A couple of weeks ago we (the Creative Tech and Gaming teams) headed over to the hills of Hollywood in sunny Los Angeles for the E3 expo; the biggest and most prestigious gaming expo in the world!
IMHO, there is no greater digital experience than that of gaming! Video games laid down the foundations of pure digital interactions in the 70s with the likes of Pong and Tank; and with revenues that now rival Hollywood blockbusters, the industry has never looked back. Today, as brands (including our own clients) seek more engagement with consumers in both digital and physical activations, it was important for us to keep at the bleeding edge of what’s going on in the gaming industry. It was also important that Tom tried to get a tan.
Now that we’ve recovered from our Baywatch re-enactments, let us talk you through our observations of the expo.
E3 Day 1 – People:
The first day at E3 was met with complete awe and not just by ourselves. It was the first expo open to the general public. Not only did this give the expo a heightened sense of buzz, but it really did allow gamers to directly connect with the content they consume every day. We met a friendly attendee who felt entitled and empowered to speak out against brands and IPs who were producing underwhelming content. They felt as though they could shape the games industry and in some respects, they could. In an event like E3, gaming studios listened.
Superfandom and the social power that they have should not be ignored. More and more of our briefs contain insights harvested from communities and groups who are already huge advocates of our brands… and it’s becoming easier and easier to get closer to them.
The connection between all gamers was also apparent in the panel we watched where gaming bloggers spoke about how they grew and maintained their audiences and their online superstar status. These YouTubers are brands in themselves and it’s the strength of their personalities that are the key differentiators in attracting large viewerships. But it wasn’t a competition, as the panel discussed, most did it for the fun of gaming and it took years to establish themselves. No surprises here, perseverance and practice gets you to the top. Interestingly, they have all become masters in A/V production, with digital tools and equipment being so much more readily available to anyone, not just production houses.
There was still a lot of debate about the importance of eSports, but the presence of Twitch and Microsoft’s new Mixer tells me it’s here to stay folks. I can’t tell you why, but I’m hypnotically addicted to watching someone else play a game online. Maybe I’m living my gaming youth through them, but I like to think that it’s akin to watching premiership football… with the same dosage of cheating 😉
E3 Day 2 – Games
Day two continued to offer us many unique experiences and a huge amount of content to consume. The queues were long (*holds back on the rant*), but we were not to be deterred and enjoyed several games and VR experiences between us.
E3 unlike other conventions allows attendees to engage with the developers directly. Dev teams are on hand to talk about the game content and tech and we had the pleasure of meeting with several. As part of the uniqueness of the event, on this day we had the pleasure of watching the Japanese developers of Pokemon Tournament battle against two consumer Pokemon champions. Amazing.
Regardless of the gameplay, this was another fine example of two things:
1) the strength of social as the world continues to get smaller
2) the niche celebritism that exists in the gaming
Both are hugely connected. Everyone now has the ability to be a media powerhouse of their own. When I was a kid I played games from disks attached to magazines where the articles talked purely about how the games played, but you rarely heard from the devs themselves. Now, every gaming studio and dev has a persona, allowing any gamer to get closer to them and vice-versa… and more often than not in a positive manner. It was clear at E3 that having consumers getting closer to the brand only further creates a stronger relationship and affinity with their product.
One aspect really missing from the expo is that of in-game partnerships with brands. There have been some interesting easter eggs and product placement over the years that have surprised and delighted audiences. These have helped brand affinity, but like gaming movies (I’m looking at you Super Mario Bros), brands and games rarely mix well.
However, what happens when you combine games that are already brands? I give you the mash-up of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. The characters are loved, the queues were long, the beta gameplay was awesome. Nintendo are notorious of protecting their flower power plumber, but if this game proves to be a success (how could it not!) I would anticipate more of these combos to come soon and open the floodgates to great games with brand input… providing that the gaming studios work on the gameplay uninfluenced.
Finally on day 2, we saw Nintendo’s amiibos still leading within the physical/digital space. Amiibo’s are about to evolve with the Switch, allowing gamers to physically change them (add a gun, change a plane wing) and then the in-game representation changes in real-time. We couldn’t get our hands onto a demo of this, but can definitely see the potential. Again, opening this up to brands could see some interesting marketing partnerships and experiences.
E3 DAY 3 – Vloggers:
In the City of Dreams, being Hollywood ‘n’ all, everybody wants to be a star in this town and that’s been no exception at E3. Everywhere we looked enthusiasts of all ages carried cameras and live vlogged absolutely everything they saw. It was difficult to know who was a YouTube hobbyist and who were the media elite.
They all wanted to be social superstars, and it’s interesting to see the branded content they are publishing is not their own but they are using it to propel their own personal social brands and channels. Social platforms like twitch and mixer are enabling these excitable bunch of gamers and Microsoft are making it easy to broadcast with 1 press from Windows.
As mentioned from day 1 these bunch of vloggers/gamers feel closer to brands, the games, the products and they feel their voice is increasingly included in steering the industry.
And finally VR. VR was surprising for us all – experiences have come on leaps and bounds in both the high and low-end equipment available to consumers. Sony showed their intentions with the PSVR whilst Microsoft were tight-lipped to the public. I wouldn’t be surprised if there isn’t a pre-christmas announcement from the xbox team. Some of the most exciting games we played were produced by small and simple startups. We overcame the externally facing “fool with goggles on” look with an internal look of “I am a total robot destroying badass”. These experiences are so much more immersive and interactive compared to the Oculus boom of 2015 that I (a burnt early-adopter) am now convinced that now is the time to invest.
The hardware of the VR units themselves don’t look to be changing anytime soon, but so many of the gaming engines now support VR development. Again, another aspect of democratising going on in the industry allowing the smaller fish to play and compete against the big whales. If you’re forensically analysing the graphics you would be slightly unimpressed, but once you’re playing and looking around you’ll stop with the CSI and get playing. Nothing but experience matters here.
We’re super excited about some of the opportunities we’re bringing home for our clients, watch this space.
Would we go again? Of course we would! It was all about the experience. There’s nothing like being engulfed between the fans and the creators… even better when you can be both. Yes the information is readily available online immediately after the announcements, but it’s the people and the players, not the location, that truly shone at E3. Like most aspects of marketing today the user has more voice, more ideas, more power to execute and more influence. And this is amazing for us all, all of us users, so that we can create more worthwhile ideas together.
Hils + Tom + Jenna
PS big loves to the staff at the Freehand Hotel, downtown LA. Can’t wait to see you in London Marv!