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Developers don’t want to show gameplay at E3 anymore, and who can blame them?

CyberPanda

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Game developers try to show, not tell, when teaching you about how a game works. But on the stages of E3 this year, they haven’t been showing very much either.

Some conference reveals were short films, like Halo Infinite’s isolationist thriller, Gears 5’s psychological trip through its history, or Ghostwire’s spooky study of public life in Tokyo. Others were sizzle reels, for the likes of Wolfenstein: Youngblood or Crystal Dynamics’ Avengers, made up of in-game moments spliced together for maximum impact. But far rarer was the seamless gameplay footage that purported to show off exactly how a game would play, moment by moment. Doom Eternal, Final Fantasy 7 and Watch Dogs Legion stood out as notable exceptions – while other extended footage was relegated to post-show streams like Nintendo’s Treehouse: Live.

If you want a theory as to what’s changed, Watch Dogs is a good place to start. The original game’s 2012 E3 reveal was unquestionably the most brilliant of the show, gluing the camera to Aiden Pearce’s trench coat for nearly ten minutes as it flapped through the Windy City, demonstrating how the protagonist would hack his way into Chicago’s most private spaces while his hands barely left his pockets.

The demo also invited direct comparison to the game that came out two years later. Watch Dogs was an early subject of YouTube videos that juxtaposed demo footage with finished games to suggest a graphical downgrade had taken place, and that players had therefore been shortchanged. The furore was such that Ubisoft put out a statement to placate fans, in which the publisher said that “the notion we would actively downgrade quality is contrary to everything we’ve set out to achieve”. There’s no question that the controversy contributed to Watch Dogs’ iffy reputation at launch, and arguably to the lacklustre sales of its much better sequel.

Since then, ‘graphical downgrade’ videos have become a thriving subgenre on YouTube, targeting huge games like Anthem, The Division, and The Witcher 3. They feed into a growing suspicion of game studios which paints developers as liars, out to deliberately mislead gamers in pursuit of greater profits.

This increasingly adversarial relationship was visible at times during E3 2019, too – as when Mythic Quest creator Rob McElhenney said, with a wry smile, that “nobody smells bullshit like this particular community”. Or when Elder Scrolls Online creative director Rich Lambert said that gamers were “definitely not afraid to tell us how you feel”. It was a show where “excitement” became a euphemism for past community uproar, and where at times developers appeared afraid of their audience. In that atmosphere, extended gameplay footage was a source of possible community scandal that publishers largely chose to avoid.

In truth, gameplay demos at events like E3 are subject to change. They’re often built as vertical slices – self-contained examples of what a sequence will look like once every feature and asset in the game has reached its highest level of polish. They can help studios accurately schedule the rest of development. And in the case of Watch Dogs, making that notorious E3 demo forced the team to lock down the look and feel of the game.

“A lot of developers don’t like to do E3 demos, because they take a lot of time and production,” animation director Colin Graham once told me for a PCGamesN interview. “But it came at a really good time for us, because it helped us say, ‘That’s what we’re going to make.’”

Before then, nobody was completely sure what Aiden would wear, how he would move, or what tools he would use – nor exactly what shape Chicago and its people would take. Afterwards, Watch Dogs’ huge triple-A team was working towards a shared vision. Perhaps this week’s Legion demo has performed a similar function – even if it has opened up Ubisoft to yet more unfavourable comparison videos.

And what has the decline of the gameplay demo meant for us, the viewers of E3? Just a few years ago, we rolled our eyes at the moments a developer would bring a controller out on stage and not appear to connect it to anything. We laughed at the wooden choreography – as presenters did their best to imbue tightly planned sequences with a semblance of spontaneity – and the times actors would simulate player voice chat. But with all that absurdity, we’ve lost something too.

Watching Bethesda’s Doom Eternal demo, I could feel my fingers twitching – as close to interacting with the game as I will be until its release in November. It was one of the few times during E3’s conferences this year I could get a real sense of what a game would be like to play. Without that footage, the shows are left feeling like the trailers before a movie – plenty of sizzle and not a lot of meat.

 
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Kagey K

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Gameplay is for all the press they do with Geoff Keighly and Giant Bomb and IGN and every other streamer. There is tons of footage of many games shown at E3 this year if you look for it,

Conferences are for the trailers that make an impact.

10 years ago everyone was like, “ugggghhhh” I don’t want to see fake gameplay, show me the games.”

