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The Guns of Navarro: Sifting Through the E3 Rubble

Alex has played a bunch of games, talked to a bunch of people, and now he's answering your post-E3 questions.

It's been a long time since I saw a palpable sense of excitement from my colleagues, peers, and really just the bulk of the game industry following an E3. Despite always being the biggest, most important-to-cover of all video game trade shows, the last few years had given way to a sense of malaise that permeated every press conference, demo, and interview. Most people seem to be of the mind that this console generation ran a tad long, and as a result, the novelty of E3's "giant show" status had similarly begun to taper off. Not so this year. With two new consoles debuting a whole bunch of new games--as well as Nintendo debuting several new games for its own, months-old new system, people were positively buzzing by the time 5:00 rolled around on Thursday. As exhausted as everyone seemed to be, all anyone could talk about was all the great games they saw.

Look at my face. LOOK HOW HAPPY MY FACE IS!
Look at my face. LOOK HOW HAPPY MY FACE IS!

I won't rehash all the games we saw and loved at the show; you can just as easily check out our many E3 videos, podcasts, and news stories to see what we dug, what we didn't, and what we chose to drink over the course of the show. We covered an awful lot of ground there, even in the face of rampant, terrible thievery. If you've missed out on any of it, today would be a terrific day to catch up (as we're out of the office until tomorrow).

Instead, I thought it might be a good idea to take a few of your post-E3 questions and answer them, right here in this very column. Unsurprisingly, a lot of you had stuff to ask about Microsoft's post-show position, the veracity of Sony's impressive PR push, and just what the hell is going on with Nintendo. I did my best to answer everything I could.

With that, let's get to the questions.

Q: It seems that Microsoft's biggest problem is not the nature of their planned services for the Xbox One, but that they cannot speak to the nature of those services, or control the message. Since Peter Moore left for EA a few years back, Microsoft has not been able to find "That Person" to speak about the vision of the Xbox One.

As someone who has worked in public relations in this industry, I was wondering what your take was in Microsoft's inability to control their own marketing message in regards to the Xbox One?

--Steven

A: It is bizarre, isn't it? The best thing Sony did at the show wasn't even necessarily related to any one specific announcement, but to actually have a bunch of strong, controlled messages for those announcements that remained relatively consistent no matter who was being interviewed by what outlet. The mild confusion over the status of The Last Guardian notwithstanding, Sony looked prepared, confident, and totally in control.

By contrast, Microsoft looked like they were trying to keep control with a white knuckled grip, but somehow managed to just keep going off the reservation. You made a good point about Microsoft not really having "that guy" to be the main messaging man for the last few years. Don Mattrick is a smart guy and a good talker, but he has a bad habit of saying things to press that come off as deeply out of touch, if not down right Mr. Burns-ian. Phil Harrison is a good speaker, but his rambling at the first event is what got Microsoft into so much trouble in the first place. Phil Spencer seems like a really smart guy, but there's something about him that always comes off a bit less than genuine, even if he doesn't necessarily mean to be.

More to the point, it just appears like nobody at Microsoft is talking to anybody else at Microsoft. There are some basic, high-level messages that they're sticking to, but there are tons of less-negative details about the system that it seems like the people doing these interviews either don't know about, or don't care about. At this point, it's time for Microsoft to regroup. I don't think they necessarily even have to completely reverse their policies--doing so would just put them in an even more Romney-esque situation of flip-flopping--but they have to say something different. Even if it's just someone from the company reiterating some of the items from this maybe (probably) true pastebin from a supposed Microsoft engineer would be a nice change of pace from the blind, bull-in-a-china-shop methodology they've employed thus far. Microsoft just has to find a way to stop looking like they're strong-arming consumers. Unless, of course, they really are aiming to strong-arm consumers, in which case, hey, I guess we appreciate the honesty? Sort of?

Q: Hi Alex,

I'm kind of interested in what you make of the controversy surrounding the Microsoft Press Conference, specifically during the Killer Instinct/Twitch demo. I remember watching it and cringing when the guy was beating the lady pretty badly in the game (obviously scripted in context later), and the following was mentioned "Just let it happen, it'll be over soon."

