Nicodemus Does E3 (or “Why did I bother?”)

The Electronic Entertainment Expo: E3. This is, for most hardcore gamers, the Holy Grail. Exclusive to Industry Insiders only (inclusive of the media and press of course) you just CAN’T get in unless you have the credentials or you steal a pass. I should note, for the record, that I have great credentials, and I am a bloody professional in the industry with more than a decade of experience, and I still have a tough time getting in. I know people that have been Guest Speakers at E3, and had a tough time in subsequent years. Go figure. Anyway, I’m just setting my post up here with a little background…the real meaty stuff will come after you click on the “more” button.

Ok. So after some trials and tribulations, Spot and I -finally- got our wonderful E3 passes and made it to the show floor. Granted, we were extremely late, and lost nearly a whole day (OMG!), but here we were. I had set up a bunch of meetings before hand with a variety of folks…mostly developers and publishers I already knew, and a bunch with some new contacts that I wanted to meet face to face and explore some possible business opportunities. So, between these meetings we walked the show floor. If you guys are good and post a lot here I will probably link some of my photos for your visual enjoyment.

All in all, I saw very little that impressed me in the slightest this year. I missed the Spore demo (lines were bloody long) and I heard it was already on the internet. Battlefield 2142 looked fricking fragtastic. Lego Star Wars looked fun as hell. I missed the demo for Eragon (find and read the book right now if you don’t know what I am talking about) which irritated me. I was totally looking forward to seeing it.

XBOX2: ZZZZZZZZZZ

PS3: ZZZzzz

Wii: ZZZzzz (dumb name too)

Yeah. No big deal. Boring. Not worth the effort. Not enough games, too expensive, nothing new, nothing really innovative, nothing to make me drool. Consoles suck. It seems like the only “innovation” in the console industry is the attempt to turn them into PCs that you have connected to the TV in your living room. Uhm, hello? It is any wonder all the console guys keep claiming that the PC industry is dead? Why is the media listening to this crap? Nicodemus E3 Prediction 2006: Consoles are reaching a peak that will begin a cyclical down turn and PC games will have a strong resurgence. Prediction 2: Watch a whole crapload of MMORPG announcements in the next 12 months. Less than 20% will actually make it to market and stick around for more than two years after launch. Prediction 3: Nicodemus will bitch and complain about how they all suck and will whine about the state of the industry until someone gives HIM funding to make an MMO the right way. That’s right. I said it. The RIGHT way.

One thing that did surprise me somewhat, was the sheer amount of Casual Gamer companies and related ventures that were there this year. This market segment is starting to gain some serious steam. As a result, expect to see more articles and market research about 1) market growth and 2) more female gamers. Another industry cycle…the transition of talent, is going to start increasing as well. Look for a lot of new startups due to an exodus from the “big boys”. Everyone is getting tired of the same crap day after day and the red tape at the larger publishers. The industry is getting stifled right now, and it is starting to be apparent in the dropping stock prices. We need new blood, new ideas, and a period of innovation and experimentation (which you cant get at a large publisher/developer). The exodus will begin real soon.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that all of the large developers/publishers that dumped a ton of money into starting massive studios in China are going to take a big hit/loss on that. They did it too soon, too fast, and with too much money. It is going to backfire. I might talk about this more in a later post. I think there will be some startling successes over there, but I think some mistakes have been made in the last 12 months that are going to be quite costly sometime in the next 36 or so.

Hrm, what else can I say about this year (for my first post)…it was busy as hell, but seemed smaller than last year. I didn’t see anything that knocked my socks off. I feel like I accomplished a lot as far as meeting people and shaking hands (yes, I was the guy with the pipe. If you were at the IDGA or Casual Gaming party, you saw me. Email me and say hello eh? I’ll invite you on LinkedIN). On the other hand, I feel like the show could have been much better and much more interesting.

Some random notes:

* The new sonic game looks bad ass.

* All the wrong people are getting the right money to make the wrong MMOs.

* I saw a lot of really dumb game ideas, or story content. Vampires, zombies and “once evil but now uses his demon powers for good/vengeance” characters are SOOO frigging passe and cliche. BORING! Hire some writers and fire your marketing team. Please. Oh, and PLEASE, don’t subject us to another name with a Y in it for some alternative spelling. Suckage. (cough bloodrayne cough)

* FFXII. Oh yeah. Almost as good as sex.

* I didn’t see the sequel for ICO anywhere. That made me sad. Where the heck was it?

* Biggest Ad award: Neverwinter Nights II

* “Dumbest marketing idea” Some weirdo patrolling the registration area in a trenchcoat and holding a sign that said something about locusts and the ground. Really guys. Dumb dumb dumb. So dumb, that if I find out what game it was for, I am going to tear it apart. I hate stupid ass marketing ploys. The second most dumb idea, were those fake $100 bills on the ground for some gamer website thingy. Once I get my pictures I will publically ridicule them here as well. Noobs.

* Game that I didnt know about that surprised me: Indiana Jones. The demo video was awesome. LucasArts might just be getting its groove back on. I really miss great original hits like The Secret of Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion, LOOM, and a few others from that time period. Classics!