Now it’s I want 9” minutes of each dev playing 5 mins of thier game. No wonder gaming can’t win.

The conferences are to show you what to expect from the games either on other streams or to play for yourself on the floor.

If you only watch the conferences, and don’t dig deeper I don’t know what to say.

Do you expect the MS show to go 4 hours+ in order to show you gameplay of all the games you might care about? What about the games you don’t care about?

They would have to show them all right?
 

Danjin44

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Astral Chain shown first time in Feb Nintendo direct with gameplay and proper release date and they show it off this E3 with even more gameplay with no "downgrade" or "delays"

Its not impossible task!!!
 
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jakinov

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I'm glad they stopped showing live-stage demos. It slows down the pacing of the conference and gets kind of boring. Like I don't really want to watch them play a whole multiplayer match, a slow cover shooter scene, or an entire stealth sequence with little new mechanics. I'd rather they do a gameplay montage. Especially when you consider when the real E3 actually starts, doing the stage demo gets redundant because every gaming website ends up doing a walk-through with the developer anyways; in a longer, less awkward and more informative manner. But most importantly, as a viewer you get to watch at your own leisure that 5-15 minutes of gameplay.

I think the games that work best to be shown live are either cinematic/event heavy games like the Sony published ones, games showcasing tech, or highly anticipated sequels that received a major revamp (like a generation jump or a reimagining),
 
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Kagey K

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I think the article is jumping conclusion.


So show the game we will play and not bullshot.
I’d be interested to know what games did you consider bullshots this year?

I only saw one, and it didn’t look good.
 
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Pallas

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I think the article is jumping conclusion.


So show the game we will play and not bullshot.

So show no gameplay and just CGI cutscenes? I’m only speaking about games that are shown and aren’t close to finishing btw and honestly a lot of graphical downgrades are probably associated with the games being showcased on PC’s rather than the actual console or consoles that it will be released on just to make it look good.

There really should be a disclaimer on all gameplay footages that use a PC if there isn’t one already.
 
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Main problem with e3 demos during production is that it takes a good chunk of the production teams to even make them and the "demo" itself is usually like 4-5 months worth of work put into one demo during a time in production when all of the production team is needed. A lot of time the game isn't really ready to show which is why a lot of it ends up hard-scripted if they do a "playthrough".

I can totally see why a lot of game showings at E3 ends up being somewhat "bullshotted" or purposefully vague.

That said, I feel like lately we've struck a good balance, you can see in-game footage but it's like a cut-together montage of what the game will be like and some of its cool features etc.
And the ones that aren't ready to show..yeah they just have small teasers that tell you more about the games' setting rather than the particulars regarding gameplay.
 

ethomaz

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So show no gameplay and just CGI cutscenes? I’m only speaking about games that are shown and aren’t close to finishing btw and honestly a lot of graphical downgrades are probably associated with the games being showcased on PC’s rather than the actual console or consoles that it will be released on just to make it look good.

There really should be a disclaimer on all gameplay footages that use a PC if there isn’t one already.
?

Show the actual game not bullshots.

Ubisoft is king in that... why not show only what players well will play? That way you don’t need to avoid any exposure lol
 
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Kagey K

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?

Show the actual game not bullshots.

Ubisoft is king in that... why not show only what players well will play? That way you don’t need to avoid any exposure lol
Tell us about these UBI bullshots this year........ I assume it has to be WD3 or Ghost Recon as they were the only semi impressive looking games.
 

ethomaz

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Tell us about these UBI bullshots this year........ I assume it has to be WD3 or Ghost Recon as they were the only semi impressive looking games.
I’m not following you at all.

The article says developers are avoiding to show gameplay at E3 due the Watch Dog downgrade effect.

I said the article is jumping conclusion.

So I reply to somebody else that says he can’t blame developers because is gamers will bully them and I said to show gameplay of what players will play and not bullshots like Watch Dogs.

You ask me which game showed bullshot this E3??? And twice... when I did not even watched any conference except the end of the MS one.

If what the article say is true then developers created that situation themselves and they could avoid it just showing gameplay of what you will really play.

Not lying do wonders.
 
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Kagey K

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I’m not following you at all.

The article says developers are avoiding to show gameplay at E3 due the Watch Dog downgrade effect.

I said to show gameplay of what players will play and not bullshots like Watch Dogs.

You ask me which game showed bullshot this E3??!
I asked you a question earlier in this thread that you might have missed

I’d be interested to know what games did you consider bullshots this year?

