The E3 Hype Dynamic

As the annual E3 trade show and the Nintendo press conference draw nigh, it’s easy to get caught up in pre-show hype about what will or won’t be shown. Actually I’m sort of annoyed at the way some journalists in the know talk about non-disclosable information. Or maybe I’m just jealous because apparently I’m not quite there yet.

For example, Peer Schneider of ‘IGN’ said on his site’s message boards: “With all the talk about how baffling and strange the DS may seem to all of us, it’s easy to forget that the system’s true measure lies in the game lineup. Having an inkling of what games are being shown at E3 next week, I can now confidently state that I’ll be buying the system the day it comes out.”

His colleague Matt Casamassina makes it even worse. He’s been posting about an unannounced game — apparently he’s looking forward to it as much as he’s anticipating ‘Resident Evil 4’ and ‘Metroid Prime 2′. But of course he can’t say what it is. He’s turned an entire topic into some sort of guessing game where he obviously can’t say who’s right, if anyone.

I don’t see what this does except creating unrealistic hype causing hardcore fans to be disappointed in the end and making Peer and Matt feel interesting. The thing is, they don’t have to do this because they’re nice guys and they work at the world’s biggest entertainment website. They’re already quite interesting.

It’s an interesting dynamic. For years Nintendo’s been using E3 as a milestone to show how their software and hardware line-up is doing. However, I’ve been in this industry for eight years now, and every year I’ve seen how journalists got both better sources and better ways to spread the news. So we know a lot more now, and the fans too.

Eight years ago we wouldn’t have heard about a follow-up to ‘The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker’ until E3. It’d have been a major surprise. This year, if the sequel fails to show, fans will be sorely disappointed. Weeks before last year’s E3 Nintendo announced games like ‘Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes’ — some fans were quite angry that there were no surprises left for the show itself. Well, except for ‘Pac-Man Vs.’, which was a stupid idea of course.

This year, people wonder whether it’s wise that Nintendo has shown screen grabs of ‘Paper Mario 2’ and ‘Metroid Prime 2′ already. Will the company have enough surprises left to make it worthwhile watching a webcast of the press conference? This is why these fans cling to Peer and Matt’s comments. There’s more this year’s E3 press conference, right?

It’s easy to look at this stuff from the hardcore fan’s perspective. But in the end E3 is not for hardcore fans. Nintendo hopes major newspapers that attend the show will write about their games. Nintendo hopes CNN will do an item.

Remember, too, that it’s just a games company. It wants to sell games, and the average player buys only a handful of games each year. Nintendo doesn’t have to announce ten surprise games to capture this audience’s imagination. These average players haven’t heard of E3. E3 is where Toys ‘R’ Us representatives go to start deciding how many copies of ‘Metroid Prime 2’ they should order.

Last year Nintendo had a less than stellar E3, but last fall was a major high point for GameCube sales. In 2002 Nintendo had a brilliant E3 — they showed ‘Metroid Prime’, ‘Super Mario Sunshine’ and ‘The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker’ — but Metroid and Mario sales were below expectations and Zelda did not even get released that year.

My bottom line is E3 doesn’t say much. So if you’re smart, you shouldn’t get hyped too much and enjoy the event and its coverage. I know I will have a hell of a time at the show — and I’ll try to write up a couple of reports while I’m there, too.