Oh lordy, he’s off again…

So E3’s been and gone once more, like the annual visit of a creepy uncle of whom no one in your family can quite remember who he’s actually related to. I’d been to several E3s during my previous incarnation as one of Britain’s Leading PC Gaming Journalists™, all pre-razzmatazz reduction affairs and during its period as the world’s foremost gathering place for 12-15 year old “company directors” and pre-pubescant so-called “web journalists” (i.e. they post on the Something Awful forums). Heady days indeed.

The combination of blisteringly hot weather (something of an unknown quantity for us Brits), copious amounts of free alcohol thanks to friendly PR credit cards, the dubious charms of certain… establishments on Sunset Strip, and the sheer, overwhelming crush of the show floors themselves all resulted in three to four days of gaming geekdom like no other of the time. In fact, the magazine I worked for (PC Zone) had been invited to the Playboy mansion so many times during our E3 trips, that it was actually an annual tradition for attendees to find the most daringly inappropriate places in the fabled bunny lair to take a public whizz.

There was simply no equal to E3 in the pomp and splendour of its heyday. Simply being at Heathrow airport in London and seeing the departure lounge packed out with just about everyone you knew, the planes full of your contemporaries all challenging each other to impromptu DS Mario Kart battles across the aisles (or even the intense frenzy that was the Virgin Atlantic on-board trivia challenge game, as you tried to work out if the ‘PETEM’ topping the scoreboard was just some nobody from nowheresville, or Peter frickin Molyneux sitting over there in the Upper Class section) – these were the halcyon days of the games industry, at least for those of us on the Press side of things.

It’s all changed now, of course. For better or worse is a moot point, certainly today’s E3 is a place where things can actually get done, where games can be showcased properly rather than trying to condense a dozen 100-hour epics into the fifteen minute slots available before your audience’s next appointment (almost always on the opposite end of the next hall). The razzle dazzle has moved on, Leipzig tries but will always be a poor imitation, Tokyo Game Show is a law unto itself, and the kiddie directors have now all dropped their fake beards and faker IDs and just make their way to PAX and the like. The developers themselves have their annual shindigs at GDC, ION et al, and every major games publisher seemingly hosts their own proprietary event – Microsoft’s X0 parties, Ubidays, Activision’s Activate, etc.

So everyone is now covered by their own personalised gatherings. Everyone? Not quite. Wither the MMO genre? The question I’m asking is simply this: does our genre need its own event? The coverage of E3 that came about tended to focus mostly on the usual suspects of non-MMO console gaming. PC titles were way behind the rest in terms of exposure and there was little coverage of actual MMO news worth talking about other than reinforcing of DC Universe Online’s presence in our minds. None of the big players in the MMO world made much of a presence, and with all the attention on the console gaming industry, you can’t blame them for keeping a low profile.

What coverage there is always tends to be quickly glossed over, partly because of the thousands of other games competing for attention, and partly because MMOs are very hard to demonstrate in the short chunks that E3 dictates. But what if there was a two/three day convergence of MMO-only titles at a dedicated show? You wouldn’t have to have new products to show off necessarily, but if journos, investors, potential publishers, etc. could walk around and discover what the current state of each title was, what’s on the horizon and where each existing world feels it should be going, in a confined area, you’re going to see a much higher profile for your titles and the genre as a whole than it currently receives in the mainstream press. I’ve lost track of the amount of so-called ‘professional’ games journalists I know that know everything there is to know about WOW, but next to nothing about any of the other games out there, including our own precious EQII. Consequently their readers are often grossly misinformed about where staple elements of MMO gameplay originated, and WOW is often credited far too much for its supposed innovations, despite such elements nine times out of ten having first come to light elsewhere.

This is a genre that is expanding at such a rate it’s going to need stretchy sweat pants before long, so why should it still be treated as a sub-human cousin to the rest of the gaming industry, something to be hidden under the stairs when the neighbours come to visit, fed only scraps of media attention and only let out to play when the pet scapegoat needs some exercise?

I say an MMO convention is needed, one that encompasses the games, invites the communities (how many blogs are there dedicated to Metal Gear Solid or Street Fighter compared to those for EQII or WOW?) to come take a look, and gives the general media at large a chance to focus on what we offer for a change. Who’s with me?

Advertisements