Both Microsoft and Activision threw huge attention-getting events at E3, but deciding which publisher's money was better spent is a matter for debate.
If you want to get someone's attention at E3, you'd better be prepared to shout. With so many publishers and developers crowded together, trying to convince the public that their shooter/music game/RPG/motion controller is better than that guy's over there, it's incredibly difficult to be sure you're getting your message across. One way of increasing the odds is to host an Event, capital E, the kind that makes people ooo and ahhh and talk about whatever it is you want them to be talking about the next day. E3s of recent years have scaled back on such pricey shindigs, but both Microsoft and Activision spent tidy sums on extravaganzas this week. Microsoft invited a select few to join Cirque du Soleil in a celebration of the Kinect motion controller, and Activision showed trailers and clips from its upcoming game lineup during an enormous concert. So was there a winner? Was one event more of a success than the other? Depends on what you think the goals were.
If you're talking straight up spectacle, it's hard to argue that Microsoft didn't come out ahead. If there's one thing that Cirque knows how to do, it's put on a jaw-dropping show, and the elephant puppet, acrobats, and rotating room of Sunday night's festivities certainly did that. Not that Activision's party wasn't spectacular, with musical including Deadmau5, Usher, N.E.R.D., Jane's Addiction, Chris Cornell, and Eminem, but it was, after all, pretty much just a concert. A big-ass concert with flame cannons and fireworks, granted, but a concert just the same, something most of us have been to more than once. Though your enjoyment level of each bash depended largely on your personal taste - Cirque's weirdness isn't for everyone, but neither is Rihanna - for one-of-a-kind memories, Microsoft wins.
When judging the effectiveness of an E3 event, though, it probably makes more sense to consider whether or not you came away wanting to know more about the products shown, and by that criteria, I have to give it up to Activision. The Microsoft event was amazing and wonderful, but I already wanted to know more about Kinect before I walked in the door. Almost nothing in Activision's lineup was on my radar before the concert, however, and showing trailers for True Crime Hong Kong and Tony Hawk Shred in between musical acts got me to pay attention to them. I can't say for sure that I care particularly about many of the games I saw - though my excitement for DJ Hero 2 definitely went up a few notches - but I know more about them now than I did before anyone took the stage, which Activision has to count as a win.
That's just my perspective, though. Our Editor in Chief, Russ Pitts, had the opposite experience. He had mentally written Kinect off as a gimmick before the Cirque show, but came out impressed and wanting to know more. Already familiar with what Activision was offering, and not Pharrell's biggest fan, he wasn't particularly affected by the concert, other than observing that Usher was kind of a pussy. Which, let's be honest, is kind of hard to argue with.
There's no real need to decide a "winner," of course; it's not really a head to head competition, after all. And game journalists weren't necessarily the target audience for either party. As much as we like to think we're the center of the gaming universe, retailers, buyers, and mainstream press are just as, if not more, important as these kinds of bashes. Still, it's interesting to dissect each event and examine which efforts worked and which were wasted, and try and mentally assemble a Frankenparty that would impress everyone.
Let's just skip the ponchos next time, ok?