For me personally, I don't think they obviously meant it in a certain way, but it just sounded like a really terrible rape joke. I mean, it was one step away from saying, "you're getting raped." When it's in the context of guy saying it to a woman, it seemed super creepy to me. I saw a bit of a reaction to this on twitter which added to the whole general sexism feeling since there weren't any female protagonists. So it kind of seemed like negative crap on top of negative crap.

So do you think it's over reaction? Do you think it's gross? Do you not give a shit (which is totally valid!)?

Thanks, and cheers for the awesome E3 coverage as always from yourself and the others at GB.

--Mike (@linuxscouser)

To be fair, you're probably going to hear plenty of horrible rape jokes over Xbox Live chat when playing Killer Instinct. Maybe this was just an ill-conceived attempt at realism?
To be fair, you're probably going to hear plenty of horrible rape jokes over Xbox Live chat when playing Killer Instinct. Maybe this was just an ill-conceived attempt at realism?

A: I'm of two minds on this subject. One the one hand, there's little doubt in my mind that nobody on a Microsoft stage would willingly, knowingly make a rape joke, especially when they're on live television. I'm double certain that nobody would put that bit in with the "approved banter," which leads me to believe it was just the guy making an off-the-cuff remark that he, I assume, instantly regretted. On the other hand, there's really no nice way to spin that remark. A few years ago, that sort of joke might have just been noted as being a bit distasteful and brushed past, but we're in an entirely different climate these days. People are much, much more sensitive to slights and heinous jokes toward women, especially when it comes to anything pertaining to the word "rape."

Do I think it was intended as a rape joke? Not really, but there's no denying that it came off very weird, and it's too close to one to be comfortable material for an event like this. I see some people saying this was blown too far out of proportion, but no, I think it was actually blown into exactly correct proportion. People pointed out something that came off as highly inappropriate, words were written about it, and Microsoft released a statement apologizing for the remark. That's how the system is intended to work, is it not? Hopefully a lesson has been learned, and that will be the last time we hear that sort of thing at a press conference.

Q: So obviously the word on the street after (and before) E3 is that the PS4 is the dope console and the XBONE will be a fabulous failure. My question is, how much does any of this E3 messaging even matter? Other than the $100 pricing difference, does the uninformed regular consumer pay enough attention to the differences between the consoles to move or not move the sales needle? Is it wrong to just assume that if marketed to the masses correctly, the PS4 will sell better simply because it's $100 less than the XBONE, not because of required internet connections, used and loaned game restrictions, the Kinect/Eye, etc.?

Looking at sales numbers, last gen's hardware sales were dominated by the Wii, even though the "core" audience doesn't give a shit about the Wii and nobody has cared about the Wii for the last 4 years (at least). Why did it sell? It was cheap, it was innovative and it was fun. Isn't that all that the masses care about? Aren't the "core" people just going to buy both anyways like they all seem to have done this gen as well?

--Ryan

A: You're at least partially right in assuming that the minutiae of each system's features aren't really what the casual consumer are going to be paying attention to. Lots of kids are just going to want one console or the other because they want the games, and either don't care, or even know about what features do what within the core of each system. Similarly, plenty of families will pick up systems purely on the merits of prices or at least the simple, back-of-the-box features like "it does TV!" and such. Presumably, all this chatter from the press and hardcore players alike is really only a segment of the much larger gaming audience talking to itself.

At least, I think that would have been true in previous generations, though now, it seems like the dialogue among endemic journalists is seeping out into the mainstream a bit more. Microsoft's perceived failures weren't just relegated to a bunch of gaming blogs bitching endlessly. Numerous mainstream publications took up the same mantle. Hell, my dad, who hasn't played a video game since that one time he agreed to play Top Gear with me when I was 11, called me up entirely out of the blue to ask a bunch of questions about what the hell Microsoft was doing. He watched that first press conference on TV, and read through some of the E3 stuff in the major news networks, and came entirely to his own conclusion that Microsoft was fucking up its messaging. Considering I've had to talk him through just about every major game industry event of the last decade, this was quite surprising to me.

