This June all the gaming media will descend on Los Angeles for the 2016 Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 as it’s commonly known among us smartarse knob types.
As ever, E3 will consist of a bunch of conferences from major publishers all keen to show off their wares for the next year and beyond.
It’s then followed by a few days of show floor mania, in which the press decide which games are worth covering in the limited time they have while the general public wait in massive queues and elbow each other out of the way to get their hands on the various demos of upcoming titles.
Here’s the thing, though. I reckon the E3 format is starting to get a wee bit tired.
The conferences are all well and good – I don’t think much about those should change. Even though Nintendo has made it clear it isn’t into doing live stage shows (it hasn’t had one since E3 2012), it’s still exciting to see new games being announced on a stream, whether it’s on-stage or during a pre-recorded video.
For me, the bit that needs work is the show floor aspect, where the public turns up to play demos of the games announced.
For the people ‘lucky’ enough to be able to travel to LA, while some of these three days will be spent going hands-on with future titles, a lot of it will be spent queuing. What’s more, the demos themselves aren’t always in optimal surroundings: unless the demo station has good noise-cancelling headphones the game has to compete with all the other loud-as-shit malarkey going on around it.
Then there’s the many millions of gamers who aren’t able to travel to LA and are simply left sitting at home, watching poorly-shot videos from amateur YouTubers on the show floor uploading the 631st video of the same Uncharted 4 demo everyone else has already filmed.
We live in a digital age, where download speeds are now fast enough for many of us to get access to large files fairly quickly. It’s time to make the most of that. It’s time for the demos to come to us.
We’ve had dabblings with this in the past. Every E3 there’s always the rare moment during a conference where, after announcing a game, the spokesperson says “and you can try this right NOW on the Xbox One Store / PlayStation Store etc”.
Last year Nintendo went one further by putting up nine demos of indie games coming to Wii U, offering those who downloaded them discounts of 15% off the full price when the finished game was released. A nice touch.
And let’s not forget the brilliant PT / Silent Hills demo, which was unleashed on an unsuspecting public via a short trailer during Sony’s Gamescom 2014 conference.
My plan, then, is not just to make this a one-off treat, but the standard for all E3 games in a ready-to-play state going forward. Here’s what I’m thinking:
Sony or Microsoft (or each of them, ideally) should introduce an E3 All Access Pass for $10. This lets you download timed versions of every single demo available on the show floor for the PS4 or Xbox One.
Hear me out here, because I know in this day and age the idea of spending money on anything instantly enrages some people with the intensity of a thousand suns, especially if it’s on something that isn’t permanent.
Making a playable demo is both time-consuming and expensive for a game developer. As games get more complex and therefore cost more to make, the effect making a demo can have on development can get potentially more severe.
By charging for access to these demos and splitting the profits among the publishers who supply them, Microsoft and Sony can ensure their partners receive some sort of financial compensation for taking time out to make them.
It’s a win-win situation. For Microsoft or Sony they’re making some money and strengthening their relationships with their partners. For the third-party developers they’re also making money while ensuring their E3 demos end up not just in the hands of the gamers who attend E3, but those all around the world who weren’t able to.
Why charge for it though? These are demos, why not make them all free? Because, simply put, this isn’t the world we live in now.
Although these demos are essentially promotional, nobody’s going to go to all this effort out of the goodness of their heart – hosting and compiling all these demos (and making sure they’ll work on retail systems instead of debugs) will take more time and money than usual.
But I think it’d be worth it. Imagine this pass gave access to, say, 50 different demos (though I reckon in a good year you’d get more than this), and imagine each was limited to two hours in total. That’s 100 hours of gameplay for your 10 bucks. I don’t think that’s massively unreasonable.
In my head, I’m imagining it like EA Access, the subscription service EA offers on Xbox One (and now PC) where gamers can pay a set fee to receive, among other things, timed trials of new game releases. It’s a slightly different service – the first 10 hours of a retail game instead of a 2-hour demo (on top of free access to legacy games) – but the concept is the same.
Now, I already know I’m going to get comments under this article saying that in no way, shape or form would they ever consider dropping a tenner on something like this.
But imagine if, this E3, you were able to buy a $10 pass that let you play two hours each of (depending on format) No Man’s Sky, The Last Guardian, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Crackdown, Dishonored 2, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Gran Turismo Sport, For Honor, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Kingdom Hearts III, Mafia III, Mass Effect Andromeda, Ni No Kuni II, South Park 2, Halo Wars 2, Scalebound, Dead Island 2, Sea Of Thieves, Fable Legends, Doom, Ghost Recon Wildlands and loads of other third-party and indie games as well as, of course, all the new games we don’t know about yet.
Let’s face it – you could moan about it on Twitter and forums all you like but secretly, in private, you’d be frantically looking for an ethernet connection on your Visa Debit card so you could upload money straight through the interpipes.
Imagine if a million gamers went for it – that would be $10 million pumped back into the industry with, say, up to $1 million going to each publisher (depending on how many are involved in the scheme).
I’m sure there’d also be complaints about the demos’ time sensitive nature but in my opinion the trick to a good demo is to keep the player wanting more. Give someone two hours with a game and if they fall in love with it in those two hours, they’ll be so eager to play more that they’ll be there day one, guaranteed.
I’m convinced this is the way forward. It may take a few years yet but already the likes of Nintendo and EA are trying to reach more gamers than those attending E3.
For the last couple of years Nintendo has brought some of its E3 demos to Best Buy shops across America, and this year EA will be going one further by ditching its E3 booth altogether and instead hosting ‘live events’ in LA and London for anyone to attend. Don’t agree with paying for demos? Then remember that when you’re getting a train ticket or buying petrol to make it to these events.
These ‘live events’ are the first steps in publishers realising that it’s not worth putting all that effort into an expensive booth for the sake of the 50,000 or so people who come to E3 when they could instead reach much larger audiences.
And it’s only a matter of time, in my eyes, before these companies realise that even setting up ‘live events’ or shop tours is more restrictive and expensive than just piping the demos straight to players’ homes, where they can enjoy them in their own personally arranged optimal conditions.
Rest assured that if, one day, Microsoft or Sony (or even Nintendo once the NX is out) does go down the $10 E3 Demo Pass route, I’ll be all over it like soy sauce in a Chicken and Mushroom Pot Noodle.
This is similar to the argument that large companies should stop forcing “face time” events that require expensive travel and lodging, when they own enough bandwidth and tools to enable team members to be virtually present every single day. Maybe it’s naive of me, but it seems like your ideas would take hold more readily with small developers long before the AAA devs and publishers were willing to give it a go. It would be nice to see it happen, in any case.