I have a secret to tell you, one that might shock you to your very core. Once I tell you it, you may never be able to watch an E3 the same way again, or even feel a tingling in your thighs when you watch a teaser trailer for a game that isn’t coming out until 2022. Lean in close. You ready?
E3 is one long advert full of half-truths designed to separate you from your money.
Oh, you knew that already? Fair enough. It’s pretty obvious, really: as much as developers and publishers like to position E3 as a show for fans, it’s really an event for the consumer. Whether it’s a cryptic and slender piece of footage for the nth entry in a franchise or a cinematic trailer that simply doesn’t align with the game itself, E3 is ultimately just a place where games are sold before they hit shelves.
And it’s really difficult not to get wrapped up in it, to be swept along by the many hype trains and to analyse every single frame from the tease of a new release. I’m guilty of this, of course: I’ve watched the Death Stranding reveal down to the most Kubrickian of details roughly a hundred times.
E3 is a convention that basically runs off a template. A spokesperson takes to the stage, says some things off of a well-rehearsed and PR-endorsed script, and then some footage of a new game is blasted across the big screen. One company, however, chucked that template into the sea last year with a brilliant pastiche of the industry.
Devolver Digital have always forsaken the norm, helping them to carve a reputation as everyone’s favourite indie studio. Over the past ten years, they’ve released a bevy of brilliant and diverse games, including the likes of Hotline Miami, Absolver, and The Talos Principle to name just a few. Their output is as off-kilter and “irregular” as the company itself, who couldn’t be as far away from the likes of EA and Ubisoft if they tried.
It should come as no surprise, then, that their pre-recorded conference at E3 2017 lampooned the current state of the industry in a ridiculous and wonderful way. Make no mistake, the aim of the conference was still to sell their games, but when a small studio can proudly plunk their balls down on the table for all to see, it’s worth watching.
Things start off innocuously enough by nodding to the sterile nature of most E3 presentations. A woman addresses the crowd in a condescending manner while struggling to keep up with the many aggressive camera cuts before things quickly descend into utter pandemonium. Exploding heads, disappearing appendages and satire so on-the-nose that your only option is to sit back and appreciate that they even went there to begin with. It’s even somewhat prophetic: their idea for Earliest Access came true with Boss Key’s Radical Heights, which launched into X-Treme Early Access before the company shut down.
Perhaps we should look at Devolver’s presser as a warning that sadly came somewhat true. 2017 saw big publishers try more and more monetisation schemes to avoid admitting that, yes, maybe our game cost too much to make because flowing hair. Loot crates were the hot topic of last year, so much so that they many publishers have had to walk back on them due to the backlash.
It’s a year later and the red nose of the industry is even easier for Devolver to prick. To say that the AAA industry has lost a lot of respect from gamers would be an understatement; the trust just isn’t there anymore. Whether it’s Battlefront 2’s gambling, Destiny 2’s misleading levelling up, or microtransactions invading single-player experiences, the big-hitters have shown their ugliest sides as of late.
Enter Devolver. I have no idea how they will follow-up the dark maelstrom of their last conference, but I would be delighted to see them at least try. Even though Graeme Struthers, a senior player at Devolver Digital, downplayed what angle they will be going for this year, suggesting that they may just opt for a PowerPoint presentation, it’s hard to think that they won’t go all-out again.
I could be mistaken as Devolver could always go back to their E3 roots and put up a display in a parking lot, but an indie publisher on the up-and-up should be going in all guns blazing, burning effigy of Strauss Zelnick and all. While they probably won’t go that extreme, expect a crazy parable of the last year in gaming with 50% more blood pouring out of noses.