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Hated Microsoft's E3 press briefing? Blame mainstream journalists

E3 2012 Screenshot - SmartGlass E3

For those who understand, E3 week is one of the most anticipated weeks during each year for the videogame industry. It’s not only a time for media and developers alike to dive deeper into upcoming titles; it’s where innovation and the future truly meet with millions of eyes watching. This year’s event once again kicked off with Microsoft’s press briefing, and interestingly enough, for those who watched it, it really didn’t pertain to games at all. Xbox SmartGlass, Xbox Music, and other briefing items seemed to be Microsoft’s core focus, while Gears of War: Judgment and Fable: The Journey received little spotlight. Why, though? Shouldn’t an expo of E3’s magnitude be the perfect opportunity to showcase these first-party, upcoming games? One would most certainly think so. But, the problem with all of this lies within the hands of mainstream journalists, and their voice for the entire gaming industry.

Let me begin by stating that mainstream journalists are absolutely vital for the industry; for reaching more demographics and for selling products. The real problem is, though, how these voices are heard and how much respect they’re given. Let me ask you this: how often do you see Yahoo or the Wallstreet Journal reporting heavily on videogames news? Usually not too often. Normally these journalists are given a quick article assignment to write on these announcements (if that), or are presented with a small print space to cover everything that’s being presented to them. Microsoft is undoubtedly aware of this and I believe they shape their entire conference around what these mainstream journalists will and can write about.

When you think of your friends who would be generally be titled “soft-core” gamers, detailing games like Skyrim and BioShock are quite difficult because they’re fantasy games with fantasy themes. Keeping this in mind, mainstream journalists have to reach a broad demographic with their writing, so it’s generally more appropriate to shy away from writing about these games. It is easier, though, to reach a broad demographic when they cover tech gear. That’s why last year’s Kinect line-up was so popular, because it was technology that had never been seen before, and why this year’s was so focused around SmartGlass and other applications that don’t directly tie in with games.

Another reason behind Microsoft’s tech-focused press briefing is its final push in the current console cycle. It’s been seven years since the launch of the Xbox 360 and if the statistics show us anything, it’s that we’re now on a major decline in console sales. Almost everyone who would have a console has a console, so the discrepancy currently is how Microsoft can push for further console sales. Like the Wii’s launch that focused around unseen tech, Microsoft is attempting to reach those who aren’t exactly “gamers” through cool tech that utilizes their impressive application line-up, while opening the door for gaming through these new items like SmartGlass.

Is it unfair that all of these outstanding, upcoming games get pushed aside in mainstream press because it’s too hardcore? Certainly. Is it foolish that Microsoft focuses on reaching newcomers through new tech instead of these games? Of course. In reality, technology like Kinect and SmartGlass are so optional for those with Xbox 360s that they’re never what Microsoft intends them to be. The company wants you to think they’re something that’ll sell consoles, but they end up becoming optional, “cool” accessories that most will use every once in awhile.

E3 press briefing

Microsoft’s disappointing press conference is indeed the result of mainstream journalists and their ability, or inability, to report on hardcore, upcoming titles. Thankfully, next year should shape up to be a fantastic mix of tech and games as the rumored Xbox 720 will most likely be announced, along with its launch line-up. At this point, though, gamers should understand what Microsoft’s focus was during last week’s briefing and how it affects their image outside of the gaming industry, as they aim to sell more units. That doesn’t mean we should come to accept the awful presentation we saw; it can only help us get a better picture of Microsoft’s thinking, and give us a better argument when folks say the briefing was of quality. Let us know your thoughts on the issue by commenting below.

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Tate Steinlage I write words about video games and sports. Hope you like them.
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