Editor roundtable: What did E3 2018 mean for game developers?
Every year, without fail, E3 consumes our lives. Even for the Gamasutra staffers not burning in the LA sun, it's a week of monitoring livestreams, rushing to post important news, and just tangentially participating in the hubbub that is the Electronic Entertainment Expo.
For those of us on the floor, it's even worse! Or better? We're always not sure, so once the sunburn faded and the Halal Guys lunches passed through our system, we reconvened at Gamasutra HQ (aka the Gamasutra Twitch channel) to try and answer one question hanging over our heads the whole show: what precisely did E3 2018 mean for game developers?
Be sure to also read our thoughts on Ubisoft's controversial partnership with HitRecord, and watch our full conversation about this year's E3 while you're at it.
So what did this year's E3 mean for game developers?
Alex Wawro (@awawro) : My answer is "not much." But every year, it's a more public-facing show, and that's an interesting switch. It's a switch the ESA needs to do to make that business viable. But, you know, now it seems like a badly organized PAX in LA.
And so I think devs probably get out of E3 mostly what they get out of a good PAX, but not quite. It's obvious that Nintendo didn't make a big show of indies really, but I don't think there was a huge indie presence on the floor. Indiecade was there, the various indie-focused publishers (Devolver and such) were around, but I didn't get the sense there were a lot of indies front and center at Sony's area or Microsoft's area.
It's hard to see what developers get out of E3 when the big companies don't need them. And it seems like they don't need them as badly as they used to.
Alissa McAloon (@gliitchy): So like, E3 going into last year they introduced the gamer badge, the consumer badge, and then this year they are kind of adapting and correcting from the mistakes they learned. But it feels like, as someone watching everyone complain about Twitter on it, it still feels like they're coming into their own and trying to figure out where they are as this part-tradeshow-part-consumer-fest.
Someone mentioned a tweet where they were trying to get into the conference [it was Iron Galaxy's Adam Boyes] and because of the badge type they had, they couldn't bring a backpack of a certain [type] in, and all their pitch materials were in there so they could talk to a publisher about the game they were trying to pitch. So it's at this point where not knowing what kind of convention or event they are 100 percent is interfering with the business side of it.
And complicating things for the consumer badges is spending hours outside trying to get in because the line system wasn't organized so it just seems like it's gotten into this really weird muddled ground where it doesn't know what it wants to be and it's not doing either thing 100 percent well for developers or for gamer-passers. That's my hot take.
Emma Kidwell (@EmmaKidwell): At least based on what I've seen, why [would] smaller developers even want to go to E3? I guess for pitching. But the only memorable thing based on watching streams from home, I don't have the added benefit of going on the show floor, [but] I'm sure that's where they really have the opportunity to shine, because other than Nintendo showing a slide reel of some of the indies, or maybe a vague trailer, I just remember Microsoft talking about their acquisitions for the bigger--triple-I studios. It feels like there's really no point. I'm probably just talking out of my ass here.
Kris Graft (@krisgraft): We all are.
Kidwell: I think Alissa made a really good point. I don't think they know what they're doing yet for the smaller guys, and it's still kind of a triple-A stomping ground for people watching at home.
Graft: What Emma said. That's what it is. E3 is the ESA, ESA is made up of all these major publishers, so they have to serve their members. I'll be nicer to E3 than I have been in the past: Game developers don't get hard takeaways like they do if they go to Game Developers Conference, however...you have a critical mass of fellow game developers there, and for triple-A teams, it feels like there's more of them than at GDC. [They're] hanging out at the bar, there's just like a third of the Respawn team hanging out there. It definitely does bring people together, and it does inspire game developers.
I've seen a lot of developers on Twitter and ones I've talked to just say like they're psyched up after E3. They go out there, this thing they've been working on for a long time finally gets out there and people can watch it or watch more of it, and people like us can complain about it!