I only saw one, and it didn’t look good.

You replied to a different quote talking about UBI so I took it around to that.

So I will ask again.

What games do you consider bullshots from this E3?
 

Pallas

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?

Show the actual game not bullshots.

Ubisoft is king in that... why not show only what players well will play? That way you don’t need to avoid any exposure lol

Because “bullshots” are ultimately unavoidable if the developers/publishers want their game looking nice as possible. They just need to be upfront with it and not lie(Anthem) and articulate to the people watching that it’s subject to change before the final product is shipped. It’s kind of their own fault in a sense, but I still can’t blame them for just using CGI footage now.
 

TwiztidElf

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Killzone 2 bullshots was 2005

Treehouse was amazing again this year btw.
 
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Kagey K

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Might as well just skip E3 and watch live streams of gameplay plus Treehouse then.

I don't care for CGI in games because I just want to try the game itself.

I wasn't sold on Daemon x Machina until I saw actual gameplay footage of it.

The CGI non gameplay stuff is for casual gamers who don't care about the gameplay.
I think it’s more for people that want a sense or tone of the game and if it piques thier interest they will pursue it further.
 

Obominuru

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And those CGI trailers are more representative of the game than actual gameplay?
The extended gameplay videos of FF7R, Watch Dogs and Doom Eternal during the conferences were the absolute highlight for me.
Even if a game gets downgraded after an extensive gameplay showing it still shows me what the devs are aiming for whereas CGI trailers could literally have nothing to do with the actual game.
 

Screamer-RSA

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This year devs seem to have gotten the message. If you don't have gameplay, show a CGI trailer. And if you have gameplay show that, not some vertical slice that some dev had during his/her wet dream that would only run on a console 6 generations later.
 
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Kagey K

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This year devs seem to have gotten the message. If you don't have gameplay, show a CGI trailer. And if you have gameplay show that, not some vertical slice that some dev had during his/her wet dream that would only run on a console 6 generations later.

Most of them showed gameplay on the show floor and many of the streams that covered it. If there was a game you were interested in, for the most part there is an in depth gameplay video to go with it.

It seems like E3 isn’t about the games anymore, it’s just winners and losers and console wars.

So many people with shallow points.
 

Screamer-RSA

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Most of them showed gameplay on the show floor and many of the streams that covered it. If there was a game you were interested in, for the most part there is an in depth gameplay video to go with it.

It seems like E3 isn’t about the games anymore, it’s just winners and losers and console wars.

So many people with shallow points.

What they show on the floor doesn't matter, 99% of their audience is not there smh

So many apologists for million dollar companies
 
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Tekkie

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"In truth, gameplay demos at events like E3 are subject to change. They’re often built as vertical slices – self-contained examples of what a sequence will look like once every feature and asset in the game has reached its highest level of polish"

The gaming press really are nothing more than corporate apologists at this point aren't they? I'm sure certain things definitely are subject to change yes, but that's not what these companies were doing. They were trying to be the headliners of the show and with so many games being shown, being one of the most visually stunning ones means you get a lot of eyes on you. That's how you get your Watchdog situation, nothing else, it's not the animosity of muh toxic gamurz. We get toxic when you try to bullshit us. So when you pull a Colonial Marines, yeah, you better lube up that asshole because you're not gettin' away with it without taking a pounding.
 

Cosmogony

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Ah, I see.

Developers show gameplay the final game doesn't live up to and the problem, somehow, is not the discrepancy itself but pointing out the discrepancy?

If developers aren't confident enough the gameplay is representative of the final product, don't show it then. Wait until they're sure.

And if indeed they are forced to downgrade, just admit it openly and explain yourself. Most gamers are reasonable people and will likely understand.

But if you lie left and right, if you blame it on Youtube compression, if you promise the graphical fidelity will be the same in the final product and say nothing when it turns out it's not, if you ban people on your forums for simply raising the issue, if you allow your community manager to call critics "tools", then the results are likely not going to be that great,
You'll have no one to blame but yourself.
 
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Kagey K

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What they show on the floor doesn't matter, 99% of their audience is not there smh

So many apologists for million dollar companies
Does that limit thier access to youtube? Does not being at e3 mean there aren’t videos of the games?

Do developers not book time to make sure thier audience at home can see gameplay?

If you see a game a conference you like there are ample opportunities to see footage of it, the press conference isn’t the right time, unless you want to watch a lot of gameplay footage you couldn’t care about for a few minutes of the one you do.
 

