E3 2010: Keynote Highlights and Strict Gamer Binaries

The E3 logo depics a 3-D E on top of a 3-D 3 with the words Electronic Entertainment Expo circling them.

The E3 logo depics a 3-D E on top of a 3-D 3 with the words Electronic Entertainment Expo circling them.

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.

A screenshot from Lionhead's Fable 3 showing a man dressed kind of like a pirate tossing a female child in the air above him.

A screenshot from Lionhead's Fable 3 showing a man dressed kind of like a pirate tossing a female child in the air above him.

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.

A screenshot from Kirby's Epic Yarn. Kirby is depicted using two loops of yarn on a 2D plane, with the ground, grass, sky, and a castle in the background all made of fabric.

A screenshot from Kirby's Epic Yarn. Kirby is depicted using two loops of yarn on a 2D plane, with the ground, grass, sky, and a castle in the background all made of fabric.

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.

Four Sack-people romp on a stage made of cardboard. Each pair seems to be holding opposite ends of a string.

Four Sack-people romp on a stage made of cardboard. Each pair seems to be holding opposite ends of a string.

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.

About Alex

Alex posts some of her sewing projects and cosplays on her Tumblr; you can also find her babbling about sewing and games and Parks and Recreation on Twitter.
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29 Responses to E3 2010: Keynote Highlights and Strict Gamer Binaries

  1. Ashelia says:

    Already tweeted about my thoughts, but it’s like, Nintendo basically won the conference war by showing real games; something MS and Sony did a lot less of (or, in MS’ case, seemingly didn’t do at all).

    I also got disenfranchised enough during the Budweiser montage of what gaming meant to a bro to actually feel angry for a few hours after. Poor Media Molecule man with his cool game.

    • Alex says:

      Remember when LBP was announced and Reggie Fils-Aime was like, “That looks like it belongs on one of our consoles”? It definitely looked that way on Tuesday.

  2. Gygaxis says:

    I share the distaste expressed here for the abundance of bro-games and how uninteresting another 19 bald white dude shooting at things games are. I also think that it’s not fair to ascribe things like Dance Center as a casual title, it seems to be pushing dance games in a while obvious (given the tech) but also more hardcore direction, DDR has a pretty notable hardcore contingent especially obvious inside of California, and from what I’ve hunted down of Dance Central, it looks like a pretty challenging and in depth game. Music genre stuff also gets RB3 and Powergig which didn’t get major PR events like these pressers but are likely to have a significant impact and offer a great hardcore/casual bridge area.

    Child of Eden also seems to fit in there and Ubisoft while not having a female player visible in Shaun white’s game, hopefully that option will be available (I know I was pissed when I found out that a female character was a “feature” that didn’t hit the Skate franchise until the 2nd game.) and sits in a now traditional extreme sports game market but bridges it with more storytelling and creative gameplay and didn’t have any moments of sexism that I saw watching their press part for that. AC2:Brotherhood is definitely lacking though and I skipped a good chunk of ubisoft’s presser that just didn’t seem interesting.

    I saw the back half of Sony’s, missing everything until just after Butler left stage (I’m guessing that as part of the overall tone the “girls know the way to a man’s heart is through a melee attack” comment strikes more of a nerve, but on it’s own it seems to me more like an invitation and welcoming to participate in more fps style hardcore games (which are sadly still pretty much all lame bro-game) and didn’t really bother me, especially in contrast to a lot of the stuff they’ve done with KB as a mascot in commercials to date (God of War 3 commercial comes to mind)) Sorcery looks stellar though sitting squarely along the same casual/hardcore 1:1 motion control bridge that the new Zelda game got placed in. Portal 2 and LBP also falling in not bro-games.

    Overall, I suppose I might just sitting in a lower expectations slightly met mark in that I was expecting all Medal of Battlefield Modern ZZ Top: The Brofisting 2 and actually got some interesting titles I’m excited for.

    • Alex says:

      Yeah, I admit I didn’t give Dance Central much of a fair shake. I kind of forgot about it when I was writing this.

      I think the pressers come across a lot differently when they’re summarized than when you’re actually watching them. Reading my own words back, they don’t seem so bad, but watching I definitely got that the feeling that the presenters weren’t talking to me, that they didn’t think someone like me was watching at all; particularly during the Microsoft one. During the Kevin Butler segment there were a few other comments that annoyed me as well (something about the audience watching something like it was “Olivia Munn in a Lara Croft costume” =/) but I couldn’t find exact quotes, so I didn’t include them.

      Also, please don’t use “lame” to mean “bad”, as it is considered to be an ableist term when used that way.

      • Gygaxis says:

        Oi, you’re right calling me on language, been working on that one >.< Thanks.