That's what I think game developers out of E3. They get inspired. Can you imagine at CD Projekt Red, after releasing Cyberpunk's trailer, whether you're in marketing or programming on that game, just releasing that and seeing the straight-up explosive reaction to this.
So that's one thing game developers can and did get out of it. The same with me. If you're somebody who pays attention to the business side or things like that, just kind of lifting your head away from your desk and going out and seeing everything [holistically], it's kind of one of the few times a year you can get a cohesive look at what the [primarily triple-A] video game market is right now. I feel more informed on that front.
And I got to see someone rip their toenail off. I don't know that gamedevs took away from that.
It's loud, it's crass, it's all those things it always has been, but we all keep going to it, and there are good things that come out of it. Even for small game developers, let me make one last point, small game developers, they might not buy a pass, but I've seen a couple of them that either were able to be highlighted at the Microsoft conference or Sony or Nintendo, that's huge for an indie developer, that's a big exciting thing.
There's so many people around there too, you walk around the convention center, one of the hotels, one of the coffee shops, bring out your laptop, have people check out the latest build of your game, and that's worthwhile too. It's loud, it's bonkers, but there's a reason people keep on going to it. I'd rather it exist than not.
Bryant Francis (@RBryant2012): My take, from back here, from good ol' LA, I'm the only person trapped here in this hot hellhole. E3 is, has been, and might yet still be a place to get a lot of eyes on their game, whether it's the eyes you need to help sell your game to a publisher and get funding, or selling it to the public in the press conferences, or in the PC Gamer show.
I think every company is trying to figure out their angle on what's the best way to make sure their game gets the best coverage. Whatever Remedy and 505 did to get Control into the PlayStation conference, to be one of the four games featured on this hour-long stream, must have been a big deal. Whatever that game Satisfactory did to get its PC Gamer placement, that's from Coffee Stain Studios, whatever they did is probably going to help make sure Satisfactory sells a lot of copies.
I say that, and I say that with the 'for better and for worse,' small devs are obviously going to feel a little shafted unless they're one of the small devs who can get that sweet primo placement. Large devs are going to feel like they got a lot out of it, unless they're one of the large developers who shows up with a game that doesn't catch the world on fire, and they spend a lot of money on booth space and they realize they're not getting the attach rate they need to sell this game.
Most of all, I think, more developers this year were willing to talk about the benefits of having a diverse cast of characters, of having diverse employees, about improving conditions for the game industry. But the show itself still has a behavior problem where if you're at the show, I just keep hearing reports of bad behavior and sexual harassment in a way I don't hear about at other shows, which sucks!
In the tradition of my Jewish grandfather who liked to say "on the one hand, on the other hand," quoting Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, I will just "on the other hand" my way around E3, until I am dust, and bones in the dirt, and E3 is still going.
Wawro: E3 sucks, I'm sorry. I feel bad for devs who have to go there and deal with the hustle and bustle.
Francis: Oh, one more take, depth and the anticipation of depth is selling a lot more than polished, refined, level-y things, I think. I think the audience reactions to a lot of things at E3 are saying potential is a big deal, and games with lots of systemic depth or content depth have a lot of potential. I think a lot of devs are trying to sell their games that way, and I feel bad for a few indies that made into the PC Gamer show because they may not be delivering that promise and they may struggle when they hit the market.
Graft: I don't think E3 [by itself] has much bearing on what happens in the market. I don't think that because your game was featured in a trailer or even you have a segment dedicated to it that it can [automatically] sell more copies directly or indirectly than a really good trailer released just on the internet would.
But my point is, nonetheless, it's exciting and inspirational for developers there who are working on stuff who finally get the stage, whether or not that moves any units in the end. I don't think it really makes a difference. You can even see, EA Play did its own thing all the way over in Hollywood, they were 20 minutes away from the convention center. They're going to market to their community the way they [want to], so I'm not sure going to E3 itself is going to make that much of a difference [compared to doing an event around E3]. But what do I know?
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