E3 2023 and the 'ocean liner' problem
Also: why some April Fools are great, and lots of platform news...
[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert & company founder Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]
Welcome to another 7 days where things are, indisputably, ‘happening’ in the world of game discovery and platforms. And of course, we’ll start this one off with our traditional ‘lukewarm’ take on the (surprising? or not?) events of late last week…
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Analysis: E3 2023 and the ‘ocean liner’ problem
So, perhaps you heard that E3 2023 isn’t happening? As the official announcement goes: “ReedPop and the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) have announced that both the digital and physical events for E3 2023 are cancelled.” And there we have it.
GI.biz spoke to ESA president Stanley Pierre-Louis, who handwaved re: “the timeline for game development [being] altered” since COVID, as well as “economic headwinds” and finding the “right balance between in-person events and digital marketing opportunities.”
And there were some good editorials on the subject, including GI’s Christopher Dring using his semi-behind the scenes view (ReedPop owns GI!) to opine on what went wrong, and Ars Technica’s Kyle Orland getting deeper into the history of the show.
Actually, before the show got canned, somebody I know who’s fairly new to the game biz asked me about the history of E3. And since my first E3 was in 1998, and I helped run Game Developers Conference in various roles from 2005-2020 with at least half an eye on the ESA’s show, I provided him context via the below Discord DMs:
“Basically, short history lesson, E3 existed originally for retail buyers to check out games, to work out how many copies to order for the holidays at their physical stores. And that made some sense in, uh, 1999.
But the ESA, who owns it and is funded by major game companies, is a trade association headed by a bunch of VERY ‘Washington DC’ lawyers who don't necessarily always understand game trends that well - they understand political lobbying.
So for a long time they just hired an event ops company to run it, who weren’t necessarily leading its strategy. And gradually GDC, which I was co-running for some of that time, siphoned off a fair amount of the dev-related business conversations and the country pavilions, etc (GDC used to have a developer advisory board meeting at E3, but we stopped doing that in the early 2010s, because not enough of the GDC board were coming to the show. )
E3’s slightly ‘legacy’ format has been questioned for a decade or two, partly due to cost of exhibiting - there was even an attempt to make a mini E3 for a couple of years in Santa Monica that went poorly, and they went back to the big one.
And the show had a lot of weird issues with 'you had to be a professional to go' for many years, which really meant 'could you make up a company or are you a GameStop clerk?' It wasn't truly 'open to the public' until pretty recently, and by the time it did, the show was in a less certain space than it used to be.
So E3 has never really been an effective consumer/biz event hybrid. It was really a retailer trade show that became an excellent PR showcase. But shows like Gamescom have better perfected the biz/consumer model, with dedicated on-site B2B meeting spaces at lower prices.
So at some point, the big consumer companies were like 'why do we have to pay $5 mil to build a massive booth at E3 for GameStop clerks and randos, when we can just livestream or do something cool and custom offsite?’ So.. they did.”
So yes, some of this is a little flippant. But really, what’s happened to E3 is about momentum. And this is where the ‘ocean liner’ metaphor comes into play. Because look, the biggest ships can take miles and miles to stop - they don’t turn on a dime.
And when I talked to my colleagues about GDC, I’d often say that decisions made now would affect the show’s momentum in - perhaps - 3-5 years’ time or more. You can nudge things around in the long-haul, but you’re already going in ‘a direction’.
There’s already good consumer game shows in the U.S. - ReedPop’s own PAXes looming large among them. And at least for now, the main meeting places for doing business in-person seem to be GDC (in the U.S.) and Gamescom (in Europe).
So that’s the biggest takeaway I’d have from E3 not taking place in 2023. Actually, everything that (new E3 partner) ReedPop suggested for the revamped show made a lot of sense. But the drift was already in place - the ship was already moving towards the rocks. And in the end… there’s just not much you can do about that?
[Finally: let’s not forget that ‘not-E3’ is happening & will continue to, most likely, with multiple platforms & publisher showcases, Summer Game Fest, etc. E3 is dead, long live E3!]
April Fools’ in games: how do you do it right?
How should you, a poor video game developer or publisher, tackle April Fools’ Day on the Internet? It’s an interesting question, since April 1st is now a polarizing holiday, we think. (Some people stay offline to get away from a cavalcade of dumb gags.)
Luckily with outlets like IGN collecting some of the biggest April Fools’ Day pranks in video games for this year (also see: Kotaku’s picks), we’re going to rank the things you can do with/for your community, from the least complex to the most:
Sure, you can use your social media to announce a game that you’ll never make. Sometimes we think it’s cute - like PowerWash Simulator announcing PowerWash Survivors - but then people want that thing. (It’s still fun tho.)
It’s maybe funnier for ‘announces that will never happen’ to go even sillier, like the ability to have Shovel Knight come to your real-life birthday party. (This is also a goof on the number of cameos the character has made in other games.)
You can actually patch something funny into your game, like Overwatch 2 did with a super-silly April Fools’ tweak to Arcade Mode, which seems to add googly eyes to all the characters and all kinds of other troll-ish changes, like Genji sometimes healing himself when requesting a heal. Players loved this one!