* The “dumb asshole” of the show award goes to the guys at the Blizzard Booth. One of the programmers we took with us is on the younger side (19?) and this was his first show. It was rather fun watching him gape in awe and wonder at many of the delights of E3, but he really lit up when we hit the Blizzard booth. He asked one of the guys giving a demo if they had any free t-shirts. The guy basically told him to F-off because he would probably sell it on Ebay. My friend said “no way, I would never do that, I am a HUGE fan”…to which Blizzard jackass responded “yeah, big deal, we have 6 million of em”. All I have to say is this moron is lucky I wasn’t in the immediate area. I know some people at Blizzard and I would have complained. It’s one thing to tell someone you don’t have any t-shirts, but to adopt that attitude and be an arrogant ass about things is just uncalled for. One hopes that the leadership at Blizzard don’t feel the same way about loyal gamers.

* Sigil…Brad McQuaid’s (former EQ develper) really well funded MMO dev studio. Tons of people (they seem to always be hiring), and an interesting website. The demo running on the screens there looked like total crap. I’ve always been a little suspicious of Sigil based on the info presented on the website, but this sealed it for me. I wouldn’t even consider them competition if I was running a MMO studio RIGHT NOW. If I was an investor, I would be seriously pissed. Then again, investors who throw massive amounts of money at someone simply because they worked on some other project that happened to be successful, without spending the time to do due diligence on the new product/design/technology are destined to lose their money. Sucker every minute.

Some more notes:

* Thank you to Reynir at CCP (Eve-Online) for letting us rest our feet in the private booth area, and double thanks for the cold beer. It’s my turn to buy next year. Spot thanks you for taking the time to answer his questions about Eve.

* Terri at Funcom: It was awesome seeing you again! Thank you for setting up the private showing of the new Conan game for us. I am sorry we couldn’t make it, the traffic was bloody terrible and we didn’t arrive until after 11.

* Mr. Talksalot: You were a really nice guy, and very friendly. It was nice meeting you. However, you surprised us with your non-stop chatting (nearly 30 minutes). It was amazing. We will never forget you, but we will refer to you as Mr. Talksalot. It is funny, it sticks, and it makes for a good E3 anecdote. But seriously man, introduce yourself next time…don’t just walk up to people and barrage them with one sided conversation at an IDGA party. It was a little overwhelming.

* Eric, Susie, and Elonka at Simutronics: You guys are “bad ass“. I totally appreciate the time you took to talk to us, and I admit I am a HUGE fan of the company and the team there. I’ve said it before and I will say it again…I think Simu is one of the VERY few companies in the online games space that really -gets- it. I expect Hero’s Journey is going to be a sleeper hit. My fingers are crossed for you guys. Elonka, congrats on the book, I am so happy for you! I can’t wait to see you again. Everyone that doesn’t know who I am talking about needs to google Elonka. She is one of the coolest people in the game industry.

* Michel and John at Sound & Vision Radio. Thank you for inviting Spot and I on the show to talk about E3. It was very cool. I’ve been a radio DJ before, but I’ve never had my opinion broadcast in syndication on 40 markets. That is pretty bad ass. I’d love to be a guest again in the future (I am sure Spot is of the same opinion).

* EA Booth Designer and Demo Reel Guys: OMG OMG. Whoever designed the main demo room at the EA booth and slaved over the demo presentation in that 360 room deserves a promotion and some serious kudos. That was the only booth in the entire show that awed me in the slightest. I had to watch it several times once I realized that the animation wasn’t repeated, it was always showing something different behind me.

* E3 staff: I only saw one kid this year, and he wasn’t on the show floor (he was outside in the demo halls). Kudos to you. On the other hand, WTF happened to the Booth Babes!?! And seriously, you guys need to make the registration/validation process easier. Especially for contractors and consultants.

* America’s Army. Great game, great demonstrations. PS Thank you for your service guys (and girls). The country appreciates it, even if we all don’t necessarily agree with the war. All that aside, you are serving your country, and that is pretty bad ass in my opinion.

* Special “thanks” to Tiffany who works at a REAL BIG publisher. We had some problems catching a demo on the last day at the very end of the day (the line was cut off in front of us after we had been waiting there for a while). She totally tried to get us in, and was sincerely sorry that she couldn’t. I totally respect that, and I credit the entire company because of how she dealt with us (she didn’t know who we were or see what company I was with). Blizzard could take some notes here. I swear I better not find out who that Blizzard prick was. Anyway, thank you Tiffany. I’ll buy some of your companies games as a show of support. Always be nice to the little guy.

Last notes: I’ve had good and bad experiences in LA every E3 year. This year was pretty good, and the people I met on this trip (the entire two weeks) have been great. I’ve seen a lot of cute girls too (special attention to the hostess with the dark hair at “Doughboys” that commented on how big my pipe was…hahah. I couldn’t think of a good comeback line….ah, I am such a dork. She was REALLY cute).

Anyway, these are the highlights. I have a lot more to comment on over the next week, so you should see a flurry of posts from me. Not all related to E3.

