The side of E3 you won’t read about

While hundreds of games press journos eagerly lined up for over the top press conferences that cost more than a humbler publishers annual operating budget there was another story unfolding at E3. The story of an industry in transition. As the Cliffy B’s and Molyneux let themselves be celebrated by adding another numeric value to the next version of their milked to death franchises behind the scenes there were actually some real exciting success stories. Sadly though, you probably won’t be reading about them. The majority of the press are busy writing about Duke Nukem, no that’s not a misprint from 1994, yes actually Duke Nukem is getting some attention. Along with another Tomb Raider (yawn), another Call of Duty, another Halo, another Gears of War, another Bioshock, another Battlefield, the list goes on… you get the idea. Read IGN’s E3 winners, it’s so dull you may cry but it’s a perfect reflection of what the mainstream games press is focused on.

So on the one side you have justifiably risk averse publishers banking on their big franchises to see them through another year and on the other side you have the little covered online, mobile and social games that are truly driving the industry forward. It’s a weird juxtaposition where the industry leaders are leading from the sidelines rather than taking the glory on-field. And the perceived leaders are scrambling to figure out what exactly they should do next. While still spending stupid money to show off, to mainly each other, as if somehow to reaffirm their relevance.

So here are the alternative highlights from E3 you won’t be reading about elsewhere:

1)      The traditional games publishing business is dying. Okay that’s not a very cheery highlight but it’s a fact. The model is broken, there are a myriad of reasons for this but in its most basic form: it’s just too damn expense to get a box on the shelf 2011. In the wake of E3 THQ just announced its closing down the studio that developed Homefront. A game which on its first day did 375,000 units in sales. Another sad footnote that shows a mediocre or okay game cannot survive in this day and age. Apparently you need a big block buster that sells close to 5m+ or you might as well save yourself the development costs.

World of Tanks representing outside the South Hall, E3 2011

2)      World of Tanks: How innovation can still make you money. You may have noticed the huge tanks outside the South Hall and wondered what that was all about, well if you work in games and didn’t know World of Tanks, shame on you. You should absolutely know about World of Tanks. Why? Because it’s one of the most innovative games to be created for a good couple of years and they’re doing quite nicely to. Since the launch of World of Tanks, the game has signed up over 2 million users from Russia and over 1 million in the North American regions. It’s just so odd that a game has that level of success with so little mainstream press attention. However with their climbing CCU I am sure they’re not losing sleep over it, but the big boys should be because these type of products are the future.

3)      League of Legends: Why great products don’t need to show off. I’ll forgive you not knowing who World of Tanks are but I won’t forgive you not knowing about League Of Legends from the LA based guys and girls at Riot. Riot was recently acquired by 10 Cent for 400m USD. Ring any bells? League of Legends is the biggest thing to hit online gaming since WoW in 2004. So far they’ve been keeping their cards very close to their chest but once they do reveal user numbers I think it’s going to blow quite a few people away. If they’re smart, which I know they are, they’ll probably wait till they surpass WoWs user base before revealing hard numbers. My gut tells me that’s not too far off. They haven’t even opened in Korea and China yet, but when they do it’s going to be big! At E3 LoL just had some behind closed door meetings, for a B2B conference it doesn’t really make a lot of sense for a consumer focused business to blow a lot of un-necessary money. Certainly a big winner in 2010 and one to watch for 2011 and beyond.

4)      APB Reloaded and why free to play  is more important than the majority of game industry folk care to admit. It’s time to stop turning our nose up at the free to play space and start understanding it. And here’s a perfect example of why. APB, you know the one that cost 100m to develop. Well what was written off as a total failure and shut down with its original traditional pay to play model but it has been extraordinarily successful with a free to play model. In it’s new incarnation as APB Reloaded in the first few weeks of beta it already achieved a peak concurrency of 24,000. That’s a pretty healthy start for beta before they’ve even started properly monetizing.

Hopefully over time the games press and the industry as a whole will start turning towards and focusing on the trends that really do matter and that really are changing the games industry. Rather than glorifying the same old tosh that’s moving backwards or at best standing still.  I’ve recently read another few interesting pieces about how E3 really isn’t a great reflection of what the industry is anymore. Highly recommend the piece by David Wong on Cracked.com .

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