How about releasing a raft of playable prototypes for your (often silly) games for free on April Fools? Landfall (TABS) has a history of interesting April Fools releases, and their latest, ‘Landfall Archives’, is great: “Break into the Landfall Archives to steal and play previously unreleased games, demos, interactive slide shows, and even an unreleased version of Totally Accurate Battle Simulator from 2017!” Dig it.
Finally, you could also make an entire game from scratch, like Sega did with unlikely murder mystery ‘The Murder Of Sonic The Hedgehog’, which peaked at 15,000 CCU on Steam (!) This is, however a lot of work, and as Steam reviewers note: “I was not expecting a genuinely fun and polished experience for free as an April Fool's joke.” But it really makes people love you more when you get it right.
Anyhow, all of the above examples are interesting, because they’re examples of creators either a) playfully interacting with their existing community, or b) trying to break out of their existing community and garner new fans. Or a combo of the two?
We’re a fan of going deeper with these type of ‘time of year’-specific things, and actually having something playable for your fans. It hits a lot harder than a mocked-up picture of a fun idea. But ultimately, it’s what you have time and bandwidth for!
And this just reminded us - everything is discovery. Even a day that’s been around since at least 1698, when “several people were tricked into going to the Tower of London to ‘see the Lions washed’”, can become a discovery inflection point - and fun times - in 2023. Gotta love humans.
The game discovery news round-up..
Finishing up for today, let’s take a look at the platform and discovery news, of which there is ‘actually a lot’ again. Let’s decode it for your interest:
The kind folks at Evolve have analyzed the 2022 ‘summer games showcase’ season from a trad media perspective, including the above graph on which showcases (across ‘not E3’ and Gamescom) got the most coverage. The Callisto Protocol, Street Fighter 6 & the Res Evil 4 remake had the most overall coverage ‘hits’, btw.
We’ve seen PlayStation 5 (in particular!) console sales surge due to better availability of North American stock. But Circana/NPD’s Mat Piscatella suggests: “The U.S. console hardware market has not seen the end of supply constraints. PS5 is still not an easy get, and Series X consoles are far more difficult to find.” Good point.
The Verge has spotted that Fortnite now shows how many people are playing Battle Royale - and every other island, which is super interesting for metrics nerds such as ourselves: “Just before publishing this story, Battle Royale hovered at around 343,000 players and Zero Build at around 255,000 players, but the highest count I could find on a non-Epic experience had around 22,000 players.”
Microlinks: the winners of the 2023 BAFTA Games Awards are topped by Vampire Survivors’ surprising ‘Best Game’; Asus announced their Steam Deck-ish PC gaming handheld, dubbed the ROG Ally; the top 10 grossing mobile games for Japan in 2022, headed by (less known in the West) Monster Strike & Uma Musume Pretty Derby.
We already talked about Netflix x TV gaming being a future thing, but there’s more reports incoming: “According to the [Bloomberg] report, app developer Steve Moser shared code he discovered hidden within Netflix's iOS mobile app that contains references to games played on TVs, including one line which reads ‘A game on your TV needs a controller to play. Do you want to use this phone as a game controller?’”
Roblox things: the top 10 entertainment brands ‘crushing it on Roblox without trying (or spending)’ thanks to unofficial ‘experiences’ are topped by Squid Game, Harry Potter & Spider-Man; looks like Roblox will now hide ads for under-13 year olds after some good old-fashioned lobbying and a U.S. FTC complaint.
Xbox’s Chris Charla on Game Pass: “I wouldn't describe it as disruptive, because I don't think it is in the way that like Uber came in and got rid of all the taxis in that industry… it's additive. People still buy a lot of games and they still buy a lot of games on Xbox. They buy [non-GP] games through Game Pass at a discount [as GP members].”
We don’t often get to hear ‘Epic Games Store-first’ PC game sales numbers, but here’s one: VG247 chatted to the Darkest Dungeon II devs, who revealed it’s sold over 300,000 early access copies on EGS since 2021. The Steam version is due out May 8th, btw.
PlayStation VR 2 sales are not - actually - known, yet analyst firm IDC is saying that 270,000 could have been sold in the first month, and they consider that a bust. I’m not sure this is 100% accurate, and previously leaked ‘we hope for 2 million sold’ estimates are also debatable, but you can buy it now on PlayStation Direct, at least. (So it’s not selling out…)
Microlinks, Pt.2: April’s Amazon Prime Gaming line-up includes Wolfenstein: The New Order and IAP for Overwatch 2; can you market indie games using ChatGPT? Not really…; Sony is also allegedly planning a PlayStation showcase for similar timing to ‘not-E3’ in June.
Finally, the ‘much hyped’ Improbable is providing metaverse tech to the folks at NFT standouts Yuga Labs (Bored Ape Yacht Club) for their Otherside world. We forwarded through CryptoStache’s intro (ohdear!) to check out their Second Trip experience:
Second Trip reminded us of a Fortnite ‘experience’, but with radically more players instanced in. Impressive… but why is more players better? Answers on a postcard…
[We’re GameDiscoverCo, an agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your PC, console and [sometimes other platform] game? We run this newsletter, and provide consulting services for publishers, funds, and other smart game industry folks.]