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A Lesson in Press Conferences

Press conferences are not just for informing the press about your games or hardware; that’s what press releases are for. Instead, they have largely become hype-fests, events specifically designed to entertain rather than educate. It’s a sad state of affairs, but it’s also why Usher can show up to the Microsoft E3 press event and no one will think, “Huh, that’s weird.”

Which, oddly enough, I think is almost on the right track. In its current form, yes, it is a bit exploitative and plays to the worst kind of people that manage to fool someone up high into thinking that they are games press, but it’s closer to what press conferences need to be than dry recitation from a WordArt-addled PowerPoint.

Bullet points should be saved for those press releases. They are, after all, all words and rarely do I get excited for video game words that aren’t coming out of Erik Wolpaw. When you have thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of people in a theatre with even more streaming from home, why not entertain? Why not get people totally fucking jazzed for your new game or remind people why they were looking forward to your console to begin with? Hell, you might even redeem yourself from prior stumbles.

And that is a common hurdle for most companies today. If you go back to even this year’s E3, nobody came out of any of the Day 0 or Day 1 pressers thinking, “Wow, I’m sure glad I’m into games!” We got some information, we got some teases, but we never got any hype. At best, it all felt like heartless, insincere spectacle. Many began to question the value of the very concept.

But at the pre-Gamescom conferences, something happened: Sony did good. No, they did great. How, you may ask, did the worst performing video game console manufacturer manage that? It wasn’t because they’re so far behind and been that way for so long (though that may have influenced some of their decisions, like making everything you could ever want free on PlayStation Plus). Instead, it was because they were able to educated and entertainment simultaneously. It was eduta—nope, not even gonna say it.

However, the rapture was not of the usual visual sort. The event was engrossing because it gave you what you wanted in ways you didn’t know you wanted them in. Only a brief moment was spent on a huge draw of owning a PlayStation Vita: Cross Buy. It’s a huge deal and really adds to the value of an otherwise struggling platform. But because it was only talked about for less than a minute, it was a notion that subtly crept up and wormed its way into you. It was a great ploy. Not to mention when they did bring up PS One classics for the Vita, they showed Final Fantasy VII, Tomb Raider, and Jet Moto, arguably the biggest PS One titles you could flex.

Of course, announcements never hurt, just like free stuff (throwing up a huge former Game of the Year contender in Red Dead Redemption into the Instant Collection lineup was a big pull), but the way Sony went about it was choice. Companies are still trying to find who works and who doesn’t onstage, but at least here they’ve reined back the scripted jokes and quips. People without acting or comedy experience generally aren’t good at those sorts of things. What’s wrong with just letting these otherwise fascinating people be who they are? The answer of course is nothing, which is why it worked when Sony went Spartan in the verbal accoutrement, allowing Media Molecule’s Alex Evans to tell in his own way why Tearaway is awesome and EA Sports’ David Rutter (for the second time that day) to tell you about FIFA.

But there was already an inkling that Media Molecule had something in the works and FIFA is a yearly franchise, so nothing too surprising there. Which was good, in a way, because that allowed Sony to end with a showstopper, something other pressers have tried, but usually stumble because either A) the reveal isn’t actually a reveal, or B) what’s shown is so nondescript, there’s no reason to get excited unless you’re a fanboy. After dribbling through the obligatory Wonderbook segment (not that there’s anything wrong with the idea and I’m totally glad they’re still trying new things with it, but this demo was also fairly dull), Sony pumped out three cappers: Supermassive Games’ horror Move title Until Dawn, Japan Studio’s moody stealth puzzler Rain, and SCEJ’s second title Puppeteer, a tripped-out side-scrolling platformer. Three big titles all to marinate in your mind long after the event is over.

But then again, there’s also nothing wrong with pandering to the crowd. Naughty Dog was already a big name developer with the Jak and Crash Bandicoot franchises under their belt, but Uncharted really put them on the map. Like, the back-to-back game of the year map. It’s not too far-fetched to say that The Last of Us is a big deal and, given what everyone has been able to see, likely to be really fucking good, so ending with a semi-new video of one of the most anticipated games in the last few years is also a perfectly acceptable move.

No, make that a great move. Not everyone has to be Apple and not everyone has to be Oprah; you don’t have to keep one-upping yourself with “one more things” and you don’t have to give a bunch of free stuff away to win over the crowd. All three present a lesson in keeping people (and namely press) engaged: let your goods sell themselves. Don’t push for over-the-top spectacle (though that Google Glass skydiving thing was pretty sweet) and don’t force people to be anyone other than who they are. Every year, we are shown how poorly that can go in the Academy Awards. Be subtle and be natural.

But then again, it never hurts to have a few showstoppers up your sleeve.

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