For as long as I’ve been writing this blog E3 hasn’t been much more than a distraction when it rolls around. Indeed in the 7 years I’ve been writing about games I’ve only ever covered it twice and usually only in passing, picking out a couple things that piqued my interest at the time. The reasons behind this would be obvious to any gamer as E3 has been largely irrelevant to the gaming community since about 2007 with most of the big announcements coming out of other conventions like PAX. However this year something seemed to change as the both the gaming industry and community seemed to rally behind this years expo, making it one of the most talked about to date.
The reason behind E3’s quick fall into obscurity was fuelled by the extremely questionable decision back in 2007 to close off the event to the general public and instead only allow games industry representatives and journalists. The first year after this was done saw the attendance drop to a mere 10,000 (down from 60,000 the year previous) and the following year saw it drop by half again. The other conventions that popped up in E3’s absence soaked up all these attendees and, by consequence, all of the attention of the games industry and press. Thus E3 spent the last 5 years attempting to rebuild its relevance but struggled to find a foothold with such stiff competition.
This year however has proven to be E3’s one of its greatest on record with attendance above 50,000 for the first time since they made that awful decision all those years ago. This rise in attendance has also come hand in hand with a much greater industry presence, boasting a much greater presence from major game developers and publishers. There were also numerous major announcements from pretty much all of the large players in the console and PC markets, something we really hadn’t seen at a single event for some time. For someone who’s been extremely jaded about E3 for so long it honestly took me by surprise just how relevant E3 had become and what that might mean for the conference’s future.
The challenge that E3 now faces is building on the momentum that they’ve created this year in order to re-cement their position as top dog of the games conferences. In it absence many of the larger players in the games industry opted to either patronize other conferences or set up their own, many of which have now gone on to be quite profitable events (like BlizzCon, for example). E3 will likely never be able to replace them however given the resounding success of this year’s conference there is potential for them to start drawing business away from some of the other conferences.
In the end though more competition in this space will hopefully lead to better things for the wider gaming community. It will be interesting to see if E3 can repeat their success next year and what the other conventions will be doing in response.
So I spent the majority of my weekend at PAX Australia, a gaming convention held in Melbourne which was its first appearance outside the United States. I have to say I was pretty excited about it as we don’t get events of this caliber coming to Australia very often with most of them only sharing the name of their bigger brethren. Whilst I was excited to see what they’d bring to us I was more hoping to look at it as a blogging opportunity since there’d be a lot of industry people there and there’s always the chance they will reveal something amazing that I could then pass onto you. It wasn’t anything like that however and whilst I don’t regret my decision to go down at all I do feel like PAXAus was suffering from some major 1.0 issues, ones that I thought they would’ve figured out given their heritage.
The first day I was there I spent the majority of my time attempting to get into the various sessions I wanted to see which turned out to be a really bad idea. Now this might be because I’m used to the Microsoft style conventions where you’re pretty much guaranteed to get into anything you feel like, even when they go over capacity, but it was clear from the start that if you wanted to get into something you had to be lining up at least an hour before hand. The more popular the session the longer the line was that you had to join which culminated in a 2 hour stint that my friends and I undertook just so we could see the BioWare panel. It was clear that they had underestimated the potential popularity of these panels as they were always packed out so there’s definitely room for improvement there, possibly with the introduction of pre-registering for the ones you want to see so they can get a better judge of numbers. That or simply showing them on a big screen outside the room, something which was entirely possible given that they were filming all of the sessions.
I really enjoyed the Expo Hall however as that was pretty much geek nirvana with everything from hardware vendors to indie developers peddling their wares on the floor. I managed to strike up several good conversations with many of the developers, most of whom were more than happy to be extremely candid about their games and the development behind them. I probably got one developer off side when I mentioned that their developer name didn’t match their games (The Voxel Agents, if you’re curious as they don’t have any voxel based games) but they took it in their stride and I wasn’t trying to offend them. Most of the bigger booths (World of Tanks, League of Legends, Saints Row 4) were less inviting due to the large lines/crowds and the obviously tailored experience but they were still interesting to browse through.