There will be plenty of consumers who have no idea why Sony's anti-DRM messaging means anything, but more so than in previous generations, it does seem like people are listening.
There will be plenty of consumers who have no idea why Sony's anti-DRM messaging means anything, but more so than in previous generations, it does seem like people are listening.

I've heard similar stories from several other people throughout the week. As much as significant awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of these systems has been specific to the hardcore audience in these last several years, I think we're actually starting to move out of that. Gaming systems are much more than they once were, especially as of the last-gen, which finally introduced them as more broad-spectrum living room media centers. More people pay attention to this stuff than ever before. That's why having a good showing at an event like E3 is more important than ever. Will this E3 automatically determine the "winner" of this console gen? Hardly. But it's put Sony off to a running start, while Microsoft is left cleaning up after itself in incredibly public fashion. And people are noticing.

Q: Which next-gen reserve will give me the best chance at a higher resale value due to limited supply after release? Word is Sony is taking more pre-orders, so does that also imply the will have more product available on shelves? Will the XBOne be good investment? Have you heard anything this early that will shed light on this?

--@ParlayJesus

A: This is what you're worried about? Which console will be harder to find so you can get the maximum resale value on eBay? Maybe you're a nice fellow who doesn't realize this, but you do understand that most people who want to just go buy new consoles kind of hate this practice with a fiery vengeance, right? Because you're buying up the limited supply and then jacking up the prices online? It's kind of shitty, dude. You might as well just be scalping tickets to the Stanley Cup Finals out in front of the TD Garden.

Boo to this question, and boo to you, good sir.

Q: With the Xbox One making it very difficult to play used game, do you think GameStop will favor the PS4 ? According to Neogaf, they are already doing so...

--Jean-François

A: I think GameStop will absolutely support whatever DRM licensing program Microsoft has cooked up, and then proceed to promote the living hell out of used PS4 and Wii U games, while effectively just leaving Xbox One stuff on the back shelf to rot. Just my theory, of course.

Q: Hi! Obviously this was the biggest E3 in quite some time, I would say this was even more important than x360/ps3 announcements because of the state of the industry right now, content going digital, mobile devices, Sony and MS having very different paths chosen...

1)since Jack Tretton said none of the ps4 first party games will have restrictions with selling, trading games but publishers/developers will still be able to dictate how used games behave on the platform, do you think we will only be able to sell or trade ps4 exclusives and still pay licenses/activations for third party games?

2) who do you think will be on a better position by E3 2014?

Thanks for reading sorry for crappy English I'm from Venezuela.

--César González

A: Your English is more than adequate, César. Quite decent, actually!

1) There's really no way of knowing at this point. Sony's DRM policy of "we aren't changing shit" does lead to a good deal more ambiguity than Microsoft's more rigid, but defined policies. Sony saying it won't put any used game restrictions on its own games certainly bodes well, but trying to predict how other publishers may react to the lack of system-side DRM is nigh-on impossible. I definitely heard some rumblings from around the show floor that a couple of publishers--who I shan't dare name--were mightily pissed about Sony's conference announcements. But that could just as easily lead to them simply shifting some of their resource and content focuses elsewhere, as opposed to applying their own DRM schemes. We'll be waiting to see the result of this one for a while.

2) Again, tough to say. Sony won the hearts and minds at this show, but while the PR game is important, it's hardly the end-all, be-all. Until we get a sense of how these systems might sell, predicting how things will be a year from now is just about impossible. If this year has proven anything, it's that momentum swings in this industry are as violent as they are unpredictable. Sony can still screw this up, but they'd have to do something pretty monumentally stupid to ruin the goodwill they've engendered thus far.

Q: Hi Alex,

Thank you for your great coverage, I really enjoyed your tweets during the conferences!

Now that you have had time with the PS4 controller I am really curious if the sticks are a little tighter that then PS3 ones? That has always been the one thing I didn’t like about Sony’s controller that they were too loose.

