GamingPaul Williams

Sizzle and Steak: What every marketing team can learn from E3 2018

It's the most wonderful time of the year. Running since 1995, the annual Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3) has become a bit like Christmas - every year the global gaming community buzz about what surprises will be revealed, and maybe, just maybe, that one game you always dreamed of might finally become a reality.

Sizzle and Steak

Naturally, there's plenty of cash to be made from this interest. I have vivid memories of buying the bumper July issue of GamesMaster magazine to gaze in wonder and quickly fill up my wish list. These days, every console maker and bedroom Twitch star hosts a sponsored 96-hour streaming extravaganza. The popular interest in E3 (and the profitability of this interest) has become so great over the years that the invitation-only trade expo opened its doors to the public in 2017. Now mere mortals can play tomorrow's blockbusters, watch live e-sports tournaments, and maybe share the same room as Shigeru Miyamoto.

This explosion of media coverage and public scrutiny (and boy, can gamers scrutinise) has revealed something of a weakness in the system. It's becoming tougher for the big publishers to excite customers and investors every June with actual products. E3 2018 has been marked as a year where seemingly every other announcement is a vague string of promises, pencilled in for 2019 or later. Microsoft's 'Halo Infinite' apparently has an infinite release date, existing only as a two-minute technology demo. Even worse is the thirty-six seconds of mountains and music proclaiming Bethesda's 'The Elder Scrolls VI' exists somewhere on the back of a napkin.

So, what changed? Back when I was still buying magazines, when most games could be made in a year or two, E3 was a barrage of titles ready for the holidays and topped off with a teaser for the next big entry in a core franchise. As we reach the end of the eighth console generation, development times are stretching beyond the reach of a satisfying annual showcase. Even Ubisoft's 'Assassins Creed Odyssey', appearing out of the blue in a playable state and hot on the heels of last year's entry 'Origins', has been in secretive development for four years. The same goes for Capcom's surprise 'Resident Evil 2' remake. Disney fans have been waiting for 'Kingdom Hearts III' since 2006.

That's not to say this year's E3 was a complete wash. Nintendo's focus on fewer games and straightforward hardware is paying dividends, as they turn around 'Super Smash Bros Ultimate' in time for a highly polished and publicly playable reveal, coupled with twenty-five minutes of intricate gameplay breakdown. Microsoft and Sony leveraged third-party developers to push more product into their presentations, offering little new intellectual property but satisfying playable demos of anticipated titles like 'Spider-Man' and 'Battlefield V'.

On balance, the highlights and lowlights of this year's Expo revolve around tangibility of the product. Videogames have become increasingly 'cinematic' this generation, but the medium remains interactive at the core. For me, the big players can show off titles early in development in two ways that don't frustrate the end customer.

First, the global gaming community lives in a world of early access, development diaries, and public betas. Star Citizen has raised over $100million in crowd funding from over two million backers, working exclusively off a business model of constant behind-the-scenes insight and playable alphas. It's a model that works. If you want to show off a product that is still on the drawing board, show the drawing board.

Second, the early 'Halo: Combat Evolved' and 'Halo 2' demos in 2000 and 2003 followed simulated gameplay scenarios which offered a glimpse of what the game might be like to play. In contrast, the 'Halo Infinite' reveal in 2018 is all serene music and landscape. This is the series that rewrote the rulebook for shooters, but for all we've been shown 'Halo Infinite' could be a dating sim. Even when it's early in the product cycle, build your communications around the core values and experience of your product, otherwise you may be leaning on any brand equity you have rather than leveraging it.

Those are a couple of my thoughts from this year. Here's hoping that for E3 2019, Todd Howard gives us a close-up of that napkin.

 

Paul Williams

Creative Services Executive

2CV London

Paul.Williams@2cv.com