However I had the most fun doing what I love doing: playing games with my close mates. The console and PC free play zones are an incredibly awesome idea and the set ups they had for managing player time are by far the best I’ve seen anywhere. Whilst I was a bit miffed that there’s now a mandatory tutorial requirement on all new installs of DOTA2 (something which can’t be skipped and takes at least an hour) we did have a lot of fun revisiting old titles. We even got a massive TF2 game going which was heaps of fun and we ended up playing right up until they had to kick everyone out for the night. That’ll definitely be one of my fondest memories of PAXAus.
I think I’ll be coming back next year although I might curtail my expectations somewhat. Whilst it would be amazing to go from session to session and blog about everything it seems like, at least in the 1.0 version of PAXAus, that’s just not feasible, at least if I want to enjoy myself whilst I’m there. Don’t get me wrong though, the sessions I did manage to get into were awesome, but considering I only got into 2 out of the 10 or so I wanted to go to speaks volumes to the effort required to get into them. I’m sure that all these issues will be sorted out by next year though and if history is anything to go by the next one should be much bigger and, hopefully, better.
It was almost 4 months ago when I first blogged about the impending communication revolution that would take its form in Google Wave. Back then it was out of my reach and the late September date I was given at the time for a wider release to the public came and went. I resolved myself to reading up a bit more on the protocol and then leaving it at that, hoping that eventually I would get a chance to have at it. Well no less than two weeks ago a few of my friends were invited and last week I managed to score an invite off one of them myself. Queue an entire Friday afternoon spent chatting, collaborating and breaking Google Wave with 5 of my technically inclined friends. Wave has definitely managed to live up to the hype, but not without some very interesting consequences.
When you open up Wave you’re greeted with a very a familiar Google-ish interface. It’s clean and minimalistic something which is rare in today’s rich content web. It’s really just an updated version of their Gmail interface which will help ease people into the transition from email to Wave. You’re added into a couple of default Waves in order to help you get the feel for how to navigate around and what features are available which won’t tell much to us techies but should help your average user get into the right mind set. After stumbling around for a bit and clicking wildly I caught my friend and co-worker who had had wave for a week or so and got into some real waving, and this is where it got interesting.
By default Wave is set up to transmit your keystrokes in real time to everyone who is part of the wave you’re adding to or editing on. The demonstration of this showed it to be quite snappy however it appears that the speed shown was probably due to the fact that the server was 10 meters away from them. As the wave starts to grow in size the lag starts to become more noticable up until the point where you can type a whole sentence before it appears on screen. This seemed to be alleviated somewhat by using Google Chrome which also added the benefit of being able to drag and drop files directly onto a wave. You can get the same functionality by installing Google Gears but you’ll still be better off installing Chrome (there didn’t seem to be any performance improvement in Firefox when using Gears).
After fooling around for a while trying all the various features and figuring out some system limitations (long character strings in excess of 256 characters without spaces seem to hurt Wave in a very bad way) it dawned on us that there was no social convention for using this new tech. For instance if you’re watching someone type something and you think you know what they’re talking about the reaction is to start typing your response right away. In a conversation this would be equivalent to interrupting them whilst they were talking, which is a bit rude. There’s also the issue of in-line responses, which allow you to reply to a section of a wave. You can do this while they’re typing and whilst it seemed useful at the demonstration, it only seems to sever the flow of conversation mid-stream. All of Wave’s features lack social conventions on their use and as such feel slightly awkward to use (and also make for some fun with Internet memes).
This isn’t necessairly a bad thing, it just means that the technology really is a paradigm shift in the ways of Internet communication. Email suffered less from this as it was mostly just an electronic representation of a physical process, and thus was easily understood. Wave on the other hand functions like email mashed with IM and a sprinkling of a collaborative document management on top. It’s highly unusual and really has no physical process which it replicates. Thus it will take some time for people to develop their own standards and conventions on how Wave will be used. It will be interesting to see how it will develop as I can see many different ways of setting Wave standards, each with their own merits.
Is it a faux pas to respond inline whilst someone is typing? When is part of a Wave off-limits for replying to? Do you ever need to actually hit done, since you can just keep re-editing your wave which everyone can see? There are so many questions and only time with everyday usage will give us the answers.
If you’re on Wave and want to have a chat, I’m on there at [email protected]