Best Regards,

--Michael Bach
Acapulco, Mexico

We are all quite fond of the PlayStation 4 controller around these parts. It feels great.
We are all quite fond of the PlayStation 4 controller around these parts. It feels great.

A: As you may have seen during our day 3 podcast--where noted PlayStation Top Man Adam Boyes brought along a system and a controller--we had pretty much nothing but nice things to say about the system. The layout, weight and feel of the thing, and yes, the tightness of the analog sticks were all very much to our liking. It's definitely the best PlayStation controller I've held in a good long while, and in practice (I did get to play a few PS4 games on the show floor), it handles real, real nice. Microsoft's controller also feels pretty terrific, I might add. This is maybe the one time in gaming history where it feels like the controllers are finally an afterthought, since neither have much worth complaining about.

Q: E3 was supposed to save the Wii U, but I still don't care about the Wii U. Did this just start the cycle of "Nintendo will have games, just wait for E3" over again? Realistically, can the Wii U limp along for another year hoping to make a splash at the next E3?

--Jason Walters

A: I'm super conflicted about Nintendo's showing. I mean, the disappointment people talk about in regards to the company's lineup is hardly surprising, nor unwarranted. There were no new franchises announced, nor really even any older, dormant franchises making a significant appearance, either. Smash Bros., AKA the one game everyone seemed genuinely thrilled at the prospect of, wasn't even on the show floor (because it's still way early in development). By the same token, what was there was hardly bad. The new Mario game, Mario Kart 8, Donkey Kong, Bayonetta 2, and even some of the third-party stuff (what little of it there was) all looked really solid.

But "really solid" isn't what Nintendo needed to boost Wii U sales. Nobody holding out on buying a Wii U was waiting for a "pretty great looking" Mario game, or another 2D Donkey Kong game, no matter how great that might be. They were looking to be surprised, to see something other than what they were already expecting. Otherwise, why wouldn't they have bought a Wii U by now? Nintendo didn't make a case for their struggling console. They pretty much just reminded everyone, "Hey, we're still doing all this same stuff. We just have more of it now."

I just feel bad for those games, because nearly everything I played left a positive impression on me. But if someone I knew were on the fence about what console to buy this fall, I could in no good conscience recommend the Wii U over either Microsoft or Sony's offerings. The third-party support isn't there, the first-party stuff isn't that much more exciting than what was there before, and I frankly just don't see much of a reason for anyone who doesn't already care to do so. It's exactly what I was afraid of after Nintendo conceded its press conference. How I would have loved to have been wrong, but man, was I ever depressingly right.

Q: Hey Alex! I hope your day has been more tranquil than the past week has been.

I'm a relatively new freelancer who hasn't been to an E3 before, and I wanted to know what you would change about the conference if you were were given sovereign power—over, you know, E3. Are there press conference times you would change? Would you restrict the number of people who could attend (like 2007's E3 in Santa Monica) to make navigating the floor easier? Would you alter how E3 appointments are made?

This might be a little too inside baseball for your column, but I'm curious what you think nonetheless. Hope you have a safe trip back to the East Coast!

--Perry Vandell

A: You just had to remind me of that crazy ass Santa Monica year, didn't you? What a weird disaster that was. Granted, it was a well-meaning disaster, one frankly of the games press' own making. For years people complained about what a bloated, ridiculous shit show E3 had become. So in 2007, they try to scale it back, but end up scaling it back so far that the show bordered on useless. It didn't take long for them to reverse that idea, for obvious reasons.

Man, remember tiny-ass Santa Monica E3? Let's never do that again. Like, ever.
Man, remember tiny-ass Santa Monica E3? Let's never do that again. Like, ever.

Because of that, I'm somewhat reluctant to get too backseat driver about how E3 should be run. Just because I hate something doesn't mean it would somehow benefit the show to excise it. The one thing I will say about this year's E3 is that only on the first day did I really find myself clogged up in human traffic to the point where I wanted to kill anyone. Day two and three felt strangely docile, comparatively, though there were obviously plenty of lines circling around various booths, too.

