Afterwards, it was back to bro games and weird marketing pushes–including a new online subscription service called PlayStation Plus. The last interesting thing was Gabe Newell from Valve coming out to announce that Portal 2 would be coming to PS3, along with Steamworks (which I’m hoping means mods, too!).
It’s disappointing to see most of the major publishers so focused on very narrow definitions of what it means to be either a hardcore gamer or a casual gamer. There is no binary, it’s a spectrum, and most people don’t belong exclusively to one end or the other. As friend and Border House commenter no one important put it, “It’s about VARIETY,” which is something that Nintendo seems to understand, but the others do not.
Consider this an open thread about the E3 keynotes and press conferences.
Oh, and yes, this is basically exactly how it all went down.