Dontero

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Over 85% of the games shown at all conferences had either public demos, or behind closed doors shows to the press.

How are the lying exactly?

By presenting conctent that either won't be in game or it will be scaled back.
Look at Anthem e3 demo and what game was in the end.
Look at watchdogs1.

etc.
 
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Starfield

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I think the problem isn't cgi trailers the problem is that games are shown/revealed in the wrong way...

In most cases the developers usually craft a playable demo/level together to present the game on how it will or should look like but imo thats the wrong way to do it. Games should be shown in their real current state and if its too early then dont show it at all.
Crafting together a playable demo while there isnt really a game around it is the wrong way because in most cases the end product could look alot different or worse than we saw in this "bullshot demo"
 
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Saruhashi

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Developers and publishers etc would do well to reconsider what E3 has become and what it ought to be.

I personally reckon they'd be better off making it earlier in the year and then encouraging developers to show off their upcoming games for the current year with trailers and gameplay.

Some of the conferences were just too long and seemed a bit pointless.

Nintendo is the main company that gets it right, in my opinion.
Opening up with some competitive events on the first day to just set the stage that this whole thing is an advertisement for their games after all and if you loved the Splatoon2 event or the Smash Ultimate event you can buy that stuff immediately. Liked the look of Mario Maker 2? You can pre order that and it's out in 2 weeks.
Then their "trailers" thing was only 40 minutes long so it's easy enough to sit through and there's a bit of something for everyone.
After that it's just 20 minute segments of game play for upcoming games spread over 2 days and then a 3rd day of segments with gameplay of upcoming indies.

A lot of the other companies seem to hit you with a long event that is just trailer after trailer and then, because the games are so far from release, a behind closed doors demo. That's some bullshit.

Plus they screw themselves over by showing games that are years away from release and then people walk away disappointed at the next E3 because there is no follow up. What good is a CGI trailer for a game that won't be out until after the next E3?

If E3 was in, say, April then most devs would have the ability to show working versions of their games scheduled to release in the current calendar year.
If a game is slated for a mid-2020 release then for sure it's probably not the best plan to be showing off gameplay since your game is quite a ways off and things are likely to change.

I'm thinking of Breath of the Wild at E3 2016 where people were playing on the great plateau region and it seemed to create so much positive buzz for the game (which came out about 9 months later?).
 
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They often lied by showing a game that, ultimately, between changes and downgrades failed to meet users' high expectations.
IMHO I think that people want nothing but the unvarnished thuth.
 
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ROMhack

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Thing is, it's all a big sales pitch to begin with. It's much easier to make something look extremely dope and ergo create extreme hype with a polished, stunning looking trailer.

The way they deliver the speeches is exactly the same too.
 
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Gamernyc78

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These cgi trailers were a common theme back then as was live action trailers by Microsoft for their games. Then around the time of Uncharted 2 Sony started the practice of live, onstage conference demos of games which was great imo for the industry because you could really see what you were getting and it showed a huge confidence. Instead of live action trailers and bullshots not representative of games, we got onstage demos. I think Sony will continue this practice. I use to kid with my friends and be like "oh boy here comes the live action teaser for Halo" and sure enough thts what it would be lol
 
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spandexmonkey

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So what they're saying is any game with a CG only trailer is because devs don't trust their gameplay? Kind of puts a number of e3 trailers into perspective.
 

Shifty

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Well for one, there's a difference between cringe-inducing live play demos with optional fake gamer patter, and simply showing a gameplay trailer. The latter still costs resources to make, but nowhere near as much as giving it the full vertical slice demo treatment.

For two, companies that get caught out trying to embellish the truth with creative language, or trying to pretend that the max-spec demo they're showing is running on a base-tier console instead of a monstrous PC, deserve all the backlash they get.
Fuck the 'it must be perfect and flawless' attitude, just show something honest. Put a disclaimer on there saying it's from the PC version if the console build isn't ready.

And for three, literally everyone who watched E3 can blame them. I want to see the product I'm getting upsold on, not a bunch of marketing CGI and target renders that only very loosely represent what it's actually going to be.

And remember, kids...

"Don't ask questions, just consume product. Then get excited for next product."

Don't be like this ☝
 
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Nintendo was able to cram gameplay footage (or at least in-engine) for pretty much every game in their Direct though. Gameplay footage doesn't have to last 10 minutes, on-stage with people talking over it. Just show the game, have the extended demo available later. Done. It's not that difficult.