#267: Memory lapse

An assault on the senses, and the digestive system, at not-E3 2024.

#267: Memory lapse
A gurning Phil Spencer emerges from hiding to kick off Microsoft's not-E3 showcase.

I was violently ill on Saturday night. At first I thought it was the after-effects of some dodgy Friday sushi; more likely it was a stomach bug brought home by one of the demonspawn, as the whole family spent Sunday feeling ropey. But having taken in as much of not-E3 2024 as my feverish body and brain could bear, I like to think my digestive system was just getting into the spirit of things. The last week has been one long game-industry evacuation, an uncontrollable technicolour explosion that has vomited an uncountable number of games onto the internet at unsettling, horrifying speed. We used to call E3 videogame Christmas; this not-E3 has looked rather more like a crime scene. 

Guerrilla Collective set the tone last Thursday, cramming 70 games into a runtime of just under two hours. In my youthful (ahem) naivety I assumed this would be an outlier, but no. On Saturday, Wholesome Direct somehow fit the same number of titles into a tight hour. The PC Gaming show? Another 70. And that’s just three of the 18 — eighteen — showcases to have vomited their wares into our eyesockets since Sony kicked off not-E3 2024 13 days ago. According to the highly useful website GamesRecap, over 600 games have been shown off. It goes without saying, I think, that this is Not Ideal. 

I watched a little of Wholesome Direct, but the games arrived at such speed that wishlisting the ones I liked the look of — which I can only assume, in this day and age, is the primary goal of most of these showcases — was pretty much impossible if I actually wanted to see everything on offer: by the time I’d unlocked my phone, searched for a game in Steam and wishlisted it, I’d missed most, if not all, of the next trailer or announcement. Media coverage of these events has tended towards hastily assembled round-ups, which naturally consign most of the games on show to the scrapheap and are inevitably buried within hours by the avalanche of coverage of other events. In fairness I'm not sure what else the press can do in the face of so relentless an onslaught. Write them all up individually? There aren’t enough hours in the day, and next to no one would read them in any case.

Whether you were ill or not, the pace was feverish. Until this year, the primary criticism of the not-E3 era has been that it is boring; this year I fear the dial has been turned too far in the other direction. This non-stop sensory assault is no good for viewers, who simply cannot digest it, and even worse for developers, who desperately want us to both notice and remember their games and stand no chance when everything is presented in such vast numbers, and is rattled through with so much haste. Sure, every game shown off will have seen an uptick in wishlists and follows to some degree. But there has to be a better way, and I would urge those at the controls of these events to find one.

In that context, Geoff Keighley’s Summer Game Fest showcase felt uncommonly focused, respectful of both viewers and developers and, most strangely of all, actually… quite good? Mostly, anyway. Yes, it lacked somewhat for true bangers, but as Hit Points has observed in the past, this is Keighley’s lot at not-E3; the heightened competition compared to Game Awards season means he drops a little down the pecking order, feeding on the scraps from the platform-holders’ and big publishers’ tables. In that context I thought he did quite well.

I think the most heartening thing on display here was a sign that Keighley is listening to criticism, and working to address it. Clearly mindful of the outrage that followed last year’s Game Awards, he opened the show with an acknowledgement of the miserable state of the game industry — albeit with some rather convenient framing, positioning indies as the keepers of the flame before a showcase that was dominated by indie studios’ work. There was a decent measure of the broad sweep of modern videogames, a welcome change from the poor curation of years past. There were Actual Women on stage, and people of colour too. I even quite liked his outfit. It was still far from the finished article, and the show lost its way terribly in the last half-hour or so as commercial obligations came a little too nakedly to the fore. But Keighley, for all his flaws, is clearly paying attention, and I take a certain comfort in that. 

And then there was the Xbox Games Showcase — or, as Hit Points would prefer to call it, The My God You Fuckers Have Short Memories Extravaganza. Yes, yes, some good games on show, perhaps even some great ones. Lots to look forward to. But is that all it takes? If you were able to look at some of the more outré firstparty fare on show without wondering when Microsoft plans to close the studio that made it, then more power to you. If the avalanche of trailers with little or no gameplay footage, and vague or entirely absent release windows, was all you needed to forget the Xbox division’s miserable track record for shipping good games on time, then great, I guess. If you were able to listen to Matt Booty pay gurning tribute to “the creativity and talent of game creators” that “make our industry unique”, mere weeks after putting some of the Xbox operation's most talented and creative developers out of work, without wanting to put your foot through the screen then I am almost jealous. I may well have been sick on the spot, if there was anything left inside me to expel.

Look, I get it. E3 is traditionally the time of year where we throw context out the window; where we put aside our earthly concerns for a few days, indulge our inner hype-beasts and allow ourselves to be swept up in the excitement of it all. The fact that I, for years the most dribblingly ardent E3 fanboy you could ever hope/fear to encounter, have been unable to do that — even when presented with what in the Before Times might have been heralded as a showcase for the ages — speaks volumes to the extent to which Microsoft has poisoned the well. Yes, sure, they showed us some good games on Sunday. But they have spent the last few months showing us a lot of other, deeply unpleasant things about the modern-day Xbox operation, and I am afraid all that cannot be undone by a few good adverts for some games I quite liked the look of. 

This was the first public sighting of Phil Spencer since the closures of Arkane Austin, Tango Gameworks, Alpha Dog and Roundhouse Games were announced, and in a frustratingly soft-touch interview at IGN Live after the showcase — seriously, your man had called Phil ‘my friend’ inside 30 seconds — the Xbox head was invited to belatedly explain himself. “In the end, I’ve said over and over, I have to run a sustainable business inside the company and grow," he honked. "And that means that sometimes I have to make hard decisions that frankly are not decisions I love, but decisions that somebody needs to go make. We will continue to go forward. We will continue to invest in what we’re trying to do at Xbox, and build the best business we can, which ensures we can continue to build shows like the one we just did.”

Just... no. I find it rather hard to swallow the suggestion that the biggest company on the planet cannot afford to fund the hits of tomorrow without killing off the hitmakers of yesterday, that it cannot make its showcases a little better without making the industry that powers them even worse, and that if we want Xbox to be good at not-E3 we must tolerate it being evil offstage. I find it even harder to stomach the idea that there is no sin too foul to be redeemed by a banging 90-minute sequence of game trailers, but it appears I am in the minority on that. Not for the first time this week, I find myself reaching for the bucket.

Hey, £4/$5 a month gets you something like this in your inbox every Friday, along with a round-up of the week’s news and some fun other bits and bobs, and helps fund my fully independent, ad-free, SEO-ignorant work. It also makes me feel a bit better about writing about an industry that increasingly seems to be in some kind of death spiral.

Speaking of which, on Friday we’ll be looking at Ubisoft, whose current woes warrant a closer examination than today’s wordcount would allow. Paid subs, I’ll see you then; to the rest of you, if you’d care to join us, kindly click the button below. Cheerio!