In my decade or so covering the consumer tech industry, I’ve seen keynotes of all shapes and sizes. I still remember the rush of writing up the news of the original iPhone, or watching Jon Rubinstein unveil the doomed Palm Pre. AT&T to Verizon, Google to Microsoft — I’ve seen and covered it all.
The announcement-filled pageantry of an I/O, WWDC, or Microsoft Build is still exciting to me, but there’s something about E3, the gaming industry’s biggest stage, that makes me… feel things that a big Apple event simply doesn’t. I absolutely love it. I sat in front of YouTube’s live E3 channel this week, rapt, as Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo unveiled the Next Big Things in gaming. There were moments when I could feel my heart pounding. I’m pretty sure there was a point during the Microsoft event that I briefly leapt out of my chair.
I sat in front of YouTube’s live E3 channel this week, rapt
And here’s the thing: I don’t even play games, really. I own an Xbox One, but it’s really just for firing up the latest Forza once in a while.
Why does E3 get me so worked up, then? I think it’s the focus on content rather than gadgets (though there’s plenty of those, too) and the exuberant reactions to that content. Outside of key moments at the biggest Comic-Con events, there’s no other consumer-focused stage in the world that blasts you with title after title after title, leaving no room to breathe in between, perfectly cut with shots of the live crowd freaking the hell out. And it’s often a perfectly blended mix of new chapters in wildly popular franchises and entirely new properties — think Halo 5 right next to ReCore at the Xbox keynote, for example. Something old that you’ve been waiting for, something that no one saw coming. Both get just a couple minutes of jaw-dropping action on stage before they’re whisked away and it’s onto the next game. Done well, it’s a master class in the art of the tease and the art of the reveal, and it leaves you marking the release dates on your calendar.
E3 is also a hypnotically bright, pulsating, colorful world in a way that even the most over-the-top Samsung event simply isn’t. Microsoft lowered a car onto its stage with a pulley. Nintendo had a bizarre puppet show that featured a caricature of Reggie "My Body Is Ready" Fils-Aime. Everything is bright green, or blue, or purple. At a new iPhone launch, you might let your attention lapse for a moment if Tim Cook starts talking about App Store metrics; at E3, that’s not possible. The keynotes grab onto your eyeballs and won’t let them go until the curtains fall.
There really isn’t an analog to that outside of the gaming world. I was glued to the screen watching ReCore’s odd robotic dog bound through the sand, even though I’ll probably never play it. But I didn’t have time to really think about it, because before I knew it we were onto Fallout 4 footage — one of the biggest reveals of the show — and the official Forza 6 trailer, at which point I was basically ready to scream.
Just look at this guy's elation. We should be so lucky to feel this level of joy at some point in our lives. (IGN)
Contrast this with, say, an iPhone event: there are some statistics, a few new iOS features, and the iPhone. Then it’s over! Maybe you get a special musical guest if you’re lucky. That’s cool, and the iPhone is a really big deal. But Apple isn’t relentlessly overloading your senses for two straight hours the way an E3 keynote can.
In a business where the word "magical" is thrown around far too loosely, that was magical
Even if you can’t get excited over the titles, there are still the moments that you realize that the industry is changing before your eyes. If you didn’t basically freak out when Microsoft demoed Minecraft for HoloLens — the moment when a blocky, living castle appeared on stage as if by magic — you may not be human. I don’t care if you’re a PlayStation diehard, a hater of games, or a completely uninterested individual who didn’t even know what E3 was before this week: I challenge you to watch that section of the event without at least cracking a smile. In a business where the word "magical" is thrown around far too loosely, that was magical.
Sony, meanwhile, was responsible for perhaps the single biggest mass freak-out of E3 with Shenmue 3’s announcement. And Nintendo, in its own Nintendo way, showed a new Star Fox and the almost unbearably cute Yoshi’s Woolly World. Oh, and Super Mario Maker! Never change, Nintendo. Or, you know, only change enough to survive in the modern video game economy that you’ve been willfully ignoring for the past decade.
Geez, I love E3.