As E3 of 2017 fades into memory, by now anyone reading this is likely to have at least heard of the surreal ‘Devolver Digital Big Fancy Press Conference’ that left audiences wondering if they were trapped in a weird fever dream. As blood sprayed across the stage and gun-toting corporate executives threatened a pre-recorded audience, Devolver Digital spun a bizarre and potent satire on the sad festival of avarice that is E3, taking no prisoners and leaving virtually no popular corporate fuckery un-skewered. But the most remarkable thing to me was simply that the Devolver Digital press conference existed; that this blatant and relentless pisstake of E3 was allowed to be broadcast in an official E3 stream.

Edit: In light of a conversation that followed this article’s initial release, it’s worth mentioning that Devolver Digital is not listed as an official attendee on the ESA’s official E3 website. The broadcast was however part of the official E3 twitch stream. While the channel is not owned by E3 or the ESA, Twitch has referred to the stream as “official coverage” in a blog post promoting the event. This would imply that the ESA did at some point sign off on the content of the stream which included the Devolver Digital Big Fancy Press Conference. Devolver Digital itself has also referred to its presentation as an “E3 press conference” multiple times in promotional material both leading up to and during its airing, seemingly without opposition from the ESA. At time of writing, the ESA has released no statement specifically clarifying that Devolver Digital’s presentation was not endorsed as part of the official E3 broadcast.

While this does not necessarily constitute a legal affiliation between E3 and Devolver Digital, I still feel justified in suggesting that the ESA’s actions (or lack thereof) represent, at minimum, a tacit endorsement of the content of Devolver Digital’s presentation. At the very least, given how it was broadcast, I don’t see how anyone at the ESA could have thought Devolver Digital’s Big Fancy Press Conference wouldn’t be discussed as part of E3 – and given they allegedly had enough influence to prohibit the name “E3” from being said anywhere in the presentation itself, I feel safe in believing they could have refused to broadcast it if they wished. Bearing all this in mind, while I will cop to the fact that the wording of my original article may have implied the existance of certain affiliations that were not true in a legal sense and have made edits accordingly, I feel that this does not affect the overall point of the article – a point which, in my mind at least, remains solid.

Now then:

If you have a Twitter account, you’ll know that making snarky jabs at E3 is not a new phenomenon. Mocking the E3 conferences is a time-honoured tradition that has thrived online for many years, with many people only marking E3 in their calendar so they can watch their favourite games media personalities take each presentation apart. Devolver Digital also has something of a history of antipathy with E3, fuelled in part by co-founder Mike Wilson’s well-known disdain for the event and its organisers, the ESA.

But despite how mundane and expected E3 snark has become, the Devolver Digital Big Fancy Press Conference feels significant. Before now, the sarcasm and the quipping only ever happened around E3. People like Mike Wilson who don’t want to play ball with the industry’s grotesque hype machine have largely been confined to parking lots surrounding the event for its duration. Even the mock funeral procession held for E3 in 2007 by Gamecock (another of Mike Wilson’s companies) only took place once E3 proper had closed shop.

Ten years later, those same kinds of antics are now being broadcast alongside the main show. I can only speculate why E3 would willingly include in its stream a 15 minute “fuck you” designed specifically to puncture the precious hype bubble on which the Triple-A industry has become so fatally dependant, but part of me wonders if they simply felt they didn’t have a choice at this point. Mockery of E3 has become so abundant everywhere else it’s almost inescapable, and frankly E3 only has itself to blame. Buzzwords lay thick in the air as the desperate, cringe-worthy antics of executives and their ‘influencers’ are met with stony silence from an audience they alienated years ago. Pundits from across the internet roll their eyes for the millionth time at Ubisoft’s attempts to squeeze memes from a stone and Microsoft trying to sell us a Porsche for some fucking reason. That’s what E3 means to us now. Its name has become inseparable from farce – and perhaps the inclusion of Devolver’s press conference was their attempt to be ‘in on the joke’.

Indeed, E3 2017 was a show that seemed much more conscious of prior criticisms. The companies in attendance seemed content to let the games speak for themselves while the previously mentioned “cringe-worthy antics” that made our skin crawl in previous shows was generally kept to a minimum (except for EA, because of fucking course). Even Ubisoft set aside its ill-conceived quest for viral status for long enough to remember that this event was meant to be about video games.

But before we make the mistake of thinking the industry giants took these steps out of the goodness of their hearts, let’s remember what the function of E3 is supposed to be: it’s to get people excited – preferably excited enough to part with considerable amounts of money – and when everyone watching is laughing at you rather than with you, it kind of deflates the spectacle. The popularity of heckling E3 has seen the event slowly being rendered unfit for purpose over the years, and the industry-wide bucking up of ideas we saw this year tells me that the Triple-A bigwigs are past hoping for the hecklers to get bored and give up.