        The MS presser definitely felt off base for me too, I haven't seen Nintendo's yet, but I want too. Sony did have plenty of moments where I totally get why you'd feel that way. I just watched a youtube vid of Butler's section of the Sony one Kotaku posted up and I still feel like they're getting a lot better with his character, it's still awkward and exclusionary at times, but it's so much better than what they started with and it seems like they're going to keep pushing him so it must be making Sony money. I hope that they continue to push that character toward a more inclusive direction and get it to a point where his use doesn't preclude female gamers wanting anything to do with the product =/.

  3. no one important says:

    Yay, I contributed to the Border House without actually contributing to the Border House! Or something….

    Anyway, I just have three points to make here:

    -Watching the major players in the industry drop the ball so badly made me wish – even more than I usually do – that smaller video game companies received more attention at E3. Publishers like Atlus and Natsume are putting out a lot of games that I’m interested in, but they aren’t the ones who get the big press conferences…

    -The 3DS lineup is just too freaking good to be true. I mean, just…wow.

    • no one important says:

      Oh yeah, and I CANNOT WAIT to play Child of Eden (Rez is probably one of my top ten games of all time). Good thing it supports regular controllers, because there’s no way in hell I’m buying Kinect or Move just for that one game.

      • Alex says:

        I totally just called it “Child of Rez” in my head >.>;; I’ve never played Rez, but it looks really neat!

  4. Alex says:

    I’ve watched most pressconferences via an online feed, but I don’t really agree with you. Microsoft press conference was lame, but I don’t agree on the EA part.
    It started of with a new Need for Speed but wasnt particulary targeted on the groups you mentoined above. I agree, males will be more interested in NFS and bulletstorm.. but there are definetly girlgamers out there who like bulletstorm. I know this because i watched this with friends (males and females) and also found positive reaction in the twittersphere from girlgamers and -devs.

    I also don’t really see how many of the other games were targeted specifically on males 18-35.

    However, I do agree that most publisher (maybe not nintendo) made a clear distinction between the hardcore and casual gamer. But I can understand that. When I think of a game, I think of something like Battlefield or something of that level. The more casual games like the sims or indie games are an entire different level. (but of course they can be great as well)

    • Alex says:

      Please don’t use “lame” to mean “bad”, etc. here, as it is widely considered ableist language and we strive to keep this blog as safe a space as possible. (If you have questions about what I mean, please check out the Discussion Policy and the disability/ableism section of the Helpful Resources page.)

      I didn’t say that zero women and girls would be interested in any of the games I labeled “bro games” (I’m quite interested in anything related to MGS, myself); but all of those gritty shooters are made mostly by men and are played mostly by men. The games star often-beefy male badasses, have little to no story, and are about shooting everything with skill and quick reflexes. They generally focus on online play, usually on XBL, which is notorious for being an environment full of homophobia, racism, and misogyny. All of these things taken together show that they are made with teen and 20-something men in mind. This made me feel excluded. Good for your friends that they didn’t, but I, and a number of women I know, did.

      • Alex H says:

        completing the Alex trifecta here.

        “sims or indie games are an entire different level” is exactly what Alex R. is arguing against, Alex. As she says in the article “There is no binary, it’s a spectrum, and most people don’t belong exclusively to one end or the other.” (sidenote: This is true for all things in life, there is no binary, that’s for computer programming xD).

        A spectrum has no divisions until someone arbitrarily puts them up, and they’re put up for reasons, and in this case the reasons coincide with oppression and exploitation. MS and EA obviously works with these categorical ideas in their game development, marketing, and overall philosophy, and their presentation is transparent to someone who knows what to look for. I’d wager a large sum that somewhere along the lines of development for these games and this conference the people involved use “casual” and “hardcore” to describe what the game is and is not.

        Educate yourself on some of these issues before coming to MS or EA’s defense: systematic oppression, institutionalized gender-, race-, sex-, ability-, appearance-, etc., bias. There’s three Alex’s in this convo right now, and the MS and EA announcements were only aimed at one of us :D

  5. Nymeria says:

    Donkey Kong Country Returns and all the other games Nintendo showed off just made me love them so, so much. (I hope it has Dixie Kong! Unless they’re saving her for Donkey Kong Country RETURNS AGAIN)

    The end bit with all of the women carrying out the 3DS in a very..awkward and silly way was unfortunate. (Even Reggie looked awkward during it.)

    Nintendo won by a landslide for me. Sony might have had a fighting chance if they had shown off The Last Guardian some, though.

    • Alex says:

      No word of The Last Guardian was just terrible! Jeez.

      • Twyst says:

        Apparently there was talk of Last Guardian (tho no details other than “We’re working on it!” at the Konami presser – but i didnt see it – just word of mouth).
        I was reminded tho that we still have PAX and TGS, which might be the place that we see games that we want to see – BG&E2 was theorized as having a better audience there (via @stillgray)

  6. loocas says:

    The big announcement and disappointment for me was that Silent Hill will have yet another male main character–with the same god damn haircut! I’ve been hoping for a long time that this series would have another female main character, and Homecoming was the perfect chance with the soldier returning home. Alex (they wouldn’t even have to change the name) could have been a profound character as a female, I think, but he was pretty run-of-the-mill.