Missed you guys. Show me some love and post some comments here, and PLEASE make sure you trackback my stuff if you quote me elsewhere.

~Nicodemus, the guy with the big pipe.

Smokin!

12 thoughts on “Nicodemus Does E3 (or “Why did I bother?”)”

  1. Nico didn’t really make clear how MANY hot babes we saw. I think we spent most of the time saying “ooooooooooo daammnn”.

    Yeah! :) uNF!

  2. Question about the neo-studio system:

    Since we’ve already started to see some of this (people breaking off Blizzard, for instance, to create ArenaNet, Red Five, etc.), does this increase the overall number of people in the gaming industry or leave that at relatively the same number?

    ArenaNet may not be a good example, as they employ 110 developers and artists, but they do seem to exemplify how MMOs are being developed with the high production values, high visibility expectations of today’s audience. Four or five years and $20-30 million isn’t unreasonable, and they seem to be a net creator of jobs. But they also buck the past five years of trends in publisher consolidation of studios (which is probably because they’re published by NCSoft).

    On the other hand, the Shadowbane team from Ubisoft represent a loss of 20-some people from a development studio and publisher. Wolfpack is representative of a lot of studios that are closed by their publisher after purchase, and should represent a net drop in jobs in the game industry.

    Are the new studios growing the industry faster than large publishers can dismiss game devs, or are they cancelling each other out and the new studios are primarily a response to devs being cut loose and the starting point for the next round of studio acquisitions (in another three to six years)?

  3. Good question.

    I think that it does NOT increase the overall number of people in the industry, but it tends to increase the number of people -employed- in the industry.

    I.e. 5 guys break off from megapublisher/developer to start a new studio and they hire 15 more people. That 15 is probably 5 guys from other studios that they know and convince to jump ship, and the other 10 are people that have industry experience but aren’t necessarily actively employed by anyone in the industry.

    In the case of a megapublisher closing down a studio, I would say that the vast majority here quit the game industry entirely (the industry sounds awesome to work for, but in reality it can be pretty damn crappy) and never come back. The ones that are the most networked or have a great industry reputation can usually find work at another studio. Usually.

    By the way, four or five years and $20-30M is on the high side, and overkill. A lot of that money is wasted through inefficiency, bad management, and poor design. Yeah, it may look pretty, but that doesn’t really mean the game is good.

    Also keep in mind that companies that employ a lot of artists and developers usually have a lot of support and administrative staff. So a 100+ company might have 20 people or so that don’t actually contribute anything (code or assets) to a game project.

    Personally, I think you could do a killer MMO with maybe 5-7 developers, 20 artists, and another 5 or 6 folks in speciality areas (audio for example). If I had the time and inclination, I would probably work out all the numbers and a project breakdown to refine that estimation, but that is definitely in the ballpark.

  4. Not shocked by the Blizzard rep’s behavior – I made the same mistake in trying to talk to one of them a few E3s ago – complete and utter asshole who took offense at being asked questions.

    Understandable if one’s tired and such at the show – it happens – but that’s why you have your best people-friendly people out on the floor, so that they don’t snap at passers-by.

  5. Blizzard’s asshattery (a side-effect of wearing a money hat for too long?) showed no bounds this year. I used to do a show for an MMO-specific site entirely on WoW and made a beginner’s guide on OpenAlpha.tv and done segments based on it on Call For Help (G4TechTV Canada and HowTo Australia). While they did give me the time of day I wound up canceling my appointment because of how shoddily I was treated by on the floor and all the reports of experiences similar to the ones above.

    I apparently had the gall to walk under their massive screen showing the new trailer with my XL2 at my hip, while off with a lens cap no less, and was accosted by them telling me no pictures, no movies, move it along. This has been going on for years now but it always makes my brain hurt. If you don’t want people to see something maybe you should have it be the focus of your public booth? Just a thought. They treated some industry people as bad as they treat their paying customers with all constant unending server issues.

    I cancelled my WoW subscription. It will take until June for it to run out so I’m going to spend the odd weekend helping to powerlevel my brother and then I’ll give him all my gold and whatever isn’t attached to me.

  6. The right way to build an MMORPG for profit is to sell boxes and close the doors in a year. Then repeat. It’s working damn fine in China and I predict you see MMORPG cycles here in the states. Games will release with a firm date of closing.

  7. Ain’t gonna happen.

    MMORPGs are way too expensive to make, and box revenues don’t even come close to making a dent the amount needed to make one profitable. This is why subscriptions are so important (and why “free to play” mmorpgs are a bad idea).

    It isn’t working damn fine in China. Granted there are literally hundreds of mmorpgs in development in Asia as a whole, but the vast majority are small, poor quality, and tremendously lacking.

    The right way is to build a mmorpg with a solid emphasis on community, well designed mechanics and gameplay, immersive and evocative content, full customer support, and a recurring revenue business model (to be supplemented by box sales and microtransactions).

  8. That’s just crazy talk, Nicodemus. (;) <— for the sarcasm impaired, like me)

    I would like to see faster, smaller iterations of expansions and new content, but players tend to view that as “paying for a beta.”

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