My only complaint is that there are still clearly quite a lot of people at E3 who have no business being at E3. I am aware of my own hypocrisy, as I started out going to E3 as an underage hanger-on with no professional responsibilities justifying my presence there. But I also tried to be respectful, stay out of people's way, and just enjoy the games where I could. Some people come to E3 just to treat it as their own particular playground, and I really think that's gotta stop.

It's not specific to any one group (exhibitors, media, retailers, whatever), and in fact seems to span most of the categories of people who attend the show. There are just a few too many people who are clearly there just to clog up lines and get free swag, no matter how bad that swag might be. I was standing at Ubisoft waiting for my appointment, and this woman in an EA Sports hat, some random company t-shirt (which was maybe a size or two too big for her) and one of those heinous AMD capes they were handing out bounded up to the media check-in line and asked where she could get more free stuff. Which is to say nothing of the cosplayers, a phenomenon I don't really remember happening much at E3s in earlier years. There were quite a few of them this year, and I'm not talking about the people hired to work booths. I mean people with badges, there presumably to "work" the show, dressed in full-on costumes. I think cosplay at fan conventions is great, but at E3? You couldn't look like a bigger "I don't need to be here" brand of asshole.

Q: Over the past few year the spectacle of E3 has really grown to bea brutal grind for pretty much everyone involved. An over-inflated, same ol' thing, pitch and shill show that a lot of people were just getting sick of. Do you think this year brought a little bit of that old fire back to E3? Is there genuine excitement again?

Kyle Mercury

A: Everyone say hi to my friend, Kyle, folks. I used to work with this dude back at MTV Games. He's great.

I think this year was, if nothing else, a reminder of why E3 got to be so overblown in the first place. Back when console generations were usually more like 5 years apiece, there were more of these big E3s, replete with launch games, lofty promises, and a whole lot of pomp and circumstance. There wasn't as much time for the show to turn into a samey grind because new hardware was appearing every few years or so. This eight-year generation has worn on people, especially those who have to attend E3 year after year. Of course there are great games at every show, but there's no getting around the fact that console introductions are always the biggest, most thrilling years to attend. I'll just say it was nice to have some wholly new devices to play around this year. Definitely took the edge off of covering the show.

Q: Hi, Alex

What was the most mechanically interesting or refreshing game you played at E3 this year?

--Max van der Heijden

A: I saw a lot of really amazing games at E3, though to be fair, a lot of them I saw in steered demos or theater presentations. Most of the stuff I got hands-on time with didn't necessarily push any huge boundaries in terms of mechanics, but that didn't stop me from enjoying myself in most every case.

Okay Respawn, you have my attention.
Okay Respawn, you have my attention.

In terms of overall ambition, Remedy's Quantum Break looks like a real crazy case. Their idea of melding TV-style live action episodic storytelling with a third-person, time-stopping action game sounds bonkers in a way that I'm not entirely sure is going to work, but I absolutely respect the effort and am excited to see more of it. Titanfall's multiplayer gameplay also looks completely crazy to me, but in a very, very good way. I am not a multiplayer shooter guy by trade, but Titanfall's action looks like precisely the kind I could get into for a very, very long time. Jonathan Blow's The Witness was another great, intriguing demo I saw. It's definitely a puzzle game, with many of the trappings associated with that genre classification, but its ideas about wordless communication to the player, as well as the lovely aesthetics of the game, convinced me that was one worth getting excited about. And while it might be a bit shill-like of me to promote a former employer's game, I have nothing but nice things to say about Disney's Fantasia: Subtitle I Refuse to Repeat. Again, that's one of those games that doesn't explain itself well, and really needs to be experienced to be understood. I'll just say that even as someone who kind of hates Bruno Mars, I had a blast playing that stupid "Locked Out of Heaven" song. If that's not a musical achievement, I don't know what is.

There were tons more that I could list, but won't for the sake of not taking up everyone's time forever. Suffice it to say, many great games are on the horizon, and I couldn't be more excited.

--A

Alex Navarro on Google+