  7. Matt says:

    Even worse: the intro video on the Bulletstorm site includes a brief clip where one of the achievement messages appears to say “GANGBANG”.

    Now I’m basically a lifelong FPS fan and I even liked UT despite all the (somewhat more subtle) rape jokes in that, and Bulletstorm looks fun as hell… but now I’m quite inclined to skip over it. :/

  8. Laurentius says:

    It’s the same story over and over, lot of poor games and just a few interesting titles.
    Actually for me only Portal 2 is the game i am waiting in anticipation.
    And SW:TOR gameplay trailers actually was huge disappointment for me, it shaped like generic mmo with standard game mechanics and pretty awful graphic let’s say in comparison to GuildWars 2 trailers ( look amazing ).

    • Mantheos says:

      The graphics of SW:TOR are meant to be on the lower end so that a wide variety of computers can play them. If the graphics were like Crysis, then only a few computers could play SW:TOR.

  9. Lisa Harney says:

    Wow, Microsoft and Sony’s presentations reinforce everything that’s making me hate gaming at the moment.

    Just the thing I need after even trying to talk to gamer dudebros. :(

  10. Bakka says:

    Great analysis of the E3 keynotes. I agree that there was a real “no girls allowed” feel to the Sony bit. I hated the Kevin Butler bit. It was so exclusionary.

    I also agree that LBP2 looks amazing. But I was really disappointed that MM are still referring exclusively to ‘sackboy.’ I swear that in the early marketing of LBP1 they did not do this. They used to say ‘sackpeople’ and ‘little sackboys and sackgirls’ but now it is always and only ‘sackboy.’ This makes me sad every time I hear it.

    • Twyst says:

      the Kevin Butler bit made me feel so frustrated/sad that i couldnt get into LBP2, which i am still sad about existing, after MM said “we will never make a LBP2″. It does look cool tho, and i am sure will be awesome, because MM seems incapable of anything but.
      Agreed on “sackboy” it is unfortunate this is how it is turning out :(

  11. Treehouse says:

    I’m still trying to digest how I feel/felt about this year’s E3.

    Microsoft’s presentation was the worst, to me. I feel like they are going to be stuck in 1996 forever, unless they find some new blood/ideas soon. I’m still upset that I can’t play Kinect (mobility/wheelchair/cane). I can’t jump or wave around like that so I can’t play any of their games. I feel like it’s yet another barrier being thrown at me to keep me out of gaming. Very, very frustrating.

    I thought Ubi’s presser was pretty awful as well.

    Nintendo blew me away- I love the new Kirby! I never felt that Nintendo, for even a second, was excluding me from any of their games- even the Wii ones. Well, the ‘Look guys! We have hawt chicks that will like, totally let you stand next to them while you game- and they’ll like it!’ was horrid. It says something that I’m so used to women being objectified in the gaming community that it didn’t irk me more than it did.

    I watched on G4 and I think that’s what offended me more than anything else. They kept cutting away to show booth babes. I wish G4 would lose the 14-year old, sex-starved and apparently brainless image. It would help people not look so hard down at gamers while actually encouraging all the gamers who aren’t ‘typical’ (most of us) to actually tune in and watch.

  12. Malefact says:

    First up, notable racefail (with bonus stigmatising language!) in panel #2 of the PA strip you linked to. Yet more of this tiresome “oh, those wacky ghetto-talking POCs” bullcrap. I love this blog, and whilst it’s true the Penny Arcade crew can sometimes be quite shiny (I’m a regular reader), I feel that we need a lot less of that if we want a progressive gaming community.

    I think that another reason Nintendo come across as less excluionary (terrifying 3DS-tethered-to-all-women demo team thing aside) is because they seem to be less inclined to say “here is X game for X people” and more inclined to say “here is X game, isn’t it great?”. My feeling is that their (re)discovery of the casual market has made them less inclined to market themselves with a narrowly-defined audience in mind, which has tended to lead to a lot more innovation, better game design in key franchises (because a ‘hardcore’ audience will, ironically, sometimes put up with a hell of a lot more crappy design than a casual player) and generally less fail-tastic content when compared with their competitors. Then again, I’m a nintendo fanboy at heart, and their E3 made me feel like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory :)

  13. Mantheos says:

    I’m skeptical about all of this “Kinect” and “Move” stuff. I honestly don’t think they’ll work. They will be delayed for at least a year or there will be massive recalls and returns because they are broken. Granted that happens to every console when it is first released, but for something as complicated as those, I think the problems will be much worse. I was also dissapointed that there was no mention of Dragon Age 2. I heard rumors they were going to show that.

    Oh, and James Cameron rules!!!!!!!!!!

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