Hypothetically, a better move might be to roll with the tide: take the criticism on board, make the improvements everyone has been asking for, and – for a coup de grace – throw in a funny little 15 minute presentation making fun of what a shitshow previous E3’s have been, a bit like when Ubisoft made that joke about how they overuse the word “iconic”, just to really hammer home that we’re all laughing at it together.

There’s just one problem: that tactic only works if you then stop doing the thing you made fun of yourself for.

Now that E3 has given its tacit endorsement (only tacit, mind you) to Devolver Digital’s satirical swipe, the pressure is on to make sure next year’s show isn’t the same sad circus that Devolver was ripping into it for being. If E3 2018 can’t manage that, the notion of an E3 that’s in on the joke and is prepared to listen to criticism will backfire horribly as it becomes merely the latest in a long line of broken promises, further entrenching the event in the zeitgeist as a disingenuous, out-of-touch extended cash grab – an image they will now have lost their chance to shake off.

This, if I’m honest, is the result I’m expecting. The video game industry has a track record of only ever walking back unpopular decisions to earn goodwill so they can try and sneak the same bullshit past us later. I have no reason to think this time will be any different. Hell, it’s not even as if this show was completely absent of the typical E3 eye roll material: we still had a car advert, scripted “in-game” chatter, sustained misuse of the word “exclusive” and…well, the entire EA presentation.

Some companies definitely seemed to have less of a clue than others – and even that’s assuming the ones who seemed to make more of an effort didn’t just fluke it. Even as I write that Ubisoft and crew seem to be getting their act together, I’m quietly wondering if I’m giving them too much credit. In truth it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the companies in attendance were planning business as usual – except now with a less jaded audience packed with non-press who might be more willing to applaud – and that they (with the exception of EA, naturally) simply couldn’t think of anything particularly egregious to throw into their presentations this year. I’m still relatively confident in saying that E3 2017 was a conscious improvement, but when the changes are so small that it makes you question whether they were even deliberate, it’s difficult not to think of it as, at best, too little too late.

The inclusion of the Devolver Digital Big Fancy Press Conference in this year’s E3 stream was perhaps too bold of a move. It feels like a gambit that E3 isn’t equipped to follow up on – an act of overconfidence in the event’s survivability that has seen its name married (albeit unofficially) to a twisted mirror image of itself that maybe had more sticking power than the organisers thought. Now it’s too late to take it back: even though E3 and the ESA could disown Devolver’s conference as having been unofficial and therefore not legally endorsed by E3 as an entity, the fact remains that it was broadcast on an official E3 Twitch stream following E3 conferences during E3 with Devolver advertising it as an E3 conference and multiple news outlets discussing it as part of the E3 event. The connection is already made in the minds of the audience, and legally binding or not; the ESA should absolutely have seen that coming.

Whatever the case, those who make it their business to take E3 to task have now been posed a new rubric: if every joke in Devolver Digital’s 2017 press conference still holds true next year, we can safely dismiss the event with no further consideration. That’s the future E3 2017 has opened the doors to, whether the industry is aware of it or not. E3 has invited the vampire into its home, and with a grudge as long and storied as Devolver’s, you’d better believe it’s poised to drain the few remaining slivers of precious lifeblood that didn’t already turn to poison years ago.

2017 was the first time I considered the possibility of E3 fixing its image problem, but I remain unconvinced it ever will. I think it’s safe to say I’m not alone in that; I’m far from the first person to give up on the event. That said, I am now interested to see how E3 2018 plays out – more so at least than I would have been in a world where Devolver Digital’s press conference didn’t happen – but it’s not for the reason the Triple-A games industry was probably hoping for. I’m not expecting next E3 to be good; I’m just morbidly curious to see how badly they’ll fuck this up – to see the moment when Devolver’s conference become one more nail in the world’s most securely sealed coffin. I don’t think that’s unfair; E3’s had more than enough chances by now.

I think on some level we’re all expecting the same thing from E3 2018, and it’s the same thing we’ve come to expect from every E3: relentless, tiresome, predictable, inevitable, almost hilarious failure. It’s the reason Devolver Digital’s press conference exists. We are instinctively ready to be disappointed by an event that exists to excite us – and that, frankly, says it all.

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Purveyor of "deep thoughts", talker of Things, non-associate of crows: Indie Haven's resident Good Video Boy lies in wait deep within the Clown Tower for your audio-visual enjoyment. Creator of Worth Mentioning and co-star of ThingsTalk and The Indie Haven Podcast.

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